On the 100th anniversary of the first time the Trojans and the Arizona Wildcats met, USC will head to Tucson for their sole road game in October.
The Trojans (3-3, 2-2) are coming off of two consecutive wins at the Coliseum, including last week when they hung on to beat Colorado, 21-17. The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) are looking for their first win in Pac-12 South play. Last week, Arizona lost on the road against Utah, 36-23.
Even though the Trojans are favored, each of the last nine meetings between these two teams have been decided by eight points or fewer.
Similar to last week when the Trojans prepared one defensive game plan despite not knowing who the starting quarterback would be, Arizona hasn’t announced their starter.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Dawkins is still under concussion protocol. Dawkins is the team leader in total touchdowns, total points scored, rushing yards, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Replacing him last week was freshman Khalil Tate, a graduate of Junipero Serra High School who grew up in Inglewood, Calif.
“Once he’s got the ball in his hands, it’s hard to get him down,” junior three-way player Adoree’ Jackson said of his former high school teammate. “One of those things where he’s electrifying with the ball, he can beat you with his arm and beat you with his feet. A special kid.”
With their inconsistent quarterback situation, the Wildcats rank tenth in Pac-12 in passing offense, but they are third in rushing offense, averaging 226.80 yards per game. Arizona’s quarterback rushing is second to only Louisville, however.
The past two weeks, USC’s defense has held ASU and Colorado to their lowest scoring games of the season.
The Trojans are still looking for their first road win this season, and they will most likely be without their starting running back senior Justin Davis, who is suffering from a sprained ankle. Picking up the slack will be sophomore running backs Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware. Both backs have rushed for one touchdown.
The Trojans will also look to their new offensive leader in redshirt quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold is eighth in the country in passer rating and first among freshmen.
An offensive key for USC is improving on their third down conversion percentage.
“I think it’s going to be critical this week to be able to keep a team that can get 90 to 100 plays,” head coach Clay Helton said.
In order to help keep the defense rested, the special teams unit will be called upon to make an impact on the game. Arizona’s kickoff coverage ranks last in the conference, which provides Jackson with a huge chance to make the explosive plays for which he is known.
“I know at the end of the day some teams that have had troubles on special teams, when they go against someone who can change the game, they seem to figure it out and get it together,” Jackson said. “So it’s just me trying to make the most of my opportunities.”
Jackson needs just one kickoff return yard to break the tie for USC’s all-time kickoff return yards record. Currently, he and former Trojan Curtis Conway are tied at the top of the list with 1,723 yards.
Junior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said the defense is excited to get the chance to stop another high-powered offense this weekend and earn the team’s first win away from the Coliseum.
“We want to make a statement,” Nwosu said. “We’ve got to keep building. On the road it’s harder — the crowd gets more involved. Every time someone plays USC it’s like their Super Bowl so you know everyone gives us their best game.”
The game kicks off Oct. 15 at 12:30 p.m. MT from Arizona Stadium and is being televised on Fox.