This is it.
For USC’s senior class, Saturday will be its last hurrah at the Coliseum. Although the season may not have gone as planned for the 19 players suiting up for the final time at home, establishing bowl bids and the Pac-10 pecking order will still be at stake when No. 20 USC (8-3, 5-3) takes on Arizona (7-4, 5-3) Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
A bid to the Holiday Bowl could be on the line for both the Wildcats and the Trojans, pending the result of Thursday night’s game between Oregon and Oregon State. Both USC and Arizona could finish the season either tied for second in the Pac-10 or tumble down to sixth place.
“We’re kind of feeling good about getting back on track after the two weeks prior,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “We are looking forward to this last go round.”
Safety Taylor Mays is among the seniors who will be playing for the final time in the Coliseum. Cornerback Josh Pinkard and offensive guard Jeff Byers will also be making their final starts after six years with USC.
“It’s a great group of kids and we hate seeing them go,” Carroll said. “We’d love to send them off on a great note.”
Despite securing two late touchdown drives against UCLA, including a controversial decision to throw a touchdown to redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams in the final minute, Carroll is still looking for more out of his offense. He said he was especially concerned with the team’s performance on third downs, where penalties and plays for negative yards kept the Trojans behind the chains.
USC converted four of 12 third-down attempts last week and ranks 100th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in third-down efficiency.
“It continues to be an issue,” Carroll said. “Because of the long yardage situations, we gave up on some of them just to kick the football back. We have to improve there.”
With junior running back Joe McKnight sitting out practice Wednesday, redshirt junior running back Allen Bradford could see an increased workload following a two-touchdown performance against UCLA. Bradford carried the ball 14 times against the Bruins and helped USC control the ball and keep the clock running late in the game.
“We love him being part of the offense,” Carroll said. “So it wouldn’t be any problem for me at all to run him 25 times if that was the case in the game.”
The Wildcats have experienced a rocky season in which six of their games have been decided by eight points or less. Last week, Arizona needed a last-second field goal to defeat rival Arizona State.
But for all the progress that Arizona has made this season, USC remains one of the few great tests. The Wildcats have not beaten the Trojans in the last seven years, despite holding the contest close in each of the last two years.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops said Saturday’s game would be a good measuring stick for how far the program has come.
“Competing against USC, I think tells you a lot about where you’re at,” Stoops said. “I think you learn more and more about your team as you go through it. Certainly we’ll see how we match up with USC Saturday.”
The Wildcats are still sorting our a series of injuries to several key players on their explosive offense. Junior running back Nic Grigsby is not expected to play Saturday because of a shoulder injury. Sophomore quarterback Nick Foles has a broken non-throwing hand but will still try to play against the Trojans. Backup sophomore quarterback Matt Scott is expected to see time on a handful of plays as a change-of-pace player.
But even with the injuries, Carroll noted that the Wildcats’ attack was dangerous because of its versatility.
“We have a big preparation in store here to get ready for this thing,” Carroll said. “They’ve scored a lot of points this year and done a lot of good stuff with their offense.”