Daily Trojan sports editor Will Laws interviewed James Kelley and Megan Coghlan, the co-sports editors of the Daily Wildcat, earlier this week to give USC fans a better feel for the Wildcats ahead of Thursday’s showdown at the Coliseum.
DT: It’ll be a battle of strengths this weekend with Ka’Deem Carey and the U of A rushing game (291.5 yards per game, 10th in nation) versus USC’s rush defense (99.6 YPG, 13th in nation). Who do you think comes out on top?
James Kelley: Arizona’s run game will have the advantage over USC’s powerful rush defense. The Wildcats are one-dimensional on offense, but their running game is very diverse. Carey is the face of the running game and is fifth in the country in rushing yards per game, but quarterback B.J. Denker is eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing and running back Daniel Jenkins is 11th. Denker runs more like a running back than a quarterback and Jenkins is speedier than Carey and provides a change of pace.
DT: If USC’s rush defense does force Arizona to rely on B.J. Denker’s arm, does he have the ability to pick apart the Trojans’ secondary?
Kelley: B.J. Denker hasn’t shown the ability to make teams consider him a threat yet. Denker is 122nd in passing in the NCAA, with 445 yards in four games and 114th in passing efficiency. Those numbers by themselves are bad, but even more frightening when you consider UA’s opponents. The Wildcats played Northern Arizona (an FCS team), UNLV (who lost to NAU last year) and UTSA (a team in its third year of existence) to open the season. Now that he is facing Pac-12 defenses, Denker’s numbers should fall even more.
DT: How have the Wildcats been able to keep opponents from doing much damage on defense (14.3 points/game, 9th in nation)?
Megan Coghlan: The Wildcat defense has certainly stepped up its performance from last year, after being 118th out of 120. Big defenders like Tra’Mayne Bondurant and freshman Scooby Wright have stood out as surprise leaders. Bondurant has accounted for three of the seven total interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Wright leads with 28 tackles. It is worth noting, though, that Arizona has only had one tough game, which was Washington. Tonight’s game will provide a clearer answer.
DT: Do you think that’s been a result of Arizona’s weak opening schedule, or can the Wildcats stuff the Trojans’ passing game?
Kelley: Much of Arizona’s impressive start to the season on the defensive side of the ball was due to the schedule, but they do in fact look better than last year. Last year they had some injuries, and those players returning along with some talented newcomers like Wright have added depth. They aren’t stuck in the base defense all the time anymore and have unveiled a “SWAT defense” that is designed for third down passing situations. Even if Marqise Lee doesn’t play, Arizona’s secondary had to have nightmares about last year’s game, so they will be very motivated.
DT: How do you see tonight’s showdown shaking out?
Coghlan: You could determine this game by dissecting the offenses, the defenses, the quarterbacks and statistics, but I think the true nature of this game is going to come down to the current conditions of each team. USC has seen better days, which could either fuel the fire or leave the Trojans in shambles. I do know that when Arizona fired its head coach Mike Stoops two years ago, the proceeding game showed a pumped-up Wildcat team and ended in success against UCLA. USC also has home-field advantage, but the Wildcats are still undoubtedly hungry for a win, so it will be a close one.
Prediction: 35-31 Arizona
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