USC steals win over Arizona on missed field goal

The college football gods flipped the script on Saturday night and the USC football team escaped with an improbable 28-26 road win over No. 10 Arizona.

Redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen laid the groundwork for a potential Heisman Trophy campaign, but, in what looks to be a developing pattern for the Trojans (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12), the final score was not decided until the game’s last play.

Nelson Agholor scored one of the many Trojan touchdowns vs. Arizona — Tucker McWhirter | Daily Trojan

Junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor scored one of the many Trojan touchdowns vs. Arizona on Saturday. — Tucker McWhirter | Daily Trojan

Down 28-13 as the fourth quarter dawned, the Wildcats (5-1, 2-1) mounted a furious comeback to cut USC’s lead to two with just a minute remaining. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, Arizona’s Cayleb Jones leapt high in the air to recover an onside kick. The Wildcats proceeded to drive deep into Trojan territory, but kicker Casey Skowron shanked a 36-yard field goal attempt with just 17 seconds left on the clock. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Scott Felix summed up the Trojans’ season to this point after the game.

“It’s crazy,” Felix told USC Trojans. “But that’s just football.”

Allen was unstoppable for much of the night, finishing with 205 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. Redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler did his part as well, completing 20 of 30 pass attempts for 185 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception early in the second half, his first in 190 attempts this season.

USC’s defense looked vulnerable at times, but refused to break in the face of Arizona’s fast-paced offensive attack.  Freshman quarterback Anu Solomon and the Wildcats settled for five field goal attempts, and did not score a touchdown in the first half. Solomon attempted a career-high 72 passes on his way to 395 yards and a touchdown. All-American junior defensive end Leonard Williams, who had a hand in the crucial two-point conversion stop, credited his unit’s success to nonstop effort.

“We’ve been pretty good at stopping the run the last two weeks,” Williams told USC Trojans. “We’ve been harping on that ever since Boston College. We came out hard, we played hard, and I guess we just deserved it. That’s what it came down to.”

The game’s most noticeable trend started immediately, with Arizona driving deep into USC territory on its opening drive but settling for a 48-yard field goal attempt. In a brutal moment of foreshadowing the kick went wide, setting up USC at its own 31-yard line for its first series. The Trojans went three plays and out after junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor dropped a third down pass near midfield.

The Wildcats opened the scoring on their next possession, with a solid punt return from DaVonte’ Neal leading to a 32-yard Skowron field goal. The Trojans responded right away: Allen ripped off the first of two long touchdowns on the night, punching it in from 34 yards out to give the Trojans a 7-3 lead.

The Wildcats added a second field goal as the first quarter drew to a close, setting the stage for more of the Buck Allen show. Early in the second quarter, the Tallahassee, Florida native took a handoff from Kessler at the Arizona 48-yard line and bursted into the endzone. The half’s remaining 10 minutes went by without much action, and USC went into the break with a 14-6 advantage.

The Trojans looked to be pulling away on their opening series of the second half, finishing an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown strike from Kessler to Agholor. The Wildcats defensive front failed to get any penetration for most of the night, allowing the Bakersfield, California native time to make plays downfield.

USC could have sealed the game midway through the third, but a fumble from sophomore tailback Justin Davis deep in Trojan territory gave the Wildcats new life. Third-string running back Jared Baker found the endzone, marking team’s first touchdown after five trips inside the 25-yard line. The score cut USC’s lead to eight points. Baker, a Los Angeles native, received the bulk of the team’s carries after an injury to Terris Jones-Grigsby, who in turn started the game in place of injured starter Nick Wilson.

The Trojans rebounded immediately with a 13-play 75-yard drive that set up Allen’s third score of the night. Earlier in the drive, Kessler found redshirt senior tight end Randall Telfer on a 4th-and-1 play just inside Arizona territory, helping to extend USC’s lead to 28-13. Telfer, one of the team’s elder statesmen, praised his team’s high level of preparation.

“After last week we just went back to the drawing board,” Telfer told USC Trojans. “We just said everyone do your job, and that’s what we did today.”

To their credit, the Wildcats refused to die easily. Baker’s second touchdown came on a 41-yard strike from Solomon midway through the final quarter, and, after three punts, Arizona went 80 yards in just over two minutes to cut the lead to 28-26. The team’s first two-point attempt resulted in a pass interference call, while the second was stuffed by Williams and USC’s interior defensive line.

An onside kick, some questionable play-calling from Arizona and a crucial timeout to ice Skowron later, USC squeaked out a crucial win. The team now takes sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South.

The game did not come without its share of bad news; the Trojans’ depth at defensive back suffered two crucial hits, with injuries to both freshman Adoree’ Jackson and junior Kevon Seymour. Freshmen Jonathan Lockett and John Plattenburg came on to relieve the pair. Redshirt junior defensive back Chris Hawkins was impressed by the newcomers.

“I’m very proud of this group,” Hawkins said to USC Trojans. “Jonathan Lockett and John Plattenburg both stepped up, and they made plays when it was time to make plays.”

USC hosts Colorado (2-4, 0-2) at the Coliseum next week. The team will look to avoid a third straight nail-biter.

“God’s got a plan, but we’re not exactly what his plan is for us yet,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He’s sure testing our will, our resolve, our leadership, our character. I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

For more pictures from the game, visit our photo gallery.