The USC Trojans survived in Tucson, taking down Arizona, 28-26, late Saturday night at Arizona Stadium. Even though USC lost a number of players to injuries, the Trojans continued to battle and came up with the most important stops when it needed them the most.
So who were the top Trojans in the Arizona matchup?
Buck Allen - Running Back
Beast mode. What more can you say? Buck Allen was just an absolute beast last night against Arizona. He rushed for a career-high 208 yards and scored three touchdowns on 26 carries. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian challenged Allen two weeks ago to break more tackles and he has definitely responded.
Buck Allen had a pair of explosive running plays for touchdowns, taking his first score 34 yards in the first quarter and making a safety miss on his way to a 48-yard touchdown in the second quarter. But his most impressive run came in the fourth quarter with USC backed up at its 10-yard line.
After an incomplete first down pass, USC handed the ball to Buck. He was supposed to run up the middle, but that option was clogged, so Allen bounced it to his right. Once he was outside the tackle, he saw safety William Parks crashing from the outside, so he cut up, leaving Parks frozen in stone for a second. Arizona defenders finally got to him after 10-12 yards, but that's when the beast mode really kicked in.
Allen carried would-be tacklers for another 20 yards! He finished with a 32-yard gain that got USC out of the shadow of the goal posts.
Offensive Line Unit
A lot of credit should be given to the offensive line unit. Not only were the big men up front paving the way for Buck Allen's big night, they were also keeping Cody Kessler upright. Kessler faced the least amount of pressure he has seen this season. He only threw for 185 yards, but the offensive line unit gave him days to throw in the pocket.
Arizona had only one sack and that was a coverage sack on a play where Kessler's primary target fell down. As a team, the Trojans lost a season-low eight yards on negative plays and for the fourth time this season, USC finished with 200 or more yards rushing.
Leonard Williams - Defensive Lineman
The big man on the Trojans' defensive line had one of his most impressive performances in his illustrious USC career. Big Leonard Williams was all over the field, doing everything for the USC defense. According to Arizona's official stats, he finished with two sacks (though the one to end the third quarter should really be credited to Delvon Simmons). Williams also had the two biggest impact defensive stops in the game.
Trailing 14-6, Arizona drove the ball down inside the USC 10-yard line. With first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, the Wildcats handed the ball off to Terris Jones-Grigsby on an outside zone read play to the right. Instead of reading a zone and a cutback lane, Jones-Grigsby found Williams awaiting for a perfect form tackle. Williams beat the tackle trying to contain him inside and put his helmet right in Jones-Grigsby's chest, wrapped him up and slammed him to the ground. Jones-Grigsby fumbled the ball, which J.R. Tavai recovered, and appeared to suffer a head injury, being knocked out cold after the play. He never returned the ball game.
Leonard Williams' second defensive masterpiece actually doesn't even make his final stat line because it came on a two-point conversion attempt. Arizona needed a two-point conversion with 1:07 remaining to tie the game 28-28. After a penalty moved the ball half the distance, the Wildcats inexplicably tried to run the ball. Anu Solomon gave the ball to Jared Baker on a read-option play, but there was no where to go because Williams beat the right tackle trying to reach him in the B-gap. Williams swallowed up Baker to keep the Trojans in the lead.
Alex Wood - Kicker
Less than an hour before the game, word came that Andre Heidari was not dressed and would not play. The USC coaching staff had two options without their senior specialist: either burn the redshirt of Matt Boermeester, a blueshirt kicker that is a likely candidate to secede Heidari, OR turn to redshirt sophomore Alex Wood.
Wood has previous game experience, having kicked eight extra points in 2012 when Heidari was injured, but that was in a blowout against Syracuse and a loss at Stanford. On Saturday, Wood's four points on a perfect 4-for-4 extra point attempts and those four points proved to be absolutely critical with the Trojans pulling out a two-point victory. He also had five kickoffs -- three went for touchbacks and neither of the other two were even returned to the 25-yard line.
Freshmen Defensive Backs Not Named Adoree'
When Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour were forced out of the game because of injuries, the onus was put on three freshmen defensive backs. Redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins was pushed to the No. 1 cornerback role. True freshman Jonathan Lockett entered the game and saw his first significant playing time and John Plattenburg took over the safety role opposite senior Gerald Bowman throughout the entire fourth quarter.
In one respect, this trio was worked by Anu Solomon and the bevy of Arizona receivers in the fourth quarter. Arizona moved the ball up and down the field on its two fourth quarter touchdown drives and quickly moved into field goal range after recovering the onside kick. But at the same time, Hawkins, Lockett and Plattenburg more than held their own. Wildcats' head coach Rich Rodriguez tried repeatedly to dial up some double-move routes to beat the freshmen deep, but they followed the gameplan and kept everything in front of them and made sure tackles.
If USC had lost, we'd probably look at the play of the secondary a little differently since Arizona passed for 177 yards in the fourth quarter. But if you take away the 41-yard touchdown pass to Jared Baker that came on an assignment breakdown by linebacker Anthony Sarao, the Wildcats averaged just 4.86 yards per pass attempt in the fourth quarter. In the first three quarters, they averaged 5.07 yards per pass attempt.