The USC Trojans are the captain of their fate and the master of their soul right now. After a sluggish first quarter (quite similar to the Washington game) USC finally took themselves out of park, and slammed down on the gas for the next three quarters. USC produced explosive plays, key stops, new stars, and a 3-1 record since the firing of Steve Sarkisian. The Trojans are alive and well headed into back to back road games, but first let's look at how USC out-worked an experienced Wildcat team.
The Young and The Relentless
After a false start, two sacks, and a Tre Madden fumble was given up by USC in the first quarter, Coach Helton gave USC's backfield the keys to the Ferrari. USC went from only gaining 12 yards in the first quarter to racking up 472 yards over the next three quarters. USC presented a balanced attack against the Wildcats, passing for 243 yards and rushing for 229. The offense found most of its success on the legs of Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis but the airmail gave them life.
Cody Kessler wasted no time in the second quarter airing it out to his receivers. Kessler hit tight end Tyler Petite for a first down and Adoree Jackson on a wheel right to get into scoring range. After a penalty, rushed throw, and a dropped pass, USC settled for a field goal to make it 14-3. Despite the drive not ending up with a touchdown, it exposed Arizona's blitz happy defense and how Helton's offense would adjust. Immediately after a Plattenburg interception, Kessler found Smith-Schuster in a foot race with Arizona's safety Tellas Jones for a 72-yard touchdown. This big-time play forced Arizona to run a true 3-3-5 defense and lighten up on the steady pressure, which opened up plenty of opportunity for the backs.
USC instantly turned up the heat with stretch plays and dives, attacking the perimeter and in-between the tackles. USC's guards pulled and their tackles reached the outside linebackers, giving their backs the opportunity to get up field. Jones and Davis found themselves racking up tough yardage after contact, due to their ability to keep their feet moving through tackles. USC took a beaten Arizona defense out of their element, forcing them to play with mismatches on the field, including the size advantage between the offensive line and linebackers. When USC developed a steady rhythm between Schuster, Jones, and Davis, the Wildcats had no answer or adjustments that could slow down the Trojans. Ronald Jones II finished with a record breaking 177 yards on 19 carries while Davis slashed and gashed his way to 85 yards and two touchdowns.
When One Defense Doesn't Work Try Another
The Trojans defense actually played better than what the scoreboard showed Saturday night, giving up 14 of those points quickly due to the lack of offense USC early on couldn't produce. Anu Solomon orchestrated some sound drives to put the Wildcats up, but his lack of composure and turnovers put him and a steady Wildcat offense behind. After giving up big catches to Arizona's experienced receivers and some explosive runs by Jarred Baker, USC's John Plattenburg gained some momentum with an early second quarter interception. On the next drive Arizona drove down the field but USC somehow clamped down to limit the Wildcats to a field goal.
USC played with more numbers than quality Saturday night; giving their starters (especially the defensive line) much needed rest and the opportunity to gain their second wind. The run-pass option forced USC to play conservative and mix up the pressure schemes. This resulted in 6 sacks and multiple tackles for loss due to Wilcox bring key four-man rushes on third downs and not developing a predictable pattern. Arizona's offensive line was thrown off and it forced Solomon to step into traffic instead of being able to escape outside to avoid the pressure. With USC's adjustments to a four-man front and bringing pressure consistently against an injured offensive line, the Trojans did just enough to keep the Wildcats caged in for the night.