USC and Arizona prepare for a Pac-12 south showdown in Tucson, Arizona. Both teams come into the game with a 2-2 record, however Arizona has a 1-0 record in conference where the Trojans carry a 1-1 record following their victory over Washington State last week. Scott Moran from AZ Desert Swarm gives us the insight on the Wildcats side of this weekend’s game.
1- After going 0-2 Arizona took two games in a row. What turned around for the Wildcats these last two games?
The level of competition has certainly dipped over the last two games, with Arizona playing Southern Utah and Oregon State. There has been legitimate improvement though. For one, the offensive line has improved greatly with tackle Layth Freikh returning from an eligibility issue that cost him the first two games of the season. Another key development for the Wildcats has been the defensive line. It’s been a weak spot for the defense for a long time, and against Oregon State they were actually pretty dominant against a good running team. We’ll see if the team can keep up those improvements against a team with the talent level of USC.
2- Khalil Tate....This season he came into the season with some high expectations. However he hasn’t been as dynamic as he was last season. What’s attributing to that?
The common answer is that Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone are trying to force a square peg into a round hole by placing Tate in a pass-oriented offense where the running game primarily comes out of designed handoffs. There’s definitely some truth to that. However, it’s important to note that Tate’s production started to slow down last November as well. The fact is, everyone knows Tate can burn them on any given play, and a lot of defenses are selling out to stop Tate on the ground. If Tate continues to minimize his running game for Sumlin’s playbook, they’ll stop doing that, and that process has already begun. It’s a lot of factors contirubting to it, but the crux of the problem is definitely in the offensive scheme.
3- Outside of Khalil Tate, who are 2 key players on the Arizona offense that USC fans should know about?
Tate gets all the headlines (and deserves them), but Arizona’s offense has some really great players. JJ Taylor, the feature back, is definitely a name to remember. Just like most of the team, he’s really young (sophomore), and he’s just 5’6”. Nevertheless, he’s got the explosiveness you love out of a small back, and he’s been tearing up opponents with Tate mostly passing. Speaking of the passing game, Tate’s favorite weapon is Shun Brown. Tate has a lot of good targets to throw too, but Brown is the most dangerous, with three touchdowns on 18 receptions. He’s also the punt returner, and there’s always a chance he can break one off in the special teams as well.
4- What are some concerns with this Arizona team?
The initial concerns for the team were the guys in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. The offensive line has improved significantly with Freikh back, but the defensive line is still making baby steps. There are some really good defenders in the linebacking corps and secondary, namely Colin Schooler, Tony Fields, and Jace Whittaker. On the line though, Oregon State was the only opponent that couldn’t break through. Against guys like Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai, that’s disconcerting.
5- What are some keys to this Saturday’s game for Arizona and what do they have to do to pull off the victory?
The big key is to establish the run early and to keep it going. The defense simply isn’t talented enough to stop all of USC’s weapons, and it should be a shootout. With Tate still adjusting to passing the ball so much, and with the rest oft he roster built around RichRod’s running-first offense, Arizona needs big games from JJ Taylor and other backs like Gary Brightwell. That’ll be a challenge with Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith waiting for them in the second level, especially since Arizona runs up the middle a lot, but it’s the only way the Wildcats can outduel the Trojans.
6- The Pac-12 South is wide open and a victory will give someone one leg up over the other in the division. What is your prediction for Saturday’s game?
The Pac-12 South should be a lot of fun this year with how wide open it’s looking. I think Arizona has developed enough in September to at least play a factor in the race. Nevertheless, USC just has too much of a talent advantage. I can’t see the Trojan offense being slowed down very much, and Arizona just doesn’t match up well against the Trojans’ run stoppers in the linebacking corps. I’m gonna say 42-34. I hope I’m wrong though, and it should be a fun game to watch regardless.