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USC vs Arizona: Game preview

USC returns to Los Angeles to continue Pac-12 play with the Arizona Wildcats.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 USC at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sitting with a 3-3 record and two straight losses, the USC Trojans return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a homecoming matchup with the Arizona Wildcats. For the Trojans, every game in the Pac-12 is crucial as the Trojans can't afford to take a loss to a team within the division. Arizona on the other hand is coming off a blowout home loss to Washington. The Wildcats currently sit with a 4-2 record. Both teams enter the game with a 2-1 conference record and the winner most likely having a leg up in the Pac-12 south race. With a dynamic mobile quarterback in Khalil Tate coming, USC faces another critical Pac-12 South game inside the Coliseum.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

USC’s offense has failed to live up to true expectations. Graham Harrell brought the air raid offense to USC, however it’s been anything but that. However against Notre Dame, the offense was a tale of two sides. The first half saw the Trojans fail to capitalize off the defense slowing down the Irish offense and finishing drives. The worst came during the second quarter when the USC offense struggled to get anything going. The second half saw USC adjust to what Notre Dame gave them through the air and ground. The Trojans finished drives and outscored the Irish 24-13 in the second half. Unfortunately the Trojans first half offensive struggle did them in as they lost 30-27.

Kedon Slovis returned from his concussion and played a complete different game than his first road start at BYU weeks ago. The freshman went 24-35 for 255 and 2 touchdowns in the loss. He made better decisions with his passes and took care of the ball, throwing no interceptions. Amon-Ra St. Brown helped aid the passing game and took advantage of the Irish keying on Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr.. St. Brown finished the game with a season high 112 yards receiving and 1 touchdown catch. Vaughns still had a solid game with 47 yards and 1 touchdown catch off 4 receptions however, offensive coordinator must find a way to get him, Velds Jones Jr, and the other Trojans wide receivers involved.

This weekend could be the perfect antidote to Harrell’s air raid as Arizona’s pass defense is ranked as one of the worst in the Pac-12. The Wildcats are currently tied with UCLA for the most passing yards allowed per game at 320 yards. Jacob Eason threw for 243 yards and 2 touchdowns.

One thing you couldn’t predict is the success of the running game this season. The Trojans running backs have been the most consistent in terms of production for the offense. Last weekend USC running backs unleashed their three headed monster in Vavae Malepeai, Markese Stepp, and Stephen Carr. This time it was the redshirt freshman in Stepp that was the most productive. Stepp rushed for 82 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. The redshirt freshman was an issue for Notre Dame defenders to bring down as he ran through tackles and put the Trojans in 2nd and short situations. Carr and Malepeai turned in solid production on the ground as they rushed for a combined 88 yards.

Unfortunately USC will be without the junior running back in Malepeai as he will be sidelined due to knee surgery. Expect to see USC lean on Stepp and Carr a little bit more against an Arizona run defense that allows 152 yards per game on the ground.

USC v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Defense

This weekend could get pretty dicey for the USC defense. Last weekend the Trojans defense started off flustering Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense, however after the Irish offense made adjustments to move the ball, the defense had no answer. The Trojans were gashed 308 yards on the ground and gave up a few key plays late in the game that led to Notre Dame scoring to ice the game. One surprise was how Notre Dame had success running between the tackles. The Trojans defensive line had done a good job defending the interior run until last weekend where the Irish found holes to run through. Meanwhile the same issues showed when USC failed to contain reverses, outside runs, and quarterback scrambles. Part of it is due to poor containment and poor angles by the linebackers and defensive ends.

Saturday won’t be any easier when the Arizona’s quarterback Khalil Tate comes into the Coliseum. Tate has the ability to make plays with is running ability as well as his throwing. Knowing USC’s issues containing mobile quarterbacks, Tate could have a field day against the Trojans defense. Clancy Pendergast has done an outstanding job scheming against Tate and keeping him in check. The senior quarterback has struggled in his three starts against USC. Look for Pendergast to put a spy on Tate to follow him all over the field Saturday night.

Arizona running back J.J. Taylor is also a threat in the backfield that the Trojans must account for. With the running threat of Kahlil Tate, Taylor could benefit off of Tate being a decoy. USC gave up 176 yards rushing to Tony Jones Jr. last weekend. Look for Arizona to use Taylor on outside runs and take advantage of the Trojans inability to contain the outside.

USC v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Key Notes

  • USC will be celebrating homecoming this weekend
  • USC currently holds a 6 game winning streak over Arizona. Last time the Wildcats defeated the Trojans was back in 2012.
  • Arizona currently faces a 4 game losing streak to USC inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with the last win coming on December 5th, 2009.
  • The Trojans are currently 3-0 at home with wins over Fresno State, Stanford, and Utah.
  • Arizona Senior quarterback is an Inglewood, California native and attended high school at Serra High School in Gardena, California.
  • Both USC and Arizona hold a 2-1 record in the Pac-12.
  • USC is a -10 point favorite at home. The Trojans hold a 2-1 record when favored this season, however they’ve failed to cover the spread twice this season.