USC returns to the friendly confines of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after dropping a close one to rival No. 8 Notre Dame in South Bend last weekend. With a 3-3 record, the Trojans now shift focus towards winning the Pac-12 South. First they must get past an Arizona team who’s looking to grab their first road win over USC in 10 years.
The Wildcats bring an offense that ranks nationally in the top 10, however their defense is one of the worst in the conference. However they’re coming off a blowout home loss to Washington last weekend. We speak with Brian Petersen of SB Nation’s Arizona Desert Swarm to get the Wildcat’s perspective of this weekends Pac-12 south showdown.
1- Quarterback Khalil Tate has been up and down this season, however he still poses a deadly threat with his scrambling ability. What can you say about the Senior quarterback’s performance this season?
Khalil Tate can be REALLY good when he doesn’t get in his own way. His passing continues to improve, but his desire to want to be known for his arm more than his legs leads him into mistakes. There have been several times this year when he’s run out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage while trying to find someone downfield on a scramble, when just tucking and running would have been the better option. But teams still have to gameplan for his running because when it happens he can be gone in an instant.
2- Tell us about the rest of the Arizona offense. Who are some key players that fans should watch for on that side of the ball outside of Tate and J.J. Taylor.
Those are the household names but it’s really been a village-like effort this season. Taylor is one of five running backs getting meaningful carries, to the point that when Taylor was unable to go his absence wasn’t that noticeable. The same goes for the receivers, where nine guys (including two RBs) have at least 10 catches but none have more than 23. It’s weird not having go-to guys but it also makes it extremely difficult for opponents to key on a single guy.
3- The Arizona defense has been a tale of two stories. While they’re in the middle of the Conference against the run, their pass defense is second to last. Can you explain what’s been the issue with the pass defense this season?
Most of the pass defense issues are related to the defensive line and it’s inability to get serious pressure on the quarterback. The DBs do a good enough job but they cannot cover forever, so if a quarterback has time he’s going to find someone who gets open.
4- What would you say are the teams strengths and weakness?
On offense the strengths are the diversity of the skills players and Tate’s unique ability to be more accurate when throwing on the run than when sitting in the pocket, while the weakness is Tate’s decision-making. On defense the strength is the linebacker corps of juniors Tony Fields II, Anthony Pandy and Colin Schooler, a trio that has combined for 123 tackles and always seems to have at least one of them involved in the play, while the main weakness is a defensive line that has registered only 3.5 sacks this season.
5- Coming into a vital PAC-12 South game, What are some keys to an Arizona victory in the Coliseum?
Holding onto the ball will be big, because that killed Arizona against Washington. The Huskies converted four takeaways into 20 points and regularly had short fields, making it even harder for the defense to do its job. Arizona has to also avoid special teams mistakes, which seem to happen almost every week, and not get after-the-whistle penalties.
6- What’s the overall perception of head coach Kevin Sumlin? The team is currently 4-2 with a shot at controlling their fate in the division.
Personally, there was no reason to change from Rich Rodriguez from a performance standpoint, but that’s a different discussion. Kevin Sumlin is most likely using this gig as a way to potentially get back to a bigger job, but so far he’s not had the kind of results necessary to make that happen. That being said, it’s only the second year and he’s still working with a mix of his players and ones he’s inherited, and there has been improvement from 2018 to now.
7- What are your predictions for Saturday’s game? Does Arizona get their first win over USC at the Coliseum in over ten years?
Arizona hasn’t won in the LA area in its last nine games there, either at the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl, and I don’t see that changing this year. USC looks like it is getting things figured out, based on how the Notre Dame game went, while the second half against Washington indicates the Wildcats still have a lot of work to do to be competitive in the conference.
USC 38, Arizona 30