On Saturday, the unranked USC Trojans competed in another late night -Pac-12 contest . Fresh off a comeback win against Washington State, the Trojans took on the Arizona Wildcats in a must-win Pac-12 matchup. Despite some late hiccups, the Trojans walked out on top with a 24-20 win. The win was their first on the road.
"A road win and a Pac-12 win is always a good thing," Coach Clay Helton said. "But we also know the reality that we let a come back into play and have a chance at the end of the game."
True freshman JT Daniels and co. got things started in the first quarter with a touchdown. Early penalties pinned the Trojans deep into their own territory, but the team was unfazed. Big plays by Josh Falo and Velus Jones kept the drive alive before Vavae Malepeai was able to punch it in for the score.
The Trojans opening score would be the only points of the first quarter. For USC it was penalties that prevented them from continuing drives. Penalties would later define the rest of the game.
In the second quarter, a Marvell Tell interception placed the Trojans in excellent territory, but another penalty would push them back. What began as a promising drive ended in a 43-yard Michael Brown field goal to put the Trojans up, 10-0.
Before the end of the second quarter, USC was faced with a big decision. Would they go for it on 4th down or attempt the field goal? The field goal would keep the game at two possessions, while a potential touchdown would dig a deeper hole for the Wildcats.
The Trojans elected to go for it on 4th-and-2 and scored on the conversion. A 26-yard run by Aca'Cedric Ware put the Trojans firmly ahead 17-0. The run was aided by a big block from center Toa Lobendahn.
USC had hoped to end the first half without a penalty, but allowed Arizona to drive into their territory with just minutes remaining. Another penalty allowed for an untimed down and a chance for Arizona to put points on the board via field goal. Fortunately for the Trojans, Tell blocked the attempt to keep the shutout alive.
USC would end the first half on top 17-0. Despite the large scoring effort, the Trojans were marred by penalties. In two quarters USC tallied nine penalties for 95-yards. The amount of penalty yards rivaled their offensive yards.
Throughout the first half, Arizona's offense was unable to get things going. USC's defense defended passes and stopped runs. Dual-threat quarterback Khalil Tate was held to just 14-yards rushing in the first half.
USC opened their second half with a 69-yard run Ware to put them up 24-0. The Wildcats were able to finally respond with their first score of the game, a 33-yard touchdown to cut the lead, 24-7.
Unfortunately, the Trojans were unable to keep the momentum going following Ware's big run. Constant 3-and-outs gave Arizona the ball on multiple occasions.
The lack of momentum proved to be costly when Daniels was strip-sacked in USC territory. The Wildcats took over on the 32-yard line and promptly scored just seconds later. Tate connected with Cedric Peterson for a touchdown to bring the Wildcats closer, 24-14.
Hoping to swing things back in their favor, the Trojans began to drive the ball upfield. Unfortunately, momentum shifted right back into the Wildcats hands when Josh Falo was stripped of the ball. The swinging momentum defined the final minutes of play as the two sides traded the ball back-and-forth.
The Wildcats dominated the last minutes of possession as they drove into Trojan territory. They capped their drive with a touchdown, but missed the field goal.
From there, USC ran out the remaining seconds to win their third game of the season. The Trojans are now 3-2 with a 2-1 conference record.
"You can't be too mad when you get a win, but I'm pretty mad," JT Daniels said. "There's a lot of things we can do better."
- Marvell Tell: Tell had a big first half with an interception and a blocked field goal. The interception led to a Trojans score and the block allowed USC to complete a first-half shutout. Tell would finish the night with four tackles to along with his big plays.
- Aca’Cedric Ware: After two quiet weeks against Texas and Washington State, Ware exploded for 173-yards rushing. The tailback also chipped in two touchdowns. In each of Ware’s three games against Arizona he has posted 100-yards rushing yards or greater. His two scores brought his season total to three. Ware credited the offensive line in aiding his performance. “They opened up the big holes and I just ran through them.”
- JT Daniels: Daniels did not throw much in the hostile environment, but when he did he connected with receivers for big gains. The true freshman quarterback would finish the night completing 16 passes on 24 attempts for a total of 197-yards. His ability to connect with multiple receivers is a continuing trend and sign of the chemistry they are building together. “A couple miscues, but in general I think we were efficient throwing the ball today,” Daniels said.
- Receivers: USC’s receivers continued to shine in the win. Their 197-yards on 16 receptions kept key drives alive. The receiving corps made big receptions for large gains that would later result in scores for the Trojans. Six receivers tallied receptions of 10-yards or greater. In total, seven Trojans had a reception in the win.
- Defense: While the defense did allow for several explosive plays and 2o points, they did secure a first-half shutout. It was not until midway through the third quarter that the Wildcats scored their first points of the game. The defense forced Arizona to punt often and gave the offense a chance to score on multiple occasions. While they slightly let up at the end, the defense managed to hold on to keep USC in line for the victory. Helton had this to say about his defense,”I thought they did a tremendous job today holding up time in and time out, even in some bad situations when we had two turnovers in the second half.”
Penalties ruled the night for USC. Across four quarters the Trojans tallied 18 penalties for 169-yards. It is the most penalties for an FBS team in a single game since Arkansas State committed 18 against Utah State in 2016. The penalties on both sides of the ball prevented USC from continuing drives and allowed Arizona to advance without having to work.
The run game of USC continues to impress. The ability to plug in any of its three tailbacks has aided the Trojans greatly. With Aca'Cedric Ware now back on track, opposing defenses should be wary of the Trojans.
The Trojans will enter a bye week and will not play this weekend. Helton said the team will take a needed break to get healthy and fix some mistakes. The team will resume play on October 13 at home against Colorado. The Buffaloes are presently 4-0 and are in their bye week. The team will pick up play against Arizona State next weekend.
Arizona will stay at home next weekend when they take on No. 24 ranked Cal. The Golden Bears are 3-1 on the season.
Quote of the Night:
"He don't like them at all," Marvell Tell on how Aca'Cedric Ware is able to find such success against Arizona.