• John Skinner

2017 Arizona Preview

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

Helton delivers again under pressure- The Trojan nation was not happy last week about the Trojans underwhelming season after the blow-out loss to Notre Dame.  When you couple that with strong rumors of coaching staff hostility and player frustrations leaking out into the media, the SC football team looked like it was headed toward a loss against the surging Sun Devils.  However, Helton, in his trademark calm demeanor, circled the wagons late in the week and got everyone on the same page after meeting with defensive back Chris Hawkins as well as members of the offensive coaching staff.  Everyone in the locker room stepped up and whether you think Helton is ultimately the right person to lead the program or not, he deserves credit for righting the ship under difficult circumstances.

Helton Part II- It is not all positive though.  Linebacker Porter Gustin is out for the Arizona game after supposedly re-injuring his fractured toe.  The ASU game was his first game back after barely practicing for six weeks and as we noted last week, he was set to only play 15-20 snaps.  He ended up playing 37 snaps and into the fourth quarter of a blowout.  Would Gustin, who is one of SC’s best defensive players, be available for this pivotal match-up with Arizona and its multi-dimensional QB Khalil Tate had he stuck to just playing 20 snaps?  Gustin has an extremely high pain tolerance and is the toughest guy on the team to shut down but that is not an excuse for not sticking to the original plan.

The greatness of Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate- One of the biggest determining factors in Saturday night’s match-up will be the Trojans ability to contain the multi-dimensional Heisman candidate.  In the last four games since taking over as the starting quarterback for the Wildcats, Tate has rushed for 840 yards and eight touchdowns (210 yards per game) and thrown for 743 yards and six touchdowns.  He ranks third in the nation in rushing yards…as a quarterback! He has only thrown two interceptions while completing 70.7% of his passes.  Tate has been named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week four consecutive times, the first time in Pac-12 history. Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush rushed for over 100 yards against the Trojans and he is not as dynamic as Tate.  Side-note- Tate faced the Trojans in his first collegiate start last year and had 72 yards rushing and 58 yards passing in 2/3 of the game. The Trojans won 48-14.

Geller’s Take- Iosefa and Houston are the next men up- Khalil Tate may be as good as an all-purpose quarterback USC has faced since Marcus Mariota of Oregon back in 2014. It is hugely important the Trojans keep him inside the pocket, and force him to beat them with his arm. Without Porter Gustin, Sophomore Jordan Iosefa and Junior John Houston will fill in at outside linebacker and if they are able to consistently make open field tackles against Tate, and limit his scrambling, the Trojans will claim a commanding lead in the Pac-12 South race. –Austin Geller is a senior at St. Monica Catholic High School and an intern with usctrojans.com.

Tate is great but is Arizona really that good? – Arizona has deservedly been the talk of the PAC-12 since QB sensation Khalil Tate has burst onto the scene. Arizona has won four straight despite being considered a pre-season favorite for the basement of the Pac-12 south standings, and they riding a ton of momentum into the coliseum, but are they a true title contender?  They barely beat a mid-level Cal team in double overtime, beat a below average Colorado team by 3 and beat an over-rated Washington State team by 17 points, with 21 points coming off 4 Cougar turnovers (2 interceptions were in the Cougars red zone).

Keys to a Trojan victory- #1- Limit turnovers and untimely penalties- SC played a clean game against ASU and looked like a championship level team, despite playing the second leg of a back-to-back road trip.  SC ranks 119th nationally in turnover rate (17.1% of drives result in a giveaway) and is still 7-2. If SC just ranked around average nationally in turnover rate, they would be 8-1 and the loss to Notre Dame would not have been as big of a blowout and the complexion of that game could have been totally different.

2- Limit Arizona’s big plays- The wildcats lead the country with 36 plays of at least 30 yards this season.  The mistake opponents have made against Tate is they are loading the box with defenders and exposing the secondary. This allows Tate or the running back to make a big-time run if they get through the line of scrimmage and it also allows Tate to make throws against a barren secondary.  The key will be to shadow Tate and rely on the SC defensive line, which is better than any of the lines Arizona has faced on their current win streak.  Make Arizona prove they can consistently score touchdowns in the red-zone.  Washington State gave up three touchdowns on plays 30 yards or longer and Cal gave up four touchdowns of 25 yards or longer against the Wildcats.

3- Establish the running game early- Though Arizona just gave up almost 600 yards of passing against Washington State last week, the key for the Trojans will be to get the running game established behind Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr, who will see his first action since injuring his foot against Washington State.  Establishing a strong run game will allow SC to win the time of possession battle (wear down a young Arizona defense) and force Arizona to blitz more often from the secondary allowing bigger passing lanes for Darnold to torch the Wildcat secondary.  The Arizona secondary is known to give up big plays (last in the Pac-12) but also has 14 interceptions on the year, so SC wants to avoid too many obvious passing situations.

Arizona’s opponents have been held to three-and-outs just 25.3% of the time and opposing offenses score a touchdown 56.5% of the time when they achieve at least one first down on a drive and SC achieves a first down on 79% of its drives. Meaning, SC should have a ton of offensive success.

For a great preview of the game, check out Tom Haire’s in-depth article from usctrojans.com -

Pac-12 has a hard time getting it right-  The best game in the Pac-12 this weekend is SC vs. Arizona, which features two top 25 teams, a divisional race hanging in the balance, the hottest player in college football (Tate) and a traditional power in the Trojans.  Yet, the game will kick off at 10:45pm on the east coast.  The networks have a certain order in how they choose the games but this is where Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has to step up and make sure this game is played nationally at a more reasonable time.  Should Khalil Tate have another break-out performance, his talent deserves to be seen nationally and launch him as a bonafide Heisman contender.  If the Trojans shut him down, it should be a showcase moment to help erase the lasting national memory of the Notre Dame beat-down and create conference momentum heading into the championship game.  Instead, with SC’s last two games kicking-off at 10:45pm on the east coast and the Colorado game set for the Pac-12 network and UCLA struggling, SC will not have a significant national audience until the Pac-12 championship game.

Basketball ranked 10th in the AP but…looks like Melton is out?- This is the highest the Trojans have been ranked in the pre-season Associated Press poll since the 1974-75 season.  However, SC had a closed-door scrimmage against a young San Diego State team featuring a new head coach, and SC got hammered 98-76 according to the San Diego Union Tribune.  SDSU is picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West conference while SC is slated to finish second in the Pac-12.

It was just a scrimmage and Enfield was looking at a lot of different combinations, but this has raised some serious red flags with some close to the program for two reasons.  One, potential NBA first round pick and SC’s most complete player, D’Anthony Metlon did not play as he is rumored to be tied to the FBI bribery investigation of former assistant Tony Bland.  Though SC’s roster is loaded, a player like Melton is irreplaceable.  Secondly, the distraction of the FBI investigation and losing a talented assistant in Bland might be wearing on the team more than it appears.  Hopefully for Trojan hoops fans, Melton will be cleared of any wrongdoing in the same way Louisville’s Brian Bowen was.

Quick-hitters- Arizona

*They are 3-0 on the road in Pac-12 play and #5 in the country as a rushing offense averaging 338 yards per game.  They are one spot above Notre Dame which ran for nearly 400 yards on the Trojans.  The Wildcats also rank 5th in country in sacks allowed only giving up five all year.

*The defense rank 108th in the country and second to last in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (449).  Arizona’s las five opponents have averaged just under 37 points per game.

*The Wildcats rank 6th in the nation in both punt return average and kickoff return average.

*Talk about a youth movement…The roster features 61 true and redshirt freshman.

USC-

*SC currently has a 14-game home winning streak, third nationally behind Navy’s 17 and Alabama’s 16.

*13 starters from the season opener have missed at least one game.

*Former stud wideout JuJu Smith-Shuster was the sixth receiver taken in the 2017 NFL draft.  His 424 yards receiving for the Pittsburgh Steelers is more than the five receivers taken before him…combined!  Easy to see why Sam Darnold has struggled a bit this season without having a talent like that as a consistent target.

*USC will be honoring its latest Hall of Fame class at halftime- Chris Claiborne, Troy Polamalu, J.K. McKay, Troy Polamalu, April Ross and long-time Sports Information Director Tim Tessalone headline the class.

Betting info-  The Trojans are 7.5 point favorites and are just 2-7 against the spread (ATS).  Arizona 5-3 ATS and the total has gone over in four of Arizona’s last six games.  The over/under is a mighty 76.5.  In their last nine road games, the Wildcats have gone 2-7 ATS, but they are 4-2 ATS in their last six road games at USC. The total in eight of the last 11 games between these teams has been under.

Carol Skinner Memorial tid-bit- SC is 11-0 in Ronald Jones II career when he has at least 18 carries.