ARIZONA (3-1) at USC (3-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, October 10, 10:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Los Angeles Coliseum (93,607) -- Los Angeles, California. Television: FOX Sports 1. Home Record: Arizona 2-0, USC 2-1. Away Record: Arizona 1-1, USC 1-1. Neutral Record: Arizona 0-0, USC 0-0. Conference Record: Arizona 0-1, USC 0-2. Series Record: USC leads, 27-8..
GAME NOTES: Following a turbulent bye week in which head coach Lane Kiffin was fired, the USC Trojans will try to start fresh when they host the Arizona Wildcats in a Pac-12 matchup at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats are coming off a loss in the conference opener against Washington (31-13). Like the Trojans, the Wildcats had an extra week of preparation for this contest as they had a bye this past weekend.
It was more a matter of when than if Kiffin would be let go as his Trojans have under-performed over the past two seasons. USC was 10-8 in the last two seasons under Kiffin, who has been replaced, on an interim basis, by defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron. This season the Trojans are 3-2 overall with both losses coming against Pac-12 squads, including a 62-41 setback at Arizona State last time out.
A shootout in the desert ended in a 39-36 win for Arizona when these teams met last season. The victory did little more than put a dent in the Trojans' all-time series edge (27-8), which would be larger if not for a vacated win from the 2005 season.
The normally potent Wildcats were put on a leash against Washington as they had a season-low in points (13) and total yards (318). The Wildcats, who are the 10th best rushing team in the country (291.5 ypg) were held to less than 200 yards on the ground in the setback.
Although as a team the Wildcats saw a downturn in production, All-American Ka'Deem Carey didn't. Carey rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries and now has 431 yards and five scores total this season despite missing the first game of the season. Carey is second only to Washington's Bishop Sankey in rushing yards per game (143.7) in the conference, with the pair the only players rushing for more than 120 yards on a weekly basis.
This year's version of the Wildcats has not had much balance with B.J. Denker failing to really get into much of a rhythm as a passer. Denker has completed an even 50 percent of his pass attempts this season for 445 yards and two touchdowns to match two interceptions. Denker, who has rushed for 280 yards and a team-high six touchdowns, has completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts in the last two games, including the loss to Washington.
With Denker failing to produce in the passing game there hasn't been many opportunities for receivers to make an impact. Garic Wharton (eight receptions, 117 yards) is the only player with more than 100 yards.
On defense the Wildcats have begun to show improvement in their second season in the 3-3-5 scheme of Rodriguez's long-time defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Arizona is allowing just 14.2 points per game, while holding opponents to 335 yards a contest. Arizona is actually a top four defense in the conference.
Tra'Mayne Bondurant has been an impact player for the unit with 23 tackles, 3.0 for loss and a team-high three interceptions. Jared Tevis is second on the team in tackles (27) and has one of just six sacks by the Wildcats.
Against Arizona State the Trojans had their biggest offensive output of the season with 542 total yards. It was the second time this season they had reached the 500-yard mark. However, USC still ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in total yards (380.4 ypg). In fact it is the only team in the league averaging less than 400 yards per game.
Tre Madden has given the Trojans a sturdy option in the backfield. Madden has rushed for 583 yards and three touchdowns and has four 100-yard efforts with a season-low of 93 yards against Utah State. Madden is also second on the team in receptions (12) and receiving touchdowns (three). Justin Davis (311 yards, five TDs) is a nice compliment as Madden's backup.
Cody Kessler should continue to hold the starting quarterback job under Orgeron. Kessler has thrown for only 832 yards in five games though he is completing a solid 63.5 percent of his pass attempts. Kessler also has six touchdown passes but has been sacked nine times in the last three games, while being intercepted four times overall.
Defending Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee has been the most affected by the poor passing game as he has 30 receptions for 385 yards and just a single receiving touchdown on the campaign.
The inconsistencies of the offense have not completely derailed the Trojans thanks in part to some strong play on the defensive side. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who is considered a candidate for the permanent head coaching gig, has the Trojans ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense (306.8 ypg).
Dion Bailey (28 tackles) not only leads the team in tackles but is one of two players with two interceptions already. Meanwhile George Uko (4.0 sacks) and Morgan Breslin (4.0 sacks) are tied for the team-lead in sacks. The team is second in the league in QB takedowns (16).
Even though the Trojans lost their head coach, there is hope left for the season. Led by Breslin the Trojans' defense has the ability to get into the backfield and slow the Wildcats; ground game. However, slow is the key word as Carey is too good to be completely stopped. Kessler and Lee will need to elevate the offensive game for the Trojans to win what should be another shootout.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 38, USC 35
10/09 10:39:25 ET