Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
The Arizona Wildcats upset the USC Trojans, and the head puns might be the only accurate way to describe Matt Scott's day.
You know, those Trojans who began the season in the AP Poll at No. 1; the Trojans that belted Arizona's defense with 493 passing yards from Heisman candidate Matt Barkley, 345 of which were to Heisman candidate Marqise Lee. The sophomore smashed the Pac-12 record of 293 held by Oregon State's Mike Hass.
Of course it'd be against the Wildcats.
The odds were against Arizona, and USC had every reason not to lose. The Trojans also had every opportunity to win.
But it was Rich Rodriguez's club that came away with a 39-36 victory against the No. 9 Trojans in Tucson, and it was done with more heart than heady play. And the Wildcats took more than their second victory in Pac-12 play to move to 5-3 on the year. Arizona crushed USC's BCS aspirations and with that the legacy of Barkley, who shunned the NFL for a shot at history.
Now, what's left of Troy?
Arizona's Matt Scott acted like he saw the Davey O'Brien semifinalist list, one that included Barkley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He left the game with a late concussion, and it was likely four plays later than it should've been, but that came after he led Arizona's attack with 369 yards on 27-of-50 passing. He also rushed 15 times for 100 yards, suffering a head injury on a slide in the fourth quarter.
Scott threw three touchdowns and had one pass intercepted. Numbers aside, it was his guts and resiliency that defined the game and could potentially define the fifth-year senior's own legacy as an Arizona quarterback, one who did more with his heart than with his head.
Austin Hill had much to do with Scott's day. The sophomore receiver finished with 259 yards on 10 catches, and Ka'Deem Carey rolled up 119 yards, his second-half will after Scott's departure burning some solid minutes off the clock as Arizona held off the Trojans' final assault.
And the Wildcats got help from USC penalties, and arguably, bad play-calling by Lane Kiffin.
USC commited 13 penalties for 117 yards and turned the ball over five times on the day.
The Wildcats led 10-0 following the first quarter after Flowers picked off a Barkley pass. The linebacker returned it to UA's 40-yard line before Scott found Johnny Jackson for an eight-yard pass to finish off the drive and give the Wildcats a touchdown lead.
USC was driving and looking to respond at Arizona's 15 when the Trojans failed to covert on 4th-and-2. Arizona responded with their own scoring drive capped by a 27-yard field goal by Bonano to go ahead 10-0.
But Arizona didn't take complete advantage of Trojans turnovers, nor their penalties. Flowers forced a fumble and had another interception in the first half, but the Trojans defense came to life. That led to three touchdown drives by Barkley, the second finished off by Lee's 49-yard touchdown catch where he caught a mid-level pass and simply outran UA's defense.
After the third USC touchdown, Daniel Jenkins returned a kickoff 56 yards and put UA in field goal position before the half. A penalty during a made field goal negated the score, and Bonano missed a 37-yarder going into the locker room.
USC led 21-13 at the half, and it appeared that Arizona was in trouble with no answers for the Barkley-to-Lee connection.
On a play similar to the earlier long touchdown score by Lee, Barkley hit the receiver in stride to give USC a 44-yard strike less than five minutes into the third.
The 28-13 lead wouldn't last.
A 42-yard catch by Hill on a crucial third down gave Arizona life, and Scott scored on a 10-yard burst a play later with four minutes to go in the third quarter. USC's D.J. Morgan fumbled on a run with the Trojans' next possession and two tough catches by Dan Buckner helped UA cut the deficit to 28-26 after a failed two-point conversion.
The next USC possession turned into disaster for the Trojans.
On Arizona's 29-yard line, Lane Kiffin ran a reverse to Lee on 4th-and-2, and Arizona's defenders didn't bite, forcing a turnover on downs. Scott then connected with Hill on a 60-yard pass to set up a Carey 7-yard touchdown run, and all of a sudden Arizona had a 32-28 lead and all the momentum with 11 minutes to play.
A three-and-out by USC was followed up by the gutsiest drive of Arizona's season.
It included Scott attempting to leap a diving tackler. It included a sliding run where Scott's head collided with a USC player that led to Scott shaking it off only to vomit on the field. Scott refused to leave, rushing again before finding Dave Richards in the end zone for a 39-28 lead with five minutes left.
Of course, the lead wasn't safe.
A flood of memories from this season alone came rushing back (Oregon State, Stanford).
Lee answered with a 72-yard kickoff return, and the Trojans punched in a touchdown and an extra point with only 56 second running off the clock. With B.J.Denker taking the field as Scott underwent concussion tests, Carey took over for the Wildcats, pounding the rock for seven straight runs to burn 3:45 off the clock before Kyle Dugandzic punted a perfect kick out of bounds at the USC 13.
Barkley completed three passes as USC reached midfield, but no time remained as Arizona battled down a hail-mary attempt for the upset victory.
Now, the Pac-12 South is a mess. The Wildcats did rival ASU a favor only for UCLA to beat the Sun Devils on a last-second field goal.
But more locally for the Wildcats, Rich Rodriguez finally showed that the Oklahoma State game wasn't a fluke.
He proved that the Wildcats have talent. More importantly, he proved to the nation that Scott -- whether his head is there or not -- hasn't received the right attention (he also needed more attention, and sooner, for his concussion).
Rodriguez called his senior one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. It's not always by heady play but that didn't undo the Wildcats on Saturday, who had no reason -- with 129 penalty yards themselves and Lee's fantastic day -- winning against such a talented USC team.
The Wildcats proved that sometimes, maybe they don't need their heads.
Saturday, quite a bit of heart made up for that.