Robert Woods took a short pass from Matt Barkley on Southern California's second play from scrimmage, shed several would-be tacklers, and 82 yards was in the end zone. The star receiver's seemingly effortless jaunt to pay dirt set the tone for a wild, 48-41 shootout in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday.
Neither defense was good, serving as little more than speed bumps between each teams' six touchdowns. USC's was slightly less not good, particularly in the first quarter when the Trojans built what proved to be an insurmountable 17-point advantage. UA (1-4, 0-3 Pacific 12) nearly battled back from a deficit as wide as three touchdowns, but the Trojans (4-1, 2-1) kept the Wildcats at arm's length throughout, answering nearly every score with one of its own.
<a href="http://www.azdesertswarm.com/2011/9/30/2460544/defense-optional-ua-usc-shootout-on-tap" target="_blank">As anticipated</a>, the third Pacific 12 Conference game was a defense-optional offensive orgy with two of the best quarterbacks in the conference slinging the ball around to their hearts' content. Barkley's second play connection with Woods was the first of two between the duo, and set the foundation for Woods' record-setting 14-reception, 252-yard afternoon. Barkley connected with nine different receivers and scored four times. Nick Foles was equally prolific: four touchdowns, completions to 12 different teammates, 426 yards. But the final tally was one that has become frustratingly common for these 'Cats.
Other adjustments showed glimpses of turning a corner, specifically the rushing game. Entering the game No. 119 in the 120-team Bowl Subdivision via the ground, freshman Ka'Deem Carey scored a pair of touchdowns and senior Keola Antolin gained 87 yards as UA actually outgained USC 128-118 with the rush. It was the first time UA outgained an opponent on the ground since December's Territorial Cup.
The diving defenders who came up with nothing but air and turf on their attempts to stop Woods that first touchdown drive were a constant Saturday, and remain a vexing issue for a team struggling for answers. USC rolled off 584 yards of total offense en route to its season high 48 points. UA's ability to accrue an impressive 552 yards and show the most rushing promise it has this season and still lose proves just how difficult winning shootouts is. It's not a road the Wildcats can continue to go down and hope to extend the bowl streak to four.
A rare defensive highlight came in the second half, after the Trojan lead had been trimmed to 14 cornerback Shaq Richardson read Barkley on a telegraphed route and came up with the interception. Yet on the very next possession, USC's talented freshman Marqise Lee beat Richardson deep to snag a jump ball and set up USC on the one-inch line. Such is the Wildcats' spell of one step forward, and several steps back -- those steps back usually in pursuit of an opponent sprinting past them to the goal line.
Saturday's loss was the Wildcats' fourth straight in 2011, and ninth consecutive against the FBS dating back to last November. It's a storyline repeated ad nauseum, and will contine to be until the dubious streak is snapped. And this season's four losses have come to the same squads that ended UA's 2010 on a sour note, like rewinding and reliving the end of a depressing movie.
Arizona State not appearing next on the schedule has to bring a sigh of relief for the Wildcats -- except, upcoming foe Oregon State was the sixth team to knock off UA last year.