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Arizona vs. USC: First look at the Trojans

The winner controls its destiny for the South

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have improved their conference record to 4-1 (6-2 overall) after a shootout win against Washington State on Saturday.

This now sets up a showdown with the USC Trojans in which the winner controls its own destiny for the Pac-12 South crown.

Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7:45 p.m. PT, and it will be televised on ESPN.

A look at USC

2017 Record – 7-2 (5-1 Pac-12)

Key Games – Week two win versus Stanford (42-24), week three win versus Texas (27-24 2OT), week five loss at WSU (30-27), week seven loss at Notre Dame (49-14), week eight win at ASU (48-17)

Key Offensive PlayersSam Darnold (QB), Ronald Jones II (RB), Stephen Carr (RB), Deontay Burnett (WR), Nico Falah (Center)

Key Defensive PlayersRasheem Green (DT), John Houston Jr. (LB), Porter Gustin (LB), Jack Jones (CB), Chris Hawkins (SS)

Prior to Saturday’s game at ASU, the Trojans were 2-2 in their last four games. They squeaked out a win at home against Utah which felt like it could have gone either way. After beginning the season as the fourth-ranked team in the country, USC found itself sitting as the 21st-ranked team after this stretch.

Then they had their “get right” game in Tempe against an ASU team that was riding high after two impressive wins against Washington and Utah. USC basically controlled the game from their opening drive where they went 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown.

I mention this because it’s the type of dominating performance that everyone has been waiting to see from USC. Despite missing their top cornerback, Iman Marshall, everything was clicking on defense. They recorded six sacks, an interception and held the Sun Devils to 1-12 on third down conversions.

Their offense seemed to get on track as well. Sam Darnold has been notorious for giveaways through the first eight weeks but he took better care of the ball Saturaday as he registered just a single fumble — no interceptions.

The star on offense was clearly Ronald Jones II, though. He finished with 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

Talented freshman running back Stephen Carr has missed the past few weeks with a foot injury but he is expected to return this week. His return gives USC’s offense another wrinkle as he’s a prolific pass-catcher out of the backfield.

I believe there are two keys to this game for the Wildcats. The first being, will Arizona’s defense be able to get off the field on third down? Limiting Jones and Carr from the big plays is equally important but forcing Darnold to beat you with a younger receiving unit should be the hope.

Third-down defense has been an area of concern. Even though they held WSU to 4-18 on third down conversions, USC is a more balanced offense with a very strong rushing attack.

The second key is Khalil Tate. He is going back home to Southern California for potentially the biggest game of his young career. USC’s roster features eight of Tate’s former high school teammates. Will he be sucked into the emotions of this high stakes showdown?

Tate has put this team in a position to take the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South championship. Despite the late 7:45 p.m. PT kickoff, there will be a lot of national attention on this game.

If Tate can maintain a rational state of mind, it’s easy to imagine Arizona’s offense will keep things rolling.