The Wildcats (6-2 overall, 4-1 Pac-12) enter on a four-game winning streak behind the legs and arm of quarterback Khalil Tate.
USC (7-2, 5-1) is coming off a 48-17 win against ASU.
We wanted to know more about the Trojans, so we asked our friends at Conquest Chronicles for some insight.
Here’s what editor Richard Mejia had to say.
How would you characterize USC's season? It seems like they've had a lot of ups and downs.
For Trojan fans, there’s no other way to label this season than as disappointing—but not for reasons one might think. Sam Darnold hasn’t looked like the automatic Heisman winner he was touted to be in the offseason as he has thrown 10 interceptions to go along with 20 touchdowns and 2558 yards in nine games this season.
After throwing for over 3000 yards with 30 TDs and 9 INTs in 10 games as a starter season, Darnold hasn’t regressed in ability, just in surrounding talent. The Trojans have had big injuries all year long, losing most of their receiving core in the offseason and suffering injuries to three starters on the offensive line within the past three weeks, USC’s offense has sputtered out.
The Trojans still have talent, but they’ve been fighting the injury bug as well as questionable offensive playcalling all season long.
What are USC's strengths and weaknesses?
One of USC’s biggest strengths is tied to its clear biggest weakness. With freshman RB Stephen Carr expected to return versus Arizona, the Trojans will once again have one of the best running back combos in all of college football alongside Ronald Jones II.
With Darnold struggling early, USC had relied heavily on both backs to keep the offense afloat with the duo combining for 759 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the five games prior to Carr’s injury.
With that considered, the Trojan offensive line has been on a rapid downward trajectory as the Trojans lost guard Viane Talamaivao for the season and tackle Chuma Edoga has been oft-injured since the Washington State game. With left tackle Toa Lobendahn back from injury last week, the line has a chance to get it back together against the Wildcats.
What do you think about Khalil Tate, and how confident are you that USC can slow him down?
Tate has been an absolute joy to watch all season. With Louisville QB Lamar Jackson garnering all the media attention, Tate’s play has proven that he just might be the most criminally underhyped Heisman candidate this season. Unfortuantly, Khalil Tate poses big problems for USC—and it’s all in his legs. The Trojans will be without their leading edge rushers in OLB Porter Gustin and sack-leader Christian Rector. With only OLB Uchenna Nwosu as the strong edge presence, USC will have to get creative in containing Tate.
Has Sam Darnold been worse then expected? If so, why?
As previously mentioned, it’s been the widespread injuries to his receiving core. For most of the season, Darnold has been without wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Stephen Mitchell, Keyshawn Young and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe. In losing three starters to the NFL in the offseason, Darnold has been working to develop chemistry with his group, yet most didn’t make opening day.
As bad as the injuries were, the play of the wide recivers Darnold did have was awful—as Jalen Green and Stephen Mitchell were guilty of painful drops far too often. It’s fair to say Darnold has been worse this year, he’s forcing passes to guys who can’t catch, and he’s paid for it.
With the rise of freshman Tyler Vaughns and the steady ascent of entrenched primary target Deontay Burnett, Darnold’s play has steadily improved over the past few games.
Aside from Darnold, who are some players that can swing the game in USC's favor?
With all due respect to Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones II is the best player on this Trojans’ team. He’s proving to be one of the best RBs in college football as he’s amassed 888 yards for 10 touchdowns in only eight games this season. If the Trojans pound the ball as did they did last week against the Sun Devils, then the offense will have a lot of success.
How does USC's talent level compare to usual?
The Trojans have more talent on their last three recruiting classes then they’ve had in the past 10 years. Ranking 2nd, 10th, and 4th in recruiting classes since 2015, USC has talent depth at every position.
The dynamic play of Khalil Tate will test the Trojan defense, however after riding momentum following a much-needed victory over Arizona State, I expect the Trojans to continue showing their newly-found explosiveness on offense.
With Jones and Carr pouding the ball, I expect Darnold to out-sling Tate with his best game this season as the Trojans close out the Arizona sweep, 33-17.
Thanks to Richard for answering our questions about Saturday’s game. We answered their questions about Arizona here. Make sure to check that out!