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First look at the USC Trojans

The men of Troy are coming to Tucson

NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats have reached the .500 mark on the season and are undefeated in conference play. They return home this Saturday to take on USC, which is coming off a 39-36 win over Washington State.

The game will kickoff at 7:30 pm MST and will air on ESPN2. Let’s get to know the Trojans before then.

First Look

2018 Record — 2-2 (1-1); Week 1 win vs. UNLV (43-21), Week 2 loss at Stanford (17-3), Week 3 loss at Texas (37-14), Week 4 win vs. Washington State (39-36)

Key Offensive PlayersJT Daniels (QB), Stephen Carr (RB), Tyler Vaughns (WR), Toa Lobendahn (OL)

Key Defensive PlayersChristian Rector (DE), Cameron Smith (LB), Porter Gustin (LB), Iman Marshall (Safety)

The Stats

The start to USC’s season has not gone as they’d envisioned. Sitting with a 2-2 record heading into their trip to Arizona, the Trojans have experienced major production issues on the offensive side of the ball.

Through the first four games, USC is averaging just under 25 points per game. This is vastly different the previous two years when they had a backfield of Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones II.

True freshman quarterback JT Daniels found rhythm in the second half of the season opener against UNLV. Over the next two games, it was underwhelming at best. He failed to lead the Trojans into the end zone at Stanford and recorded zero points in the final three quarters of the Texas game.

USC’s matchup against Washington State last week was a completely different story, though. Daniels completed 65 percent of his passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns. He also connected with Tyler Vaughns on a crucial two-point conversion to give the Trojans a three-point lead with eight minutes remaining in the fourth.

This was the type of performance USC fans have been waiting to see out of their quarterback. The defense on the other hand allowed 36 points and simply got gashed by the Cougars’ passing attack. In fairness, Mike Leach’s offense has been known to do this but this exposed serious concerns for the Trojan defense.

There are multiple NFL players on the field at all times, especially within the front seven. Despite all of that talent, they really struggled with pass rushing last Saturday. A lot of could be chalked up to short drop steps by WSU’s quarterback Gardner Minshew but he still found time for deeper drop steps on multiple occasions.

Running back will be an interesting play for USC on Saturday. Sophomore Stephen Carr is by far the most talented back, but he is more of a pass catcher rather than a downhill runner. Against WSU, USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin opted for another sophomore in Vave Malepeai to handle most of the carries between the tackles.

If the same strategy is used in Tucson, this could be a real issue for UA’s defense which allowed 183, 297 and 193 rushing yards in weeks 1 through 3, respectively. They dramatically improved against Oregon State, only allowing 97 yards, but USC will be a much tougher test.

This will be Khalil Tate’s third start against USC. It’s been well-documented that this has been a special matchup for him given the familiarity with many of the Trojan players. The first two contests have not gone as Tate and the Wildcats would have hoped.

After the first two games on this season, most everyone would have looked at this game with anticipation of a lopsided victory for USC. Now with the stabilization of Arizona offense and the recent overall struggles with the Trojans, this appears to have the makings of a potential entertaining matchup.