The USC Trojans and Arizona Wildcats both enter Saturday’s matchup at 2-2 overall. The Trojans are slightly favored, and the general expectation is that USC will leave the desert with a key divisional win. For that expectation to come to reality, they’ll need great performances out of certain players.
Here are those impact players who will help decided the Arizona vs. USC game.
JT Daniels, QB
Daniels has received a lot of attention in the first few weeks, being the new starting quarterback for one of America’s most popular programs. So far, reviews have been mixed, but there’s no doubt he’s the key to USC’s success.
Daniels is only 18 years old and graduated early from prestigious prep school Mater Dei. Being a true freshman starting for USC obviously attracted a lot of eyes, and so far Daniels has performed like a freshman. After very mediocre performances against UNLV, Stanford, and Texas, Daniels was finally able to minimize his mistakes and lead the team against Washington State. Having weapons like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman undoubtedly helps, but there’s no doubt Daniels is starting to come into his own.
Daniels has already been to two intimidating road environments, and with his recent development, Trojan fans are likely optimistic about how Daniels will perform. Whether he lives up to the USC standard will have a huge impact on the game’s result.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
The St. Brown family is quickly becoming one of the more recognizable names in football. Their youngest member, Amon-Ra, is already tearing up the field.
Equanimeous, Osiris, and Amon-Ra St. Brown are all sons of John Brown, a former bodybuilding superstar. Equanimeous went to Notre Dame and played great, and now plays for Green Bay. Osiris plays for Stanford, and is one of KJ Costello’s most dangerous playmakers. Amon-Ra, another Mater Dei product who’s a true freshman, has been a key part of Daniels’ development. St. Brown already has 342 receiving yards in four years, and has scored two touchdowns. With 20 receptions so far, its likely that number will grow greatly.
St. Brown facing off against the Arizona secondary will be a huge matchup on Saturday.
Vavae Malepeai, RB
USC has a deep stable of running backs, including Stephen Carr, Aca’Cedric Ware, and Malepeai. All of these players will have an impact on the game, but Malepeai is the most important.
With 146 yards in three games, Malepeai’s numbers don’t exactly pop out initially. After seeing he’s scored five touchdowns, one might assume he’s a third down and goal line specialist. While he’s big and talented enough to be such a specialist, he’s more than that. He’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and his longest run on the year is a solid 21 years. The sophomore really broke out against Washington State, going for 78 yards on 13 carries.
If the Trojans have a solid running game against this still questionable Arizona front, Malepeai will be a key reason why.
Cameron Smith, LB
USC’s most productive defender, by a massive margin, is Cameron Smith. If this senior leader keeps it up, Arizona’s offense will be harried quite a bit.
Smith is in his fourth year leading the Trojan defense, and surprised many when he passed on the NFL Draft. So far, he’s made that decision look good. Smith has 40 tackles already, with five of them for losses, and recorded one sack against UNLV. The Roseville, CA product has really shown his leadership this year as well, with his experience and skill making him the most important player on the fearsome Trojan defense. With Arizona’s explosiveness on the ground driving their offense, Smith’s position in the middle of the defense will be vital.
For USC to beat Arizona, Smith will have to take advantage of this position and make his presence known.
Porter Gustin, LB
Another senior leader in the middle of the defense, Gustin has received much more negative headlines than Smith due to multiple targeting plays this season.
Against Texas, Gustin hit quarterback Sam Ehlinger hard in the head, leading to a targeting penalty and his suspension for the first half of last week’s Washington State game. After returning, Gustin almost cost them the game, with a vicious late hit on Gardner Minshew somehow being missed by referees. Thanks to the missed call, Gustin will be on the field to start against Arizona. While his play has received negative press, he is a fearsome linebacker, recording 19 tackles in basically 3 full games. With him and Smith manning the linebacking corps, the Trojans are hard to beat.