A big game in Tucson at the end of September? What could go wrong?
After opening Pac-12 play with a win and the rest of the South struggling, the Arizona Wildcats find themselves in a position where they can give themselves some early distance between them and the preseason favorite to win the division, the USC Trojans.
Sure, USC does not look like the Trojans we’re used to seeing in the early going, but this is still Arizona/USC where things usually go in favor of the gold and cardinal.
So what do the Wildcats have to do to buck the trend? Spend the next four minutes here to save the college football world. No hesitating:
1. Suit and Tie
As the team has improved over the last two weeks, there’s still one concerning thing that looms as better competition awaits.
Arizona is currently 10th and 11th in the conference in penalties and penalty yardage, respectively. This will not fly in games like this one where each and every first down could end up being the difference.
USC is plenty capable of gaining yardage in large chunks and they don’t need any help from dumb penalties like some of the ones we’ve seen from the Wildcat defense in the first four weeks. If Arizona is going to win this game the penalty yardage will have to be as close to zero as possible.
2. Take Me Now
Speaking of being lowly ranked in the conference, Arizona’s one takeaway this year is the worst in the Pac-12. Who’s 11th? USC.
With PJ Johnson back in the lineup last week the Wildcats were suddenly creating all of the havoc in the backfield. This will need to continue and maybe this time it’ll lead to takeaways.
The Trojans have a guy playing quarterback that should still be in high school, so a late night road game with lots of pressure could create some really poor decisions. And as the safeties continue to get better and better, I feel like they’ll find themselves in positions to actually come up with those crucial plays.
And if they do that? Well, Arizona could be looking pretty, pretty good.
3. Hole In My Head
Another thing that we saw for the first time this year last week was the offensive line creating all of the running holes.
The improved play up front led to career-best yardage days for both J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell. While I don’t expect that kind of running output (c’mon this is USC not Oregon State), the Wildcats still need to have some semblance of a running game to have any chance.
I would still expect the Trojans to score a decent amount of points this weekend, so if Arizona is to keep up with that, they’ll need to have some sort of running game established so that a playaction might result in an over-the-top touchdown bomb from Khalil Tate to Shawn Poindexter.
Honestly, UA will always need its offensive line to be close to the level of last week if they are to compete for the division, not just in these games against bigger, faster opponents.