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Arizona’s comeback falls short, as USC snaps Wildcats’ winning streak

The Wildcats made things interesting in an ugly game

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats made a late push, but their two-game winning streak was snapped in a 24-20 loss to the USC Trojans on Saturday at Arizona Stadium in front of 43,573.

Arizona trailed 24-0 in the third quarter after being badly outplayed in the first half, but Khalil Tate threw two touchdown passes to cut USC’s lead to 10 with 9:34 left in the fourth.

Arizona’s offense got two more possessions to try to whittle the lead even further, thanks to a strip sack by Colin Schooler and a 4th-and-1 run stuff by PJ Johnson. The first possession ended on a turnover on downs, but the second resulted in a one-yard TD run by Gary Brightwell to make it a 4-point game with 1:40 left.

The extra point was missed, and USC recovered the ensuing onside kick to end the comeback bid.

The Wildcats fall to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12. They have not beaten USC since 2012. The Trojans are 3-2 and 2-1, respectively, picking up a crucial victory in the conference standings.

No longer facing a lesser team like Southern Utah or Oregon State, the Wildcats got outplayed in every facet of the game.

The Trojans outgained the Wildcats, 454-330, and should have won more comfortably, but they committed 18 penalties and lost three fumbles.

USC averaged 6.7 yards per play and 5.8 yards per rush. Aca’Cedric Ware had 21 carries for 173 yards and two TDs.

Daniels outshined Tate, going 16-for-24 for 197 yards. He led a 12-play, 90-yard drive that finished with a one-yard TD run by Vavae Malepeai for the game’s first points.

Tate was 16-for-33 for 232 yards through the air, doing most of his damage in the second half. He continues to be a non-factor on the ground, running for just 38 yards on 13 carries.

Tate, who had both ankles taped heavily, looked spry but tentative. Example: on a 3rd-and-7 late in the third quarter, he willingly ran out of bounds for a 4-yard gain instead of trying to cut up field for a first down. Arizona was down by 17 at the time.

In the second quarter he made an equally puzzling decision with his arm, when he rolled left and lofted a short interception in UA territory that led to a 42-yard field goal to put USC up 10-0. It was hard to decipher who Tate’s intended target was since the nearest receiver was several yards away.

A Ware touchdown later put USC up 17-0, and Arizona failed to capitalize on a prime opportunity to end the second quarter. J.J. Taylor caught a 20-yard screen pass that went to USC 35 and a personal foul on the play put UA at the USC 20 with an untimed down to go. Lucas Havrisik’s 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked to keep Arizona scoreless.

Arizona went three-and-out to begin the third quarter, and Ware scampered for a 69-yard touchdown to extend the Trojans’ lead to 24-0.

Arizona finally got on the board with 7:44 in the third when Tate dropped in a 33-yard TD pass to Stanley Berryhill III. Tate then fired a 32-yard TD pass to Cedric Peterson with 9:34 left in the fourth, showing some nice touch.

Arizona’s defense was shoddy in the first half, but kept UA in the game. It held the Trojans to 5-of-16 on third down and just seven points in the second half.

Kylan Wilborn had a strip sack of Daniels, which set up Peterson’s touchdown catch. Johnson, who moved to defensive end and also sacked Daniels, recovered the fumble.

But Arizona’s offense could not live up to its end of the bargain. It was 4-for-16 on third down and its rushing attack looked nothing like the one that thrashed Southern Utah and Oregon State the last two weeks. The Wildcats averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Taylor had 18 rushes for 50 yards, a week after going for 284 yards against OSU.

It was an uninspiring night for UA’s special teams, too. Not just because of Havrisik’s two failed kicks, but because Dylan Klumph only averaged 38 yards per punt.

Arizona hosts Cal at 7 p.m. next Saturday. The Wildcats probably need to win to reach a bowl game.