Los Angeles hasn’t been a kind place to the Arizona Wildcats. They have lost eight consecutive games at either the Rose Bowl against UCLA or the Coliseum against USC, where they are set to battle the Trojans on Saturday night in a clash of two of the four teams knotted at the top of the Pac-12’s South Division.
USC (3-3, 2-1) is coming off a 30-27 loss at Notre Dame and seems to be playing for coach Clay Helton’s job on a weekly basis. A loss to Arizona might end up being the nail in his coffin, while a victory would make it a little harder to part ways with a coach that’s got his team in the driver’s seat for a Pac-12 title game appearance.
To help us better understand the Trojans, we reached out to Matthew Lowry of SB Nation sister site Conquest Chronicles. Here are his detailed answers to our general questions.
Normally a team that has to use three quarterbacks in six games, including at least one that entered the preseason unlikely to play much, figures to go through turmoil. Yet Kedon Slovis seems to be a heck of a find. What does he bring to USC’s offense that makes him so effective?
“Slovis brings poise and confidence, which is huge for a freshman. When (J.T.) Daniels went down, many didn’t know what to expect moving forward, but Slovis has brought leadership which instilled confidence in the rest of the offense. The game vs. Notre Dame showed that the true freshman can give this offense a great shot to succeed.”
It probably helps to have the kind of skill guys the Trojans send out at receiver and running back. Are there enough carries and targets to go around?
“Yes there’s always enough to go around. The thing with the offensive weapons is that it’s hard to game plan against all of them. You can’t worry about one without having to watch the other. I think this week you’ll see a lot of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Michael Pittman Jr. also Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr could see their workload increase with the injury of Vavae Malepeai.”
Kliff Kingsbury was supposed to be calling the plays until the NFL came knocking, but Graham Harrell is a pretty good consolation prize. How has he managed to so quickly transform the offense?
“So far Graham Harrell hasn’t been in the good graces of USC fans with how the offense has struggled. Harrell has struggled to make adjustments to opposing defenses dropping eight into coverage and going to the run game to open up his passing game. Some believe that head coach Clay Helton had something to do with the struggles of the offense. I think when you have a true freshman QB taking over, there are some adjustments to be made. Hopefully the Notre Dame game was a sign of positive things to come.”
USC’s defense, despite being just as talent-laden as the offense, has been pretty bad overall and particularly poor against the run. What gives?
“Containing misdirections and mobile quarterbacks have haunted the Trojans this season (AGAIN!). Notre Dame was a team that managed to gash the Trojans’ talented defensive line between the tackles which was something we haven’t seen all season. I think the problem lies within the linebackers not playing their gaps or taking poor angles going sideline to sideline. Also the lack of speed there hurts the Trojans as well. With the line, the ends don’t keep their outside containment which allows for players to get to the outside. (Clancy) Pendergast’s defense has always been fooled by those misdirection reverse plays which is bound to get at least 17-18 yards on the defense. With mobile quarterbacks, that’s something we can’t understand other than failing to tackle or not generating enough pressure. It won’t get any easier with Arizona’s Khalil Tate.”
Clay Helton has arguably the hottest seat of any power conference coach. Is he looking over his shoulder constantly or just carrying out his business and not worrying about the future (or who the next AD will be)?
“I think Clay is just carrying out his business as usual and he has to. The players know that a loss could bring him closer to him potentially losing his job. Not to mention the team is still in a good position to play in the Pac-12 championship game. It’s all possible that he could WIN the conference as well, but that’s dependent on what USC does moving forward.”
Prediction time. Does USC continue its dominance of Arizona or is this the year that Khalil Tate and the rest of the LA-area Wildcats finally win?
“Arizona has the offense to keep up with USC, believe it or not. The Trojan defense’s difficulty in defending mobile quarterbacks and the potential of missing four defensive starters makes things pretty interesting, however Pendergast has done a great job defending Tate and taking him out his game. The USC offense will rely on the passing game against Arizona, whose pass defense ranks 11th in the Pac-12. I believe USC wins this one handily. USC 45, Arizona 24.