From sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South to a game out of last, life has come at the Arizona Wildcats fast in the past two weeks. And the direction they’re heading is further toward the bottom.
A week after getting run over in the second half at home against Washington, the Wildcats let the blowout start early on Saturday night in a 41-14 loss to the USC Trojans in Los Angeles.
Shoddy blocking from a retooled offensive line, more bad decisions by quarterback Khalil Tate and three turnovers all contributed to a second straight loss after a four-game winning streak, as well as a seventh consecutive setback to USC.
Including the second half of the Washington game, Arizona (4-4, 2-2 Pac-12) has been outscored 79-17 over its last six quarters. And had Brian Casteel not turned a short screen pass into a 56-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter the Wildcats would have been shut out for the first time since 2012.
Prior to that, the closest Arizona came to score were missed field goal tries of 56 and 50 yards by Lucas Havrisik. So it goes when the offense didn’t top the 200-yard mark until Casteel’s TD catch.
USC (4-3, 3-1) registered six sacks of Tate, although three of those were the result of him continuing his befuddling trend of running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. This led to his benching after one third-quarter possession, though true freshman Grant Gunnell didn’t have much better luck, getting intercepted on his first pass.
Tate was just 6 of 10 for 47 yards, his lowest passing output in a game he started and didn’t leave because of injury.
Gunnell was 16 of 26 for 196 yards with two TDs (both to Casteel) and an interception, while J.J. Taylor ran for 80 yards on 16 carries. Casteel had 101 yards and two scores on four receptions.
Much as it did last week, Arizona’s defense had to play way above its pay grade early due to miscues on special teams and offense.
A muffed punt by Stanley Berryhill III—unlike last week, this one was entirely his fault—led to an early USC field goal, then Michael Wiley had the ball punched out while going to the ground and the Trojans turned that into a 10-0 lead on a 9-yard pass from Kedon Slovis to Michael Pittman Jr.
Arizona held the Trojans to only 56 yards on their first six possessions, but the inability for its own offense to produce eventually led to the Wildcat D wearing down. That came on a 13-play, 87-yard drive capped by a 12-yard Markese Stepp scoring run with 1:07 left in the first half.
The Wildcats managed just 119 yards in the first half, getting shut out in the opening two quarters for the first time since last October at Utah.
Up 17-0 at the half, USC took advantage of a worn-down Arizona defense much like Washington did in scoring 38 second-half points a week ago in Tucson. Slovis through his second TD pass to make it 27-0 with 3:29 left in the third while true freshman running back Kenan Christon—who had yet to play in a game this season—scored on runs of 55 and 30 yards in the fourth.
Arizona will finish a two-game California road swing next Saturday at Stanford, where it hasn’t won since 2006. The Cardinal (3-4, 2-3) lost 34-16 at home to UCLA on Thursday.