This could end up being the last time USC ever plays in Tucson. If so, Arizona made the Trojans work hard for that final victory.
The Wildcats hung with 10th-ranked USC for much of the night but just didn’t have the horses to pull off an upset, falling 45-37 on Saturday night at Arizona Stadium.
An announced Homecoming crowd of 44,006 saw Arizona (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) drop its 10th straight to USC, but it had a chance to tie the game late in the third quarter after trailing by 15 and was an onside kick away from having an opportunity to force overtime.
Dorian Singer’s third touchdown catch of the game, an 8-yard reception, and a 2-point catch from Jacob Cowing made it a one-score game with 1:26 to go. But USC (7-1, 5-1) recovered the onside try and then converted on 4th and inches with 1:12 left after Arizona used its timeouts.
As expected the game was an offensive display, with a combined 1,164 yards. USC (7-1, 5-1) gained 621, the fourth Pac-12 opponent to top the 500-yard mark this season and the most the Wildcats have allowed in 2022, while Arizona had 543.
Jayden de Laura threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, all to Singer, who had seven catches for 141 yards. He’s caught five TDs in the past three games after having none the first 10 games of his career.
USC QB Caleb Williams was 31 of 45 for 411 yards and five TDs, routinely avoiding pressure and then setting his feet before finding any of the 10 targets he threw it. Two Trojans had 100-plus receiving yards, with Tahj Washington going for 118 yards and two TDs and Kyle Ford with 114 yards and a score.
Travis Dye added 113 yards and a TD as USC ran for 210 yards. Arizona had 163 on the ground, with de Laura’s 43 leading the way.
Arizona scored on all five red-zone possessions, accounting for 26 points, but that included a pair of short field goals in the second and third quarters. Getting three instead of seven on those two drives accounted for the final margin.
And USC was nearly automatic on third down, converting 10 of its first 12 and 11 of 17 overall. The Wildcats entered the night having faced the fewest defensive third downs in the country and is allowing conversions 46.5 percent of the time.
Down 17-13 at the half, Arizona went from nearly going 3-and-out to the red zone after de Laura avoided a sack and found Singer way behind the defense on a 73-yard catch to the USC 10. But the Wildcats stalled after that, settling for a 29-yard Tyler Loop field goal to get within one.
USC needed only four plays to build a 24-16 lead, the first of which was a 70-yard catch and run up the seam by Ford. That set up Washington’s 5-yard scoring reception on 3rd and goal to make it 24-16 with 10:58 left in the third.
After de Laura pooch punted on 4th and 5 from the UA 45, USC got another chunk play to get deep into Arizona territory. But Michael Jackson III’s 53-yard run on a delayed endaround pitch didn’t set up points, as the Trojans missed a 40-yard field goal wide right.
What followed was a 3-play sequence that completely changed the trajectory of the game. De Laura scrambled for 34 yards into USC territory, laying a hit on a defender along the sideline, then he was intercepted by Trojans safety Bryson Shaw one snap later, and Williams followed that with a 47-yard TD pass to Washington to make it 31-16.
Down 15, Arizona found another gear on offense and scored twice in a 7-play span while the defense forced the game’s first 3-and-out in between. Singer’s second TD catch of the game, a 19-yard score, made it 31-23 with 3:58 left in the third, then Michael Wiley scored on a 10-yard pitch with 1:42 remaining in the third.
The UA missed the 2-point conversion, to rail 31-29, which made it a 2-score game when Williams threw a 5-yard TD pass to Ford with 13:38 left.
The TD came after Arizona had appeared to get a stop on 3rd and 8, when Williams threw it away as he ran toward the UA sideline. But Wildcats linebacker Jerry Roberts was called for a personal foul after he bumped Williams and then got in his face.
A 2-yard TD run by Travis Dye made it 45-29 with 6:24 left.
Arizona held USC to a 42-yard field goal on its opening possession, only the second time this season the Trojans hadn’t reached the end zone to start a game. The Wildcats found paydirt on their first drive thanks to another highlight-reel catch by Singer for a 23-yard score and a 7-3 lead.
USC went up 10-7 with 2:57 left in the first quarter on a 7-yard TD catch by running back Raleek Brown, who snuck out of the backfield for the swing pass. Arizona tied it at 10 in the final minute of the opening period on a 42-yard Loop field goal.
A 2-yard TD catch by Brenden Rice, in the back of the end zone after a faked double endaround, put USC up 17-10 with 12:33 to go in first half.
Arizona’s first trip to the red zone saw it getting down to the USC 2 and then going backwards, with Loop hitting a 25-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-13 with 6:59 left before halftime.
It took until the seventh drive of the game for a defense to get a stop, and it was Arizona’s. Aided by a holding call against USC on what would have been a 35-yard TD pass, the Wildcats forced the Trojans to attempt a 56-yard field goal that was way off to the right and barely made the end zone.
But the UA couldn’t capitalize, though, turning it over on downs at the USC 33 and giving the Trojans the ball back with 50 seconds to go. The Trojans got a long pass to the Arizona 10 with five seconds left but couldn’t get another play off, as the clock started before the ball was spotted.
Arizona is on the road the next two weeks, beginning Saturday at No. 14 Utah (6-2, 4-1) before visiting No. 12 UCLA (6-1, 3-0).