For more postgame coverage on UA-USC, check out our Wildcat Blog.
USC’s defense has a tendency to make any offense look pretty average.
Arizona might not have needed spectacular against the sixth-ranked Trojans, but sub-standard wasn’t going to be good enough.
USC came away with a 17-10 victory at Arizona Stadium, putting a halt to the Wildcats’ run of at least one win over a top 10 team for a fourth straight season and likely spoiling any chance UA had at going to the Rose Bowl for the first time.
Arizona’s offense never could get into a rhythm after averaging 40 points and 412 yards. The Trojans (6-1, 4-1) limited the Wildcats (5-3, 3-2) to just 188 yards on 61 plays.
“They were just too good defensively,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “Our execution wasn’t as good as it needed to be to play a team like USC.”
There simply wasn’t enough firepower against the nation’s top-ranked defensive scoring unit and pass defense.
Arizona had only eight passing yards in the second half. Quarterback Willie Tuitama completed only 14 of 30 passes in the game. His longest throw went for 14 yards. He was 2 for 10 in the second half.
The only Wildcat touchdown came after USC quarterback Mark Sanchez fumbled after being sacked at the Trojan 15.
While Tuitama & Co. wasn’t doing much the Wildcat defense did plenty to keep USC off balance, and well below its 41-point per game clip.
“We were playing our hearts out and trying to get to them on every play,” UA cornerback Devin Ross said. “We were getting tired, but we had to suck it up.”
The Trojans went ahead when fullback Stanley Havili was spotted for a 30-yard touchdown pass. Havili was open in a spot safety Nate Ness probably would have been if not for blitzing to the right side and being upended and dazed on a block a second prior to reaching Sanchez for a sack.
With Ness down Havili broke free from a broken coverage for a 17-10 lead with 7:56 left in the third quarter.
Arizona tailback Nic Grigsby, a week after being benched for fumbling, had four straight runs, including a 4-yarder for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 in the opening moments of the third quarter.
Grigsby got his hands on the ball after Brooks Reed smacked Sanchez from behind to cause a fumble. Donald Horton recovered at the Trojan 15.
“It was a big game for them and it lived up to it,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “Mike Stoops and his staff have a tremendous team and they really gave us a challenge. They didn’t back down and made big plays.”
USC had taken the lead into the second half after Stafon Johnson scored on a 2-yard touchdown with 5:03 remaining. The Trojans went 80 yards in 17 plays, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock. USC converted a pair of third downs with passes to Damian Williams to get inside Wildcat territory.
Johnson and Joe McKnight were relied on the rest of the drive with a power-set rushing attack.
Not only did USC score it kept the Wildcats’ No. 9 rated scoring offense off the field.
When Arizona had the ball it couldn’t afford to let great scoring opportunities go by. Getting to the Trojan 1 on a Keola Antolin run counted as a big scoring chance. A late hit personal foul penalty on lineman James Tretheway pushed the Wildcats back.
The Wildcats went from having a first and goal from inside the 1 to the 16-yard line.
An incomplete pass, a receiver reverse for four yards and an incomplete pass forced a 30-yard Jason Bondzio field goal. It tied the game at 3-3 with 12:56 left in the first half.
It was the first points allowed by USC since early in the second quarter against Oregon on Oct. 4.
USC stopping the Wildcats in the first quarter extended its scoreless quarter streak to 11. The Wildcats had 23 yards on their first three possessions.
The Trojans managed just a 43-yard field goal from David Buehler despite a 54-yard punt return by Johnson that gave the Trojans the ball at the UA 25.
USC also had a 32-yard run to the Wildcat 4 called back because of a holding penalty on a fourth and 1.