Arizona relates to USC’s situation

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
6:00
AM PT
The last time a Pac-12 coach was fired midseason, his players shouldered some responsibility. They bunkered down through the upcoming bye week, got over their most recent conference road loss and then responded by taking out their frustrations on the next opponent.

If Arizona is a little anxious entering its Thursday night game at USC, the Wildcats can be forgiven. It is just that they know exactly what the Trojans are going through right now, and what that could mean come kickoff.

Mike Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start in 2011, and Arizona bounced back 10 days later with a 48-12 rout of UCLA under interim coach Tim Kish.

"That's when we all came together as a team," running back Ka'Deem Carey said. "When something happens like that, that's when teams just have to bond together and just get even closer and go out there and win, so I know that they're going to definitely be fired up coming in.

"We beat them last year, so they'll have a lot of fire going into this game."

There is that small matter, too.

Much of the downward spiral that ultimately spelled doom for Lane Kiffin at USC started last Oct. 27 in Tucson, where the Wildcats pulled off a 39-36 upset. It was the first of the then-No. 9 Trojans' five losses over their final six games, an ugly stretch that shook a program that had entered 2012 with a No. 1 ranking.

"The biggest memory I can think of is just that last play, the Hail Mary play, where our guys are jumping up for the ball and Marqise Lee and the others guys are jumping for the ball," safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant said, "and just wondering what was going to happen in the air and just the celebration after, and all the joy that we had after that game, winning it in a good fashion."

The sting of Lee setting a conference record with 345 receiving yards still lingers, but the junior is not expected to go for the Trojans this week because of a sprained left knee suffered in Kiffin's final outing two weeks ago.

"I try not to look at last year's game too much, but I remember Marqise Lee definitely just carving up our defense," linebacker Marquis Flowers said. "That's definitely one thing I do remember."

Even without their All-American receiver and with the burden of scholarship restrictions, it is not like the Trojans are at a loss for talent after landing nothing but top-15 recruiting classes under Kiffin.

Those bodies, plus the liberation of playing with house money, make them dangerous in their first game under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

"I know in our first game after our head coach got fired, it was a team that had a fire lit -- it was kind of like a relief, you know?" Flowers said. "Going into a new thing, it's a relief. You just play. You're just out there and you're just playing. You're going to play fast, you're going to keep the game plan simple and you're just going to play for each other, and they're going to come out and play inspired football, so we've got to be ready."

Rich Rodriguez echoed those sentiments this week at his press conference, cautioning that the Wildcats cannot adjust to the circumstances as they come off their first loss of the season, two weeks ago at Washington.

"I did tell the players that this game is going to be more difficult because USC is going to play extremely fired up, loose and come out with a chip on their shoulder," the second-year Arizona coach said. "We will get USC’s best shot.”

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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