Pac-12: Tucson 0809

Close doesn't count for Arizona

October, 26, 2008
10/26/08
4:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona was close again against USC. And close felt like taking a horseshoe to the head.

The way tight end Rob Gronkowski saw it, the Wildcats came up an inch short -- as in that critical fourth-down play near midfield when a quarterback sneak from Willie Tuitama didn't gain bupkis.

But an inch felt like a mile as he thought about Arizona's 17-10 defeat in front of a packed and frenzied crowd hoping for a breakthrough moment in Arizona Stadium.

"We have to be able to get an inch," Gronkowski said.

Arizona entered the game with a flashy offense and a no-name but fairly effective defense. But the offense showed little flash, producing just one play over 14 yards while gaining a measly 188 for the game.

Meanwhile, the defense mostly held the Trojans in check. USC averages nearly 42 points per game.

"I think we left a good opportunity out there and I was shocked we couldn't play better offensively," coach Mike Stoops said.

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USC's defense dominates Arizona

October, 26, 2008
10/26/08
3:29
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Fourth-and-short in the fourth quarter. It's the most fundamental moment in football. One team needs to push forward to survive. One team wants the opposite to happen.

 
 Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE
 Clay Matthews (47) and the USC defense did their part to slow down Arizona Saturday night.

With the clock ticking toward the six-minute mark, Arizona had fourth-and-inches on its own 47-yard line with USC clinging to a 17-10 lead.

It's the sort of moment that transforms a game or even a program.

Arizona didn't try anything fancy. It called a quarterback sneak for Willie Tuitama.

And he was stuffed.

It wasn't a spectacular moment for the Trojans -- it was a pile of large bodies -- but it's becoming increasingly clear that this team sometimes can't muster spectacular moments and has to rely on gritty ones.

Which the defense can almost always be relied on to provide.

"The defense is what gives you a chance to win every single time you go out," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

USC held Arizona, a team that averages 40 points and 411 yards per game, to 10 points -- the touchdown drive covered 15 yards -- and 188 total yards.

The Wildcats managed just 54 yards in the second half.

USC entered the game with the nation's best defense, and it walked out of rocking Arizona Stadium still holding the title.

The Trojans defense is just... different.

"You can notice it," Tuitama said. "They do play fast."

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Final: USC defense sparks victory

October, 26, 2008
10/26/08
1:33
AM ET
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It wasn't pretty, but USC did what it had to do to knock off Arizona, 17-10, on the road Saturday night.

Mark Sanchez threw for 216 yards and a touchdown while the Trojans defense held Arizona to just 188 yards of total offense.

USC doing little things... and very little

October, 26, 2008
10/26/08
12:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- You know how coaches often refer to doing the "little things" right? Sure, it's an annoying coaching cliché, but here's an example of doing the little things.

See Arizona safety Nate Ness charging on a safety blitz about to decapitate USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. See Trojans running back Stafon Johnson racing around Sanchez and upending Ness with a perfect cut block.

See Sanchez find an uncovered Stanley Havili for a 30-yard touchdown, which gave USC a 17-10 lead on the ensuing possession after Arizona had tied the count.

Both teams had a turnover in the third quarter. Arizona used Mark Sanchez's fumble on the USC 15 to tie the game -- four running plays right up the middle.

USC used Kevin Thomas' interception of Willie Tuitama -- the Wildcats' first turnover -- to drain three minutes off the clock and put a damper on the home crowd.

Unless it picks up the pace in the fourth quarter, USC probably won't pick up many style points with this effort.

But with how inconsistent the offense has been, particularly Sanchez, it's unlikely that coach Pete Carroll will get too wild with the play calling.

The Trojans just want to hold on.

Arizona needs to do more to win

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
11:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona is doing OK. But OK will merely make this a close game. If the Wildcats have intentions of winning, they will have to make a few more plays on both sides of the ball.

USC took a 10-3 lead into halftime based on a brilliant 17-play -- nine runs, eight passes -- 80-yard drive that ate 7:53 off the clock.

The numbers are almost even at the break. USC has 141 yards and 10 first downs; Arizona has 136 yards and 11 firsts.

But the Wildcats wasted a 13-play, 49-yard drive that took the final five minutes off the clock with poor clock management -- a run play on first-and-10 from the USC 33 with 50 seconds left and no time outs?

Arizona is matching up fairly well physically, though it appears that the USC ground game was starting to assert itself.

Still, if this is about winning, not just keeping things respectable, then the Wildcats need to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball.

Sanchez off to slow start for USC

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
11:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN..com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- There's the good Mark Sanchez and the bad Mark Sanchez. So far, Arizona has seen the bad Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez is 4 for 9 for 48 yards in the first quarter with an interception and has missed several open receivers.

He also threw a long, ill-advised deep incompletion into the end zone to a well-covered receiver on a third-and-1 from the Arizona 36-yard line when he had wide-open field in front of him during his roll out.

In other words, he's off and he's not making good decisions. And that's why Arizona is getting more confident.

USC's defense's scoreless streak is at 11 quarters, but the quarter ended with Arizona on the Trojans 12.

Arizona's got a chance if it can run on USC

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
8:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- In the preseason, more than a few folks fingered a visit to Arizona as a spot where a dominatnt USC squad might get blindsided

Yet, at 5-2 and fresh off a whipping of California, the Wildcats aren't sneaking up on anyone. They have USC's attention.

Which makes it fairly interesting that there's still a sense of possibility buzzing around Arizona Stadium.

Wildcats fans, twice dispirited this year after losses to New Mexico and then Stanford, apparently are starting to believe in the program. As game time draws near, the red-clad denizens of the 'Zona Zoo are starting to bleed into the student section.

It's a mild 88 degrees and will chill significantly at sunset. Weather, as usual in Tucson in late October, won't be an issue.

What is an issue is USC's defense. It hasn't allowed a point in 10 quarters.

One of the reasons there's a vibe of "maybe" here is the feeling Arizona might have the weapons on offense to end that streak fairly quickly and resoundingly. The Wildcats are averaging 40 points a game and also has:

1. A quality veteran quarterback in Willie Tuitama;

2. A deep receiving corps led by All-American candidate Mike Thomas and tight end Rob Gronkowski, also an All-American candidate;

3. An underrated offensive line led by NFL prospect Eben Britton at left tackle;

4. An itty bitty tailback in Keola Antolin, who has inspired visions of Jacquizz Rodgers' second-coming.

And, well winning on the road has been difficult in the Pac-10 this year.

Of course, even if Arizona can score, it's questionable whether it can it stop the Trojans, who, oh by the way, rank first in the Pac-10 in scoring (41.5 ppg) and total offense (471.5).

Oh, by the way take two: Arizona's defense is second only to USC in the Pac-10 in both scoring (18.1 ppg) and total defense (285 yards).

And Arizona's defensive scheme has given USC fits in the past, see a 20-13 loss last year in which the Trojans needed 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to avoid an upset at home.

USC coach Pete Carroll talked about starting fast this week and taking the crowd out of the game. And if USC asserts its will early, well, things could get ugly.

Here's a guess at a quick way to figure out how this one will play out: Is the "Antolin = Rodgers = Mighty Mouse killer of the USC defense" angle for real? In other words, if Arizona is effective running the ball, we've got a game. If not, USC will make another statement to pollsters about its national championship worthiness.

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