LOS ANGELES -- The Arizona Wildcats come to the Coliseum on Saturday, and once again the USC secondary will be tested by a passing attack that is capable of doing good things.
The Wildcats currently are ranked fifth in the nation in passing offense (372 yards per game) and are led by a veteran quarterback in Nick Foles, who led an Arizona win over the Trojans as a sophomore in 2009. Foles is a big target at 6-feet-5, 240 pounds, although not as big as Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, who stands three inches taller and helped defeat the Trojans last week.
Foles is extremely accurate. He has yet to throw an interception this seasn and has a solid group of receivers to choose from. The Wildcats go six deep in their receiver rotation, with five of those receivers having caught at least 17 passes this year. That's a stark contrast to the Trojans, whose second leading receiver has 13 catches on the year. The top weapon is Juron Criner, who was an All-Pac-10 wide receiver in 2010 and currently ranks third on the all-time Arizona receptions list.
Arizona is certainly battle tested, as three of its games in 2011 have been against teams ranked in top 10. The Wildcats are as healthy as they have been all season, and this game looks to be a real test for the Trojans, who will be trying to rebound from a disappointing loss last week in Tempe.
The problems for the USC defense, particularly the secondary, have revolved around missed tackles, penalties and a lack of turnovers. There were multiple missed tackles last week and 10 penalties overall, including three personal fouls on safety T.J. McDonald. The Trojans haven't been able to force many takeaways, as they only have one interception and two recovered fumbles in four games.
"The key for us this week is that we need to get the ball," USC defensive backs coach Sammy Knight said. "Arizona is a team that throws it, and if Foles throws it that many times, we definitely want to get some turnovers. But we have to tackle. It's one of those things. Football is never going to change, so tackling will always be a part of the game. We need to do a better job there."
Part of the key to the ability of Arizona State to throw the ball so well this past Saturday is that it was able to establish the threat of the run. Half of the Sun Devils' rushing yards came on one play on the opening drive, but they stayed with it just enough to freeze the USC linebackers and give the receivers time to find holes in the coverage. The Wildcats do not have a strong running attack, averaging only 62 yards per game on the ground, so it stands to reason that the Trojans will look to be a little more aggressive in their coverage schemes.
A big part of those plans could revolve around redshirt freshman Anthony Brown, who entered the ASU game when starter Torin Harris went out with a shoulder injury. Harris did not practice on Tuesday and, if he cannot go in the game, Brown could end up being the starter.
Brown (5-9, 185) is a physical corner who is known for his ability to make plays. The USC coaches clearly like his potential, but the reality is that he's still an untested player, even with the experience gained on the road last week against the Sun Devils.
"The atmosphere last week was loud and crazy but I got my feet wet, and now I'm ready to roll," Brown said. "I'm feeling real comfortable. The coaches are emphasizing the need to read the routes, read our keys, keep our leverage, protect against the deep ball and break back toward the short-yardage stuff. It's just about going out and executing our game plan."
Brown said he has spent a lot of time getting ready for his opportunity by learning about the importance of film study and preparation from Nickell Robey, who has been a starter at corner for the Trojans since the first game of his freshman year.
"You have to know the plays and be out here all the time if you want to be great," Brown said. "Nickell is one of the great corners right now as a true sophomore. It's crazy the way he plays, so I just take notes off of him, trying to follow in his footsteps."
The real test, however, will come on Saturday on the Coliseum floor against Foles and the high-powered Wildcats passing offense.
"The challenge of facing them is something we talk about in the meeting room," Brown said. "We have a saying, 'If the ball flies, it dies.' It's our job to get the ball and give it back to our own high-powered offense."
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at email@example.com.