Coming off a thrilling win over Arizona State to open their season, USC headed to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats. Despite COVID-19 postponing many games across the country, USC played on and looked to sweep the Arizona Pac-12 schools.
They accomplished this, but once again, it took a come-from-behind thriller to get the victory as USC edged out Arizona 34-30. Here is my breakdown of the game.
Kedon Slovis once again waited until the final five minutes of the game to get on a roll. Before USC’s final two touchdown drives, Slovis only threw for 180 yards on 17 of 29 attempts. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell set Slovis up with quick passes throughout the game and like the majority of last week’s game against ASU, it did not work. Also, like last week, when Slovis pushed the ball down the field on the final two drives, they worked to perfection. It is bizarre a talented quarterback like Slovis is getting held back for most of the game. Slovis, on the final two drives, was 13 of 14 for 145 yards and a touchdown. This staggering performance should tell Harrell to open up the playbook more for USC before trailing on their final two possessions.
The main beneficiary of Slovis slinging the ball down the field was Amon-Ra St. Brown, who finished the game with 113 yards on seven catches, including four on USC’s final drive. Drake London once again made a huge play as his 31-yard reception set up USC’s go-ahead touchdown in their penultimate drive. He finished with 68 yards on four receptions. Tyler Vaughns produced another solid performance with seven receptions for 70 yards, this time without the fumble he had last week. Tight end Eric Krommenhoek caught his first pass of the season, the aforementioned go-ahead touchdown with 3:30 to go.
The running game was solid for USC with 173 yards on the ground and like Vaughns, did not cough up the ball this week. Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr rushed for a combined 162 yards and two touchdowns. Vavae Malepeai only finished with eight yards rushing, but those eight yards proved to be the difference in the game as it was the distance he traveled for the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter. While the running game showed signs of improvement, there is still work to do as Stepp was tackled for a two-yard loss on a fourth-and-one late in the third quarter with the game tied at 20. The backfield is improving but ultimately, Slovis needs to be utilized to the maximum, as his late-game performances have shown this season, for USC to find the most success offensively.
Arizona looked like ASU last week but with a better passing game. Arizona QB Grant Gunnell rebounded from his first-possession interception with 286 yards passing and three touchdowns. Like last week’s game, USC could not seem to stop receivers and ball-carriers in open space or on deep routes as Tayvian Cunningham burned safety Greg Johnson for a 75-yard touchdown. Stanley Berryhill III and Jamarye Joiner scored touchdowns of 22 and 34 yards, which were mostly yards after catch. Outside of Talanoa Hufanga’s interception, the secondary struggled to stop Arizona’s receivers.
USC did get some pressure on Gunnell with four sacks, including two from Drake Jackson. However, they allowed the Wildcats to get into a rhythm in the fourth quarter as Arizona scored on both of their drives before the final desperation drive with 25 seconds left. They once again allowed over 150 yards on the ground as Arizona running back Gary Brightwell rushed for 112 yards on 21 carries. While an improvement from the 258 yards they allowed against ASU, it is still a concerning aspect of this defense. They play conservative defense and lack the speed to tackle opposing playmakers in space. The project continues for defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
Unlike the onside kick against ASU, there was no massive special teams play to turn the tide of the game. The only noteworthy aspect from the unit in this game was kicker Parker Lewis making two of his three field goals as he missed a 28-yard field with 5:08 to go in the third quarter with the score tied at 20.
USC will head to Salt Lake City to battle the Utah Utes on saturday Saturday. Rice-Eccles Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Trojans in the last few years as they have lost their previous three visits.