For the first time since 2001, the Trojans are not playing its last regular season game for the right to go to a BCS bowl. A Trojan win over Arizona in the Coliseum on Saturday puts them in the Holiday Bowl, most likely against Nebraska. A loss and they fall from a tie for 2nd in the Pac-10 standings to 6th and most likely a Poinsettia Bowl Bid which would represent a significant fall from the top of college football world.
4 keys to a Trojan victory:
Trojans must tackle well and get hands up against quick hitting offense: Arizona has the most dynamic offense in the Pac-10. It is a combination of offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes pure aerial Texas Tech style offense (former Texas Tech offensive coordinator) combined with Head Coach Mike Stoops smash mouth style of football.
The Wildcats loves to dink and dunk in a passing game that features tons of screens, bubble screens, swing passes and quick reads while also balancing the attack with a power run game behind a veteran offensive line. Arizona has 5 Wide Receiver with more than 30 catches and has adjusted to a 4 wide receiver set very well after losing All-American Tight End Ron Gronkowski to a back injury before the season.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Nick Foles, who took over starting duties in the Wildcats’ fourth game has been outstanding throwing for 17 scores and just seven interceptions, while completing more than two-thirds of his passes in the Wildcats’ short-game passing attack. Arizona’s quick-hitting style has kept the sack totals down – the Cats have allowed just 11 sacks in 2009.
keys to victory continued after the jump…
Against an attack like Arizona, the Trojans have to pursue the ball quickly and tackle well, which has been an Achilles heel for the Trojans this year. Arizona depends on gaining yards after the catch and shaking the first defender.
If the Trojans are successful in limiting yards after the catch they should put themselves in a position to read Foles and get an interception or two on a slant route.
Another key to the Trojans defensive attack should be the defensive lineman and blitzing linebackers getting their hands up early to deflect short throws and not give Foles easy passing lanes.
If Arizona is able to turn a few short passes into big gains and is able to run the ball consistently early in the game, the Trojans will be behind the 8-ball and have to win a shoot-out.
Anthony McCoy needs to lead the Trojans on offense: It is no secret that USC’s offense was at its best when Anthony McCoy was the leading receiver. When he went down with an injury so did the effectiveness of the offense. His combination of athleticism and size presents match-up problems for any college defense and gives Matt Barkley the comfort he needs to get into a rhythm. Now that he is almost fully recovered from his high ankle sprain, he needs to be involved early and often in the offensive game plan.
Trojan offensive line has to step up: The disappointing Trojan offensive line is the healthiest it has been all year and needs to step up against a very aggressive Arizona defense that loves to pressure the quarterback (31 sacks this season). The Trojan offensive line had 8 false start or holding penalties against them in the UCLA game. Another undisciplined performance by the offensive line will lead to a loss for the Trojans.
The Trojans need to be able to attack Arizona in the mid-level passing game over the middle of the field especially against the weak-side linebacker blitz which will require the offensive line to create a nice pocket for Barkley.
The Trojans also need to utilize delayed hand-offs if they are able to have early success in the passing game.
Special Teams needs a big play early: In a game where both teams are coming off emotional victories over its rival, a strong likelihood exists that both teams will be flat and a little lethargic. A significant Special Teams play usually is a strong remedy for that and could play a huge factor in this game. The Trojans Special Teams unit played one of its best games of the year against UCLA and that trend needs to continue.
Unfortunately, the Trojans lost its Special Teams leader Garrett Green to a knee injury against UCLA so it will be interesting to see if the Trojans have any problems with bad exchanges between the snapper and the back-up holder Billy O’Malley.
Whoever establishes offensive production early in the game will be the victor on Saturday. The concern for the Trojans defensively is that Arizona is more like Oregon and Stanford than Cal or UCLA. It will be interesting to see if the Trojans have truly fixed some of the problems that plagued them in the two blow-out losses.
USC will have to play its most complete game of the season to gain the victory and earn a Holiday Bowl berth.
Notes heading into Saturday:
– Back-up Tight End Blake Ayles is not available and hopes to return for the bowl game. He’s got a sprained knee and sprained ankle.
– Joe McKnight practiced Thursday and will play against Arizona. “Joe looked very good,” Pete Carroll said.
– Defensive end Armond Armstead, who displaced Wes Horton as a starter for the UCLA game, will make his second straight start. Armstead said he is still not playing 100 percent because he must wear a hand cast during games.
– The first-team offense looked great in practice on Thursday, going a perfect 4-4 in the final team period. “That was a well-done Thursday,” Coach Carroll said in the post-practice team huddle. “Coaches on both sides were loving what they saw today.”
– The Trojans head into their season finale perhaps the healthiest they’ve been all year, with almost every regular starter at or near full strength. “We’re in really good shape,” Carroll said
Quick hoops note: USC acquitted themselves quite well against the second rank Texas Longhorns last night. They were neck and neck with the Longhorns for about 30 minutes before Texas finally pulled away. The Trojans stayed in the game despite Marcus Johnson and Alex Stephenson combining to go 1-17 from the field. Forward Nikola Vucevic had 18 points and 14 rebounds and showed that he will be dominant player in the Pac-10 especially when Mike Garrity and Leonard Washington are eligible. Once Vucevic develops an outside shot he could be an NBA 1 st rounder in two years.
In fact, one wonders why Tim Floyd was so reluctant to use him last year. He played great against Michigan State in the NCAA tourney when he was forced to use him and more minutes from him could have helped SC get a higher seed in the tourney. The Trojans will be a solid team in a very down Pac-10.