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O/NSO: Arizona edition

The Obvious from Los Angeles: At this point of the season, the USC Trojans have an overall record of 3-3 and 2-1 in the Pac-12 South Division, and Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton insists his Men of Troy are a good football team. Helton’s bold if not questionable statement after the Notre Dame game loss last weekend will be put to the test on Saturday night (6:30 p.m. PDT) when the Trojans entertain the Arizona Wildcats (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12 South) in a big Pac-12 South Division game on United Airlines Field in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious: If Helton’s statement is true – that his guys are a good football team – they can begin to validate their coach’s high confidence by dispatching Arizona’s return to Tucson in short order. A victory by Troy, in front of a Homecoming crowd that will be anybody’s attendance guess, should be the beginning of a six-game stretch that decides whether or not Helton retains his job. The Wildcats are sort of a wildcard in terms of what you get, especially on offense. The Wildcats can score, but can they defend? That is a theme of the game. And, BTW, the Trojans are currently in a four-way South Division tie along with the Wildcats, ASU, and Utah. Having previously beaten the Utes, the Trojans do hold the tiebreaker with Utah in the event of a season-ending divisional tie.    

The Obvious: The Trojans opened an 8 ½ -point favorite to defeat Arizona.

The Not So Obvious: Troy maintains a 33-8 lead in its series with Arizona (not including SC’s 2005 home victory that was later vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record 34-8). The Trojans have won the past six games, eight ofthe last nine, and 15 of the last 17 with the Wildcats. The Cardinal and Gold have lost just twice to UofA since 2001. The Trojans have captured more than 80% of its games against the Wildcats (including the past six meetings). Arizona has only beaten the Trojans four times in Los Angeles (and not since 2009). However, nearly half of the games in the USC-UA series have been decided by eight points or less.

The Obvious: As mentioned, Saturday will be USC’s annual Homecoming Game.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have a 63-27-4 record in its Homecoming games, dating back to the first such event in 1924 (not including one win vacated due to NCAA penalty; original record: 64-27-4).

Prior to Saturday night’ game with Arizona, the Trojans will be celebrating Homecoming (photo above) on campus.

The Obvious: Saturday night’s game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network (6:30 p.m. PDT/ 9:30 p.m. EDT).

The Not So Obvious: The Pac-12 Network broadcasters will be Roxy Bernstein (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (analyst) and Jill Savage (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday night’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast from the Coliseum will air live on KABC 790 AM (6:30 p.m. PDT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline). John Jackson will provide selective perspective.  

The Trojans’ overall broadcast from the Coliseum on KABC AM 790 will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 4:30 p.m. (PDT). Joining the pregame broadcast crew will be Sam Farber, former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne, and Julia Adams. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.

The Not So Obvious: The Arizona broadcast can be heard on flagship station KCUB 1290 AM (Tucson) with Brian Jeffries (play-by-play), Lamont Lovett (analyst) and Dana Cooper (sidelines).

Saturday’s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channels 78/197 or online channel 959) and on the Tunein Radio app.

The Obvious: Saturday’s Los Angeles weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 80 degrees, low of 62 degrees, 46 percent humidity, and 0 percent precipitation. Temperature for kickoff is expected to be clear and 72 degrees.

It should be a beautiful Los Angeles Saturday for Homecoming (photo above) on campus during the day to be followed by the evening’s big Pac-12 South Division game against Arizona in the historic Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans can play four quarters against Arizona’s questionable defense the way they played the inspiring second half at Notre Dame. However, last Saturday’s game with the Irish may have taken a huge physical toll on the Trojans, and we’ll see whether some key players are able to play against the Wildcats.  

Offensively, we’ll see whether this side of the football can hammer a UofA defense that features the nation’s 110th-worst scoring defense. All stats point to a major evening for the Trojans’ hot and cold offense. However, things looked good in the second half against Notre Dame, as true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis threw two TD passes and no interceptions. Slovis looked very much at home against ND and showed no outward signs of being intimated in the pocket by the hard charging lads from South Bend. With the loss of junior running back Vavae Malepeai,gone indefinitely (knee surgery), the Trojans will shuffle junior Stephen Carr, who figures to start,and ultra-talented redshirt freshman Markese Stepp. Saturday will be a major opportunity for Stepp to continue his accent for more deserved playing time. We’ll find out whether Stepp’s workload of carries approaches 15-20 carries – and it should. It also figures that Arizona will try and take away senior wide receiver standout Michael Pittman Jr. like Notre Dame did successfully. This, of course, leaves open sophomore star Amon-Ra St. Brown and junior Tyler Vaughns, both of whom could do real damage to the UofA secondary. Look for the continued emergence of junior tight end Erik Krommenhoek into the offense, as Big Erik had four receptions against Notre Name for 37 yards.

With the injury to junior running back Vavae Malepeai, it appears that redshirt freshman sensation Markese Stepp (photo above) will get more carries, as the Trojans’ fan base has clamored for more from the Indiana native.

As always, the fate of the offense rests with an offensive line, which could be more dominate than usual against the faulty Wildcats’ defense, which sits in the nation’s bottom 20 in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense (allowing 473 total yards and 33 points a game). LBs Colin Schooler, who has 250-plus career (more than 40 are for losses), and Tony Fields II are the top tacklers while CBs Lorenzo Burnsand and Jace Whittaker rank high nationally in interceptions.

Defensively, we’ll see whether the Trojans defense can stop dangerous Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, another one of those dual-threat quarterbacks that traditionally burns Clancy Pendergast defenses. Tate will be looking to create all sorts of havoc against the Trojans’ defense, which his athletic ability can do. The last time Tate came to the Coliseum, he almost singlehandedly beat the Trojans in the second half. We’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense can handle a Wildcats’ offense that is in the national Top 10 in total offense, averaging nearly 510 yards per game (300 passing). Leading rushers are RBs J.J. Taylor, a 2018 All-Pac-12 first teamer who is approaching 3,000 career rushing yards, while top pass catchers are WRs Brian Casteel and junior WR Tayvian Cunningham. There’s a lot of firepower on offense, and we’ll see whether the Trojans defense can stay disciplined and not give up any “cheap” personal foul penalties.

The Trojans’ defense will extremely challenged by Arizona’s sensational senior quarterback Khalil Tate (photo above -No. 14), who is a major threat with both his legs and his arms.

Of course, the big issue for the Trojans besides rush defense will be the state of the secondary, which could be in for some real challenges. Nickel corner back Greg Johnson is out (shoulder), and it’s really highly questionable whether CBs Olaijah Griffin (bulging disc) and Isaac Taylor-Stuart (ankle) will even be available. This remains a mystery or game time decision. All of which means freshman safety Kaulana Makaula, who saw time against Notre Dame, is now in the mix as are freshmen Chris Steele and Dorian Hewett at corner and Max Williams at nickelback And let’s not forget inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, who suffered an ankle issue against the Irish and is out. Since Gaoteote can’t go, the Trojans will start physical sophomore Kana’i Mauga with true freshman Ralen Goforth ready to relieve. We’ll see whether Mauga and Goforth can do the job on the inside.     

With the Trojans’ secondary banged up, the Trojans will rely on talented freshmen corners like Chris Steele (photo above – No. 8).

On Trojans’ special teams, we’ll find out whether placekicker Chase McGrath can continue to boot field goals so routinely. Chase was 2 of 2 at Notre Dame. Punter Ben Griffiths now seems solidly looking like the punter the media was raving about for back in spring ball and training camp. Junior Arizona placekicker Lucas Havrisik connected on a 50-yard field goal last Saturday against UW. Havrisik is one of nine kickers nationally with two makes of 50 or more yards. He’s tied for fourth in the country with four made field goals from 40 or more yards. Redshirt senior Matt Aragon punts for the Wildcats (39.77 avg.).  

The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach and his current record at USC is 38-23.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding Arizona’s dangerously athletic senior quarterback Khalil Tate, who will be facing the Trojans for the fourth season in a row, Helton says, “He gets more dangerous every year, and I think has improved as a passer each and every year. You look two weeks ago, and he throws for over 400 yards. He’s a kid we’ve known growing up for a long time and have been a big fan of his for a long time. He’s such a special athlete in our conference, and one of the better athletes in the nation.”   

The Obvious: Kevin Sumlin, 55, is in his second season as Arizona’s head coach. His current record at UA is 9-9.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Trojans, Sumlin said, “They’re USC, right. They’re averaging 430 (yards) a game and they’ve gone through three quarterbacks. They’ve got an athletic offensive line, as usual. Three receivers that are extremely talented, which makes it easy on the quarterback. Big guys that can run. Last year I thought the strength of their team was their young defensive line, and they’re still the strength because now they’re sophomores. They’re big and athletic up front, they’ve got good players, got a good scheme. They’ve played, what, three or four Top 25 teams? So, you know they’ve been in big games, they’ve been tested. Won some and lost some, played hard.”

In his second season at Arizona, head coach Kevin Sumlin (photo above) has instilled a competitive desire in his team.

The Obvious: The Trojans’ offense averages 29.0 points per game while the Arizona defense allows 33.0 points per game.

The Not So Obvious: Arizona’s offense averages 35.50 points per game while the Trojans’ defense allows 25.67 points per outing.

The Obvious: True freshman QB Kedon Slovis will be starting his second game since suffering a concussion in the Utah game.

The Not So Obvious: Given his latest medical issue, Slovis was remarkably poised against Notre Dame in its intimidating stadium. The kid showed no fear against the Irish, and this is the type of poise that probably has caught the attention of the Wildcats’ defensive coaches. If Slovis is allowed to throw without much pressure, it could be a long evening for Sumlin’s defenders. Last week, Slovis showed impressive ability to move around in the pocket and extend plays to secondary receivers.  

Trojans’ true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above – No. 9) showed a lot of poise and production last weekend at Notre Dame.

The Obvious: The starting quarterback for Arizona is senior Khalil Tate (6-2, 215).

The Not So Obvious: Tate is 14th nationally in total offense. He is only the second Pac-12 player to pass for 5,000 yards and run for 2,000 yards in his career. threw the 53rd touchdown pass of his career Saturday against Washington. He is 14 touchdowns shy of the school record of 67 held by Nick Foles and Willie Tuitama. Tate is also a graduate of local Gardena Serra High.

There is no more dangerous quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference than Arizona’s QB Khalil Tate (photo above).

 The Obvious: Lorenzo Burns is one of Arizona’s starting corners.  

The Not So Obvious: Burns’ father, DeChon Burns, lettered at cornerback at USC in 1989.

The Obvious: The word“Arizona” starts with the letter “A.”

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have a 70-29* record against teams that start with the letter “A”: Arizona (33-8*), Arizona State (21-13*), Arkansas (4-1), Army, Alliance AC and Alumni (each 2-0), Auburn (2-1), Arkansas State and Arrowhead AC (both 1-0) and Alabama (2-6). The Trojans first two football games were wins over Alliance AC in the 1888 season. (*Not including 1 win against both Arizona and Arizona State vacated due to NCAA penalty.)

The Obvious: The Trojans have six players from Arizona.

The Not So Obvious: Those six Trojans from Arizona include OT Austin Jackson from Phoenix’s North Canyon HS, S Isaiah Pola-Mao of Phoenix’s Mountain Pointe HS, QB Kedon Slovis of Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain HS, DL Connor Murphy of Phoenix’s Brophy Prep, OG-OT AJ Mageo of Mesa’s Red Mountain HS, and WR Zach Wilson of Scottsdale’s Saguaro HS),

Starting offensive left tackle Austin Jackson (photo above) is one of six Trojans from the state of Arizona.

The Obvious: Over the years, Arizona has aggressively recruited California.

The Not So Obvious: Arizona has 40 Californians on its roster.

The Obvious: The USC-Arizona game is USC’s Zero Waste Green Game as part of the Pac-12’s Zero Waste Challenge.  

The Not So Obvious: Pac-12 campuses compete with each other in pursuit of a zero waste home football game each season. The Trojans and the Coliseum have a nationally recognized Zero Waste program (in partnership with USC’s Office of Sustainability and the stadium’s vendors) that for the past three years has diverted more than 90% of waste generated at Trojans and Rams games from landfills to recycling or composting. Since 2015, the Coliseum’s Zero Waste program has diverted over 780 tons of waste (267 tons in 2018 while achieving Zero Waste at 14 of the 17 USC and Los Angeles Rams games played there). The Trojans won the Pac-12’s Zero Waste Competition in 2016 and 2017, and in 2019 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors awarded USC and the Coliseum its Green Leadership Award.

The Obvious: And finally, there will be the usual promotions during Saturday’s Coliseum game.

The Not So Obvious: Besides Homecoming/Reunion Weekend and the USC Zero Waste recognition, there will be a pregame flyover by an F-16 fighter jet.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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