The Obvious: If you’re looking for that proverbial USC Trojans blowout, a cardinal and gold breather, something to distract you from thinking that the 2020 Trojans may be the 2019 Trojans in disguise, then you’re probably salivating at the thought of watching the Men of Troy (1-0. 1-0 Pac-12 South) crush a lowly University of Arizona program (0-0, 0-0 Pac-12 South) on Saturday afternoon (1:30 p.m. MST/12:30 p.m. PST) in Tucson.
The Not So Obvious: Then, of course, the O/NSO knows what you’re probably saying to yourself, “Man, we were 11-point favorites over ASU last week, won by one point at game’s end, and we got lucky after only scoring 14 points for the first 56 minutes of the game. It was another Helton miracle.” True, but you can probably put the Tums and the rosary beads away for Arizona. Wildcats’ head coach Kevin Sumlin is again on the hot seat, and his program is wobbling to the point that if his Wildcats get crushed by the Trojans, it will take a bigger excuse than just saying that last week’s cancelled game at Utah – due to COVID – caused the team setback.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened a 12.5-point favorite to defeat Arizona.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have an overall 34-8 series edge over the Wildcats, and the Trojans are an impressive 14-4 playing in Tucson, having won there the past eight of nine games.
The Obvious: Saturday’s game will be televised on FOX (12:30 p.m. PT/1:30 p.m. MST/ 3:30 p.m. ET).
The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters will be Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (analyst) and Jenny Taft (sidelines).
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans’ radio game broadcast will air live on KABC 790 AM (12:30 p.m. PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), Shaun Cody and John Jackson (analysts) and Jordan Moore (sideline).
The Trojans’ overall KABC AM 790 broadcast will begin with a two-hour pregame show at 10:30 a.m. (PT). The pregame broadcast crew will also include Sam Farber and former Trojans’ quarterback Max Browne. Following the game, there’ll be a two-hour post-game show.
The Not So Obvious: The Arizona broadcast (1:30 p.m. MST) can be heard on local Tucson flagship station 1290 AM and 107.5 FM with veteran Brian Jeffries calling the play-by-play and Lamont Lovett providing analysis.
Saturday`s game will also air on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 137/197) or online channel (959) and on the Tunein Radio app.
Below is Thursday night’s radio broadcast the O/NSO did on Coach Harvey Hyde’s Trojan Talk Show with topics ranging from the Arizona game, a review of the ASU game, the future of the rest of the Trojans’ Pac-12 schedule, and the Pac-12’s chances of getting into the post-season College Football Playoffs.
The Obvious: Saturday’s Tucson weather forecast calls for sunny with a high of 75 degrees, a low of 47 degrees, 20% humidity, and 0% precipitation. Temperature for the 1:30 p.m. (MT) kickoff is expected to be sunny and 71 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report is whether the Trojans will show marked improvement on offense and defense from last week’s shaky start against Arizona State. Sure, there were some good points like the individual play of sophomore WR Drake London and junior strong safety Talanoa Hufanga. But the overall team not-so-good points should be cause for concern. The fact is that yet another opponent dropped eight players back on defense to defend Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offense, and the Trojans didn’t adjust (i.e. 14 points). The fact that the Trojans running attack again seemed restrained and ten ineffective on short-yardage situations, while the defense looked unsure of its alignments, reactions, and tackling. However, considering there was no spring ball, the uncertainty of a season, and all the perils of a first game is understandable for the shaky start. However, it’s time to show improvement in Game 2.
Offensively, we’ll see whether the USC’s offense, which put up 556 total yards against ASU and led by record-setting sophomore QB Kedon Slovis, can hit the 40-plus mark on the scoreboard. Last week, Slovis completed a USC game-record 40 passes against the Sun Devils. We find out whether the Wildcats’ secondary can control the Trojans gifted group of pass catchers, which includes junior WRs Amon-Ra St. Brown (144 career receptions), senior Tyler Vaughns (196 career receptions), sophomore Drake London (he outdueled two defenders to catch the late ASU game winner), and redshirt freshman Bru McCoy (in his first game as a Trojan, he grabbed a TD pass that St. Brown tipped in the ASU end zone in the game’s final 3 minutes, and then Bru recovered the ensuing onside kick). We’ll find out whether the probable loss of junior starting center Brett Neilon and his probable replacement, sophomore Justin Dedich, will have any effect on the offensive line’s performance. You know, the Trojans’ O-line in which the jury remains out.
It will be interesting to see whether Trojans’ offensive coordinator Graham Harrell uses his running attack to compliment his passing attack with some consistency and purpose. The running attack includes a pair of 1,000-yard career runners in senior TBs Stephen Carr (1,198 career yards) and Vavae Malepeai (1,325). Trying to stop the Trojans offense will be a rebuilt Arizona defense that features senior DB Lorenzo Burns, who has nine career interceptions, senior LB Anthony Pandy (100 career tackles) and junior LB Jalen Harris.
Conversely, we’ll see whether the Trojans’ defense, which will face Arizona’s multiple spread offense, can show more discipline and tackling skills than they exhibited against ASU. The Trojans’ defense features the likes of junior safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao, who combined for 17 tackles against ASU, junior ILB Palaie Gaoteote IV, DL Marlon Tuipulotu (last week’s Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week) and sophomore OLB Drake Jackson, a 2019 Freshman All-American. After the ASU game, there was a growing list of skeptics, who questioned whether Drake Jackson should be returned to the defensive line and 3-point stance as opposed to a hybrid linebacker, who stands upright in a two-point stance. It seemed at times that Jackson was invisible out there, but perhaps it is premature to question Drake’s best position. However, also at issue still is whether the loss of senior defensive nose tackle Brandon Pili (finger surgery) for another week will be a depth factor against the Wildcats. Last week against ASU, the Trojans defensive line and linebackers left a lot to be desired after being dented for 258 net yards on the ground by ASU.
A lot of scrutiny was focused on the Trojans’ defensive front seven. So, we’ll see whether Trojans D-line coach Vic So’oto’s front can handle an Arizona offense that features sophomore QB Grant Gunnell, who hit on 65.2% of his passes in 2019 for 1,239 yards with nine TDs and has not thrown a pick in his past 92 attempts. The Wildcats’ top runner is senior RB Gary Brightwell (915 career rushing yards, 8 TDs), and the leading receiver is sophomore WR Jamarye Joiner (34 catches, 552 yards, 5 TDs in 2019). Another of Trojans’ defensive scrutiny will be the USC inside linebackers, under the direction of DC Todd Orlando, will be marked improvement over their lackluster performance against ASU. Orlando has vowed fans will see an improvement this week.
In the battle of special teams, last weekend the Trojans unveiled true freshman PK Parker Lewis against Arizona State, and he exhibited a strong and accurate leg as both a kickoff performer and placekicker. In terms of punting, we’ll find out if sophomore Ben Griffiths can continue to boom punts down field. Two areas that need focus will be whether the Trojans punt and kickoff returners can show more production than they did last weekend against ASU. It left a lot to be desired.
As for the Arizona special teams, senior Lucas Havrisik was shaky on field goal attempts (10 of 17) in 2019, and sophomore Kyle Ostendorp, who averaged a 39.7 last season, will be looking to make a statement on Saturday.
The Obvious: In 2020, the Trojans offense is averaging 28.0 points per game, while Arizona, which didn’t play last week due to a COVID game cancellation with Utah, last season allowed 35.75 points per game.
The Not So Obvious: In 2019, Arizona’s offense averaged 26.92 points per game while the 2020 Trojans’ defense is allowing 27.0 points per outing.
The Obvious: Clay Helton is the Trojans’ fifth-year head coach (41-22), who would have come under extreme scrutiny again had his club not had the miracle comeback victory against ASU. Helton is currently 14-12 in his last 26 games.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Trojans first road trip and changes that are part of travel, Helton said, “You go from a 110-man unit down to 74. We are getting the biggest plane you can hardly imagine. You don’t have boosters, you don’t have administration, you don’t have student managers, you only have the basic elements, the essential elements you need to go on this trip. It’s 74 players, as well as coaching staff, and operational assistants to make the trip. Obviously, it’s a biggest enough plane that we’re spacing between seats now. We’re going to have our masks on the entire time.
“When we get to Arizona, just like we have here, our kids love it. They get their own bedroom. They’re not positioned with anybody else, have their own room. We do not have team meals anymore. We haven’t done that since the beginning of this thing (coronavirus). Meals are actually eaten in their room because that’s one of the leading causes of the spread right now, congregating while you’re eating. We are on a schedule that gets us in a little bit later to be honest with you. So we’re actually landing so we’re getting in late to the hotel, so by the time we get them into their room, get their meal, we’re laying them down for the night. By the time we wake up, they eat breakfast, then come down, and we’re gone. It’s 12:30 p.m. for us, Pacific, so it’s another early morning game for us.
“Hopefully the limited amount of time there, the plane size, the isolation that we do. We understand that’s it out there (coronavirus). We’re doing the best job possible to isolate ourselves on these trips. Fortunately, we have four games in L.A. and two on the road.”
The Obvious: Kevin Sumlin is the third-year head coach (9-15) of the Wildcats, who is currently under scrutiny for the lack of Arizona success heading into this critical season.
The Not So Obvious: Commenting on the Trojans, Sumlin said, “This is a veteran team that’s already played a game and been in a close game. So, they should have some confidence. What do you expect from USC? They’ve got those kind of guys. All that being said, that game (last weekend) could have gone either way at the end.”
The Obvious: The playing surface of Arizona Stadium is FieldTurf.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans record is 44-30-1 in its last 75 games on artificial turf.
The Obvious: The Trojans will start sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis (6-2, 200), who did not have the type of standout game last week that many were expecting but came through in the end with the fourth quarter, 4th-and-9, game-winning 21-yard TD pass down the middle to Drake London, who made a spectacular grab in double coverage.
The Not So Obvious: Arizona will start sophomore Grant Gunnell (6-6, 228) from The Woodlands, Texas/St. Pius X HS. The communications major, who will be starting his fourth game, is considered the most prolific prep passer in Texas state history. AS a senior at St. Piux X, he was named a finalist for the All-American Bowl offensive Player of the Year. For the record, Grant started as a freshman in high school.
The Obvious: This will be the Trojans’ first road opener for 2020.
The Not So Obvious: The Men of Troy are 82-31-8 in first games away from the Coliseum. The Nov. 14 game date at Arizona makes this the Trojans’ latest road opener since 1918, when it played at Whittier Reform on Nov. 30.
The Obvious: Last weekend against ASU, Trojans senior running back Vavae Malepeai led the cardinal and gold with 60 yards rushing for 7.5 average.
The Not So Obvious: Arizona has a fine running back in senior Gary Brightwood (6-1, 218) from Chester, Pa./St. Francis Academy HS. Majoring in Literacy, Learning, and Leadership, after his senior high school season, Brightwood was named first-team All-State MIAA and averaged 6.7 yards per carry his senior season.
The Obvious: Larry Smith is a former USC head football, who coached the Trojans from 1987 to 1992.
The Not So Obvious: Smith also once served as the head coach at Arizona (1980-86).
The Obvious: The Trojans have seven players on their roster from the state of Arizona.
The Not So Obvious: Those Arizona natives on the Trojans’ roster include S Isaiah Pola-Mao of Phoenix’s Mountain Pointe HS, QB Kedon Slovis of Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain HS, DL Connor Murphy and OL Andrew Milek both of Phoenix’s Brophy Prep, OL AJ Mageo of Mesa’s Red Mountain HS and WR Zach Wilson and PK Parker Lewis both of Scottsdale’s Saguaro HS.
The Obvious: California is a football feeder for Arizona recruiting.
The Not So Obvious: The Wildcats have 33 Californians on its roster.
The Obvious: And finally, when they complete their game at Arizona, the Trojans will have just two more road games in this shortened season.
The Not So Obvious: Next weekend, the Trojans head back out on the road to play the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City (7:30 p.m. PST/ESPN). The final road game comes in December when the Cardinal and Gold go across town to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl. You have to admit, that with no fans in the stands for a home field advantage, those road games ain’t what they used to be.