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O/NSO: Arizona edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

The Obvious: In the their only October road game and looking to snap an overall six-game road losing streak, the USC Trojans (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12 South) take their modest two-game winning streak to the University of Arizona (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12 South) and Arizona Stadium (12:30 MT/PT) for another crucial Pac-12 South battle.

The Not So Obvious: Given the fact that Clay Helton has either been the interim or head coach during Troy’s current six-game road losing streak (Oregon, Stanford, Wisconsin, Alabama, Stanford, Utah) and given the fact that Arizona head coach Rick Rodriguez’s team has lost three in a row and given the fact that a Rodriguez Wildcats team has never lost four in a row, one of these two coaches is going to be a very happy camper after Saturday’s game while the other will need to stay away from any sharp objects and/or the medicine cabinet.

The Obvious: The Trojans opened an 8-point favorite over Arizona.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans hold a 30-8 lead in its series with Arizona. In Tucson, the Trojans have a winning record of 12-4 over the Wildcats. Nearly half (18) of the USC/UofA contests – including the last nine games – have been decided by eight points or less. The Trojans have won the past 6 of 7 and 7 of 9 games. It’s Arizona Family Weekend, and despite the anticipated hot weather and a day game, it figures that the Wildcats will be additionally motivated by having family by their sides to help try and cool the Trojans chances for victory.

The Obvious: The Trojans/Arizona game will be nationally televised live on the FOX (12:30 p.m. MT/PT).

The Not So Obvious: The FOX broadcasters for Saturday afternoon’s kickoff will be Joe Davis (play-by-play), Brady Quinn (analysis), and Bruce Feldman (sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans radio game broadcast of the USC/Arizona game will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 12:30 p.m. (MT/PT) with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans four-hour ESPNLA 710 pregame (8:30 a.m. MT/PT) and two-hour post-game show on Saturday will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz, and WeAreSC contributor Jeremy Hogue.

The Not So Obvious: The Arizona broadcast can be heard on flagship station KCUB 1190 AM with Brian Jeffries (play-by-play), Lamont Levett (analyst), and Dana Cooper (sideline).

Saturday’s game can also be heard on Sports Radio with Aaron Goldsmith (play-by-play) and former Trojans head coach John Robinson (analyst). The Pac-12 game can also be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 959) or on the Tuneln Radio app.

The Obvious: The Tucson weather on Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 94, humidity at 18 percent, and a low of 62 degrees.

The Not So Obvious: We’ll see first whether the hot desert weather has an effect on the Trojans, although they played in similar heat in Los Angeles last Saturday against Colorado. Maybe the fact that the game will start at 12:30 p.m. local time and not 1p.m. will save the Trojans an extra half hour playing in the late hot afternoon.

Offensively, we’ll see if the Trojans can eliminate their drive-killing fumbles and interceptions and play a clean game. Whether the Trojans have cleaned up their fumble issues will play an important factor in the game. The Men of Troy have turned it over seven times in the last three games. Not good. We all know that Trojans starting quarterback Sam Darnold has all the potential in the world, and he has demonstrated it in his three starts. However, in two of those starts, he has fumbled at least once and whether he continues that pattern will probably have an impact on Saturday’s game. If he plays like he did against ASU, it could be a long day for the hometown Wildcats. Imagine the Trojans offense not creating turnovers.

A huge factor on Saturday will be new starting tailback Ronald Jones ll (photo above). Whether RoJo can replace the production of injured senior tailback Justin Davis (high ankle sprain) remains to be seen. It will be on everybody’s mind, not to mention the offensive brain power of head coach Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin. With the expected return of senior All-Pac-12 right tackle Zack Banner, it will be interesting whether it means the Trojans O-line continues to improve or stays at status quo. And let’s find out whether the Trojans tight ends will play a crucial role on Saturday, considering this unit accounted for all three touchdowns in last Saturday’s victory over Colorado.

If the offense doesn’t at least keep some long drives going to rest defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s troops, there should be some concern whether the Trojans defense will wilt in the hot weather. The is an issue considering that Pendergast has shown increased creativity and aggressiveness for the style of play, which creates the need for more physical and mental energy. In terms of the Arizona offense, a major key to the game will be whether Arizona’s quarterback situation is as dire as it seems. Former starter Anu Solomon (knee) is out, his replacement Brandon Dawkins (concussion/ribs) is listed as questionable, so it looks like the likely starter will be former Gardena (Calif.) Serra quarterback, freshman Khalil Tate (6-2, 212), a very physical runner.

Last week, outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu led the Trojans in tackles (10) against Colorado, but whether he can play at the same high level against the Wildcats option is a legitimate sense of intrigue. Right now, Trojans All-Pac-12 corner Adoree’ Jackson is playing at an All-America level, and there are many that believe he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12. What it all means is that the Trojans opposite corner, sophomore Iman Marshall, will continue to be the target of opposing offenses that need a first down or touchdown. Whether “Biggie” can mirror some of the high level the play of Adoree’ remains to be seen. A big plus has been the added attack style of the Trojans front seven as directed by Pendergast, and just ask the Colorado quarterbacks of the Trojans pursuit of them. Whether the pass rush will continue against Arizona will help determine the outcome of the game.

In placekicker Matt Boermeester, punter Chris Tilbey, and kickoff and punt returner Adoree’ Jackson, the Trojans may have the best trio of special teams skill players in the conference. Whether all three can click yet again in Tucson will also help decide if the Trojans fly home Saturday night with a victory in hand.

The bottom line to Saturday’s game is whether the Trojans can continue to improve and correct their mistakes, as the schedule will again provide greater challenges along the road. The Trojans are due for a spotless turnover game, but the Wildcats are hoping they are not the target this weekend.

The Obvious: Trojans first-year head coach is Clay Helton is hoping that his team can continue to improve and that somebody can beat Pac-12 South rival Utah (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12 South), which still controls its own fate, thanks to the earlier win against the Trojans in Salt Lake City.

The Not So Obvious: The Arizona head football coach is Rich Rodriguez, who is in his fifth season at Arizona. Making his assessment of the Trojans, Rodriguez says, “Obviously, they’re very talented. Everybody knows that. They recruit at a high level, and I am not sure we have many guys or any guys that were offered by them. Nonetheless, we’ve got good players and they’ve got really good players that were recruited by most people in the country. A lot of our players probably know a lot of their players, and it’s an intense environment whenever we play them and our guys and their guys get after each other pretty good.”

The Obvious: The 2016  Trojans offense is averaging 25.0 points per game while the Arizona defense is allowing 30.5 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2016 Arizona offense is averaging 28.1 points per game while the Trojans defense is allowing 25.7 points per game.

The Obvious: The Trojans will fact yet another spread offense in the Arizona Wildcats.

The Not So Obvious: According to Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, Arizona has its own version of the spread. This week, Clancy said, “They’re very similar (to other teams), but there are a lot of unique things they do with their RPOs (Run-Pass Option) that a lot of people don’t do. Their run game with the zone read is similar to some of the schools we’ve played. They also have some wrinkles, as well, with some of the gap schemes. They’re a run first team, so like any game we have to come out and stop the run.”

The Obvious: One of the keys to the game will be how well the Trojans adjust to the Arizona offense and the distraction of the Tucson heat.

The Not So Obvious: Trojans standout sophomore middle linebacker Cameron Smith addressed the issues of the Wildcats offense and the anticipated hot weather by saying, “The last three teams (we’ve played) are similar, and they like to go fast. It’s going to be hot on Saturday and that’s one of their strategies to go as fast as possible (in the heat). They move the ball pretty quickly. We have to focus on us and play to the last whistle. In dealing with the heat, we have to get off the field. We really can’t think about it. It’s just to go out there, stay hydrated, and play football and make sure to have fun.”

The Obvious: The Trojans, who play Arizona this Saturday, have played a number of universities whose school name has started with the letter “A”.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have a 66-28 record against teams that start with the letter “A”. Besides Arizona, other schools the Trojans have played with the first letter “A” include Arizona State, Arkansas, Army, Alliance AC and Alumni, Auburn, Arkansas State and Arrowhead AC, and Alabama.

The Obvious: The Trojans have one player on the roster from the state of Arizona (DE Conner Murphy of Phoenix Brophy Prep).

The Not So Obvious: Arizona has 41 players from the state of California.

The Obvious: And finally, more than a few folks are wondering why the Trojans and Arizona have to play a 12:30 p.m. game, a game which head right into the teeth of the October desert heat.

The Not So Obvious: Television decides kickoffs these days and perhaps WeAreSC reporter Johnny Curren has come up with the best answer for the middle of the day kickoff in Tucson. According to Curren, the heated day start is what both teams should expect when their combined record is 5-7. But should fans of both teams have to be punished by seating in the heat for hours? Apparently so.

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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