No. 10 Arizona’s comeback was nearly complete in front of a rowdy home crowd on Saturday. All the Wildcats needed was one field goal to finish an improbable comeback win, but Casey Skowron’s 36-yard kick sailed wide right with 12 seconds to play, and the Wildcats fell to USC 28-26 in Tucson. Here are three thoughts from the Trojans’ upset:
1. Arizona struggled in the red zone – and not just at the final moments.
Long before Skowron missed his fourth-quarter kick, Arizona could’ve made this a game if not for early issues in the red zone. The Wildcats faced a 14-6 deficit at halftime largely due to problems with execution inside the 20-yard line in the first half.
Arizona netted a measly six points after four trips to the red zone in the first two quarters. The Wildcats knocked in two field goals, fumbled on the USC seven-yard line and missed a field goal in that span. This wasn’t a new problem for the offense: Rodridguez’s crew had scored 12 touchdowns in 23 trips to the red zone before Friday, tied for second-fewest in the conference.
Missed field goals will hurt any team that can’t reach the end zone. It especially hurts when a missed kick determines the outcome of a game. But Arizona’s problems didn’t begin with Skowron’s miss in the final moments.
2. USC defense kept RichRod’s attack locked up
Rich Rodriguez’s Arizona offense came into the weekend averaging 39.8 points per game, fourth in the Pac-12. Its 574 yards-per-game average (6.7 per play) ranked first in the league. But the Wildcats hadn’t faced USC’s defense.
On Saturday the Trojans controlled tempo and prevented Arizona’s offense from getting in a rhythm. The Wildcats finished with 472 yards of offense, or 4.7 yards per play, well short of the program’s average. USC’s defense, which came in allowing 21.6 points per game, gave its offense plenty of time to build a double-digit lead. Arizona’s prolific attack didn’t even reach the end zone until 6:05 in the third quarter on a six-yard run by Jared Baker.
Baker, who shouldered the rushing load with freshman running back Nick Wilson out with an injury, helped bring Arizona back in the second half. He scored three touchdowns after intermission, including a one-yard run to bring the Wildcats within 28-26 with 1:07 to play. Arizona’s special teams also helped with a perfectly executed onside kick that gave the ‘Cats one final drive.
But Rodriguez’s team dug itself in too deep a hole with its early mistakes, triggered primarily by USC’s staunch defense.
3. Buck Allen was a beast for USC
If you hadn’t heard of Javorius “Buck” Allen before Saturday, shame on you. The good news is that you’re now familiar with USC’s bruising tailback.
Allen gashed Arizona for a season-high 205 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and scored three of USC’s four touchdowns. Allen was the primary reason why the Trojans manhandled the Wildcats on the ground to the tune of 239 rushing yards to 77. USC’s defense will get much of the credit for Saturday’s win, and rightfully so. But Allen was the Trojans’ catalyst on offense, and if USC makes any more noise in the Pac-12, it will likely be on the heels of its talented running back.