USC looking to move up in Pac-12 South against Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) A season of expectations fell flat quickly for Southern California, from an opening blowout loss to Alabama to a 0-2 start in the Pac-12.
Look at the Trojans now.
Finally starting to live up to some of the promise that followed them into the season, the Trojans moved back into the thick of the Pac-12 South race with a pair of impressive wins. Beat Arizona on Saturday night and they could end up being the favorites again.
''Right now we're in a playoff mentality and every week is like a championship game and you've got to treat it that way in the Pac-12,'' USC coach Clay Helton said.
The Trojans were the Pac-12 South champions last season and were a favorite to win it again this season with so many playmakers back.
USC stumbled out of the gate and appeared to be heading toward a freefall after consecutive losses to Stanford and Utah.
The Trojans (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12) put themselves back in the conversation the past two weeks, beating Arizona State and Colorado, two of the teams ahead of them in the standings.
Next up is a banged-up Arizona team. The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) may be down to their third-string quarterback - a freshman - and have lost three straight to open conference play after last week's 13-point defeat at Utah.
Here's a few things to look for when Arizona hosts USC on Saturday afternoon:
TATE'S ROLE: Arizona lost starting quarterback Anu Solomon to a knee injury in practice after the opener and Brandon Dawkins is battling a concussion and a rib injury. That has forced the Wildcats to turn to freshman Khalil Tate, who had planned on redshirting this season. He threw for two touchdowns after Dawkins was hurt against UCLA two weeks ago and overcame a few mistakes to throw a 63-yard touchdown against Utah last week. ''His demeanor was outstanding. His composure, for a 17-year-old freshman coming in there, was unreal,'' Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. ''He's still learning. There are a few things we'd like to have back, and he'd like to have back. But every game is a learning experience and I think he'll grow from that.''
DARNOLD'S TURN: With the Trojans struggling on offense, Helton made the decision to switch quarterbacks after three games. It's worked out well. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold has been stellar at times, throwing for 963 yards and six touchdowns in three starts with a passer rating of 165.3, eighth-best in the FBS. Darnold also has shown an ability to extend plays with his mobility, something the Wildcats will have to account for on Saturday.
WILSON RETURN?: Arizona is hoping running back Nick Wilson will be able to return this week. The junior ran for 254 combined yards the first two games, but has just eight carries since due to an ankle injury. He didn't play last week, but was upgraded to probable this week. Arizona is 13th nationally in rushing offense, but has done it mostly with its mobile quarterbacks. Getting Wilson back could add another dimension.
STOPPING ADOREE: Arizona may want to kick away from Adoree Jackson. The USC cornerback has been a terror on special teams, averaging 31.7 yards on kickoffs and 18.7 yards on punts. Last week he had a 47-yard punt return and a 38-yard kick return to help set up the Trojans with good field position. Jackson is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, forcing the Wildcats into a decision whether to kick to him or not.