It will be a battle of strengths on Thursday night at the Coliseum, as the USC run defense faces the Arizona run offense.
The Trojans are giving up less than 100 yards per game on the ground -- 99.6 to be exact -- which leads the Pac-12. The Wildcats counter with a running attack that gobbles up 291.5 yards per game -- the No. 10 mark nationally -- behind a talented back in Ka'Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last season and has run for over 100 yards in each of his last seven games.
There are three additional incentives for the Trojans to stop the Wildcats on the ground Thursday.
The first is how the Trojans fared in their last game, a disappointing effort against Arizona State that saw the Trojans get physically beat up front while giving up 62 points and 612 total yards (261 on the ground). It was a stark contrast to the first four games of the season, when the USC defense was riding high, and the loss resulted in the firing of Lane Kiffin mere hours after the game had ended.
Next is the revenge factor. USC players remember what happened in Tucson in 2012. The Trojans went into that game with a 6-1 record, and a victory over the Wildcats would have set-up a monster top-10 showdown the following week at home against Oregon. Instead, the Trojans let a third-quarter lead slip away and ended up losing five of their last six games. USC has lost seven of its last 11 games dating back to last season’s loss to Arizona. You can be sure the Trojans will be looking to settle a score from that night.
Lastly, there is the Orgeron factor. The Trojans have a new coach, an interim one at that in Ed Orgeron, and he’s a coach who has brought fun and energy back to this football team. When Pat Haden introduced Orgeron as the coach who would guide USC through the remainder of this season, he didn’t talk about needing to throw more to the tight end or tighten up pass defense against the back shoulder throw. Haden talked about bringing the fun and energy of college football back to this team. Whatever Haden saw on the field in Tempe made him realize the time had come for a change, and it had more to do with attitude than execution. Of course, Haden is betting that a change in attitude will help result in increased execution, and the first test of his theory will come Thursday night.
That test will be most evident with the Trojans defensive front and their efforts against Carey and the Arizona ground game. Whoever wins that battle will likely win the game, and you just know that Orgeron wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither will his front line players, who will definitely want to start his tenure off on a good note.