What are the three keys to USC defeating Arizona this weekend?
1. Continued success in red zone: The Trojans rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in red zone offense and defense, a trend that needs to continue against Arizona. There’s little doubt both teams are going to gain some yardage in this game, so the big key will be limiting the number of opponent drives that end in touchdowns and converting when you have your opportunities.
2. Defend the spread: Arizona brings a unique hurry-up, spread offense that offers plenty of challenges for the defense. The Trojans will have their hands full in this game alone, but there are other reasons to look for a good performance since the Oregon Ducks run a similar style of offense. Not to look ahead to next week, but it would be a good thing for the USC defense to not only get the win on Saturday but to also feel good about itself against this kind of system heading into the Oregon game.
3. Treat themselves to a November to remember: There has been a lot of talk about what is possible in November for the Trojans, but the only way they get to experience that is to win the final game in October. These USC players deserve a shot to play the final month with a lot on the line, and they can earn that by coming out of Arizona Stadium with a victory.
1. Control the football and score, score, score: It may take at least 30 points to win. The Arizona defense might not be great, so three-and-outs will not be acceptable. Kicker Andre Heidari could be critical in this game, especially if he gets at least three reasonable opportunities.
2. Get to Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and send a message: Don't, however, send a message if it’s going to mean a potential big play. Arizona’s offense knows it can score, and so does the Trojans' defense. Keep an eye on USC defensive back Josh Shaw -- he could be the one Arizona's offense focuses on.
3. Lane Kiffin has to call his best game of the season: No way can this team defeat the Wildcats by going into an offensive shell. I don’t think Kiffin will do this, but I didn’t think he would do it at Washington, either. If the Arizona crowd becomes a factor, we’ll see how it influences Kiffin and his offensive unit.
1. Carry over the offensive momentum gained against Colorado: The Trojans had their most complete offensive game against Colorado, and a porous Arizona defense should provide a good opportunity for USC to carry the strong play over to this week. With the Arizona offense coming in averaging 39.1 points per game, Matt Barkley and his star receivers will likely need to score early and often, and they can’t afford to have any lapses like they have had in some of the games earlier this season. A strong offensive performance by the Trojans also means long, sustained drives, which will in turn keep the USC defense fresh as it faces the up-tempo Arizona offense.
2. A quick start by the USC defense: One of Arizona’s biggest problems this season has been the team’s poor performance in the first quarter. The Wildcats have scored an average of just 4.3 points in the opening 15 minutes this season, and more notably, they were shut out in the opening quarter in each of the team’s three losses. The USC defense needs to exploit this and come out on fire right from the get-go, penetrating the offensive backfield and rattling quarterback Matt Scott early on.
3. Win the turnover battle: There’s no better way to slow a high-powered offense than to force a few turnovers, and having accumulated six takeaways against Colorado last week, the USC defense has shown that it's more than capable of doing just that. Scott is as talented a quarterback as the Trojans will likely face this season, but he’s already thrown eight interceptions in seven games, and he averages 44.4 passing attempts per game, so the opportunity should be there for the Trojans to get some crucial picks. On the flip side, the USC running backs will need to take care of the ball, and Barkley will need to make sound decisions on offense.