GAME NOTES: The 10th-ranked USC Trojans seek the 800th victory in program history this weekend, as the travel to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats in Pac-12 action at Arizona Stadium.
The Trojans, who are 799-315-54 all-time, have looked the part of a Pac-12 contender this season, posting a 6-1 overall mark, including a 4-1 conference record to sit atop the Pac-12 South. Lane Kiffin's squad is coming off a record-setting performance, a 50-6 thrashing of Colorado, the team's fourth straight victory.
Rich Rodriguez's first season at Arizona has had its ups and downs. Still, a dangerous offensive squad enters this contest, coming off a 52-17 pasting of the Washington Huskies last weekend, ending a three-game skid for UA. The team is a positive 4-3 overall, but is now just 1-3 in the Pac-12.
USC holds a 28-7 advantage in the all-time series with Arizona, including wins in nine of the last 10 meetings. In addition, the Trojans have won each of the last five matchups in Tucson.
With several All-Americans on the offensive side of the ball, it isn't any wonder that USC is regarded as one of the most explosive teams in the country. Last weekend, quarterback Matt Barkley set the conference mark for career TD passes, while wideout Robert Woods set the school mark for career receptions. Barkley finished the contest against Colorado with six TD passes and now has 102 for his career. Woods' eight receptions for 132 yards, gave him a school- record 220 for his career just midway through his junior season.
It is an honor to be named among USC's great pass catchers.
"I grew up watching all those receivers, ever since I understood what USC football was," Woods said. "It's fun to follow in their footsteps, to be one of those great receivers."
Barkley may no longer be a favorite to take home the Heisman, but he has still completed a steady 65.7 percent of his passes, for 1,773 yards, with 22 TDs. Woods has been phenomenal at the other end with 44 receptions, for 492 yards and nine TDs, although he has been a bit overshadowed by sophomore Marqise Lee (60 receptions, 784 yards, eight TDs).
Rodriguez has nothing but high praise regarding USC's signal-caller.
"I think he's everything that is right about college athletics and college football. To me, he should be one of the leading contenders for the Heisman. He's one of the best players in the history of the Pac-12. He looks like a tremendous leader. From what I hear about him, he's everything you'd want all your players to emulate. I think he's an example for our league and for their program to show future guys what college football is about."
The ground game is also a valuable facet of the USC attack, spearheaded by Silas Redd (583 yards, 5.6 ypc, six TDs) and Curtis McNeal (299 yards, 6.9 ypc).
The defense plays second-fiddle for USC, but the unit has certainly played well enough to garner plenty of accolades. The team is giving up just 16.7 ppg this year, while allowing a modest 334.3 yards of total offense. In addition, big plays have been commonplace, with 27 sacks and 22 takeaways.
A trio of All-American candidates highlight this side of the ball as well for USC, starting with senior safety T.J. McDonald (team-high 53 tackles, one INT). Sophomore linebackers Hayes Pullard (45 tackles, one sack, one INT) and Dion Bailey (43 tackles, four INTs) follow closely. Junior end Morgan Breslin (32 tackles) has been the most disruptive Trojan upfield, leading USC in TFLs (12.0) and sacks (7.0).
Barkley wasn't the only Pac-12 quarterback to have a big week, as Arizona's Matt Scott threw for 256 yards and a career-high four TDs in the team's rout of Washington. He also added a rushing touchdown to his stat line, while tailback Ka'Deem Carey provided most of the ground work with a career-high 172 yards and a score.
Rodriguez has another potent offense on his hands, as Arizona ranks among the nation's best, generating 548.7 yards per game (fifth nationally). It has been tremendous balance, with just under 200 yards per game rushing (196.4) and well over 300 passing (352.3).
Scott has been terrific under center, completing 64.3 percent of his passes, for 2,355 yards, with 17 TDs. Austin Hill (44 catches, 678 yards, seven TDs) and Dan Buckner (44 catches, 599 yards, two TDs) have been a potent one-two punch on the outside.
Carey has been a workhorse in the backfield and seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on. He has amassed 842 yards on the year, with 11 touchdowns and is averaging 120.3 yards per game (fourth in the conference).
It's a good thing the offense can erupt for points, because the Arizona defense has struggled in its efforts to prevent the opposition from doing the same. The team is yielding a generous 30.4 ppg, getting torched by both the run (173.6 ypg) and the pass (291.1 ypg). The team ranks 104th nationally in total defense as a result (464.7 ypg).
Linebacker Jake Fischer has been the most active defender for Arizona, leading the team with 67 total tackles. Safety Marquis Flowers is a distant second (48 tackles), but paces the squad with 3.5 sacks. Safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant (43 tackles, team-high 10.5 TFLs) and cornerback Jonathan McNight (29 tackles, team-high three INTs) have made plays as well in the back seven.
Arizona has the ability to move the ball up and down the field on most teams, but USC is the better team on both sides of the ball and will make enough plays defensively to earn a double-digit win in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 37, Arizona 21