TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Goodbye to Southern California couldn’t have come at a better time.
The time off not only gave the No. 10 Trojans a chance to heal, but also allowed them to reflect and refocus after an emotional 43-42 loss to No. 14 Utah.
“They definitely show in the way they work, they believe in what we can do and they can be so much better that this team has some really great opportunities ahead of them,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “Everything I saw from them on the field, just the attitude and morale, was exactly the same.
Those opportunities begin Saturday in Arizona, when the Trojans begin a three-game streak against teams from the bottom half of the Pac-12.
USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) blew a two-touchdown lead against Utah on Oct. 15 and gave up a 2-point conversion with 48 seconds left in its first loss of the season. The loss hurt, but the Trojans still have enough for the rest of the season.
USC is ranked second in the Pac-12 behind No. 8 Oregon, so a spot in the conference title game is still within reach. There is also a potential trip to the College Football Playoff if the Trojans prevail.
“They’re very aware of what happened Saturday night, they’re very aware of the opportunities that are coming,” Riley said.
Arizona (3-4, 1-3) is also on the road after losing by a combined 98 points to Oregon and Washington.
The Wildcats were good offensively in coach Jedd Fisch’s second season, but struggled defensively. Arizona is 11th overall in scoring defense in the Pac-12, which on paper doesn’t bode well for one of the nation’s most efficient offenses heading into Arizona Stadium.
“We have to play our absolute best in this game; they’re a top-10 team in the country,” Fisch said. “They do a lot of things extremely well, and we recognize that.”
Two of the most elusive quarterbacks in the country will face off on Saturday.
USC’s Caleb Williams has been a threat with his arm and leg since following Oklahoma’s Riley. He threw for 1,971 yards and 19 TDs with one interception, 235 yards and two more scores rushing.
“His ability to make plays when the plays weren’t there initially is a big part of their game,” Fisch said. “He’s extremely dangerous when he’s on the move.
Arizona’s Jayden de Laura has had similar success since transferring from Washington State. He’s thrown for 2,274 yards and 10 TDs with seven interceptions and has proven to be an escape artist in the pocket, extending the leg game.
RED ZONE POINTS
Arizona has good offensive numbers this season, but they could be better if the Wildcats were better at converting in the red zone.
Arizona is last in the Pac-12 in touchdown conversions inside the 20-yard line at 55.8% and went 2 of 4 last week in a 49-39 loss to Washington.
“We’ve done a lot of great things this year in a lot of categories on offense, but when we get into the red zone, we’ve got to be better,” Fisch said. “It has to be touchdowns. If we’re going to win this game, it’s got to be touchdowns against USC.”
Riley called defender Tuasivi Nomura one of the team’s toughest players.
The coach revealed that Nomura continued to play with a compound finger fracture in a match earlier this season.
“He broke his finger in the middle of the game,” Riley said. “Like a mixture, the bone sticks out. He didn’t tell anyone. He played the next three games with a bone sticking out of his finger.”
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