There’s a hell of a football game slated under the blinding lights and towering mecca that is the L.A. Coliseum Saturday night.
That contest pits the upstart prodigal sons of Tucson against the mighty Trojans of the University of Southern California, in a battle for Pac 12 South supremacy.
The Wildcats, who suddenly find themselves ranked 23rd in the latest AP poll, at 6-2 this season, have a chance to pick up their fifth straight win, a feat last accomplished in 2014—the year the Wildcats went 10-4 and won their lone division title since the conference added a championship game in 2012.
The Wildcats’ resurgence has come about largely thanks to the jaw-dropping talent exhibited by sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate, who’s accounted for 784 passing yards, 926 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in four games since supplanting Brandon Dawkins as the team's starter.
Tate is the first player in Pac 10/12 history to win the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week award four times, and has asserted himself as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate.
Saturday’s matchup is scheduled to kickoff at 7:45 p.m. on ESPN, meaning you won’t have to dig too deep to watch Tate and company take on the Trojans.
There’s plenty to talk about ahead of Saturday’s contest, but I’ve synthesized it all into three main points for your reading pleasure:
1. Can Arizona finally slay the mighty Trojans? The Wildcats last won a game at the Coliseum in 2009, when I was a senior in high school. That game, a 21-17 Arizona triumph, was a matchup of an 8-3 USC squad against a 7-4 Arizona team, led by former Eagles and Rams quarterback Nick Foles. The winning score was a 36-yard pass from the blonde-haired Californian, hitting wide receiver Juron Criner in the end zone to give the Wildcats a four-point lead. How long ago was that game, you ask? Both coaches—in Arizona’s Mike Stoops and USC’s Pete Carroll—have long since left their respective schools, with Stoops getting axed in 2011, while Carroll left to coach the Seattle Seahawks, winning Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014.
2. Khalil Tate fever sweeps the nation: Tate, as mentioned above, has been a revelation since his first action of the year against Colorado on Oct. 7. The Inglewood, California native, who went to Serra High School in Gardena (which is 10.7 miles from USC’s campus, according to Google Maps), will certainly be looking for blood against USC coach Clay Helton and company. A little background here: Helton and his staff recruited Tate out of high school two years ago, but told him he didn’t have the chops to play quarterback in the Pac 12, which drove him to Tucson. It’ll be interesting to see whether USC’s rush defense will be up to the task, under coordinator Clancy Pendergast, to shut down the 6 foot 2 inch dynamo, two weeks removed from a 35-point shellacking at the hands of Notre Dame—where the Fighting Irish slashed the Men of Troy’s front line to the tune of 377 rushing yards (41 more than USC mustered as a whole). Tate, along with freshman running back JJ Taylor, fresh off a career-best 152 rushing yards against Washington State last Saturday, will look to help Tate carve up the Trojans defense; it’ll be interesting to see if the duo is successful.
3. Desert Swarm 2.0 in the Old Pueblo? The Arizona defense under second-year coordinator Marcel Yates has been a revelation this year, ranking fourth in rush defense (147.2) and first in interceptions (14) in the conference. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the team’s resurgence on the defensive side of the ball has been driven by a handful of freshmen and sophomores, including freshman Colin Schooler, who has two interceptions and 47 tackles this year. Fellow freshman linebacker Tony Fields II is the team’s leading tackler, with 58 stops this year, and is second on the team with 3.5 sacks this season. Perhaps the most impressive freshman so far has been Kylan Wilborn, who has a team-leading five sacks and seven tackles for a loss for the team this season. This might be the best group of defensive talent to grace the sidelines of Arizona Stadium since the Desert Swarm days of the early 1990s, so they warrant your attention come Saturday night for sure.
How to watch: Arizona will kick off against USC from the LA Coliseum at 7:45 p.m., with ESPN airing it live.
How to bet: Las Vegas has USC as a 7-point favorite, as of Friday afternoon, with ESPN’s
matchup predictor giving USC a 74.8 percent chance of winning.