Pac-12 football hasn’t gone completely smooth, but most games were played as planned. The No. 20 USC Trojans won their first game of the season while the Arizona Wildcats had their first game canceled due to COVID-19.
The Trojans struggled a little bit in their first game of the season, losing the ball four times — three coming from fumbles and an interception. Despite that, USC kept it within two touchdowns and scored back-to-back in the last five minutes of the game to win thanks to a successful onside kick after the first score.
Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis went 40-for-55 with 381 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Wide receivers Drake London and Amon-Ra St. Brown both had triple-digit yards each in the game while the Trojans running backs combined for 175 yards.
USC was able to limit Arizona State’s passing game to 134 yards but the Sun Devil’s ground game combined for 272 yards — over 100 yards of that by sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, didn’t play last Saturday because the Utah Utes had multiple positive COVID-19 results from players on Friday morning and were unable to complete a team with the minimum amount of scholarship players needed based on conference rules.
Arizona finished last season in last place in the Pac-12 South with a 4-8 overall record and a 2-7 conference record.
Sophomore quarterback, Grant Gunnell, was named the starter for the Wildcats’ canceled game last weekend and should be the starter again unless something goes wrong. Gunnell had a 65.2 completion percent in 2019 with 1,239 yards, nine touchdowns, and one interception in eight games. He had 14 rush yards and a rush touchdown to go in his stat line, which shows that he’s more of a traditional pocket quarterback unlikely to scramble, like Daniels of ASU did. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is known to run a lot of run-pass option, and Gunnell has a strong arm to throw deep downfield, so the Trojans’ defensive backs might have their hands full.
The Trojans’ defensive line is top-notch and despite only sacking Daniels once, they will likely hurry Gunnell up a lot.
Slovis, in comparison, was uncomfortable in the pocket in his first game of the season and was sacked three times.
It isn’t known what to expect from Arizona defensively under first-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, but with USC’s fast-tempo offense, it can be a good surprise. Grad transfers Aaron Blackwell and Roy Lopez along with sophomore Kyon Barrs will be on the line trying to keep Slovis and the Trojans’ offense off the field.
The Wildcats will likely run the ball often with senior Gary Brightwell to complement the passing game. Since the Trojans gave up a lot of yards on the ground against the Sun Devils, that can be the difference-maker.
USC head coach Clay Helton said in a video call with reporters that it’s the second week in a row that they’ve gone into the game without a solid scout of their opponent’s defense.
“It is hard — I’m just being honest — when you don’t have a scouted look,” he said. “You have to really focus on your execution and what you believe in, and do the things your kids are good at. You don’t do a lot of new things — you lean on what you’re good at and you worry more on fundamentals and technique and be an execution-based offense rather than just trying to trick people. You have to be really good at making adjustments in-game and talking after each and every series about what we saw and what they’re doing.”
There is a chance the Trojans will be blindsided without a scout of their opponent for three straight weeks, as the Utah/UCLA game on Saturday has been canceled for the same reason, and USC travels to Salt Lake City on November 21. But for now, let’s just focus on Arizona.
The Trojans have a 16 percent chance of making the college football playoffs, according to ESPN’s Allstate Playoff Predictor. Oregon has a 21 percent chance. Only two Pac-12 teams (Oregon, Washington) have been selected to the playoffs in its six years of existence despite having a conference winner each year. There is constant controversy whether or not the Pac-12 gets snubbed each season.
The Trojans will play in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time on FOX.