Southern Cal at Arizona
When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 29, Arizona Stadium, Tucson, 10:30 p.m. EDT.
Coming off its best performance of the season, Arizona can make the Pac-12 South run through Tucson if it can knock off preseason division favorite Southern California on Saturday night.
The Wildcats started slowly under first-year coach Kevin Sumlin as he overhauled the team’s offense to make Khalil Tate more of a pocket passer and rely less on improvising the offense. But they have won back-to-back games and opened Pac-12 play with an impressive 35-14 victory over Oregon State last Saturday.
Daniels, Trojans show growth in rallying past Wazzou
Despite being the preseason favorites to win the South Division, the Trojans (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12 South) were somewhat of an unknown quantity offensively with freshman quarterback JT Daniels under center and new personnel at the skill positions.
They have looked good and bad at times, evidenced by being manhandled at then-No. 10 Stanford three weeks ago and getting blown out at Texas the following game. But USC took a step forward last Saturday, rallying twice in the second half to beat Washington State 39-36.
Daniels threw for 241 yards and a season-high three touchdowns after entering the game with just one scoring toss. More importantly, he did not throw an interception as he rallied the Trojans from a 13-point third-quarter deficit and answered Washington State’s go-ahead drive in the fourth with one of his own as Vavae Malepai capped the 56-yard march with a two-yard scoring run.
“This week in practice you could feel the chemistry coming,” Trojans coach Clay Helton. “I told Tyler (Vaughns) that their chemistry was that far away. You could feel it practice and I was hoping it was going to show up in the game. Both JT and the wide receivers did a tremendous job with our PO game.”
Tyler Vaughns finished with seven receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown while Michael Pittman Jr. and Amron-Ra St. Brown had scoring catches of 50 and 30 yards, respectively. Vaughn and St. Brown have emerged as the possession and big-play receivers on the Trojans, with the sophomore Vaughns totaling 21 catches while averaging 10.0 yards and the freshman Brown getting 17.1 yards per catch on 22 receptions.
Malepai and Stephen Carr combined for 155 rushing yards, and the duo have totaled 342 yards. Malepai has accounted for five of USC’s seven rushing touchdowns.
The Trojans have won nine straight games against division rivals since a 31-27 loss at then-No. 24 Utah on Sept. 23, 2016. They also have won five straight over Arizona and 15 of the last 19 between the teams.
Arizona seeks first 2-0 start in Pac-12 play since 2014
The Wildcats have not won the first two games of conference play since 2014, which is also the last time they won 10 games in a season.
Sumlin has tried to harness the best parts of Tate‘s offensive skills while refining him as a passer, an idea that did not look all that smart in losses to BYU and Houston to open the season. But Arizona has made progress the last two games, first in a 62-31 win over Southern Utah and last weekend in a 35-14 romp at Oregon State in which it totaled 1,222 yards.
Tate did not have to take it upon himself to ignite Arizona’s ground game as J.J. Taylor rushed for a career-high 284 yards — the fourth-highest total in school history — and had scoring runs of 62 and 40 yards while averaging 10.5 yards per carry.
Gary Brightwell added 113 yards and a score while Tate’s presence and decision-making on RPO plays allowed him to go 9 for 17 for 152 yards and two touchdown passes.
“He’s a dynamic guy,” Sumlin told AZcentral of Taylor, his sophomore running back. “I thought he was more of a stop-start, change-of-direction guy because of his size (5-6, 184). He showed an explosive side today.”
Tate has completed just 54.3 percent of his passes, but he has thrown for 1,039 yards and eight TDs with two interceptions. After rushing for 1,411 yards on 9.2 yards per carry last season, though, the junior has just 32 on 23 rushes thus far.
Arizona’s defense limited Oregon State to a season-low 238 yards, a huge improvement after being shredded for 34.7 points and 468.3 yards per game in its first three contests.
That was the biggest issue in last year’s 49-35 loss to the Trojans in which the Wildcats allowed 642 yards, though Tate rallied them into a 35-all tie midway through the fourth quarter and finished with 307 total yards and three touchdowns.
- 7-19 ATS in its last 26 games as an underdog.
- 3-9 ATS in its last 12 games as an underdog between 0.5 and 3.0 points.
- 2-5 ATS in its last seven games as a home underdog.
- The over is 10-4 in its last 14 games following an ATS win.
- The over is 12-4 in its last 16 games following a straight up win.
Southern Cal is:
- 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games as a favorite between 0.5 and 3.0 points.
- 4-1 ATS in its last five games vs. Arizona.
- 5-2 ATS in its last seven games after allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards in its previous game.
- The over is 6-2 in its last eight games vs. Pac-12 teams.
- The over is 9-3 in its last 12 games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
This line has moved 2 1/2 points in Arizona’s direction since opening with the Trojans as 5.5-point favorites. That said, this game pits Arizona’s strength running the ball against Southern Cal’s strength of being able to stop the run.
The one area the Trojans are deep and experienced is along the defensive line. They tightened up against Washington State and limited the Cougars to 91 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per play overall.
Southern Cal, though, will have to be able to string out Arizona’s offense when Tate calls RPO plays and be able to shut down cutback lanes for both Taylor and Brightwell.
The Wildcats’ defense, however, is the one under more scrutiny of the two in this game. For all the improvements Arizona showed against Oregon State, it needs to be remembered the Beavers won one game last season and were lit up for 77 points by Ohio State in their season opener.
The Trojans offense is rapidly evolving, evidenced by the play of Daniels last weekend. It is fair to question whether he can do it from week to week as a freshman, but the hedge here is he gets the job done and notches his first road victory.
Prediction: Pick: Southern Cal -3
Full-Game Total Pick
The teams have combined for 54 or more points in the last seven meetings and reached 62 or higher in the last three. The winning team has scored 36 or more points in six of the last seven games, and given the teams have been shaky with fleeting moments of quality for most of the season, the over feels like the safe play.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 60.5 points (-110)
Full-Game Prop Bet
The Trojans appeared to have found something offensively in their win over Washington State, and while Arizona did play well against Oregon State, USC’s players at the skill positions should find spots to exploit the Wildcats defensively.
Prediction: Pick: USC OVER 31.5
Half-Time Side Pick
The Trojans have trailed at halftime in their last three contests and led by five in the only one they have led thus far. Arizona has led after two quarters in both of its home games, but Tate and Taylor have to get things going early for this pick to happen.
Prediction: Pick: Arizona +2 (-110)
Half-Time Total Bet
Arizona’s defense significantly contributes to this selection, but its dynamic offense led by Tate and Taylor also provide plenty of reasons to pick the over for the opening 30 minutes.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 30.5 points (-110)
Half-Time Prop Prediction
A confidence pick in the young Trojans offense to find enough big plays to get three scores against the Wildcats defense.
Prediction: Pick: USC OVER 16.5 in 1st half (Even)