As a special bonus to Tom Haire's Trojan game previews this year, we are thrilled to report that the USCFootball.com has not completely lost the services of X&O game preview guru Ted Venegas.
Each week, Ted will be providing his thoughts to us on the upcoming USC opponent, and those notes will be a part of each preview. This week: Arizona.
When USC Has the Ball
This week's match-up is interesting because, last season, Arizona schemed its defense almost exactly the same way Nebraska did last weekend against USC. The corners play back off the ball. There isn't as much blitzing as normal. They will try to keep everything in front of them. The only difference is that in three-receiver sets, Nebraska stayed in their base defense.
Arizona instead will bring in an extra defensive back. USC might use more three wideout sets than normal because of the injury situation at fullback. Last year, the Trojans used a lot of two tight end sets, so you could see that as well. It all depends on how Stanley Havili has progressed during the week at fullback.
Arizona's personnel is in stark contrast to Nebraska's. They might have the best corner duo in the conference, with stars Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot. Strong safety Michael Johnson played very well at the end of last year. What they do not have is a strong front seven.
The Wildcats' rush defense stats look okay, but BYU and Steven F. Austin aren't exactly rushing juggernauts, and LSU punished them on the ground. Their pass rush has been almost non-existent. After getting three sacks against BYU, they have only one in the past two games. Even the addition of Louis Holmes, who got two sacks against BYU, hasn't seemed to help much.
As a result, Mike Stoops will probably blitz sparingly, as he did in last year's game, and will try to confuse John David Booty with zone coverages. The Trojans piled up a ton of yards last year, but struggled at times with impatience. That won't be a problem this year.
When Arizona Has the Ball
Offensively, Arizona somewhat mimics the Trojans by using multiple formations. Where you saw Nebraska use a lot of shifting, the Wildcats will use motion, mostly with a fullback or H-back. They run a lot of the same plays out of different formations. They also run a lot of plays with two receivers on the same side.
Offensively: The Wildcats are averaging 4.3 yards per play. Their attack is balanced, averaging 122-yards on the ground and 149-yards through the air. Willie Tuitama has completed 51-percent of his passes for 297 yards, but also has two touchdowns coupled with three interceptions.
Arizona's defense has given up 68 points in three games. Opponents have accumulated 48 first downs rushing and only 17 first downs passing. Opponents are 8-10 in scoring in the redzone against Arizona, but only 4-10 scoring touchdowns.
WR Sedric Steptoe - Sr. While Tuitama is the key to Arizona's passing game, Steptoe is the key to the Wildcats offense as a whole. Averaging 10.4 yards per touch, Steptoe can break big plays suddenly. He leads the team in receptions and also averages 24.7 yards per kick return. Simply put, he sparks the Wildcat's offense.
SS Michael Johnson - Sr. Antoine Cason leads the team in interceptions and garners the most name recongition, but Johnson is the Cats' most impactful player. This year Johnson hasa team leading 20 tackles, along with two pass break ups and one fumble recovery. Many Trojan fans will remember Johnson for running down Reggie Bush in last year's game.
However, the Wildcats have continued to struggle offensively. Their problems start up front. They were awful running the ball against BYU and LSU. The line just isn't good enough to get the job done. Forty-five carries for 102 yards against Division I-A opponents is brutal. That has made things tougher on their young QB, Willie Tuitama.
He took a beating in the LSU game. He sustained a concussion, and then sat the first three quarters of the SFA game. Tuitama has some talent. He has a gun for an arm, and has some mobility. Above all, he is a good leader. When he was put in the game last week, his team responded with two TDs in two drives. He has some good talent at wide receiver although the group is undersized.
What he does not have is a running game. After Chris Henry started the first two games, he was suspended. Chris Jennings, a JC walk-on who was given a scholarship this week, is now the starter. He is neither big nor fast, but he is elusive, deceptively strong, and has good vision.
The USC Scheme
USC could have similar struggles on offense as it did in the Nebraska game, but the Huskers had a better defensive line than Arizona does. The Wildcats are not going to get much pressure, and they will have a tough time stopping the run.
Last year, the Trojans ran for 337 yards. I wouldn't be surprised to see this USC team get about 200 yards on the ground. USC will nickel-and-dime the Arizona defense. Look for a lot of those quick hitches, bubble screens, slants and curls that we saw against the Huskers.
On offense, Arizona doesn't have a chance, even with Tuitama. If Nebraska couldn't run it, Arizona definitely won't be able to. Stoops will not roll up into the fetal position with playcalling, but with a team that has struggled in pass protection, that might not be a good thing.
The 'Cats just don't have the horses on either line to compete unless they are able to pull off a similar ball-control passing attack to what Stanford used against the Trojans two seasons ago. I suspect that they will stick with the running game, though, and that won't serve them well.