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Tate leads Wildcats into showdown against Darnold and the Trojans

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate (14) stiff-arms Washington State safety Jalen Thompson (34) in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Either USC or Arizona will leave the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday ranked first in the Pac-12 South.

The No. 23 Wildcats won their fourth straight game against Washington State last Saturday, and the No. 17 Trojans beat ASU, 48-17.

To beat the Wildcats, the Trojans’ defense will have to limit Arizona sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said Tate’s numbers should put him in contention for the Heisman Award.

“The numbers he’s putting up, I think it’s OK to have that conversation,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Monday“Right now, I think he’s one of the most exciting players in college football to watch.”

But do not expect USC redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold and junior tailback Ronald Jones II to make the Wildcats’ job any easier.

Essential Info

What: Arizona (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) at USC (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12)

When: 7:45 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Storylines to follow

Can USC stop Tate?

The Wildcats can thank Tate for their rapid ascent up the standings. The sophomore threw for a career-high 275 yards and two touchdowns and ran for an additional 146 yards (421 total) and a touchdown. After another brilliant performance, Tate became the first player to win four consecutive Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week awards.

Through nine games, the Trojans rank fifth in the Pac-12 in total defense (394.7 yards per game) and sixth in both run defense (164.8 yards per game) and pass defense (229.9 yards per game).

Can Arizona slow Darnold?

Last week, Darnold passed for 266 yards and three touchdowns against a much improved Sun Devils defense.

On paper, Darnold should have a field day against Arizona. Through eight games, the Wildcats own the worst pass defense in the conference (300.6 yards per game) and among Pac-12 quarterbacks, only UCLA junior Josh Rosen (333.9) has thrown for more yards per game than Darnold (289.6).

How many explosive runs will Jones have?

Last Saturday, ASU simply could not tackle in the open field, and Jones took advantage. The Trojans running back finished with 216 yards on 18 carries and two 60-plus yard touchdowns.

But Jones put up those numbers against the third-worst run defense in the Pac-12. On the contrary, the Wildcats have limited opposing tailbacks to the fourth-fewest yards per game (147.2) in the conference.

Stats to know

4-0: Arizona went 4-0 in October for the first time since 1992.

3-0: The Wildcats are 3-0 on the road this season after going 0-4 away from Arizona Stadium last year.

338.6: Arizona’s 338.6 rushing yards per game ranks fifth nationally and leads the Pac-12.

45: Arizona has averaged 45 points per game, which leads the Pac-12

36: Arizona leads all FBS teams with 36 offensive plays of at least 30 yards this season.

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