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Preview: No. 10 Arizona looks to make winning a habit against USC

LISTEN: Bearing Down with Adam and Jarrett - Oct. 10

All Rich Rodriguez did last Saturday was sit around and “watch other people suffer.”

Well, okay then.

To be fair, his Arizona Wildcats team had just kicked Oregon’s tailfeathers in a very public 31-24 upset victory on Thursday night at Autzen during the stadium’s 100th consecutive sellout, thus knocking down the first domino in one of the most insane, Marty-McFly-didn’t-reach-the-DeLorean-in-time-alternate-universe weekends that college football has seen in a long time. So RichRod had indeed earned the right so sit back on his couch in Catalina Foothills and watch team after team move out of the AP rankings, or into them.

One of these games was the Arizona State-USC game, during which the Trojans were defeated in the last seconds by a Hail Mary that, if not for the lack of coverage in the end zone by USC, would have looked a lot like the famous “Hill Mary” the Wildcats had celebrated two weeks prior.

But when it was all over, and the debris caused by the Trojans and other teams crash-landing out of the top-25 had settled, Arizona was 5-0 for the first time since 1998, touting an historic climb to No. 10 in the nation.

“I’m glad we’re the underdogs,” said Arizona safety Will Parks. “That just keeps the guys focused for the task at hand.”

The Wildcats indeed need to keep their heads about them, because their last two major upsets (Oregon in 2013, USC in 2012) were followed by blowout losses the following week (ASU and UCLA, respectively).

USC has historically been a tough team for Arizona to get the better of, winning six of the last eight matchups between the two. So Rodriguez and his notorious penchant for level-headed discipline aren’t going to sit back on that couch until they know they’ve done all they can in preparation for a USC team that is most certainly going to spend less time wallowing and more time trying to win.

What to Watch:

Recalibrating Trojans

After giving up 452 rush yards to Boston College in Week 3, USC held Arizona State and running back D.J. Foster to only 31 yards on the ground. Conversely, after completely closing down notoriously consistent passing quarterback Sean Mannion and Oregon State in Week 4, USC’s pass defense was trampled by ASU’s 510 yards and five touchdowns in Week 5. One thing has remained constant as the Trojans have jiggled all over the Richter scales: quarterback Cody Kessler, who has not been picked off yet. Expect the Trojans to appear much more balanced behind him and his methodical offense against Arizona’s sub par pass defense.

Passing The Buck

Javorius “Buck” Allen will be a key player for the Trojans’ run game. In all but one game so far in 2014, the junior standout has rushed for over 110 yards and currently sits atop the Pac-12 rushing ranks. He also is seventh in the country in all-purpose yards at 165.2.

Full Nelson

Junior receiver Nelson Agholor stood out against ASU last week with nine receptions for 85 yards. Expect Kessler to look to him more often as he’s been consistent in his catches. At 35 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns on the season so far, he’s on pace to break his 2013 career high of 56 catches for 918 yards and six touchdowns.

Solomon Rising

Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon averages 348 passing yards per game with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions on the season. His best performance came against Cal, when he threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns, including the famous “Hill Mary” long bomb that quarterbacks in the state of Arizona are starting to become known for.

Indecisive Defenses

The Wildcats kept up with one of the best offensive teams in college football last week, never trailing by more than four points. They also forced two fumbles (one which sealed the game), but overall are ranked 88th in the FBS in total defense because of their penchant for giving up passing yards (296.6 per game, ranked 113th). Yet the Trojans, while holding Stanford to only 10 points in Week 2, currently rank 64th in total defense in the FBS.

Scooby Snacks On Quarterbacks

Linebacker Scooby Wright gained national attention in Arizona’s win over Oregon last week when he both forced and recovered a fumble to seal the game in favor of the Wildcats. But those familiar with Arizona football know how big of a factor he can be — he has 58 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and five sacks in only five games so far this season.

Ah, The Irony:

-In 2012 against USC, Arizona broke up a Hail Mary after a third-quarter comeback of 26 unanswered points to win the game, 39-36 in Tucson. That time, the Trojans were the ones ranked No. 10.

-USC’s director of video production is also named Rich Rodriguez. No word yet on whether that actually affects the game, but this is, uh, a wealth of Riches.