Khalil Tate benched for freshman Grant Gunnell in Arizona’s loss to USC
LOS ANGELES — Kedon Slovis threw touchdown passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns, and Southern California remained unbeaten at the Coliseum this season with a 41-14 victory over Arizona on Saturday night.
Freshman Kenan Christon rushed for 88 of his 103 yards in the fourth quarter and made two blazing runs to score his first career touchdowns for the Trojans (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12). USC beat Arizona for the seventh straight time and kept its share of the Pac-12 South lead with a dominant defensive performance against Khalil Tate and the Wildcats (4-3, 2-2), holding them to 167 yards and no points in the first three quarters.
Tate passed for 47 yards and was sacked six times before touted freshman Grant Gunnell replaced him in the third quarter for the Wildcats, who have lost two straight after a four-game winning streak. USC led 34-0 before Brian Casteel took a short pass from Gunnell 56 yards for Arizona’s first points with 12:12 to play.
Gunnell passed for 196 yards and hit Casteel for two touchdowns long after the game was decided.
The Trojans began the night without their top three cornerbacks and defensive end Christian Rector due to injury, and they lost top safety Talanoa Hufanga in the first half and star freshman defensive end Drake Jackson in the second half. Running backs Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp also picked up injuries during the game.
Those injuries led to the electrifying debut of Christon, who won the California high school title in the 100-meter sprint last May. The San Diego native flew past the Arizona secondary on a 55-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter, and he added a 30-yard TD sprint moments later.
Tate missed his final chance to beat USC during his career with the Wildcats out of nearby Serra High, a hotbed for Trojans talent. The Inglewood native made his first career start against USC as a 17-year-old freshman, but failed in four opportunities for a win over his hometown program.
Both defenses started strong at the Coliseum, but Arizona’s turnovers gave a double-digit lead to the Trojans in the first quarter. USC kicked a short field goal after Stanley Berryhill muffed a punt, and Pittman took a screen pass 9 yards for a score after Casteel fumbled.
Stepp capped an 87-yard drive by scoring from 12 yards out to put USC up 17-0 shortly before halftime.
Gunnell threw an interception shortly after relieving Tate, leading to three more points for USC.
Moments after Slovis hit Pittman for a 54-yard gain, Vaughns caught a 5-yard TD pass late in the third quarter to put the Trojans up 27-0.
Arizona: Coach Kevin Sumlin has a decision to make at quarterback. Tate’s struggles in Los Angeles obviously weren’t entirely his fault, but Gunnell is the future for a program that might need to move on from Tate’s thrilling, but not incredibly successful, tenure.
Arizona: Another trip to California to face struggling Stanford on Saturday.