Arizona Wildcats fall short in triple overtime on the road against No. 9 USC

Oct 7, 2023, 11:42 PM | Updated: 11:54 pm

Head coach Jedd Fisch of the Arizona Wildcats reacts after a touchdown call during the second quart...

Head coach Jedd Fisch of the Arizona Wildcats reacts after a touchdown call during the second quarter against the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Caleb Williams rushed for three touchdowns before running for a two-point conversion in the third overtime, and No. 9 Southern California stopped Arizona’s final attempt in a wild 43-41 victory Saturday night.

Williams passed for 219 yards and three touchdowns for the Trojans (6-0, 4-0 Pac-12), who botched a 25-yard field goal attempt on the final snap of regulation after Williams led a 59-yard drive in the last 2:08.

The Heisman Trophy winner shook it off and coolly led USC to scores on each of its three overtime possessions. USC called an unorthodox play for the two-point attempt in the third OT, with the entire offensive line shifting out before Williams took the snap and ran the other way, stretching the ball to the pylon.

The defense then finished it when linebacker Mason Cobb led a stop of D.J. Williams behind the line.

Noah Fifita passed for 313 yards and threw two of his five touchdown passes to Jacob Cowing in overtime, but the Wildcats (3-3, 1-2) blew an early 17-point lead and fell just short of a signature victory under third-year coach Jedd Fisch.

USC remained unbeaten at the Coliseum during coach Lincoln Riley’s 1 1/2 years in charge, but the Trojans needed another superlative effort from their star quarterback to survive the Wildcats’ energized upset bid.

After USC went up 28-20 on Williams’ second TD run early in the fourth quarter, Arizona tied it with 8:17 to play on a gutsy TD pass and a two-point conversion pass by Fifita. The Wildcats forced a punt by USC and drove past midfield, but Tyler Loop missed a 50-yard field goal attempt with 2:08 to play.

But the Trojans didn’t get points after having first-and-goal with 24 seconds left. Williams misfired on a pass and fumbled another snap before a high snap on fourth down forced USC’s holder out of his crouch, stunning the Coliseum into silence.

Tanner McLachlan also caught a TD pass from Fifita, an Orange County native with a huge block of family and friends in the Coliseum stands while he filled in impressively for injured Jayden de Laura. Fifita went 25 of 35.

Cowing caught 10 passes for 87 yards and four TDs, and Jonah Coleman rushed for 143 yards.

USC’s normally polished offense seemed weird from the start of the latest wacky night game in the Pac-12.

The Trojans failed to score a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time this season and promptly fell behind in a game for the first time this season. Fifita’s TD passes to Cowing and McLachlan put Arizona up 17-0 early in the second quarter, and Williams fumbled near midfield on USC’s next possession.

But Fifita threw an interception to Jacobe Covington, and Williams made a 4-yard run for USC’s first points. Kyron Hudson caught a TD pass from Williams two seconds before halftime, and MarShawn Lloyd’s TD run put the Trojans ahead in the third quarter.

Williams fought through Arizona’s Treydan Stukes and stretched the ball across the goal line to cap a 77-yard drive with 12:54 left in regulation, but Fifita made a cool TD throw to Cowing while getting clobbered by USC’s Jamil Muhammad.

Williams rushed 18 yards for a TD in the first overtime, but Cowing caught a TD pass from Fifita on Arizona’s first OT snap. Cowing scored again to open the second overtime, but USC safety Calen Bullock swatted away Fifita’s pass on the conversion attempt.

Austin Jones then rushed for an 11-yard TD for USC, but Williams couldn’t hit Brenden Rice for the win.

The takeaway

Arizona: Once the emotions cool from this thriller, the Wildcats will feel great about their progress under Fisch. They also might have a quarterback controversy on their hands after Fifita showed his size is no obstacle to making big plays.

USC: The Trojans showed tremendous heart, but they’re at the halfway point of their season with far too many flaws to be a serious national title contender. After the offense’s mediocre showing against Arizona, USC doesn’t even look much like a Pac-12 contender. And the second half of the schedule is exponentially harder, starting next weekend in South Bend.

Up next

Arizona: At Washington State on Oct. 14.

USC: At Notre Dame on Oct. 14.

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