Wildcats wary of USC's new coach, new attitude
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A trip to the Coliseum isn't easy under any circumstances, and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez realizes the Wildcats are arriving at a particularly inopportune time Thursday night.
That's because interim coach Ed Orgeron has spent the last 10 days telling his Trojans to have fun and go crazy in their first game since Southern California (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) fired Lane Kiffin.
"USC is going to play extremely fired up, loose, and come out with a chip on their shoulder,'' Rodriguez said. "We will get USC's best shot.''
Coaching cliches aside, the Trojans could be uncommonly dangerous when they emerge from their tumultuous stretch since USC's loss at Arizona State and Kiffin's subsequent firing in an airport parking lot a few hours later. After nearly two weeks of excited practices, the Trojans have a chance to reboot their season for the irrepressible Orgeron and new offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who takes Kiffin's job as USC's play-caller.
The Wildcats (3-1, 0-1) are eager to avoid a second conference loss after falling 31-13 at Washington in their last game, but they're not sure what to expect from a talented opponent that just hasn't been able to put it together this season.
USC simply seems eager to play football again. After all, the Trojans still have eight games to write a better ending to this saga.
"There's a lot of new energy, a lot of excitement around here,'' USC cornerback Josh Shaw said. "We love Coach O. He brings that energy to everything. Our meetings have been different. Everything about the energy has been up about 10 times this week. You're going to see a lot of guys out there having fun.''
Five reasons to watch Orgeron's first game in charge of the Trojans:
LIMITED OPTIONS: USC receiver Marqise Lee is unlikely to play, barring an unexpectedly swift recovery of his sprained knee. The Trojans already were paper-thin at wideout, and the Biletnikoff Award winner's probable absence means they're down to a handful of scholarship receivers.
At least those receivers include speedy Nelson Agholor, who's eager for his long-expected breakout game after getting few opportunities with Kiffin and the Trojans' two quarterbacks.
Lee's absence will change Helton's play-calling, and he could emphasize USC's running game - which should include tailback Silas Redd in his season debut after knee problems. Helton is moving to the sideline to have constant contact with quarterback Cody Kessler.
WHICH DEFENSE?: Arizona's uncertainty about USC extends to the Trojans' defense. The Wildcats don't know whether they'll face the unit that thoroughly shut down the Trojans' first four opponents - or the porous defense that allowed 612 yards and a school-record-tying 62 points by the Sun Devils.
USC still ranks relatively high in total defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, sacks and tackles for loss despite that evisceration in Tempe, and Orgeron is likely to have his players fired up to face Arizona's potent offense.
Not much has slowed down Arizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey in recent years, so the game could come down to Arizona's running game against USC's formidable front seven.
THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: USC has never played at the Coliseum on a Thursday, other than long-ago bowl games or Thanksgiving Day games. The Trojans agreed to do it for a national television showcase, but the day presents problems.
The Coliseum is on the south end of downtown Los Angeles, which means fans must navigate rush-hour traffic unless they plan to arrive six hours early. Parking lots around the Coliseum will open for tailgating in the early afternoon, but the usual pregame tailgating and picnicking on campus is prohibited.
All of those problems could mean the Coliseum is emptier than usual at kickoff - and it wasn't exactly packed for any of the Trojans' three home games under Kiffin last month. Orgeron seemed confident his players' enthusiasm could make up for any fan absences.
UNDER PRESSURE: Arizona's defense has managed just six sacks in its first four games, and half of those were in the season opener against Northern Arizona. The Wildcats also are struggling to stop the run, giving up 244 yards at Washington the last time out - and top linebacker Jake Fischer is questionable with an injured ankle.
ORGERON'S TIME: He might be the interim head coach now, but Orgeron won't pass up his favorite motivational moment. He still plans to lead the Trojans down the Coliseum tunnel and onto the field.
During the game, Orgeron insists he'll pay close attention to both sides of the ball after Kiffin was criticized for focusing on his offensive game plan. Orgeron hasn't been the man in charge of timeouts and other strategy decisions on a sideline since his time at Ole Miss, but he's eager to return to the role.
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