Pete Carroll’s most challenging season since getting the ball rolling at USC ended Saturday with a disappointing 21-17 loss to the Arizona Wildcats at the Coliseum.
“It is so different from where we have been and what we have done,” Carroll said when reflecting on the season.
It has been a rough year for the USC offense with freshman Matt Barkley under center and first-year quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates calling the plays.
The only reliable thing about this unit has been their consistent ability to be inconsistent, and the regular season finale was yet another mixed performance.
Barkley’s second pass of the game was intercepted by Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade and gave the Wildcats the ball back at the USC 37-yard line. Wade finished the game with a team-high 9 tackles to go along with the interception.
The Wildcats’ offense turned the turnover into 7 points, by putting together a scoring drive that included a fourth down conversion, and was capped off by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Delashaun Dean.
After passing the ball seven of nine plays during their first two possessions of the day, the Trojans went to a more balanced approach on their third drive and it resulted in their first touchdown of the day.
Allen Bradford, Joe McKnight and Stanley Havili all received carries during the 80-yard touchdown drive, with Havili breaking off a pair of runs for gains of 14 and 12 yards. Barkley then threw a perfect strike to Ronald Johnson in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown to tie the game, 7-7.
Trailing 14-7 at the half, the physical running of Bradford fueled a 53-yard touchdown drive late in third quarter that tied the game 14-14.
Bradford scored on a run up the middle from 5 yards out. The junior tailback had a team-high 67 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
Two possessions later, the Trojans drove the ball down to the Arizona 14-yard line, with first-and-10, but had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Jordan Congdon.
“To hold them to a field goal was huge,” Arizona’s Mike Stoops said.
Congdon’s field goal gave the Trojans their first lead of the game, 17-14, with 7:13 left to play but the Wildcats’ responded with the drive of the game.
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, was unable to muster any points for most of the second half, but he stepped up in the fourth quarter, and led his team on an 80-yard drive that proved to be the difference in the game.
“You grow up hoping to do one of those,” Foles said of Arizona’s final drive. “I got to live it tonight. It was really exciting.”
The Wildcats final drive featured a third-and-10 play in which Foles hit tailback Keola Antolin on a screen pass that went for 13 yards and a first down. Foles finished the drive off by hitting Juron Criner, who raced into the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown.
“They were playing press coverage,” Stoops said. “If people try to press us, we try to hit fades. He put the ball where it needed to be.”
Arizona took a 21-17 win and held on for the win.
For the senior class that has had so much success the past four seasons, exiting the Coliseum with a loss was a cruel ending.
“We are extremely disappointed for the seniors,” Carroll said. “It breaks my heart that they don’t get to feel the joy of winning in their last game here.”
Tailback Allen Bradford said the Trojans didn’t come out with their usual enthusiasm and felt out of sorts all afternoon.
‘It was just a weird game, a weird feeling,” Bradford said. “We weren’t hyped like we usually are and it was a weird game for us.”
Carroll added: “It never really kicked in like we wanted it to. To not be able to win our games at the Coliseum is a big disappointment.”
With the loss, the Trojans are likely headed to the Poinsettia Bowl with the Emerald and Las Vegas Bowls still as possibilities.
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