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Another Usc False Start

College football: Arizona takes a 21-0 lead in the first quarter en route to a 31-15 romp. Trojans fall to 0-2 in Pac-10.


No one entertained thoughts of a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback. Not this time.

Not with USC falling behind by three touchdowns in the opening minutes. Not with the Trojans blundering through a familiar litany of penalties, turnovers and blown assignments.

This time, there were only scattered boos that began early and eventually disintegrated into silence as USC lost to Arizona, 31-15, before 49,342 at the Coliseum on Saturday.

"I understand where the fans are coming from," tackle Brent McCaffrey said. "What bothers me is that we did not respond."

Not much worked for the No. 18 Trojans on this day. Not the offense, not the vaunted defense, certainly not special teams. Instead, USC (3-2) lost its second consecutive game and has started conference play at 0-2 for the first time in almost three decades.

After a fast start this season, with victories over Penn State, Colorado and San Jose State, the national ranking is probably history. Any hopes of a Rose Bowl berth are fading fast.

"There's not a whole lot to say," Coach Paul Hackett said. "Not enough. Too little. Too late. All that business."

And it all happened so quickly Saturday, starting with the third play of the game, when Arizona quarterback Ortege Jenkins tested the secondary and found Bobby Wade open for a 75-yard touchdown pass.

Less than 30 seconds after the kickoff, the Trojans had fallen behind, just as they had in three previous games.

The booing started when they failed to convert a third-and-one on their first series. It grew louder on the next possession when a holding penalty and a botched pitch forced them to punt from the end zone.

Arizona (4-1) turned good field position into a 14-0 lead, Jenkins feeling cocky enough to wave off the field-goal unit and run the ball across from the one-yard line on fourth down.

"We just went out and played our game," Jenkins said. "It wasn't that hard."

It got even easier a few series later when the USC defense overpursued on a wide run and Arizona's freshman tailback, Clarence Farmer, cut upfield for an 80-yard touchdown.

Only 14 minutes had passed. Arizona led, 21-0, and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

The Arizona offense turned conservative, allowing Jenkins only the occasional pass, relying on Farmer to gain 134 yards. The rest of the time, the Wildcats let their defense take care of things.

This was the same flex defense that held USC to minus-20 yards rushing last season. The Wildcats fared almost as well this time, limiting the Trojans to 10 yards on the ground, not that USC had much of a chance to establish the running game.

"Right off the bat we had to change things up because we had to score some points," said Carson Palmer, who completed 26 of 50 passes for 321 yards and three interceptions. "We had to go to the pass."

For a short time, it looked as if USC had a chance.

Late in the second quarter, defensive end Matt Childers chased Jenkins from the pocket and forced a weak pass that safety DeShaun Hill intercepted deep in Arizona territory. The Trojans scored on Petros Papadakis' one-yard dive a few plays later.

Kicker David Newbury, who missed two field goals in the first half, had his extra point blocked to leave the score 21-6 at halftime.

Then USC opened the second half with a 56-yard drive that ended with freshman kicker John Wall, making his college debut, making a 27-yard field goal to narrow the gap to 21-9.

But any spark of a comeback was extinguished on USC's next possession when Arizona defensive end Idris Haroon hit Palmer--one of five Arizona sacks--and recovered the fumble. A few plays later, Jenkins faked a handoff to the right, then turned left and ran four yards for a 28-9 lead.

"With USC, sometimes you can get them rattled," said Arizona linebacker Antonio Pierce, who led his team with nine tackles. "When they get down, they really get down."

So even though the Trojans outgained Arizona, 331 to 253 yards, they were hurt by the kind of errors that have plagued them in recent victory and loss alike.

Palmer overthrew receiver Matt Nickels by at least 10 yards for an interception late in the third quarter. A holding penalty nullified a 35-yard completion on the next series. Palmer threw another interception, which led to an Arizona field goal for a 31-9 lead.

Even when the sophomore quarterback completed a pass midway through the fourth quarter, freshman receiver Keary Colbert fumbled the ball.

Hackett mused that his team's penchant for mistakes might be the fault of the coaching staff. On Arizona's first touchdown pass, in particular, the defense looked confused, some players acting as if they were supposed to blitz, others staying at home.

The players--as has been the case of late--came to Hackett's defense.

"The coaches can teach us only so much," linebacker Markus Steele said. "We're the ones who have to go out and play."

Steele and his teammates were at a loss to explain how a team with senior leadership and strong team chemistry could hurt itself with errors week after week. If anything, they said, the mistakes have multiplied with each passing game.

And some of the veterans on the team could not help but think back to this time last season, when USC's loss to Arizona kicked off a five-game losing streak.

"Now it's a concern," linebacker Zeke Moreno said. "It's in the back of my mind."

Penalty Box

USC's penalties have increased as the season has gone on:


Result No.-Yards USC 29, Penn State 5 7-65 USC 17, Colorado 14 7-63 USC 34, San Jose State 24 8-72 Oregon State 31, USC 21 9-90 Arizona 31, USC 15 10-70 Average 8.2-72


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