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USC(5-1, 3-1) VS. ARIZONA (5-2, 3-1) Tonight at Arizona
Stadium, 7:15, Prime Ticket

Hot spot

October 25, 2008|Gary Klein | Klein is a Times staff writer.

USC last week tuned up for a game with Pacific 10 Conference title implications by rolling through Washington State, 69-0, the Trojans' second consecutive shutout. Arizona's victories are over Idaho, Toledo, UCLA, Washington and California, so it remains to be seen if the Wildcats are legitimate. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the key issues and matchups surrounding tonight's game:

Take a pass

Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter was slowed by an ankle injury against USC, so Arizona's Willie Tuitama qualifies as the most experienced passer the Trojans will face during the conference schedule.

Tuitama struggled with consistency his first three seasons but as a senior has passed for 15 touchdowns with three interceptions. He will go against a veteran USC secondary that, led by safety Kevin Ellison, ranks first nationally in pass defense.

The last time Arizona saw USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, he was a nervous sophomore making the first start of his career. The Wildcats intercepted two passes on Oct. 13, 2007, but Sanchez came though in the clutch with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass that sent the Trojans to victory at the Coliseum.

Sanchez has passed for 19 touchdowns with six interceptions and leads the conference in passing efficiency, but the Wildcats rank second in the Pac-10 in pass defense.

Backfields in motion

USC tailbacks Broderick Green, Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable each rushed for more than 100 yards last week against Washington State and Joe McKnight amassed 143 yards in his last game two weeks ago against Arizona State.

McKnight is back from a toe injury, so who gets the ball tonight?

Gable and Johnson will probably be the workhorses against the conference's sixth-best rushing defense.

USC is first in rushing defense, but the last time the Trojans faced a smallish back such as Arizona freshman Keola Antolin, a guy named Jacquizz Rodgers darted and spun his way to 186 yards and led Oregon State to victory.

Antolin and running back Nic Grigsby might go right at a defensive line that includes tackle Fili Moala, who is nursing a sore ankle.

They're receptive

Arizona receiver Mike Thomas is regarded as one of the Pac-10's best playmakers. The 5-foot-8 senior from Texas averages six catches and 82 yards receiving a game. He also averages 15 yards per punt return.

Thomas already has 42 receptions, Delashaun Dean 30 and Terrell Turner 28. Tight end Rob Gronkowski averages 16 yards a catch and has six touchdowns.

USC receivers have been roaming the field mostly uncontested, but that could change if Arizona presses them at the line of scrimmage.

Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson are injury-free but Damian Williams has a shoulder sprain, so Vidal Hazelton could re-emerge as a factor for the Trojans.

Tight end Anthony McCoy caught a touchdown pass last week, perhaps a precursor to a larger role.

Atmospheric conditions

USC rarely is scheduled as a homecoming opponent, so Arizona must have been confident it would be in contention for the Pac-10 title.

Temperatures in the high 60s are forecast for kickoff, but it might seem significantly hotter for the Trojans with students and alums having a full day to get motivated.

USC needs to take the crowd out of the game early. Otherwise, it could be louder than it was at Oregon State.

It's a kick

One of the reasons USC's defense has thrived is because opponents seem to start every possession at their own 20-yard line. David Buehler has booted 26 of 44 kickoffs for touchbacks and has made all four of his field-goal attempts.

Arizona's Jason Bondzio has made eight of nine field-goal attempts.

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By the numbers

*--* USC CATEGORY ARIZ. 41.5 Scoring 40.4 7.8 Points given up 18.1 274.0 Passing offense 253.6 197.5 Rushing offense 158.2 471.5 Total offense 411.9 136.5 Passing defense 151.7 83.7 Rush defense 133.3 220.2 Total defense 284.9 *--*

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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USC VS. ARIZONA

Tonight at Arizona Stadium

7:15 p.m., Prime Ticket

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USC is trying to remain in the Bowl Championship Series title game picture. Arizona would settle for its first Pac-10 football championship and a January trip to the Rose Bowl. Some issues surrounding today's game:

Take a pass: Arizona's Willie Tuitama has 15 touchdowns with three interceptions. USC's Mark Sanchez has 19 and six. They're facing the Pac-10's stingiest secondaries.

Backfields in motion: USC had three rushers surpass 100 yards last week and gets Joe McKnight back. Arizona benched its top runner in favor of a freshman who dashed and darted for 149.

They're receptive: The Wildcats have Mike Thomas plus three other prime targets. Trojans receivers have mostly roamed free.

Atmospheric conditions: If USC thought Corvallis was loud, let Arizona get an early lead and see how its raucous homecoming crowd sounds.

It's a kick: When USC's David Buehler launches one, it's usually through the end zone or uprights.

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