Scouting Report: USC

The Cats are riding high after the Washington win, but that could come to a screeching halt as the Trojans come to town. USC is vying for a spot in the national title game. USC would love to run it up in an effort to secure their ranking and the Cats have a game plan against that.

USC Trojans (8-1, 4-1) vs.

HREF=>Arizona Wildcats (2-8, 1-5)
Tucson, Ariz. • Arizona Stadium
Saturday, Nov. 15th, • 5:10 p.m. (MST/PDT)
Radio: KNST (Brian Jefferies, Les Josephson)
Television: TBS (Ron Thulin, Charles Davis, Craig Sager and Erin Andrews)

Coach: Pete Carroll (25-9, 3rd season)
Offense: Multiple Defense: 4-3 2002 Record: 11-2; Pac-10 7-1/T1st (Beat Iowa in the Orange Bowl)
Site: Los Angeles
Series Record: USC leads 20-6 Last meeting: USC edged Arizona 41-34 on a fourth quarter interception in 2001. They did not play last season.

USC loses Heisman trophy winner Carson Palmer and doesn't miss a beat. Norm Chow may just be the best offensive coordinator in football. Junior quarterback Matt Leinart has picked up right where Palmer left off and is putting up very similar numbers. Leinart is big and strong with a very good arm. He has grasped the offense and makes excellent decisions.

"There is not a lot of indecision; he does not sit there and hold the ball and let the rush get to him," Mike Hankwitz said. "He has made very few bad throws; he only has seven interceptions, so he has done a great job. He gets the ball to the right people, and he has enough mobility to escape and get out of some problems. He has executed extremely well."

Leinart does not have to do it alone. He's got a three-headed monster at tailback that has flat gotten the job done. LenDale White, Hershel Dennis and Reggie Bush have combined to rush for over 1,400 yards.

"If you look at their yards per attempt - 5.8, 4.9 and 5.7 - those are obviously outstanding statistics," Hankwitz said. "They all have long runs because they have great speed, and they utilize them in different ways. What makes them dangerous is that if they hit a crease and they get past your linebackers, they are in the secondary so fast that sometimes they get a chance to split the defensive backs."

The receiving corps may be the best in the Pac-10 and is among the best in college football. Mike Williams is a towering receiver at 6-5, who also has speed and skills. However, the Cats can't just concentrate on Williams because Keary Colbet is on the other side. The Cats would love to duplicate their success from last week when they kept Washington from getting long gains through the air. Arizona will be hard pressed to duplicate that success.

A bright spot last week was the play of DE Marcus Smith. Smith had 10 tackles and a pair of sacks and has been a monster since having a cast removed from his hand.

"In the last two weeks he has been able to play with both hands, and he is just playing better and better," Hankwitz said.

The Wildcat defense is much improved, but will have a hard time shutting down the UCS offense. If the Cats can slow down the run and limit big plays, they may have a chance to hang around.

The Wildcats offense is starting to gain steam. Despite a patchwork line and suspensions to three starters, the Wildcat offense has been a much-improved unit. The Cats have shifted from John Mackovic's pro style offense to a version of the spread that relies on quick plays and misdirection.

Clarence Farmer has been suspended for the year, but Mike Bell has picked up the slack. The sophomore has rushed for over 600 yards in his last four games and is now threatening to go over 1,000 for the season. Bell is a shifty runner who's got great breakaway speed in the open field.

"He has established himself as one of the best running backs in the league," said Hankwitz. "He has 811 yards, so if we could get him to 1,000, that would be a great accomplishment for him."

The Cats will play two quarterbacks, but Kris Heavner will take the bulk of the snaps. The true freshman is strong and usually makes good decisions. Heavner is great at avoiding the sack, but has had trouble with interceptions. Spelling Heavner will be speedy Nic Costa. Costa gives the Cats' offense a different dimension with his legs.

The Wildcat receiving corps is solid. Biren Ealy is a star waiting to happen, while Ricky Williams is quickly developing into one of Heavner's favorite targets. Tight end Steve Fleming is one of the Pac-10's best and this nationally televised game could be his coming out party.

The Arizona offensive line has been a patchwork unit, but has been excellent of late. They will have their work cut out for them while facing USC's terrific defensive line. If the Cats have any chance they must establish the run against a group that doesn't allow many yards on the ground.

"They are excellent," said Hankwitz. "They have great team speed. The one thing I have found out over the years is that what separates a good defense from a great defense is the talent of your defensive line. When you have big guys that are athletic and can run, it just adds another dimension to you, and they have those kinds of guys." Pete Carroll is known for his defense and this unit is awesome. They are very fast and don't need to rely on gimmicks. They just get the job done, allowing under 20 points a game.

"They don't try to trick you; they don't need to," said Hankwitz. "They line up and play a lot of fundamental things, and there is a lot to be said about that. They don't blitz and throw a lot of things at you, but what they do, they are going to do so well. They are so good at it that they make it extremely difficult. They don't make a lot of mistakes, and they have such great speed."

OUTLOOK: Arizona will do their best to hold onto the ball and limit possessions. Any hope of an upset is predicated on keeping the potent Trojan offense off the field as much as possible. If USC gets a few early scores, watch out, the rout could be on. However, if the Cats can keep it close, well the odds are they still won't win, but they probably said that in 1981 as well.

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