It's Tucson time at USC this week with the focus in preparation -- verbally anyway -- on the great opportunity and challenge to head to the desert to face an unbeaten and 10th-ranked Arizona team (5-0, 2-0) leading the Pac-12 South and all fired-up to face the first USC team to arrive there without a ranking since Pete Carroll's first season.
Steve Sarkisian has been ticking off the praise for the Wildcats of Rich Rodriguez: "No. 10 in the nation, a very good team, very well coached." But more quietly, Sark notes that should USC win this one, which is the way the Las Vegas oddsmakers see it with the Trojans a three-point favorite, USC (3-2, 2-1) would be back on top tied for the lead in the Pac-12 South.
"That doesn't matter to us," Sark said, wondering why he wasn't asked about who was favored in prior weeks. "We're a 3-2 football team getting ready to go on the road to play the No. 10 team and we better get our butts ready to play."
On a day when the offensive players were available to talk after practice, Cody Kessler said it was simple, from his point of view, what happened Saturday in USC's 38-34 loss to Arizona State at the buzzer on a 46-yard Hail Mary.
"The bottom line is we didn't score enough points. It's on me and the offense. If the other team scores 50, we've got to score 51. If the other team scores 100 we've got to . . . " well, you get the idea here."
Sark echoed that sentiment a few minutes later. More "explosive plays," he said of one solution with ASU gaining 510 yards on 27 pass completions to USC's 263 on 28 -- an 18.9-yards to 9.8 differential per completion. And TD passes of 21, 46, 73 and 77 yards to no TD passes for USC from any distance.
"We improved it on the ground," Sark said with Buck Allen (143 yards) and Justin Davis (67) getting it going in what was last week's offensive emphasis. "Now we have to increase that in our passing game," especially in this year's Pac-12 "where what some of the people are doing offensively is off the charts."
And USC isn't there yet. "We don't want to force it," Sark said.
"That's just math," wide receivers coach Tee Martin said of ASU's "explosive plays. Our system is built for what we do."
But maybe, just maybe, speedster George Farmer said, it will happen for the Trojans -- and for him. "I'm not discouraged, notat all We've been trying it [going deep] . . . it'll come . . . it's in our gameplan . . . there were some opportunities but as long as our running game is going well with Buck, we should beable to do it."
Why they haven't? "I can't answer that," Farmer said.
Nelson Agholor said one good thing about being in the Pac-12 this season is the way "every team in our conference is doing really good things on offense" and how "on film, you can really earn a lot."
Like by watching ASU's Jaelen Strong and his ability to catch and advance the ball. "He did a great job of that against us," Agholor said. "That's where I can help more."
And yes, Agholor said, he's "very excited" about heading into a place Sark said will be "a hostile atmosphere" Saturday. "That's what college football is all about, to be able to play in an atmosphere like that."
Freshman wide receiver Ajene Harris was out again with that left hamstring pull from last week . . . Safety Gerald Bowman was out of pads but working on the bicycle with a deep left thigh bruise and should be OK . . . Tailback Tre Madden missed practice again and the tailback rotation for ASU will be Buck Allen, Justin Davis and James Toland . . . Unlike last week, Sark did say that long-snapper Zach Smith had not yet cleared his concussion testing but that he expected he would, something he didn't last Saturday . . . Both Peter McBride and linebacker Nick Schlossberg did the long snapping in the team portion Tuesday . . . No Jordan Simmons either.
For a wrapup of Tuesday morning's practice, check out TUESDAY ARIZONA WEEK GHOST NOTES.You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.