UA's Jared Baker runs against South Carolina State early last season. He ended the season with 85 yards on 20 carries.


Free safety Jourdon Grandon lowered his head a split-second before tackling Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Then, to make matters worse, he ran his mouth.

The pair of acts - officially, targeting and taunting - cost the Arizona Wildcats' starting free safety two personal fouls on the same play, resulting in 30 free yards for the Huskies.

The unlikely sequence in last week's 52-17 win would have been shocking had it not already happened once this season, in the UA's loss to Oregon State.

And, in fairness, it would have been a more grievous sin had Grandon not atoned eight plays later. His third-quarter interception of Keith Price in the end zone and ensuing 29-yard return kept Grandon out of the doghouse and evened things out with the fickle football gods.

As for the calls?

"I was going for the hit. It was a stupid penalty, the taunting, but I learned from it," Grandon said this week, as Arizona prepared for Saturday's game with 10th-ranked USC.

"I'm not going to argue with the refs; they make the calls. But I'm going to keep playing. I gave up 30 yards, but for me to get the interception and take it back 30 yards, it made up for it right then."

It's been a give-up-and-make-up kind of year for Grandon, a first-year starter with a knack for big hits. Here are four reasons to stick with the sophomore:

1. He's fearless. Though he's listed as 6 feet tall and 186 pounds, Grandon hits like someone much bigger. He plays with a nasty streak that's, frankly, needed.

"The kid plays aggressive," linebacker Jake Fischer said. "He's got a knack for getting to the ball. He knows where the ball's going, and he's not afraid to go up and try to hit you. The kid plays downhill, and you have to respect somebody for that."

But there's a fine, fine line between being aggressive and getting penalized. Fortunately, Fischer said, Grandon's mistakes happen while he's going full speed.

"We'll live with him trying to go down and hit somebody," Fischer said. "We give him crap for (the penalties), obviously, and you can't do that, but you love the aggression. You never try to take anybody's stinger away from them."

2. He's the last line of defense. As the team's starting strong safety, Grandon is, literally, the team's thin blue line. He's expected to help out in pass-coverage and swarm to the ball on runs. Grandon calls the switch to safety from nickel back, where he spent the 2011 season, "completely different."

Coach Rich Rodriguez said Grandon's been "pretty solid" through seven games. The sophomore ranks third on the team with 47 tackles; Grandon has forced a fumble, has recovered a fumble and has registered one interception.

"Some games he's played better than in others, but he's a really competitive guy, and he's taken a lot of reps," Rodriguez said.

3. He's learning, on and off the field. Few players have gone through more over the last year than Grandon, a Phoenix-area native who prepped at Avondale Westview High School.

Grandon fought with UCLA players on the field when the teams met a year ago; the Pac-12 subsequently suspended him and a handful of other Wildcats for the following week's game.

In March, Grandon and offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele were arrested - and subsequently suspended from the team - for their alleged roles in a house-party melee. Charges against both players were eventually dropped, and they rejoined the team over the summer.

Grandon said the two incidents shifted his priorities; he credits both his mom, Penny, and his girlfriend, UA swimmer Gracie Finnegan, for helping him stay focused.

"I had to mature and realize, 'What am I here to do?'" Grandon said. "I've learned from it, so I have to stay on the straight and narrow."

4. He's on the clock. Grandon must play well Saturday if the Wildcats hope to upset powerhouse USC. The Trojans boast two receivers, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, who are considered among the best in the nation; quarterback Matt Barkley is a sure-fire first-round pick.

"They're definitely going to play on Sundays. We're obviously not going to stop them - they're too good of players to stop them," he said. "We have to contain them and limit their opportunities."

Grandon gives himself a "C" grade so far this season, but that's mostly because of the penalties. He'll need an "A" effort Saturday.

"I can do," he said, "a lot better."

On StarNet: For an interactive timeline of the 2012 season, go to

The Rodriguez Report

UA coach Rich Rodriguez's injury report and team captains for this week's game:

Injury report

• Out: DE Dominique Austin (foot, season), WR Terrence Miller (ankle)

• Doubtful: None

• Questionable: OG Trace Biskin (toe), S Jared Tevis (ankle), DE Kirifi Taula (shoulder), C Kyle Quinn (ankle)

• Probable: WR Johnny Jackson (ankle), DT Willie Mobley (ankle)

Team captains

• Week 8: QB Matt Scott, FB/DE Taimi Tutogi, DL Christian Upshaw, LB Jake Fischer.


• Who: No. 10 USC (6-1, 4-1) at Arizona (4-3, 1-3)

• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Channel 9

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)