Arizona football: Cats' priority: showing up

2011-10-01T00:02:00Z 2011-10-01T13:36:29Z Arizona football: Cats' priority: showing upRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 01, 2011 12:02 am  • 

LOS ANGELES - Pete Carroll left USC 17 games ago, taking his passion for competition, days-of-the-week designations and unmatched energy to the NFL.

The Arizona Wildcats would be wise to cop a Carroll-ism - "Show up Saturday" - as they limp into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum today.

The UA hasn't merely been beaten in its last three games; it has been outscored, out-hustled and outclassed.

Consider: The Wildcats have trailed for 164 minutes 53 seconds of the last 180 minutes they've played; in the other 15 minutes 7 seconds, the score was tied 0-0. Arizona has been outscored 82-33 in the first half this season, and 72-19 in the last three weeks. It hasn't led since Week 1.

While quarterback Nick Foles continues to put up impressive numbers, most of his 1,447 yards have come with the UA trailing by multiple scores.

There's a term for that in L.A.: Cosmetic enhancement.

"We need our players to start competing better, and not start competing when you're down 21-3," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "It's easy to compete then; you have nothing to lose. I don't know what we have to lose anyhow.

"We've always had good games with USC. Last year, the year before and the year before that have all been really competitive games."

Today, however, could shape up as another blowout loss unless Arizona tackles better. Arizona's defense is allowing 233.5 rushing yards per game, the seventh-worst total of any Division I team in the country. The last two running backs to face the Wildcats set personal and - in the case of Oregon's LaMichael James - school records.

USC tailback Marc Tyler is coming off a 22-carry, 149-yard performance last week against Arizona State. In three games - Tyler was suspended for the season opener against Minnesota - the tailback is averaging 5 yards per carry.

The bruising back is expected to shine. But Arizona's defense, which has been damaged by injuries to defensive end Mohammed Usman and safety Marquis Flowers, might be better than its dismal numbers suggest.

At least USC quarterback Matt Barkley thinks so.

"They have a very solid defense and a very solid team with an explosive offense," Barkley said. "Their defense is a little banged up, but we're definitely going to have to watch out for them."

Arizona (1-3, 0-2) will counter with a pass-happy attack led by Foles, who could set an NCAA record with another turnover-free performance today. The quarterback has attempted 183 passes this season without being intercepted; with 42 more, he'll break the all-time NCAA single-season mark of 224, set by Virginia's Matt Blundin in 1991.

Of course, Foles might not throw often enough to approach the mark. The UA has spent the last two weeks emphasizing the run, in part to keep its increasingly vulnerable quarterback healthy. Foles has taken 10 sacks in the last two weeks.

Tailback Keola Antolin calls it "forcing the run," and it's a good thing.

"We're focused on running the ball more, coming out in practice every day and doing it," he said. "The only way you can get better is to do it."

The UA has already endured the toughest stretch in program history, losing to three teams - Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon - ranked in the top 10 nationally. Although USC (3-1, 1-1) is still considered one of the West's premier programs, its still - like Arizona - young on both lines and weak in the red zone.

Few expect the Wildcats to pull off an upset. Showing up would be a start.

"You can't live in the past," Stoops said. "You have to look forward, and you have to improve."

TODAY

• What: Arizona at Southern California

• When: 12:30 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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