LOS ANGELES — It was a party in the Coliseum last Thursday evening for all intents and purposes.
In the first game under head coach Ed Orgeron, USC jumped out to a 28-3 first-half lead. Standing ovations were given out like candy on Halloween. And then Arizona went on to score 28 of the game’s next 38 points, and things got real.
When North Torrance alum B.J. Denker hit Garic Wharton for a 28-yard score to get the Wildcats within seven with 4:18 left in the game, you could feel the tension throughout the Coliseum.
Was Arizona about to rain on the Orgeron parade?
The play that started the Wildcats’ run was a Nate Phillips 57-yard touchdown reception from Denker. Phillips’ score right before the half made it a 28-10 game in favor of the Trojans but seemingly led to a momentum shift for the Wildcats that carried over into the second half.
It’s also the play that stuck with USC safety Dion Bailey.
Following the game, members of the USC coaching staff asked Bailey why he wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t in much of a smiling mood — in his mind, Bailey nearly blew it for his team.
While his teammates celebrated what they called an “emotional” win, Bailey was happy as well. However, his happiness was tempered because of his individual performance. It was Bailey who was locked up one-on-one with Phillips on the touchdown-scoring play.
“When I looked back and I saw the ball going long I should’ve got my eyes back to the man,” Bailey said. “I just never got my eyes back to my man. I just looked at the ball the whole way. (Denker) threw a bad ball. He threw it way long but the receiver adjusted to it and I didn’t.
“I feel completely responsible for the whole momentum shift of the whole game. If I would’ve just played the ball better in that situation they wouldn’t have scored going into half and we could’ve really just put our foot on their throat.”
Being hard on himself is nothing new. The USC coaching staff has told him to not be so hard on himself but that’s just the way he’s wired.
The reality of the situation is there were some breakdowns in communication in the USC secondary for the second consecutive game. The touchdown Bailey allowed was just part of a bigger issue.
Three of Denker’s four touchdown passes last Thursday were 28 yards or longer with two of those being 45 yards or longer. That is a larger concern as the team prepares for it’s trip to South Bend this weekend.
“There were some concerns, seems like some easy drives there where we did not play very well,” Orgeron said. “We will make some changes, personnel, fix things.”