No. 18 Arizona, USC look to rebound from losses

Humbled in a blowout loss at Stanford, the 18th-ranked Arizona

Wildcats are trying to stay relevant in a Pac-10 race that seems to

be leaving them behind.

Their opponent on Saturday night, Southern California, has lost

three of five and barely escaped with a 34-33 victory over Arizona

State last weekend.

An Arizona loss to the Trojans, with a game at No. 1 Oregon

looming in the near future, would be a second painful blow to a

season that held such promise.

Coach Mike Stoops expressed confidence that Arizona (7-2, 4-2

Pac-10) could shake off any hangover from last weekend’s 42-17

defeat.

”We’ve moved past big wins, we’ve moved past tough losses,” he

said. ”It’s part of the season. There is still a lot to play for.

We just need to bounce back. We have before. This is another big

game to kind of redeem ourselves.”

The Trojans (6-3, 3-3) don’t have the option of looking to earn

a bowl invitation. For them, the regular season is all there is

because of NCAA sanctions. They end their season with three

straight Pac-10 road games, beginning with Arizona. Their only

remaining home game is the annual nonconference matchup with Notre

Dame.

The Wildcats are in the toughest stretch of their season. After

facing USC, they play at Oregon on Nov. 26, then finish against

archrival Arizona State on Dec. 2.

After a significant blow to Arizona’s hopes for a first Rose

Bowl appearance, it’s good the Wildcats are playing a team with a

big reputation, Stoops said.

”We’re still a good football team. We’re still a top 20 team,”

Stoops said. ”There are a lot of possibilities out there. One game

is not going to make or break us either way. We play a great

program, a great traditional team this week, and I think that’s

good. I think that motivates our players. We know what USC has to

offer and what a game like this means.”

The Trojans have been competitive or better in every game but

one. Of their three losses, only the game at Oregon was one-sided,

and USC led that one in the third quarter. The others were by one

point to Washington and two points to Stanford.

Arizona will send the Pac-10’s No. 1 passing offense, averaging

just under 295 yards per game, against a Trojans defense that ranks

dead last in the conference, surrendering 276 yards per game, 22

yards more than any of the other nine teams.

USC coach Lane Kiffin calls Arizona’s Juron Criner ”a great

receiver, someone that’s very hard to handle.”

”He’s just special with the ball in his hands,” Kiffin said.

”He’s just one of those unique guys, NFL-type guys that when he

gets the ball in his hands is so dangerous with it and he can make

so many plays on the ball when it’s in the air.”

Criner leads the Pac-10 in receptions with 58. Last year, he

caught the winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as Arizona

rallied to beat USC 21-17, ending the Trojans’ seven-game winning

streak in the series. USC still has a four-game winning streak in

Tucson.

Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who threw that pass, had his

worst game of the season at Stanford in his first start after

missing two games with a knee injury. Foles said he feels ”100

percent” healthy.

”I’m moving around a lot better,” he said. ”My knee feels

great. Every day your body heals up, so I’m feeling really

good.”

Matt Scott, so effective in relief of Foles, won’t be available

because of a wrist injury.

The Wildcats’ defense slipped to second in the conference after

surrendering 510 yards last weekend.

Still, USC quarterback Matt Barkley calls the Arizona pass rush

”probably the best we’ll see this year.”

Barkley drew some criticism this week from his coach, who said

his sophomore quarterback needs to work on staying calm on the

field in emotional situations and not try to force things.

”I really want to see him make really good decisions when those

critical times come and not play on his emotions,” Kiffin said.

”Look at those two interceptions, those really bad interceptions

against Washington State and last week. Both came after emotional

plays, blocked punts.”

It’s not a matter of experience, Kiffin said.

”You can learn it 20 games ago, whenever he threw his first

interception, or you can never learn it, like some guys in their

career,” the coach said. ”That’s a mental preparation, telling

yourself `I can’t take chances right here. Second and 10 is not a

bad thing.”