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    ‘It’s personal’: No. 9 USC and familiar faces host Arizona
    • October 6, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — In the NFL, this is common. Have a guy. Coach him up. Watch him pack his bags and stand on the opposing sideline the next year.

    From almost two decades bouncing around the league, Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch knows this, and is plenty prepared for it; if you carry too much emotion as a pro, he said, you’re going to get cut.

    And still, even with the boom of the transfer portal in collegiate football, the situation USC and Arizona find themselves in on Saturday is strange. Uncommon, certainly, in the FBS. Wide receiver Dorian Singer, cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace and defensive lineman Kyon Barrs – three players who were bedrock in Arizona’s program – are now at USC.

    An interesting undercurrent, then, lies within USC vs. Arizona on Saturday, exploring program reactions to player movement in this era of college football.

    Head coach Lincoln Riley gave an easygoing answer Tuesday, when asked about his guys from Tucson. Roland-Wallace, Barrs and Singer all provided little more than dismissive comments about facing their former team in pre-week media availability. Arizona running back Jonah Coleman gave a simple “we ain’t got friends this week” in a presser. Singer amended that “we just gon’ treat it like such.”

    Yet Fisch’s comments this week on his three former players – all of whom were in his program multiple years – were less than congenial.

    “Decisions were made at the end of the season by certain players,” Fisch told media Thursday, as captured by the Tuscon Star’s Justin Spears. “Decisions were made by the staff, decisions were made by the program, and we don’t get into why people transferred and whether people were encouraged or discouraged to transfer … we don’t need to get caught up in the emotions of playing former players.”

    “But, there is certainly – it’s personal,” Fisch continued later. “And the team understands that.”

    All three transfers will likely play a significant role when Arizona comes to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But Singer and Roland-Wallace, in particular, will be vital to the most intriguing matchups in a game that has a major spread but feels dangerous for USC – Arizona just having challenged Washington and the Trojans nearly falling to Colorado.

    When Arizona has the ball

    Ironically, after weeks of cycling in and out behind Ceyair Wright and Domani Jackson, it’s Roland-Wallace’s years of experience at Arizona that have seemingly earned him a starting corner job at USC.

    “There’s just a maturity and a confidence about him,” Riley said Tuesday, “that’s been really good for that room.”

    With Jackson questionable after exiting the Colorado game last week, Roland-Wallace will shoulder a major burden Saturday. The Trojans’ most consistent corner is likely to match up frequently with former teammate Tetairoa McMillan, a tough-as-nails 6-foot-5 receiver from Servite High who’s established himself as one of the best pass-catchers in the Pac-12 with 27 catches for 386 yards and 5 touchdowns. Expect redshirt junior Jacobe Covington, who’s played sparingly in 2023, to get more time in the secondary as well.

    USC had had to game-plan, meanwhile, against a fluid situation at quarterback, as starter Jayden De Laura is questionable with an ankle injury. Backup Noah Fifita proved more than capable, though, in Arizona’s 31-24 loss last week to Washington, and has a built-in connection with McMillan from their time at Servite.

    When USC has the ball

    Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said this week that the Wildcats ran a dollar formation – eight defensive backs on the field – 40 times against Washington. From a layman’s view, it made sense: Throw packages with more fortified secondaries at one of the most dynamic offenses in the country. And it mostly worked, as Heisman hopeful Michael Penix Jr. threw for 363 yards but no touchdowns against the Wildcats’ defense.

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    The same defensive logic, one would think, applies to USC’s Air Raid attack, and Riley certainly anticipated the Trojans might see some of the same concepts Saturday.

    “They played a little bit more of a conservative style defensively,” Riley said, “and tried to really keep everything in front of them.”


    When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

    TV/radio: ESPN/790 AM

    ​ Orange County Register