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    USC-Arizona review: The 8 wackiest moments, numbers, and plays
    • October 8, 2023

    At 2:30 a.m. Sunday, behind a long-deserted Modelo stand, a black cat roamed the hemisphere of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

    It did not appear to have an owner. It did not appear to have a home. No cats, explicitly, are permitted on the grounds of the Coliseum, so it was a mystery as to how this particular feline had made its way onto the premises.

    It seemed a final summation, a literal black-cat-crossing-path omen, of a truly unhinged final chapter of the Pac-12 After Dark saga, USC besting Arizona 43-41 in three overtimes in a game that seemed destined to continue forever. A testament to Caleb Williams and the Trojans’ fortitude, matching an Arizona team blow-for-blow. And a testament to the amount of weirdness that took place at the Coliseum Saturday, a slew of strange moments revealing plenty about a 6-0 USC team that has nonetheless made its last three games — against inferior teams — seem incredibly difficult.

    A breakdown, in descending order, of the eight most bizarre moments and facts from USC’s win Saturday night:

    8. Big fat zero

    With 12:26 left to play in the second quarter, as Arizona had racked up a 17-0 lead, USC’s offense — gaining just one first down on a penalty — had gained exactly 0 total yards.


    This was, perhaps, the best unit in the country, led by the best quarterback in the country. But Williams and the offense started unfathomably slow Saturday, in part because of defensive-back-heavy dollar coverages Arizona threw at USC’s receivers.

    “Yeah, you got a couple extra defenders out there in the back-end,” receiver Tahj Washington said postgame, “just trying to find those zones, in those spots.”

    7. Noah Fifita throws five touchdowns

    Arizona’s quarterback Noah Fifita – a name familiar to many in Southern California from banner days at Servite High – was a freshman backup who’d started exactly one game in his collegiate career. And he picked apart USC’s secondary from wire to wire.

    “The defense is what got us going,” Riley said postgame, referring to Covington’s pick. “And the defense is what won us this football game.”

    The defense also allowed Fifita to throw for five touchdowns.

    6. Simmering defense of the defense

    Signs of Williams’ discontent with clamor over USC’s defense emerged Saturday, against Colorado, when Riley was asked a question about his trust in Alex Grinch and Williams gave a noticeable eye-roll.

    And after Arizona, when Riley was asked a simple question about evaluating the Trojans’ defense through six games, Williams jumped in unprompted after his head coach’s answer.

    “We wouldn’t have won that game without defense – we were set up, we were down 17-0,” Williams said. “So this whole … defense thing. Our brothers. The score wouldn’t be 43-41 without ‘em. So, put it simply that way.”

    5. Calen Bullock’s desperation

    After safety Bullock homing-missled in to swat away a pass on an Arizona two-point conversion attempt in double overtime, the USC safety returned to the sideline so desperate for offensive success that he physically got on his knees for USC’s following two-point conversion attempt, he said postgame.

    “Just like, c’mon, you gotta get this,” Bullock said.

    4. A winning formation

    Williams, indeed, ran in that conversion off one of the strangest formations in the Riley era.

    Every single member of the USC offensive line shifted to the far left side of the field, dragging six visibly confused Arizona defenders with them, and Williams suddenly had tight end Lake McRee snapping him the ball and a sort of five-on-five situation to work with.

    “We’ve been working it,” Riley said postgame. “Glad we had confidence to get it done.”

    3. USC’s special teams vie for fumble in unorthodox effort

    This only stands at third because it was ultimately inconsequential, but no moment from Saturday was perhaps stranger than a USC punt in the first quarter, when Prophet Brown, Jac Casasante and Max Williams suddenly gang-rushed punt returner Jacob Cowing – content to simply let the ball lay as it lie – and physically dragged him towards the settling pigskin in a seeming effort to have him touch the ball and thereby force a fumble.

    It didn’t work, and felt illegal, even as no flags were called. It also was … genius, if executed properly?

    2. The field-goal oopsie

    A bad snap led to Denis Lynch kicking a 25-yard field-goal attempt – that would have won the game at the end of regulation – all of about five feet. Brutal.

    1. Mason Cobb playing down a rib

    After making the game-sealing tackle on Arizona’s final two-point conversion attempt, Cobb hit the postgame podium for USC’s most entertaining interview of the year, utterly wired and dropping two f-bombs and casually letting slip to a room of dumbfounded reporters that he’d played much of the game with a rib that had physically popped out.

    He said it as if he’d received a slight booboo. His mother Ruth calls him her “warrior” for a reason.

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    ​ Orange County Register