Wildcat defense suffocates the Trojans
The scoreboard read 31-24, the wind swirled at a steady 15 mph and the waning mid-day sun set on Arizona Stadium and the USC Trojans' Rose Bowl hopes.
UA senior linebacker Marcus Bell walked off the field, a shield of media members barely obscuring his frame, and stains of blood and turf marking his torn uniform - but he was smiling.
The game statistics seemed fabricated. USC had 29 rushing attempts for -20 yards, and the Wildcat defense sacked USC junior quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst seven times for -49 yards.
From the first offensive snap, the Trojans failed to establish a running game and the UA defense continually smothered the USC backfield, racking up 72 yards in tackles for a loss.
"We came in here with a point to prove," senior defensive lineman Joe Tafoya said. "We had to come out and show them we could play."
Tafoya penetrated into the Trojan backfield on numerous occasions and had three tackles for a combined loss of 12 yards.
"We stepped it up as a unit and as a team," Tafoya said. "From the first snap to the last, we were out there having fun and banging people around."
UA linebackers DaShon Polk and Marcus Bell combined for 11 tackles, two and one-half sacks and an interception. Both Bell and Polk restricted the outside run and clogged holes in the middle of the UA line.
"Earlier in the season, guys were trying to do too much," Polk said. "Our defense is unique, and it works if you make it work."
Polk said that earlier in the season, the defense was overextending itself and individuals were trying to do too much.
"I'm doing my job, I'm not supposed to make 50 tackles because that's not in our defensive scheme," Polk said. "I try to create things for other people."
With a non-existent running game, the Trojans were forced to pass the football under pressure into a Wildcat secondary with fresh players rotating in and out on almost every series.
"The guys in the back did a good job, and the guys up front got some heat on them," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "We denied the run, and we got them into a lot of predictable passing situations."
Coupled with the impressive statistical performance, the UA defense bled an infectious intensity that resonated throughout the game. Wildcat defenders butted heads after tackles, yelled after sacks and in general, just looked hungry.
"Mainly it's just desire," Bell said, referring to the team's performance. "We came out, had a good effort and just had fun out there."
Tomey said the intensity from game to game hasn't changed, but the defense executed better.
"We've been playing hard on defense and the intensity is no different," Tomey said. "But we made more plays, and it was more evident yesterday. The defensive intensity bore more fruit in this (USC) game."
Tafoya was in a joking mood after the game.
"Those guys came out to the desert and we had to show them a bad time," he said.