Cats come up short against Trojans
UA junior quarterback Jason Johnson attempts to elude a USC defender in Arizona's 41-34 loss. Johnson tossed for 311 yards and a touchdown, but threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for scores.
Monday October 29, 2001
After second-half comeback, USC stifles UA with late defensive TD
It was a great comeback. The problem was, the Wildcats lost.
The UA football team will have to wait another week for a shot at its first Pacific 10 Conference victory of the season after losing to Southern California 41-34 Saturday night in Arizona Stadium, marking the 10th-straight conference loss for the Wildcats dating back to last season. Arizona (3-5, 0-5 Pac-10) was hurt all night by the Trojans' big-play defense and an inability to score when it counted most.
With 1:50 left in the game, USC cornerback Kris Richard picked off a third-down pass from UA junior quarterback Jason Johnson - his fourth interception of the game - and raced 65 yards down the sideline for what would be the Trojans (3-5, 2-3 Pac-10) winning touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats drove to the USC 38-yard line, only to allow sacks on third and fourth down, sealing the victory for the Trojans.
"You have to make the plays down the stretch," a clearly emotional Johnson said after the game. "I felt like I played my heart out, but I made the critical error."
Before the series that resulted in the game-winning interception, it appeared junior wide receiver Bobby Wade had returned a punt for a touchdown with 2:38 left in the game.
Replays showed that Wade stayed in bounds for the run, but the officials ruled he stepped out at the UA 48-yard line.
"I think he (stepped out)," UA head coach John Mackovic said. "Maybe there will be another angle, but I didn't see it. He was close enough to the sideline (for it to be possible), and the refs don't miss that call too often."
The loss was a heartbreaker for the Wildcats, who had fought back from a 31-13 halftime deficit to even the score at 34 late in the final frame.
"When you fight back like that, you get some confidence in the way you're playing, and you feel like you have a chance to win the ballgame," UA senior free safety Jarvie Worcester said. "Unfortunately, we weren't on the right side of it. That's part of the game."
"It easily could have gone to Arizona," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "They had a great second half, our guys just hung in there, made the plays we had to make."
After trading field goals in the first half, UA scored the first touchdown of the game with a 60-yard interception return by sophomore cornerback Michael Jolivette, who added a third-quarter pick to bring his season total to five interceptions, equaling his career high.
USC would respond with an interception of its own in the second quarter when cornerback Kevin Arbet jumped in front of a screen pass intended for Clarence Farmer and ran it back 70 yards for the score.
Penalties would hurt the Wildcats the entire night, none more than a personal foul on Young Thompson after the defense had held the Trojans on the 2-yard line with a little over four minutes left in the first half. After the automatic first down, USC quarterback Carson Palmer threw a pass to tight end Alex Holmes for a touchdown.
USC outscored the Wildcats 14-3 for the rest of the half and entered the locker room with a 31-13 lead.
UA had negative 16 yards rushing on 12 attempts in the first half and did not reach the plus mark until the middle of the third quarter. UA sophomore running back Clarence Farmer was held to negative 4 yards in the first half, his lowest output for a half on the season.
"They're real strong up front, and we tried running right at them (in the first half). We didn't do very well," Mackovic said. "In the second half we had them a little more tired, had them on the run, and it allowed us to run. And we were able to get some angles, get around them."
In the third quarter, a thinned-out home crowd watched UA storm back into the game with two-straight touchdowns, capped by a 24-yard catch by senior wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the end zone on a tipped ball.
After a 47-yard field goal for USC, Clarence Farmer - who rushed for 82 yards in the second half and a touchdown - made one of the most exciting runs of the night, knocking off the helmet of a USC defender and dragging him more than 10 yards before being brought down for a 24-yard gain. Shortly thereafter, Johnson scrambled for a 9-yard touchdown run, tying the game.
"We wanted to go out there and show these people that they couldn't come into our house and take over," Farmer said. "It started with the emotion. The first half, we were just running through plays. The second half, we came out there with a lot more emotion. We wanted to come out there and smash heads."
Johnson threw for 311 yards on the night, but also gave up four interceptions - both career highs. He was also regularly pounded by a blitz-heavy USC defense that sacked him six times.
"We're going to come back on Monday and get back to work," Mackovic said. "We need to work on improving. We're going to turn it around someday. Now, I don't know when that will be, but it will be sooner than later."