Cats hangs tough before Trojans pull away in second half
LOS ANGELES – Score 49 for the other guys.
49-9, that is.
The Arizona football team managed to hold USC sophomore running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Reggie Bush in check for most of the Wildcats' matchup with the top-ranked Trojans Saturday night in Los Angeles.
But it was the Trojans' other Heisman candidate, junior quarterback Matt Leinart, and the home team's other marquee tailback, sophomore LenDale White who caused the visiting Wildcats nothing but trouble in the Trojans' 40-point homecoming victory at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
White and Leinart combined to have a hand in six of the Trojans' seven touchdowns on the day, with White crossing the goal line three times to accompany Leinart's three touchdown passes.
"I thought we did a good job on Reggie," UA head coach Mike Stoops said of the Wildcats holding Bush to just 45 yards on 12 carries, with Bush's lone long play of the game coming on a 38-yard kick return in the first quarter. "LenDale White really bounced the ball back on us in the second half."
"They complement each other really well," Stoops said of USC's backfield pair, noting that Bush's explosive outside game meshes well with White's physical, between-the-tackles style of running.
Big plays coupled with big mistakes ultimately did the Wildcats in, as the Trojans racked up 21 third-quarter points thanks in part to a 54-yard run by White, a 44-yard pass from Leinart to freshman wideout Dwayne Jarrett, and an interception off a deflected Richard Kovalcheck pass by USC junior cornerback Justin Wyatt.
"Everyone's disappointed," Kovalcheck said. "This was a huge opportunity."
Leinart completed 27 of 35 passes for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns – including a pair to Jarrett – while Kovalcheck countered with just 165 yards for the Wildcats, completing 15 of 32 attempts with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Leinart connected with tight end Dominique Byrd eight times for 72 yards while Jarrett set a career-high with 144-yards receiving on six catches.
"The got all the momentum and were scoring the ball when they got it," Kovalcheck said. "They're a great team."
The Wildcats trailed 14-3 at the half and 21-3 early in the third quarter when Kovalcheck connected on his only scoring strike of the day, a nine-yard pass to tight end Steve Fleming, cutting the score to 21-9. Arizona would miss the two-point conversion, and it was only a matter of time before the Trojans kicked it into high gear, rattling off four unanswered scores over the final two frames.
Arizona's Nick Folk gave the Wildcats their only lead of the game, at 3-0, when he hit a career-long 48-yard field goal with 6:02 remaining in the first quarter.
Still trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter, Leinart hit David Kirtman for a five-yard touchdown pass, giving USC a 7-3 lead.
The Trojans had a chance to take a 10-3 lead on a 27-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Killeen, but Killen kick sailed wide, marking the first time all season a UA opponent had first and goal on the Wildcats and failed to score.
Of the Wildcats 10 opponents so far this season, four – top-ranked USC, No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 5 California and No. 7 Utah – entered Saturday in the top seven spots in the Associated Press poll, with a combined record of 34-1. California held the only loss o the group after being edged by the Trojans earlier in the season, while Wisconsin fell for the first time this season to Michigan State Saturday.
When asked where the Trojans ranked among the Wildcats four high-ranked opponents, Kovalcheck needed just two words to sum up his answer.
"No. 1," he said.
"They're the No. 1 team, and they deserve to be," Fleming added.
The Wildcats take this weekend off, next hitting the field Nov. 26 in their season finale against Arizona State at Arizona Stadium.