By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For the first time in 37 polls, the Arizona football team is in danger of dropping out of the Associated Press Top 25. Currently ranked at No. 25, the Wildcats must defeat fifth-ranked Southern Cal on Saturday to have any chance of impressing the voters.
The Wildcats are 2-1 and coming off a loss to Illinois, while the Trojans are 2-0 after beating Houston 45-10. Arizona has been in the AP Top 25 since August of 1993.
Last season in Los Angeles with a Rose Bowl berth on the line, the Wildcats were embarrassed by the Trojans, losing 45-28.
"We're glad to get into conference (play) and we're glad to get into it with Southern California," UA head coach Dick Tomey said.
This year, however, Southern Cal is facing a situation UA faced in '94. The Trojans were picked by Sports Illustrated as the No. 1 team in the nation. The question of whether USC can rekindle its Pacific 10 Conference glory days begins with Arizona, a team which has beaten the Trojans just four times in 21 meetings.
"We have enough to worry about with last year's game," Tomey said. "It was an embarrassment to everybody on the team."
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In last year's game, the Arizona secondary was burned by USC quarterback Rob Johnson's 390 yards and three touchdowns. This season, the Wildcats boast three new additions to the secondary to go with All-America candidate Brandon Sanders.
The tallest of Arizona's defensive backs is 6-foot Rashee Johnson. They will have the task of stopping Southern Cal's 6-foot-4-inch Heisman Trophy candidate Keyshawn Johnson.
"This is our first big test," Tomey said. "We haven't been tested in the secondary yet, and we will be this week."
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One area the Wildcats must improve is their ability to hold on to the ball. Arizona lost four fumbles against Illinois, one of which was returned 53 yards for the deciding score.
Quarterback Dan White also threw one interception, resulting in a 7-play, 30-yard drive for Illinois and a 47-yard field goal.
The Wildcats are also experiencing problems forcing the other team to commit the same mistakes.
"We're not creating turnovers," Tomey said. "That area is real key to having a good football team."
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The season-long criticism that plagued UA last year was that Dan White had only one target Ÿ Richard Dice. This season, however, White has thrown to a slew of targets. But the emerging star of the receiving corps is junior-college transfer Rodney Williams.
"I just came in and they (the coaches) said, 'You'll have a chance to compete for a job,'" Williams said. "I came in, got my playbook and learned my plays."
Williams, who played at Pierce College in Los Angeles last season, caught nine catches for 128 yards and Arizona's only touchdown against Illinois. For the season, Williams has 14 catches and two touchdowns.
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After a tough outing against Georgia Tech, the UA offensive line came out strong against the respected Illini defense. The line opened up holes for Gary Taylor, helping the junior tailback gain 113 yards on 24 carries. One key may have been the play of right guard David Watson.
"David will start on Saturday," Tomey said. "He hasn't won the job, but he will start."
Offensive guard Frank Middleton suffered a knee sprain against Illinois and is doubtful for this weekend's game.
Middleton's injury could prove to be a costly one for the Wildcats. It took the UA coaching staff three games to find a left offensive guard they liked. Now, the search is on for a lineman who can take the place of the 6-foot-5-inch, 350-pound Middleton.
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