The ranked against the unranked. The prestigious powerhouse against the lone original Pac-10 Conference member to not appear in a Rose Bowl. The roster full of projected first-round NFL draft picks against the virtually unknown.
The only area Arizona (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) comes close to matching No. 10-ranked USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12), on paper, might be in the name recognition between head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Lane Kiffin.
Yet, the Wildcats are the ones ranked fifth in the nation in total offense and 20th in points scored compared to the Trojans' star-studded juggernaut led by quarterback Matt Barkley. Throw away a pair of late-game meltdowns on defense, and Kiffin said the 'Cats could "very easily" be 6-1 - and, he's right.
UA receiver Austin Hill said intimidation cannot play a factor Saturday at 12:30 p.m., when the teams meet at Arizona Stadium.
"I think a lot of people just think, 'Ugh, the Trojans,'" Hill said. "Or, 'The USC Trojans, oh my goodness. SC.' But once you get out on the field with them, you shouldn't think of them as higher than you."
However, it's also difficult not to marvel over the weapons the Men of Troy possess.
Rodriguez has Barkley pegged as "everything that's right" about college football and smarter than any player in the nation. Cornerbacks coach David Lockwood could only laugh and feel almost resigned when asked about Barkley's stud receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Linebacker Jake Fischer called running back Silas Redd, a Penn State transfer, "a beast."
Defensively, the Wildcats have allowed 464.7 yards per game - 104th in the country - but are coming off an above-average performance in a 52-17 romp over Washington, which was shut out in the second half.
"They're a really balanced offense," Wildcats defensive lineman Justin Washington added. "We've just got to really mentally focus."
Barkley leads the Pac-12 with 22 passing touchdowns and two of the premier targets in the country. Lee ranks third in the country in receptions (8.6) and eighth in receiving yards (112) per game. Woods cracks the top 10 in both categories in the conference.
Lockwood said it's their ability to produce after the catch and make "three, four guys miss" that makes the tandem so dangerous.
"The ability after the catch is probably what's crushing about both of them," Lockwood said. "They can turn a little hitch and take it 80 on you."
He added that the secondary must stay aggressive and "take chances," but also play smart and physical against the receivers. The Wildcats will likely lineup up Derrick Rainey opposite Jonathan McKnight at corner for a second consecutive game.
Rainey recently overtook Shaquille Richardson for the starting job.
"We're just splitting time. He's still getting reps," Rainey said.
Rodriguez added that safety Jared Tevis, listed as questionable, is still working his way back from an ankle injury suffered a month ago. In his place, Patrick Onwuasor has stepped in at the bandit position.
Tevis - second on the team with 42 tackles before the injury - was on the field for pregame warmups last week against the Huskies, testing the ankle, but removed his pads prior to kickoff. Even should Tevis play, Rodriguez said, Onwuasor will still "play a lot."
Pressuring Barkley will be a collective effort, Rodriguez added, and not just a job for the three-man defensive line. Arizona produced a season-high four sacks last week and could use more of the same to pull the upset.
"If we're going to get pressure, we've got to do it with more than three, that's for sure," Rodriguez said. "If we can get pressure with three, I'd be really happy. We haven't been able to do that yet. You can try to disguise and mix things up, but you're talking about a quarterback who's as smart as anybody in college football."
For all the attention the passing attack receives, Fischer and Rodriguez agreed that you cannot forget the USC running attack led by Redd - whose 583 rushing yards and six touchdowns has him ranked fifth in a league stacked with four of the nation's top 14 rushers ahead of him.
Among them is Wildcats sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, who was added to the watch list for the Maxwell Award given to the nation's most outstanding player. Carey has rushed for 842 yards and 11 touchdowns, second-most in the Pac-12.
Still, Rodriguez said Redd is a "sure-fire" NFL players with pro-caliber offensive linemen in front of him.
"They had good running backs before Silas Redd got there," Rodriguez said. "Now, all of a sudden, you get one of the best running backs in the country to transfer in there? That's a pretty good deal for them."
Fischer added that the first priority is to contain the run and then worry about the pass.
"We can't make a ton of mistakes because they probably have five or six first-round guys on the offensive side of the ball," Fischer said.
"That's what we're focused on first. You've got to stop the run and then force them to pass. Once you get them in obvious passing downs, you can worry just about the pass."
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor