In the days leading up to last year’s matchup with USC, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez asked his players to raise their hands if they were offered a scholarship by the Trojans when they were in high school.
“Three guys raised their hands and I think two of them were lying,” the coach joked.
Linebacker Marquis Flowers was definitely telling the truth.
A four-star safety out of Goodyear Millennium High School, Flowers had offers from Arizona, USC, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA, Washington and others. He was rated as the No. 23 safety in the country in the 2010 recruiting class by Scout.com, but turned down Pete Carroll and the Trojans to play for Mike Stoops and the Wildcats.
“It’s USC; I just think everyone gets excited about the name,” Flowers said. “I made the right decision.”
And now that the senior is close to wrapping up his college career and has gone 2-1 against the big, bad Trojans, he can say this: “I really don’t like when we play them and everybody talks about who got recruited and who didn’t. It’s football and we just want to go out there and show we belong.”
Flowers and the Cats (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) have done more than that against USC (3-2, 0-2) in the past. The linebacker had one of the best games of his UA career last year against the Trojans, registering seven tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble in a 39-36 win.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 233-pound senior was still making the transition from safety to linebacker at that point. Flowers was moved by defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel from the secondary to linebacker 10 days before the 2012 season began.
He still managed to have 100 tackles, 5½ sacks and three interceptions. This season, there is no transition. The Phoenix native is totally comfortable at linebacker. Flowers has 19 tackles — three of which have gone for a loss — and a fumble recovery he returned 36 yards against UNLV.
“I’m really proud of Marquis, really since last year when he made that last minute move from safety to linebacker,” Rodriguez said Monday at his weekly news conference. “He had a solid year and did a really good job in the weight room. He got bigger and stronger and he’s probably in the best shape of his life coming into this season.
“He really bought into being a linebacker and he’s developed really good leadership skills.”
Rodriguez — like all Arizona fans — would like a repeat performance from Flowers this year against USC.
“He was obviously a key in last year’s game against USC,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to need something like that again this week.”
Middle linebacker Jake Fischer wasn’t a full participant last week in practice, but he has increased his workload this week. Rodriguez said he’s hopeful to have the senior available for Thursday’s game.
If Fischer can’t go, the coach said Hank Hobson would likely start in his place.
Senior offensive guard Chris Putton, who tweaked his knee against Washington, also appears good to go against the Trojans.
Fellow lineman Fabbians Ebbele, the starting right tackle, is 100 percent according to Rodriguez after spraining his ankle against UTSA. Ebbele played limited snaps against Washington, but should be full-go for USC.
Defensive lineman Dan Pettinato and David Richards, who both made their season debuts against Washington, came out of the game healthy and will play Thursday.
The team’s official injury report will be released today.
Rodriguez and Orgeron
Rodriguez and USC interim coach Ed Orgeron have a history that dates back to the 1990s.
Orgeron, a Louisiana native, is known throughout coaching circles for his aggressive recruiting in his home state. When Rodriguez served as the offensive coordinator at Tulane in New Orleans in 1997-98, he instantly heard about Orgeron, who worked at Syracuse and USC during that time.
“He was recruiting in (Louisiana) and I thought he was one of the best recruiters out there,” Rodriguez said.
“He’s had a lot of success wherever he’s been as a recruiter and as a defensive line coach. Certainly, I knew about him when he became the head coach at Mississippi. I think he’ll do a great job the rest of this year.”
Orgeron served as the Ole Miss coach from 2005-07, before spending a year in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints. In 2009, he hooked up with Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and went with him to USC when Kiffin took the Trojans job in 2010.
Game time for Utah expected
The Pac-12 on Monday did not announce the start time for Arizona’s Oct. 19 home game against Utah. Normally, the league announces game times and television plans for the games two Mondays beforehand. The time and television station are expected today.