There aren’t normally a whole lot of secrets among teams in the Pac-12.
When opponents travel to Arizona or Oregon, they know to expect two fast-paced offenses that huddle about as much as it snows in downtown Tucson. And when teams travel to Oregon State or Stanford, they know they better be ready for some up-the-gut power football.
But what should Rich Rodriguez and Arizona expect next week when the Wildcats travel to Los Angeles to face USC? No one really knows.
Typically USC plays a more traditional pro-style offense. But after firing head coach and offensive play-caller Lane Kiffin, the Trojans could look totally different or exactly the same. The UA won’t know until the game comes.
“They may not change a whole lot because it’s just 10 days, but at the same time, they could change everything,” Rodriguez said after Tuesday night’s practice. “So, defensively, we have to be prepared for a little bit of everything.”
Rodriguez said that when it comes to USC’s defense, the UA should “have an idea” of what it’s going to see, but when it comes to the Trojans offense, everything is on the table.
Adding to the unknown of USC’s offensive is attack is the uncertainty of whether All-America receiver Marqise Lee will play.
Lee, who last year won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver, injured his knee in USC’s loss to Arizona State last weekend and is questionable for next Thursday’s game. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Lee was on crutches Sunday, but a series of tests revealed no ligament damage.
If the dynamic receiver plays, the Wildcats would have to adjust and make sure he has a defender or six on him at all times. A year ago, Lee torched UA’s defense for 16 catches and 345 yards.
If he doesn’t suit up, it should free up defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel’s group a little more.
Either way, Rodriguez would like to see a better effort from his defense next game and to dig deeper into the team’s personnel. A huge point of emphasis for the Wildcats coming into the season was using more players on defense so the starters wouldn’t wear down as the game progressed.
Saturday, in the loss to Washington, the Wildcats reverted to their old form and didn’t trust their backups.
“I told the team one thing we didn’t do well as coaches was play enough guys,” Rodriguez said. “We just didn’t have enough confidence — particularly defensively — to put some guys in there. We have to force ourselves to do that, and they in turn have to show us in practice that we can trust them if we put them in there.
“That hurt us last year at times. We have more guys that I think are ready to play, but they have to show it in practice.”
Senior linebacker Jake Fischer didn’t practice Tuesday and will likely sit out today and Thursday as he recovers from a sprained ankle he suffered against Washington.
Rodriguez said the medical staff doesn’t think it’s a high-ankle sprain, which typically keeps players out longer than a normal sprain. Rodriguez said Fischer is “a guy who will get 10 treatments a day.”
“We’re optimistic he should be OK,” Rodriguez said of Fischer, who is fourth on the team with 20 tackles and also has one interception.
Senior offensive guard Chris Putton also didn’t practice Tuesday after he “tweaked a knee a little bit” against Washington. The coach is hopeful Putton — like Fischer — will play against the Trojans.
Receiver David Richards and defensive end Dan Pettinato, who both played for the first time this season against Washington after offseason surgeries, came out of Saturday’s game fine and will remain in the rotation.
On Sunday afternoon quarterback B.J. Denker sat down with his fellow signal-callers like he does every week and reviewed game film with position coach Rod Smith.
It wasn’t pretty.
Smith said there is a lot to correct before USC, but he’s confident Denker can make the adjustments he needs to and still has faith in the senior.
“It was his worst game I’ve probably ever seen him play,” Smith said. “Whether he got a little excited or something, he missed a lot of basic plays that he doesn’t miss. That was the most discouraging part. But he saw it in the film session, and he’ll do better. I have all the faith in the world in him.
“If he had to do it over again, I really believe he’d make better decisions.”
Smith said the staff isn’t asking too much of Denker and just need him to manage the game and give the Wildcats a shot. Saturday, when the Torrance, Calif., native went 14 for 35 for 119 yards and two picks, he didn’t do that.
“We don’t ask him to win the game all the time,” Smith said. “We just ask him to be the moderator of the ball. There were a lot of plays we left out there that he normally makes.”