Five on Friday: Top Arizona football victories over USC

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1981 win is one of greatest in school history

Arizona has defeated USC only eight times in 41 attempts, but, hey, those eight victories provided some lasting memories.

With the teams getting ready to play Saturday night -- and the Trojans having won five in a row in the series -- here are the Wildcats' five best conquests of the Trojans:

5. Arizona 38, USC 7; Oct. 2, 1993; Arizona Stadium

The Wildcats were at the height of the Desert Swarm and, for once against USC, weren't the gutty little underdogs playing against a far more-talented team. This was domination.

The best-in-the-nation defense did its thing. Rob Waldrop sacked quarterback Rob Johnson three times. USC managed only 47 rushing yards and 10 first downs. The Trojans needed a meaningless touchdown with 4:23 to go to avoid a shutout.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats 'offense came to life as first-year starting quarterback Dan White completed 14 of 21 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns in just more than three quarters of work.

"His passing was outstanding," said USC coach John Robinson. "I was stunned by it."

UA moved to 5-0 on the season, which was its best start in 18 years.

4. Arizona 21, USC 17; Dec. 5, 2009; L.A. Coliseum

This game felt like the start of something, as the win launched the Wildcats into the Holiday Bowl as they finished 6-3 in the Pac-10, tied for the second -- their best showing in the league since the 1998 season.

That was all possible because Nick Foles directed a late 80-yard touchdown drive. Arizona converted three first downs along the way, and then Foles lofted a perfect pass to Juron Criner along the left sideline. Criner came down with the ball and tip-toed and twisted his way into the end zone for a 21-17 lead with 3:14 to go.

A defensive stand made that score hold up.

It would be the only time coach Mike Stoops defeated USC.

3. Arizona 35, USC 28; October 20, 1990; L.A. Coliseum

The Wildcats had been ranked No. 21 a week earlier before losing to 35-21 to an Oregon State team that wouldn't win any other game all season. So, expectations were low heading to Los Angeles to face coach Larry Smith, the former UA coach who, nine years earlier, had authored the Wildcats only win against the Trojans in school history.

But, as was often the case in 1990, cornerback Darryll Lewis came up big in his Jim Thorpe Award-winning season. He twice picked off USC phenom Todd Marinovich and also returned a punt 42 yards.

Starting quarterback George Malauulu threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Michael Bates in the first half, but it was tag-team partner Ronnie Veal who ran for three second-half TDs to rally UA from a 17-7 deficit against No. 15 USC.

The play you might remember from that game is the fumble-rooskie. Left guard Rick Warren nearly scored on an intentionally fumbled snap, picking up the ball and, taking advantage of a confused USC defense as Veal carried out a fake handoff, rumbled 32 yards to the USC 3.

Arizona went on to score to make it 28-17 early in the fourth quarter. The NCAA banned the fumble-rooskie after the 1991 season.

2. Arizona 39, USC 36; Oct. 27, 2012; Arizona Stadium

A wild game featured 1,206 yards of offense, 27 penalties, two receivers with more than 250 yards, an Arizona comeback from 15-point deficit ... and a Hail Mary from USC quarterback Matt Barkley on the final play that the Wildcats batted down.

Arizona led 10-0 against 10th-ranked USC -- which had started the season No. 1 in the AP poll -- but was buried under a bevy of big plays from receiver Marqise Lee, who ended up with 16 catches for a still-standing Pac-12 record 345 yards. USC led 28-13 in the middle of the third quarter.

The Cats' defense did manage to force five turnovers, thought, and quarterback Matt Scott -- who threw up on the field at one point not long after taking a hit to the helmet -- led Arizona back with 26 unanswered points, including touchdown passes to Dan Buckner and David Richards for a 39-28 lead.

"We don't put our heads down," said Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer. "We get angry and even more hungry. We played a pretty damn good game in the second half."

USC quickly responded -- helped by Lee's 72-yard kick return -- to make it 39-36 with 4:40 left. With B.J. Denker in at quarterback and Ka'Deem Carey churning out first downs, Arizona gave the ball back to USC at its 13 with 55 seconds left.

Not even Lee could rescue the Trojans from that hole.

Arizona knocks down USC's Hail Mary pass.YouTube screen shot

1. Arizona 13, USC 10; October 10, 1981; L.A. Coliseum

The Trojans were ranked No. 1, were 24-point favorites and were on a 22-game unbeaten streak in the Coliseum. Ronnie Lott was in the USC secondary. Marcus Allen was in the midst of his Heisman-winning season.

But Larry Smith's Wildcats, who had knocked off No. 2 UCLA a year earlier in his debut season, further earned their reputation as Giant Killers.

It didn't look good early for the Cats, with USC taking a 10-0 lead with the help of Allen's 74-yard scoring run. Arizona managed to cut the lead to 10-6 at halftime and then a Ricky Hunley-led defense asserted itself in the second half as Arizona's ball-control offense limited opportunities. USC crossed midfield only once after the break ... and then promptly fumbled.

Arizona got the points it needed late in the third quarter, taking the lead on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Tom Tunnicliffe to a freshman tailback from Cholla High School -- Vance Johnson.

Allen ended up with 211 rushing yards -- amazingly, his fifth consecutive game with at least 200 yards -- but the Wildcats got one of their biggest wins in school history.

Julius Holt, a junior defensive tackle on that Arizona team, told Javier Morales of our sister site, "I remember Coach Smith saying, 'Sixty men together on the same page can't lose."

For much more on the 1981 win over USC, readJavier Morales' account on


Anthony Gimino
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