Arizona-USC: Five Things We Learned This Week

Tom PhillipsCorrespondent IDecember 6, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Juron Criner #82 of the Arizona Wildcats dives into the end zone with  a 36 yard catch for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter against the USC Trojans on December 5, 2009 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. Arizona won 21-17.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

1. Happy Holiday (Bowl) to Arizona

With their win over USC, the Arizona Wildcats accepted an invitation to the Holiday Bowl.

The bid to the bowl means that Arizona finished second in the Pac-10 and is respected enough by bowl officials to be recognized as such.

This is a big step for Arizona moving forward. It means they are starting to be noticed and taken more seriously as a team.

They are no longer the laughingstock of the Pac-10, but a legitimate contender for the Pac-10 title in future years—this year included.

The game is set to be played in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 30 at 5 p.m. Pacific time (6 p.m. Arizona time)

Ironically enough, they will be playing Nebraska, their opponent the last time they played in the Holiday Bowl.


2 . Last Drive Changed Arizona's Season

Leave it to the Wildcats to wait until their final drive of the season to change their fate.

How many times have Cats fans seen opponents march down the field and score the game-winning touchdown despite Arizona putting together a great game?

Well Arizona finally played the part of their opponents, putting together their finest drive of the season just when they needed it most.

The offense seemed to have the right play call to counter USC's defense. On third down the Cats would convert, it almost seemed like karma had kicked in for the Cats.

Then the play of the year—an audible. Foles audibled out of a run play when he saw man coverage on Juron Criner. Criner caught the ball and stumbled into the end zone for the game-winning score.

Criner has impressed all season as the Cats' leading receiver but nothing was more impressive than his last catch of the regular season.


3. Tale of Two Halves

Arizona played well in the first half. They looked like a well-oiled machine hitting on all cylinders, minus the interception.

USC had one good touchdown drive in the first half. Arizona had two drives and controlled the ball for 20 of the 30 minutes in the first and second quarters.

Then at halftime, it seems that the tide turned in USC's favor. They were able to put several drives together, but Arizona was able to stop the Trojans. USC only scored 10 points.

Every time USC got the ball, they would seem to start hot on a drive before Arizona would stop them at midfield.

Arizona on offense was awful in the second half. They were unable to move the ball and seemed to be outmatched by USC's defense.

That was until the final drive.


4. Stoops Exorcises Final Demon

With Arizona's win over USC, Mike Stoops has now officially beaten every team in the Pac-10.

Pete Carroll had been undefeated over Stoops. Stoops and Co. had a good game plan and were able to pull it out.

Arizona played a near perfect game on defense. While the second half wasn't what Cats fans had hoped for offensively, the defense was spectacular.

For every chess move USC made, Arizona matched it. Just when it looked like USC was about to put together another big drive, Arizona was able to stop them on third down.

Considering how long the defense was on the field in the second half makes it that much more impressive.

Now it seems the only step Stoops has to complete in Arizona is win to get over the Wildcats' final hump, the Rose Bowl.

Of course, he has to beat Nebraska first.


5. Arizona Is No. 2

The Cats finished in second place in the Pac-10 after Washington defeated Cal.

Arizona finished 6-3 in the Pac-10, tied with Stanford and Oregon State. Arizona held the tiebreaker over both Stanford and Oregon State.

The Cats defeated both teams in the first half of the season, holding off late game surges from teams in order to get the win.

The last time Arizona finished in second place was 1998, when, yes, they played Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.