• Southern California wide receiver Drake London (15) dives for the ball in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell (17) throws downfield against Southern California in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell (17) prepares to stiff-arm Southern California linebacker Ralen Goforth (10) in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California linebacker Drake Jackson (99) tackles Arizona running back Gary Brightwell (0) in the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws over Arizona linebacker Jalen Harris (49) in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California head coach Clay Helton in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell (17) throws downfield against Southern California in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona linebacker Jalen Harris (49) tackles Southern California running back Stephen Carr (7) in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California running back Markese Stepp (30) breaks away from Arizona defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace (4) in the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California linebacker Drake Jackson (99) tackles Arizona running back Gary Brightwell (0) in the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California running back Markese Stepp (30) in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell (17) prepares to stiff-arm Southern California linebacker Ralen Goforth (10) in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California wide receiver Drake London (15) dives for the ball in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California wide receiver Drake London (15) tries to get away from Arizona defensive back Quinn Sullivan (30) after a catch during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California wide receiver Drake London (15) tries to get away from Arizona defensive back Quinn Sullivan (30) after a catch during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California tight end Erik Krommenhoek (84) scores a touchdown against Arizona defensive back Jarrius Wallace (3) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California running back Markese Stepp (30) breaks away from Arizona defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace (4) in the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California linebacker Drake Jackson (99) tackles Arizona running back Gary Brightwell (0) in the second half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Southern California, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California running back Vavae Malepeai (29) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Arizona during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona wide receiver Stanley Berryhill III (86) scores a touchdown against Southern California during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California’s Drake Jackson (99) and Nick Figueroa (50) celebrate after USC defeated Arizona 34-30 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (8) looks to get past Arizona defensive back Rhedi Short during the second half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Southern California won 34-30. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Southern California running back Markese Stepp (30) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Arizona in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Arizona quarterback Grant Gunnell (17) prepares to stiff-arm Southern California linebacker Ralen Goforth (10) in the first half during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

  • Running back Markese Stepp #30 of the USC Trojans celebrates after scoring on a 1-yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats during the first half of the PAC-12 football game at Arizona Stadium on November 14, 2020 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Another week, another from-the-jaws-of-defeat victory for USC.

This time, 20th-ranked Trojans pulled ahead on a Vavae Malepeai touchdown, the senior back spinning his way into the end zone with 25 seconds left for the go-ahead score and 34-30 victory over Arizona, which had taken a three-point lead with 1:35 to play.

“At the end our kids did what they did last week, when it mattered the most. I didn’t see any panic,” head coach Clay Helton said. “They showed great poise to have a little bit over a minute on the clock with three timeouts, we felt extremely comfortable.”

Even with the win, it’s hard to walk away from this game feeling good about where the Trojans are as a team even with a 2-0 start to the year.

It was a little easier to brush off USC’s dramatic win over Arizona State last week. It was the opener, with the rust that comes with that, and the Sun Devils were expected to be a Pac-12 South competitor this season.

But Arizona was picked to finish last in the division this year, while USC was predicted to win it. Still, the Wildcats (0-1) gave the Trojans everything they could handle.

And even in the win, USC showed some progress but also some straight-up regression in this game. The Trojans were much more careful with the football, but went from five penalties in the opener to 11 accounting for 110 yards against Arizona.

“I thought we went from four turnovers to zero — that’s a positive,” Helton said. “I think that’s an improvement. The penalties obviously stick out and we have to improve there.”

Arizona QB Grant Gunnell had 14 career rushing yards entering the day. It didn’t matter against USC, as the sophomore quarterback converted lumbering first downs on the ground against the Trojans, racking up 55 rushing yards in the first half.

USC’s defense settled down in the second half, as starters Talanoa Hufanga, Drake Jackson and Palaie Gaoteote IV returned from injuries. Gunnell was stuck in the pocket again, with Jackson and Hunter Echols making big sacks.

The penalties USC accrued were increasingly inane as the game went on. The Trojans drew two automatic-first down flags on third down on Arizona’s second drive of the game, letting the Wildcats stay on the field for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, USC got to the Arizona goal line on consecutive possessions. But on the first scoring opportunity, USC committed a false start and then a delay of game to drop the ball back from the one-yard line to the 11 on third-and-goal. Parker Lewis had to attempt a field goal that sailed wide.

The next drive, a pass interference call on tight end Jude Wolfe wiped out a first-down conversion. When the Trojans had to go for it on fourth-and-one, Markese Stepp was dropped for a loss as USC didn’t block the edge rusher.

“Looking at our football team, we, offensively, showed up late again,” Helton said. “We missed some opportunities in the red zone that I thought could separate ourselves in the game in the second half.”

That play was one half of the coin for USC’s ground attack Saturday. For much of the first half, it seemed like the Trojans coaching staff trusted its offensive line to block for more than a yard or two, only calling for a run on short-yardage situations. Given how frequently those plays failed, it seemed like a warranted concern.

But the Trojans made a more concerted effort to run as the game wore on, to some degrees of success. Stepp tied his career high with 82 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Stephen Carr reached the end zone for the second week in a row as USC ran for 173 yards.

But there were still the short-yardage miscues, with USC finishing the day 5-for-13 on third down and 1-for-4 on third-and-less than four.

But still, USC was able to shake it off for a win, with quarterback Kedon Slovis closing the game by completing his final 12 passes.

“As far as the issues go, there’s a lot for us to work on,” Malepeai said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. And we just have to get better at finishing. It’s going to be a menatlity we have to take moving forward, to finish strong and not leave the field without six points.”

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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