No. 20 USC rallies again to beat Arizona 34-30 on late TD

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Southern California had too many penalties, struggled in the red zone and found itself in a late hole for the second straight week.

The Trojans rallied to win a week ago and did it again with another pair of late scoring drives.

Resiliency has been the theme so far for USC in this pandemic-shortened season.

Vavae Malepeai bulled his way through multiple tacklers for an 8-yard touchdown run with 25 seconds left, and No. 20 USC beat Arizona 34-30 on Saturday.

“We have some things we need to get better at, but we’re 2-0,” coach Clay Helton said. “A lot of teams would like to be in that position.”

USC (2-0, 2-0 Pac-12) was outplayed by Arizona State last week before scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes of a 28-27 victory.

The Trojans again rallied late to win a game they were outplayed in for most of the afternoon.

Kedon Slovis hit Erik Krommenhoek on a 6-yard touchdown, but Arizona (0-1, 0-1) marched quickly down the field for a 6-yard touchdown pass from Grant Gunnell to Stanley Berryhill III with 1:35 left.

Slovis, off target early, completed four straight passes for 68 yards, and Malepeai capped the 75-yard drive by carrying several Arizona defenders with him into the end zone.

“At the end, our kids did what they did last week,” Helton said. “When it mattered the most, they never panicked, they showed great poise.”

Slovis threw for 325 yards and a touchdown on 30-of-43 passing. He was 11 of 12 for 158 yards on USC’s final two drives.

Gunnell threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns for Arizona, which played its first game in nearly a year after last week’s opener against Utah was canceled due to the coronavirus.

“There’s definitely some disappointment, especially when it’s that close and everyone is saying you’re the underdog — literally everyone,” Gunnell said. “But we’re optimistic and we’re driven. That’s the 20th-ranked team in the nation and our first game of the year.”

The sophomore entered the 2020 season as the starter after sharing time with Khalil Tate last year and had a streak of 92 straight passes without an interception. The streak nearly ended on his first pass against USC and then did on the second, when he overthrew a receiver into Talano Hufanga’s arms.

That set up Markese Stepp’s 1-yard TD run.

Gunnell was much better on the next drive, hitting Jamarye Joiner on a short pass that turned into a 34-yard touchdown.

Arizona kept churning out yards — 231 by halftime — but had to settle for three field goal attempts. Lucas Havrisik made two and USC led 17-13 at halftime after Stephen Carr scored on a 3-yard run with 2 1/2 minutes left.

Arizona tied it at 20 when Gunnell hit Tayvian Cunningham in stride for a 75-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.

USC struggled in the red zone early in the second half.

Amon-Ra St. John pulled down a spectacular 48-yard catch, but the Trojans stalled and settled for Parker Lewis’ 28-yard field goal. Stepp ripped off a 49-yard run on the next drive and USC marched down to Arizona’s 1-yard line. Consecutive penalties back the Trojans up and Lewis pushed a 28-yard field goal wide right.

Another drive into the red zone, another trip without points. This time, Arizona stopped the Trojans on fourth-and-1 from the Wildcats 4.

Havrisik gave Arizona its first lead at 23-20 with a 51-yard field goal midway through the fourth.

“You either win or lose, but we had some experienced guys we expected to play well and obviously some newcomers, whether they were transfers or young guys that played well, but not well enough to win,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “That’s the bottom line.”

THE TAKEAWAY

USC played undisciplined at times and was disjointed at times on offense, particularly in the red zone. The Trojans again pulled it together for a 2-0 start.

Arizona did not look rusty in its first game in nearly a year. Gunnell was sharp and the defense was solid in its first game under new coordinator Paul Rhoads before playing on its heels on the final two drives.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

USC moved up a spot after its close call against Arizona State, but may drop a spot or two after going down to the wire against a team it was heavily favored against.

TROJAN MISTAKES

Last week, USC was plagued by four turnovers. Against Arizona, the Trojans struggled with penalties and capitalizing in the red zone.

USC had 11 penalties for 110 yards and twice came away with no points after reaching Arizona’s 5-yard line.

“We had some opportunities to put the game away in the second half and didn’t,” Helton said.

BRIGHT BRIGHTWELL

Arizona running back Gary Brightwell spent his first three seasons in Tucson as a backup before becoming the No. 1 running back this season.

The senior had a strong debut, using his speed and hard-nosed running to pick up 112 yards on 21 carries.

UP NEXT

USC plays at Utah next Saturday.

Arizona is at Washington on Saturday.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.