After a very bumpy 1st half of the season, USC will arrive in South Bend next week riding some momentum.
Nelson Agholor caught seven passes for 161 yards, Javorius Allen rushed for two touchdowns and Southern California got off to an impressive start under interim coach Ed Orgeron with a 38-31 victory over Arizona on Thursday night.
Cody Kessler passed for 297 yards and two TDs as the revitalized Trojans (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) survived Arizona's second-half rally to win for Orgeron, the longtime defensive line coach who replaced the fired Lane Kiffin on Sept. 29.
The Trojans will next face Notre Dame on October 19 in South Bend in a night game at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish are off this weekend.
Agholor caught a 62-yard touchdown pass and Tre Madden had a 63-yard TD catch in the first quarter for the Trojans, who had the Coliseum rocking as they roared to a 25-point lead in the first half.
B.J. Denker passed for 363 yards and four touchdowns for the Wildcats (3-2, 0-2) in their second straight loss.
Garic Wharton caught his second TD pass for Arizona with 4:18 to play, but Silas Redd punctuated his season debut for USC with seven consecutive clock-chewing runs for 43 yards in a drive that began at the Trojans 4, allowing USC to run out the clock.
Redd, the Penn State transfer who led USC in rushing last season, had 80 yards on the ground after missing the first five games of this season with a persistent knee injury.
Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 138 yards in his eighth straight 100-yard game for Arizona, while Nate Phillips and David Richards also caught touchdown passes from Denker.
Nearly 12 days after Kiffin's stormy four-year tenure ended in a dark airport parking lot, the Trojans played with passion and excitement for Orgeron, who promised to return fun to a desultory USC season. The Coliseum crowd that booed frequently last month amid chants of "Fire Kiffin!" gave several standing ovations to their Trojans in a rare Thursday night game at the historic stadium.
Clay Helton, the Trojans' new play-caller in Kiffin's absence, dialed up an aggressive game plan that succeeded even without star receiver Marqise Lee, who sat out with a sprained knee.
USC played with just two healthy scholarship receivers in the injury absence of Lee, Darreus Rogers and De'Von Flournoy, yet still threw the ball fairly effectively. USC linebacker Morgan Breslin joined Lee on the pregame sideline, while Madden and tight end Xavier Grimble got hurt during the game.
Justin Davis also rushed for a score for the Trojans, who still racked up 546 total yards.
Orgeron's first game brought a new vibe to the Coliseum, which loves the excitable Cajun's enthusiasm and passion for USC. Six fans in the front row of the student section painted "COACH O" on their bare chests — a fitting tribute to a coach who was known to rip off his own shirt to fire up his players in his Ole Miss days.
After a three-and-out from a no-huddle formation on Helton's first drive, Kessler threw a long pass down the middle — a rarity during Kiffin's tenure — on the Trojans' first play of their second series. Agholor, the speedy sophomore who replaced Robert Woods in this season's starting lineup, sprinted to make a fingertip catch just 3:39 in, stunning a crowd starved for exciting football.
Madden caught a mid-range pass over the middle a few minutes later and romped through the Arizona secondary for a 63-yard score. He was helped along by a downfield block from Victor Blackwell, who started in Lee's place after barely getting to play during Kiffin's tenure.
Davis scored from 11 yards out in the second quarter on the first play after Arizona's Scooby Wright roughed Kessler with a late hit. Allen then made a high dive over the line into the end zone for a 28-3 lead, though the celebration was tempered when Phillips slipped behind USC's defense for a 57-yard touchdown catch 56 seconds before halftime.
Arizona trimmed the Trojans' lead to 31-17 when Wharton badly beat Torin Harris down the USC sideline for a 45-yard TD late in the third quarter. The Trojans blocked the extra point and returned it the length of the field, but USC's Leon McQuay III was called for illegally kicking the ball forward during the chase, giving the Wildcats another chance to kick.
Richards caught a 9-yard TD pass with 6:48 to play, and Wharton pulled the Wildcats within seven points before Redd ran out the clock with a 10-yard run on third-and-8 with 1:38 left.