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Wildcats Host USC to Kick Off 2020 Season

Nov 9, 2020

Game Program | Arizona Football Notes vs. USC | Pac-12 Weekly Release | Coach Sumlin Monday Press Conference | Watch Online - Fox | Listen - TuneIn | Live Stats | Complete 2020 Schedule | 2020 Football Yearbook

TUCSON, Ariz. — The Arizona Wildcats (0-0) play host to the USC Trojans (1-0) at Arizona Stadium this Saturday, Nov. 14 to kick off the 2020 football season. The game is slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. MST with a television broadcast on FOX. 

Last weekend's scheduled season opener on the road at Utah was canceled.

Arizona is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell, who takes over QB1 duties after splitting time behind center in 2019. Gunnell is surrounded by a host of skill position talent on offense, including running backs Gary Brightwell and Michael Wiley, and wide receivers Jamarye Joiner and Brian Casteel, among many others.

The Wildcats defense, led by first-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, features experienced leaders at all levels. Jalen Harris anchors the defensive line in front of a linebacker corps headed by Anthony Pandy, with the Cats final line of defense, the secondary, helmed by Lorenzo Burns.

A complete game preview is below.
Arizona Notes & Numbers

  • The Arizona Wildcats host USC to open the 2020 season after last week's schedule opener at Utah was canceled. This is the first of six games for Arizona in their COVID-19-shortened, conference-only schedule.
  • The Wildcats are 83-28-5 all-time in the first game of the season, and 48-62-4 all-time in road openers. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is 8-4 in his career in season openers.
  • USC leads the all-time series against Arizona 35-8 and holds a 14-4 edge over the Wildcats in Tucson. Arizona's last home win in the series was 39-36 victory over the Trojans in 2012.
  • The Wildcats opener versus USC is the latest known start to a season in program history. Arizona last met USC in their conference opener in 2006, a 20-3 loss to the No. 3 ranked Trojans. The last time the Wildcats opened the year against USC was 1924, a 20-0 shutout loss in Los Angeles.
  • QB Grant Gunnell enters his sophomore season following a 2019 season that saw him complete 65 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances. Gunnell's completion percentage of 65.2 ranked fourth all-time in single-season history at Arizona with at least 100 attempts and set an Arizona freshman record.
  • Arizona added four new defensive coaches for the 2020 season who have combined for over a century of Division I coaching experience, including 17 seasons spent coaching in the Pac-12 Conference.
  • Redshirt senior DB Lorenzo Burns begins 2020 with nine career interceptions, putting him three shy of breaking into the programs all-time top 10 leaderboard. Burns is also just three pass breakups short of breaking into the Arizona top 10.

65.2: Sophomore QB Grant Gunnell completed 65.2% of his passes across eight games worth of action in his freshman campaign. This mark is the fourth-best single-season completion percentage in program history and the best rate of any freshman Wildcat passer.

11,358: The Wildcats have rushed for 11,358 yards since 2016, the best mark in the Pac-12 Conference. Arizona has led the conference in rushing three times over that stretch, and are one of just two teams (also: Oregon) with a rushing total north of 11,000 in the last four-plus years.

65: The Wildcats return an impressive 65 starts along the offensive line for the 2020 season. This includes Laie's 24 career starts, 22 from Josh McCauley, eight from Robert Congel, seven from Paiton Fears, two from Jordan Morgan, and one each from Josh Donovan and Steven Bailey.

552/5: Redshirt sophomore WR Jamarye Joiner hauled in 552 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2019, his first season at the receiver position after transitioning from quarterback. Both of those marks led the Wildcats WR corps last year.


  • Sophomore Grant Gunnell enters his team's season opener with an active streak of 92 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. By comparison, Nevada's Carson Strong enters the week with the NCAA's longest streak at 282 pass attempts. Gunnell trails only ASU's Jayden Daniels at 180 pass attempts among Pac-12 quarterbacks in this category.
  • Defensive back Lorenzo Burns leads the Wildcats in experience with 35 career starts. The senior trails only Oregon's Jordon Scott's 37 career starts as the most experienced defensive returner in the Pac-12 Conference. Burns was tied with ASU's Chase Lucas, who also has had 35 career starts, for second place. Both Scott and Lucas started in their teams' season openers on Saturday.
  • Arizona's 2020 and 2019 recruiting classes have helped bolster the program's roster. Part of a conference-wide youth movement, The Wildcats' underclassmen make up 61.6 percent of its total roster, which ranks as the 23rd youngest roster nationally and 6th in the Pac-12.
  • The Wildcats have won both of their Pac-12 openers under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Arizona downed Oregon State, 35-14, in Corvallis in 2018 before defeating UCLA, 20-17, in Tucson in 2019.
  • Saturday's 1:30 p.m. (MST) kick-off marks the fifth time in the last 11 Pac-12 games that Arizona has kicked off at 3 p.m. or earlier local time.
  • Coach Kevin Sumlin holds a career mark of 8-4 in season openers in his head coaching career at Arizona, Texas A&M, and Houston.


  • Arizona holds an 8-35 record all-time against USC in a series that goes back to 1916. The Cats' winning percentage of 18.6 is the lowest among all conference opponents. Arizona has faced USC to open a season only twice before in the 1917 and 1924 seasons.
  • Arizona enters its 2020 match-up with USC looking to snap its longest active conference losing streak. The Wildcats have dropped seven consecutive games to the Trojans since winning 39-36 at Arizona Stadium on Oct. 27, 2012. The seven-game slide is one game longer than the Wildcats' six consecutive losses to Stanford going back to the 2009 season. 
  • In those seven consecutive losses to the Trojans are four one-possession games, including a 24-20 decision the last time the two teams met in Tucson in the 2018 season.


  • Redshirt senior defensive back Lorenzo Burns has notched nine career interceptions in four seasons, putting him just three picks shy of breaking into the Wildcats all-time top 10 leaderboard.
  • Burns is also on the verge of cracking into Arizona's career top 10 in pass breakups. Through four years he has picked up 25 PBU, just three shy of tying Trevin Wade (2008-11) and Randy Robbins (1980-83) for 10th all-time.

1 IF BY LAND, 2 IF BY AIR: Arizona opens the 2020 season after two consecutive seasons as one of the top offenses in the Pac-12 Conference. The Wildcats are the only team in the Pac-12 to finish in the top three of the conference in rushing and passing yards per game in each of the last two seasons. Arizona offensive returners amassed 83 total starts a year ago.
Wildcats Offensive Ranks Under HC Kevin Sulin

Year Pass Yds/GM Rush Yds/GM Total Offense/GM
2019 266.1 (3rd) 174.0 (3rd) 440.1 (4th)
2018 255.2 (3rd) 202.4 (1st) 457.7 (1st)

QB1: Quarterback Grant Gunnell enters his sophomore season following a 2019 season that saw him complete 65 percent of his passes for 1,239 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances. Gunnell's completion percentage of 65.2, ranked fourth all-time in single-season history at Arizona with at least 100 attempts and set an Arizona freshman record. The Texan also finished 2019 with a pass efficiency rating of 150.18, which ranked fifth in single-season program history at Arizona. His freshman season was highlighted by his Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honor following his completion of 29-of-44 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown in a win over UCLA in his first career start.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: The Wildcats open the 2020 season versus USC in what is the latest known start to a season in program history. The Cats opened the 1945 season on October 13 versus Northern Arizona and department archives do not  have dates for games from the 1899 to the 1930 seasons. Arizona last met USC in their conference opener in 2006, a 20-3 loss to the No. 3 ranked Trojans. The last time the Wildcats opened the year against USC was 1924, a 20-0 shutout loss in Los Angeles.

BACK FOR MORE: The Arizona defense returns a core of experienced letterwinners, led by senior defensive back Lorenzo Burns who enters the year with 35 career starts. Linebacker Jalen Harris is Arizona's leading returner in sacks and tackles for losses at 4.0 and 6.5 respectively. Burns and Harris are two of five Wildcats who started in eight or more last games on defense alongside defensive lineman Trevon Mason, linebacker Anthony Pandy, and defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST: Coach Sumlin and the Wildcats added a pair of graduate transfers on the defensive line in Roy Lopez Jr. and Aaron Blackwell. The duo came to Tucson from both ends of the Rio Grande Rivalry in neighboring New Mexico with Blackwell transferring from the University of New Mexico and Lopez from New Mexico State University. Arizona's new defensive line coach, Stan Eggen, coached for the UNM Lobos from 2016 to 2019.

GRANT LAND: Sophomore quarterback Grant Gunnell enters the 2020 season as the Wildcats clear-cut No. 1 signal caller after splitting time during his freshman campaign with Khalil Tate. Gunnell's collegiate debut came in blowout duty against Northern Arizona in week two of 2019; he threw for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 9-for-11 passing. His first career start came in game four, the Wildcat's Pac-12 opener against UCLA – in the game, Gunnell completed 29-of-44 pass attempts for 352 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions while leading Arizona to a 20-17 victory. His effort against UCLA earned him Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Week honors. He also saw playing time against Washington, at USC, at Stanford, against Oregon State, at Oregon, and against Utah. Outside of his start against UCLA, his most extended playing time came in a loss to Oregon State in which he completed 19-of-29 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. When it was all said and done, Gunnell threw for 1,239 yards, nine touchdowns, and suffered just one interception on 101-of-155 passing in his freshman campaign. His 65.2% completion percentage ranks fourth all-time in Arizona program history with a minimum of 100 attempts and was the best ever effort by a freshman passer. Prior to the season, Gunnell was selected as one of Arizona's five team captains – he is the only underclassmen among the five captains.

IN A RUSH: Despite doing much of their damage through the air recently, Arizona's rushing attack still remains dangerous. The Wildcats finished the 2020 season third in the Pac-12 with an average of 174.0 yards per game on the ground. Prior to that, the Wildcats had strung together four consecutive years of averaging north of 200 yards per game rushing. Arizona's ability to run the ball often ties to the success of the team. Over the past five seasons, when the Wildcats have rushed for 200 or more yards, the team has posted a record of 26-11. In game where Arizona hasn't reached the 150-yard mark as a team, they are 6-18. The Wildcats have dominated the Pac-12 rushing scene since the start of the 2016 season and is one of only two programs to top 11,000 yards in that span (also: Oregon).
Total Rush Yards by Pac-12 Schools Since Start of 2016 Season

School Yards
1. Arizona 11,358
2. Oregon 11,099
3. Utah 10,249
4. Washington 9,546
5. USC 8,514
6. Stanford 8,288
7. Arizona State 8,106
8. Colorado 8,055
9. Oregon State 7,819
10. California 7,114
11. UCLA 6,320
12. Washington State 4,568

CENTURY MEN: Arizona added four new defensive coaches for the 2020 season with decades of division one coaching experience, including 17 easons spent coaching in the Pac-12 Conference.
New Arizona Assistant Coaches DI/Pac-12 Experience

Coach (Pos.) D1 Seasons Pac-12 Seasons
Paul Rhoads (DC) 28 2 (UCLA)
Stan Eggen (DL) 41 0
Andy Buh (OLB) 17 5 (1 CAL, 4 STAN)
Greg Burns (DB) 18 10 (1 OSU, 2 USC, 3 CAL, 4 ASU)
TOTALS 104 17

I'M MR. BRIGHTWELL: After two years of serving the Wildcats as an effective backup running back, senior Gary Brightwell finally gets his time in the spotlight as Arizona's primary tailback in 2020. Coming into the year, Brightwell has toted the ball 157 times for 915 yards and eight touchdowns; he has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 26.1 yards per game during his time in Tucson. His five touchdowns in 2019 were a career high after scoring three times during his sophomore year in 2018. Brightwell's biggest career game to date on the ground came against Northern Arizona last season, as he rushed for 141 yards on just five carries. Included in his NAU onslaught was a 94-yard rushing touchdown, the longest of his career and tied for the second-longest rush in school history (also: Nic Grigsby, 2009, NAU). The next week against Texas Tech, Brightwell posted his first career multi-score game after going for 85 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He also scored twice against Oregon State, with one of his touchdowns coming through the air for his first career receiving touchdown.

INSTANT IMPACT: Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jamarye Joiner impressed for the Wildcats in 2019, ultimately leading the receiver corps with 552 yards and five touchdowns through the air in his first go-around at the position. The Tucson native and Cienega High School product joined the Wildcats in 2018 as a quarterback and made the transition to wide receiver during Arizona's 2019 fall camp. In his first collegiate action at wideout against Hawai'i in week one, Joiner pulled in four receptions for 72 yards and his first career receiving touchdown. His best outing of the year came at Arizona State in the Territorial Cup, in which he pulled in career highs in receptions (7), yards (140), and touchdowns (2). His 140 yards against the Sun Devils were the most by an Arizona receiver since Cayleb Jones had 182 versus New Mexico in 2015. Joiner also reeled in touchdowns against Washington and Stanford last year.

THE PANDY MAN CAN: Senior linebacker Anthony Pandy steps into a leadership role for the Wildcats defense in 2020 after three years of steady improvement. He is expected to serve as Arizona's primary Mike linebacker in first-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads' new base 3-4 scheme. During his three-year career to date, Pandy has tallied 100 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and one interception. The best season of his career came in 2019, his junior campaign, during which he collected 66 tackles, five tackles for loss, and two sacks while playing in all 12 games. Pandy's 66 tackles in 2019 are the most among all of Arizona's returning defensive players. The best tackling performance of his career came against this week's opponent, Utah, last season – in a home game against the Utes in 2019, Pandy notched a career-high 11 tackles.

ZO SAYS NO: Redshirt senior defensive back Lorenzo Burns is the Wildcats most experienced defensive player, having seen time in 37 games with 35 starts since 2016. Last season he was named the Wildcats Team Defensive MVP and earned Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention recognition after tallying 47 tackles, four interceptions, and seven pass breakups across 12 starts at cornerback. Burns' four interceptions led the team and were tied for the most by a single Pac-12 player. He comes into 2020 with nine career interceptions, putting him three shy of breaking into the programs all-time top 10 leaderboard. Burns is also just three pass breakups short of breaking into the Arizona top 10.
Arizona Career Pass Breakups Leaderboard

Player (Pos.) PBU Years
10. Trevin Wade (CB) 28 2008-11
Randy Robbins (S) 28 1980-83
12. Chris McAlister (CB) 27 1996-98
Kelvin Hunter (CB) 27 1996-99
14. James DeBow (S) 26 1985-88
15. Lorenzo Burns (CB) 25 2016-current
Jonathan McKnight (CB) 25 2011-14
17. Marton Rudolph (CB) 24 1984-86

NEW ROLE, SAME JALEN: Redshirt junior linebacker Jalen Harris is making the transition from a "hand in the ground" pass rush specialist to full-time outside linebacker under Arizona's new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. He is the Wildcats leading returner in both tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (4.0). During three seasons and 28 games in the cardinal and navy, Harris has compiled 56 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, and one forced fumble. Harris played in all 12 of the Wildcats games in 2019 with eight starts on the defensive line and notched multiple tackles in seven different games.

WILDCATS IN THE NFL: As of week 10, the Wildcats are once again well represented in the National Football League with eight former letterwinners active across the league. One of Arizona's most prestigious alums, tight end Rob Gronkowski, returned from retirement to rejoin his longtime quarterback Tom Brady with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Over nine season in New England, Gronkowski hauled in 7,861 yards and 81 touchdowns – he recently caught his first touchdown for the Bucs in week six and added another in week seven. Quarterback Nick Foles is in his ninth NFL season after rewriting the Wildcats record books during his time in Tucson. Now with the Chicago Bears, Foles has been the team's starting QB since week four. The most recent Wildcats to make the transition to the NFL are running back J.J. Taylor and defensive back Jace Whittaker. Taylor was a mainstay in the Arizona backfield from 2016-19 and has since taken his talents to New England. Whittaker finished his Arizona career ranked fourth-all time in pass breakups and was recently promoted to the Arizona Cardinals active roster. For a complete list of former Wildcats in the NFL, see the comprehensive chart below.
Current Wildcats on NFL Rosters

Player Position Team
Dane Cruikshank S Tennessee Titans
Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles DB San Francisco 49ers
Nick Foles QB Chicago Bears
Nick Folk K New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski TE Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will Parks S Philadelphia Eagles
J.J. Taylor RB New England Patriots
Jace Whittaker CB Arizona Cardinals