Pac-10 internal affairs: 3-4 defense, Riley's mobility help Cal
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Masoli won't run wild vs. California's 3-4 defense: Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the Ducks' last two games, both victories. He's only passed for 189 yards in those games. He's been effective because defenses haven't been accounting for him as a runner -- or at least the accounting has been ineffective. But Masoli's ability to run out of the spread-option is no longer a surprise wrinkle. Moreover, California's 3-4 defense is better cut out for spying on the ball misdirection Masoli uses to lure defenders out of their assignments. The Bears' four linebackers are athletic and experienced, and Oregon's offensive line, though a veteran group, likely will need some time to figure out blocking a scheme they haven't faced this season. Masoli's passing has been hot and cold this year, but he may need to be hot against Cal for the Ducks to win.
It's easy to run on Washington State; Stanford should pass: Talk about tempting. Stanford owns the most physical running game in the Pac-10 with an outstanding offensive line led by center Alex Fetcher and tailback Toby Gerhart. And Washington State offers the 118th-ranked run defense in the land, which surrenders an eye-popping 266.3 yards per game. Stanford could run every play and win going away. But Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard needs to regain his confidence and rhythm. He was out of sorts in the loss to UCLA two weeks ago, completing just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Stanford is going to win this game and improve to 5-4. But finding a sixth win and earning bowl eligibility is the ultimate goal. That's going to require a passing game, considering the ruggedness of the upcoming schedule: at Oregon, USC, at Cal. So Stanford should force itself to showcase a balanced attack because that's what it will need to get to a bowl game.
Mark Sanchez, Washington's pass defense is like a magical pill for struggling quarterbacks: While the dominance of USC's defense should have been the main story coming out of the Trojans' 17-10 win at Arizona, more than a few folks focused on the continuing inconsistency of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez completed 21 of 36 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown, interception and costly fumble on the USC 15-yard line and he was off-target most of the night. But Pac-10 schedulers have a gift for him waiting in the LA Coliseum: The milquetoast that is the softest pass defense in all the BCS conferences. Sanchez and his receivers should absolutely feast on Washington, which allows opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes, yields 10 yards per completion and has surrendered 19 touchdown passes. The Huskies have grabbed just three interceptions and recorded five sacks. In other words, a day of target practice with little to no resistance should restore Sanchez's rhythm.
It's shocking to say but Oregon State has the advantage at quarterback: That can't possibly be true, right? Arizona State boasts Rudy Carpenter, who's climbed high on the Pac-10 passing charts and will be making his 39th consecutive start. But Carpenter hasn't been the same since he sprained his ankle. He ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency -- one spot below Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao, whose 13 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions bests Carpenter's 9 and 7. Carpenter was the decided difference in the Sun Devils' comeback from a 19-0 deficit for a 44-32 win against Oregon State last year. While Carpenter passed for 361 yards with four touchdowns -- including scoring tosses of 64, 43 and 48 yards -- then-Beavers starting quarterbackSean Canfield hurled five interceptions. Carpenter now faces one of the Pac-10's best secondaries and aggressive pass rushes without the benefit of a quiet home crowd facilitating his line of scrimmage audibles. And the Sun Devils' offensive line and running game? Never mind. Advantage Moevao.
Cal quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will be critical vs. Oregon's aggressive pass rush: Bears quarterback Nate Longshore played one of his best games in Cal's classic 31-24 win at Oregon a year ago, throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bears' offensive line isn't as good this year and the Ducks' pass rush is even better. That's why it should be a significant benefit having the far more athletic Riley under center. Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.5 sacks per game, and ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu rank one-two in the conference with eight and six sacks. Meanwhile, the Cal line is beaten up, likely down three starters and a reserve on Saturday. That suggests the Cal quarterback will need to be on the move a lot, and Riley is far better at moving than the slow-footed Longshore.