Pac-10 internal affairs: Longshore can re-write his Cal legacy
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Longshore will need to think quickly, accurately vs. USC defense: California's rejiggered offensive line proved us wrong last week vs. Oregon. I wrote over and over again that it would be a problem for the Bears playing without three starters and a key reserve from their preseason depth chart. But the O-line held its own against the Ducks in a 26-16 victory. Of course, USC is a different sort of defense. This experience will be like moving up from junior high to varsity in the span of a week. What that means is the going will be tougher in the running game, and quarterback Nate Longshore, if he starts ahead of the injured Kevin Riley (concussion), won't get a lot of time to go through his receiver progressions before the Trojans get to him. And, as Cal fans often point out, Longshore isn't very mobile, particularly compared to Riley, and he tends to try to force throws into coverage. Often at inopportune times -- as if there's every a good time to hurl a pick. This could be a legacy-making game for Longshore, who's career plot twists read like a Stephen King novel. He will give the Bears a chance by making a few plays in the downfield passing game, but it's most important that he avoid costly turnovers that make things easy for the Trojans.
Will Stanford or Oregon get a passing fancy? Oregon ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in pass defense. Stanford ranks 10th. Oregon ranks eighth in passing offense. Stanford ranks 10th. It would seem there's a nice weakness vs. weakness matchup here. Oregon ranks second in the conference against the run. Stanford ranks third. Oregon ranks first in the conference running the football. Stanford ranks second. It would seem there's a good strength vs. strength matchup here. Will both teams just run right at each other and make this a battle of manhood? Or will one -- or both -- opt for balance, hoping to exploit a weak opposing pass defense? Stanford didn't need to pass last week while beating Washington State 58-0, but coach Jim Harbaugh said in the bye week preceding the game that the passing attack with quarterback Tavita Pritchard was the prime focus. Meanwhile, Mike Bellotti said Tuesday that the Ducks need to be sharper in their passing game. He intimated that Justin Roper might get an opportunity to retake his starting job, particularly with Jeremiah Masoli limited by an ankle injury early this week, though it seems like Bellotti favors Masoli as his starter. Here's a guess that at this late point in the season, both teams will dance with the one that brung 'em and mostly try to run the ball.
Sammie and the Rodgers brothers will exorcise Mike Riley's UCLA curse and make life easy for QB Sean Canfield: Riley is 0-5 vs. UCLA as Oregon State's coach and was also 0-4 while offensive coordinator at USC (1993-96). He's beaten every other Pac-10 team at least twice, including USC. But Halloween is over. November is when the Beavers surge. Of course, they're probably going to have to do it at UCLA with their backup quarterback Sean Canfield making his first start this season with Lyle Moevao nursing a strained shoulder (though Moevao appears to be rallying in his recovery). Canfield played well coming off the bench and leading the Beavers to a victory over Arizona State, and he showed admirable resiliency in the process by bouncing back from a pick-six interception at the beginning of the third quarter. But coming off the bench at home with little thinking time is a different animal than starting a game on the road with a week to think about how much rides on the Beavers winning: Their Rose Bowl hopes. That's why Canfield needs to know that he doesn't need to take chances. He needs to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers -- the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and scatback James, and receiver Sammie Stroughter -- and then sit back and let them figure out what to do.
All smiles in Arizona after a successful trip to Washington: There is no upset alert in Seattle or Pullman this weekend. Both Arizona schools will get what they want -- and desperately need -- on their business trips to chilly destinations. First, Arizona needs a sixth victory, which will virtually guarantee the Wildcats a bowl berth, the consensus measure of what coach Mike Stoops needed to retain his job. There's almost no way they can screw this one up if they show up with any focus. While the coaches and players have talked all week about how they underestimated New Mexico and Stanford, there's no comparison here. And the lack of pressure may actually help the Wildcats play loose and enjoy themselves. As for the Sun Devils, they need a cure for a six-game losing streak and Dr. Tyrone Willingham has got the medicine they need: His Huskies. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter will get his swagger back against the nation's worst pass defense, and running back Shaun DeWitty will give the beleaguered rushing attack a second consecutive 100-yard performance. And then the Wildcats and Sun Devils will leave the gloom behind and return to the sunny-side of life.
Will it be Good Sanchez or Bad Sanchez vs. Cal's pick-happy D? First off: After reviewing the record, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez hasn't been nearly as inconsistent as portrayed. He had one certifiably bad game -- three interceptions vs. Arizona State. And he was hot-and-cold in the loss at Oregon State and the win over Arizona. But he's thrown more than one interception in a game just once this year. He still leads the Pac-10 in pass efficiency by a wide margin. And his 22 touchdown passes are seven more than anyone else. Still, with California likely the last remaining ranked team on USC's schedule, this showdown could become the measure of Sanchez's season. Is he the first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback? And Cal will challenge any quarterback. The Bears are tied with North Carolina with the most interceptions (17) in the country. Good Sanchez can pick the B
ears apart with a big, fast receiving corps with whom it's hard to physically matchup. Bad Sanchez will make careless throws that shorten the field, take the crowd out of the game and give the Bears hope on the road. Cal coach Jeff Tedford and USC coach Pete Carroll are apostles of turnover margin, and whichever quarterback makes the fewest gaffes likely will lead a smiling team off the field.