Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Sunday, October 26, 2008
What we learned in the Pac-10: Week 9


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action.

Nobody plays better defense than USC: USC's defense has given up just 10 points in its last 14 quarters. Its 8.1 points per game leads the nation by more than two full points. It also yields only 215.57 yards per game, also tops in the nation. And dominating an experienced and high-powered Arizona offense in its own stadium is impressive. The Wildcats entered Saturday's game ranking ninth in the nation in scoring with 40 points per game, but they only scored 10 against the Trojans, the touchdown coming on a 15-yard drive following a USC fumble. The Wildcats gained just 188 total yards, 54 in the second half. The USC defense was hyped entering the season and it may actually be exceeding the hype.

Oregon and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli made a statement by winning big at Arizona State: Oregon's 54-20 pounding of Arizona State in front of the Sun Devils dispirited home fans made an aggressive statement for the Ducks. First, it was an impressive win on the road. The Sun Devils offense has been struggling, but their defense has been solid and improving weekly before yielding 537 yards to Oregon. Second, the performance may have made Masoli the Ducks quarterback for the rest of the season. Masoli completed 17 of 26 passes for 147 yards with a touchdown and interception while rushing for a team-high 85 yards on eight carries. While Justin Roper came off the bench in the fourth quarter and completed all four of his passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, coach Mike Bellotti may prefer the dual-threat Masoli offers. Oregon visits California next weekend in a game with significant implications in the Pac-10 pecking order.

California should stick with quarterback Kevin Riley the rest of the season: Riley's numbers weren't terribly good -- 11 for 22, 153 yards, two touchdowns -- but he didn't turn the ball over and, most of all, he's now 4-1 as the Bears starter. Moreover, he led an effort that answered whether Cal would suffer another second-half slide due to uninspired play. The Bears played hard in their 41-20 win over UCLA, and they will now play host to Oregon with a chance to create some separation in the top-third of the conference. Riley has three clear advantages over Longshore: 1. He doesn't turn the ball over (see just two interceptions in 128 passes); 2. He's more mobile and therefore can escape a pass rush and create a positive plays with his feet; 3. He's a sophomore (Longshore is a senior) and will be the quarterback two more seasons.

UCLA's offense doesn't seem to be improving with quarterback Kevin Craft: It might be time to give Chris Forcier a chance as UCLA's starting quarterback. Even though Kevin Craft has shown admirable resiliency leading a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, he doesn't seem to be getting more consistent. And, judging by television shots that seem to follow almost every possession of coach Rick Neuheisel chewing Craft out on the sidelines, his inconsistency might eventually give his coach a heart attack. Craft threw four interceptions in the loss at California, matching his stunning first-half total in the opener against Tennessee, but this time he didn't redeem himself and was equally ineffective in the second half. While Forcier (1 for 5 for nine yards and a touchdown) wasn't much better, it might be wise to see what the redshirt freshman can do as a starter.

USC faces a big climb to get back to the national title game: Penn State's victory over Ohio State put a big crimp in USC's hopes of getting back into the national championship game. First, it hurts the Trojans strength of schedule because they beat Ohio State. Second, Penn State, with three unranked and unaccomplished foes ahead, has smooth sailing toward an unbeaten season. But Saturday was unhelpful in other ways. There was no attrition ahead of the Trojans in the BCS standings, while their fellow one-loss teams, such as Georgia and Florida, won impressively. And beating Arizona just 17-10 won't inspire a surge of enthusiasm for the Trojans. There's a lot of football left and anything can happen but there might not be enough football ahead for enough to happen for USC to play for the title.