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Friday, November 21, 2008
What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 13


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Eight things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Moevao at 75 percent or backup Canfield at 100? Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao didn't look fully healthy last weekend against California, though he managed the victory fairly well. He hasn't practiced much this week; his strained throwing shoulder is still bothering him. Sean Canfield is not a typical backup. He's more physically talented than Moevao -- he was projected as a future star when he signed in 2005 -- and started nine games last year. He played well during the seven quarters he had to step in for Moevao. But the screws are significantly tighter on the road in front of the rowdy Arizona fans with a Rose Bowl berth just two wins away.

2. California's beleaguered offensive line vs. Stanford's blitz-happy D: Cal quarterbacks have been sacked 19 times in the last five games. For comparison, Stanford quarterbacks have gone down 17 times -- all season. The Cardinal defense also is tied with Oregon for the Pac-10 lead in sacks, averaging three per game. A good running game would slow down the Stanford pass rush, and the Cardinal is not great against the run, ranking seventh in the conference in run defense (141 yards per game). But Cal has struggled to run of late, averaging just 81 yards on the ground in the last three games. Reports are that speedy tailback Jahvid Best is feeling healthy. But will he have space to get fancy?

3. Out of the misery, will a star -- for at least an afternoon -- rise out of the Apple Cup? Both Washington and Washington State rank among the nation's worst on defense. On the other hand, they also rank among the nation's worst in offense. Neither team boasts a statistically impressive player who will receive All-Conference consideration. That's how it is when two teams combine for a 1-20 record. Yet one will win this game. And rivalry games often feature a special individual performance that fans remember for years to come. So who among the Cougars and Huskies rises to the occasion?

4. Arizona LBs vs. Jacquizz Rodgers: Everyone knows that Rodgers is coming, but no one has stopped him yet (see seven 100-yard games). He hides behind a wall of blockers then shoots through the hole, and it seems like it takes a defense time to figure out his tendencies. The Wildcats' linebackers, particularly leading tackler Sterling Lewis and Ronnie Palmer (8.5 tackles for a loss), will have their hands full. And the Beavers may lean on Rodgers even more than usual, considering the questions at quarterback.

5. Riley will need to rally: In his past two games, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. He's seemed skittish at times since he was knocked out of the Oregon game with a concussion. While Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard can lean on a power running game, it's likely the Bears will need to throw well to consistently move the ball and keep the Cardinal defense honest. Playing at home should help, and Stanford's weakness is pass defense. That means Riley shouldn't complete less than 50 percent of his passes.

6. Beavers must ground Gronkowski: Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski has 34 receptions and eight touchdowns, which means he hits pay dirt once every 4.3 receptions. If he catches nine passes against Oregon State, that could be the difference. And the Wildcats will try to get him nine balls. Gronkowski is too athletic for most linebackers, so Beavers safeties Al Afalava and Greg Laybourn need to make Gronkowski work for every catch and, most important, get him down on first contact instead of letting him rev up his 260 pounds in space.

7. Cal LBs vs. Stanford power running: Cal's 3-4 defense has been mostly a success this season. It ranks third in the conference in scoring (21.9 points per game) and fourth in rushing (124.3 ypg). It has, however, sometimes struggled against the run, see 144 yards from Jacquizz Rodgers and 149 from Arizona's Keola Antolin. But both of them were smaller, slashing, scatback types. Stanford runs right at a defense with 230-pound Toby Gerhart and 210-pound Anthony Kimble. That power attack has worked against just about every defense, see 200 yards rushing vs. USC. How will Cal's four outstanding linebackers match up?

8. How can the loser of the Apple Cup possibly get motivated for another game? One team will walk away from the Apple Cup with something warm and reassuring to cling to -- a victory. Of course, the other will see its season-long misery only increase with the knowledge that it will be widely viewed as the nation's worst BCS conference team. Yet both have another game to play. Washington visits California, while Washington State heads to Hawaii. Neither figures to win. But it's hard to imagine the loser will be able to muster much intensity and focus for a 12th and final embarrassment.