Thursday, September 23, 2010
What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 4
By Ted Miller
Ten issues to consider heading into the fourth week of games.
1. Is Oregon's offense that good? Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in total offense and scoring offense. It ranks No. 2 in rushing offense. But the Ducks haven't played anyone with a defense as fast and as talented at Arizona State. Quarterback Darron Thomas withstood the atmosphere of Tennessee, but how will he do against a defense that can run with the Ducks?
2. Can Oregon State disrupt Kellen Moore's rhythm? Over the past 15 games, Oregon State has struggled to pressure the passer. Boise State does a great job protecting QB Kellen Moore, and Moore does a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly. Moore, a savvy quarterback who is very accurate, will pick the Beavers apart if he's not worried about getting hit. Gabe Miller? Stephen Paea? Blitzing LBs? Time to show your stuff.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas proved himself on the road at Tennessee. Can he have continued road success in conference?
3. Let down for Arizona? The party was HUGE in Tucson after the Wildcats beat No. 9 Iowa. But, as Mike Stoops observed, it doesn't mean much if they drop their Pac-10 opener. Perennial powers learn how to manage their emotions and play with the same focus and intensity every week. The Wildcats want to become a perennial power. Well, that means playing as well against Cal as they did vs. Iowa.
4. Texas run D vs. UCLA run O: Here's the surprising prediction of the week: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince and the Bruins passing attack will awaken at Texas. The Bruins receivers are good, and Prince has thrown well before. The problem in the first three games was a lack of practice continuity because Prince was nursing injuries. But UCLA has to have balance to be successful. Texas boasts the nation's No. 1 run defense, but the Bruins have run well this year. If UCLA creates any run threat, Prince will have a much easier time making plays downfield in the passing game, particularly if the Longhorns put too much stock in game film from games one through three.
5. Luck on the big stage: Sure, Notre Dame is 1-2 and hasn't been a factor nationally for a while. But games at Notre Dame still include a national platform on NBC. And if Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck puts up big numbers against a struggling Fighting Irish defense, he'll start to create serious Heisman Trophy talk. And Stanford will formally announce its national relevance.
6. Cougs O-line vs. USC D-line: The Washington State offensive line has struggled, giving up 10 sacks in the first three games and failing to consistently open holes. USC"s front-seven is talented, particularly the defensive line, though the numbers haven't always supported that. If Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel gets time, he can make plays. If USC is all over him, this will be another blowout defeat in Pullman.
7. No retreat for Threet: Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet's performance through the first three games, particularly his strong effort at Wisconsin, showed he's a Pac-10 quality quarterback, and the Sun Devils might be a factor in the conference. But he hasn't seen a defense with as much speed as Oregon. Ever. He's going to be chased at a faster rate, and the DBs are going to close on his throws at a faster rate. Can Threet and the ASU offense play fast enough to keep up and make plays?
8. Rodgers brothers get another shot on the big stage: Jacquizz and James Rodgers have put up decent numbers so far. And neither played poorly vs. TCU in the marquee opener at Cowboys Stadium. Still, these two All-Americans have a special opportunity on a national stage to make statements for themselves and the Beavers. If Jacquizz Rodgers can help the Beavers control the ball in the running game, and James Rodgers can make big plays in the passing game, there could be an upset on the blue turf.
9. Riley needs to play like a senior: Senior quarterbacks know how to play on the road. Senior quarterbacks know how to bounce back from adversity. Senior quarterbacks know how to lead a team that is down on itself. If Cal is going to notch the upset at Arizona, the likelihood is that Kevin Riley will set the tone early and turn in a strong performance.
10. Stanford's passing defense faces test: The big question for Stanford entering the season was pass defense. The early returns are outstanding: The Cardinal ranks No. 1 in the nation in pass defense. Notre Dame, however, is a far different animal than UCLA and Wake Forest. It is averaging 318 yards passing per game. Does Stanford really have an elite defense? We shall see.