Thursday, October 21, 2010
What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 8
By Ted Miller
Issues to consider heading into the eighth week of games.
Ducks make a statement: Oregon is the big show Thursday night. Everybody will be watching ESPN to see what all the fuss is about regarding that team in the funny uniforms with ludicrous speed on offense. Folks, style points matter in the BCS system. If the Ducks post a, "Wow," performance, it helps them maintain or even improve their stature. It means, for example, the voters in the Southeast or the flyover states who raise a skeptical eye at Pac-10 football go, "Golly." Don't believe blowing out UCLA won't have traction. You can't argue about how the Bruins physically dominated Texas, which probably isn't going to lose another game in the Big 12. You want pollsters to go, "You know, Auburn/Oklahoma/Boise State is good, but Oregon, man, that team looks good."
Running back LaMichael James and Oregon will be looking for style points on Thursday against UCLA.
Riley, Cal on the brink: The Pac-10 blog enjoys talking to California QB Kevin Riley. Strikes me as a cool dude. But one of the tough things about this job is you sometimes have to say unkind stuff about good dudes. Riley isn't alone to blame for the Bears' problems by any fair measure. But, as a senior, he needs to be more a part of the solution. He hasn't played well this season, particularly during the past three games (that doesn't include the Nevada game in which he made some critical mistakes but mostly played well). If Riley plays like he did against Colorado against Arizona State on Saturday, the Bears will win. Of course, the Sun Devils are a lot better than the Buffaloes. But it isn't about the opponent. It's about Riley being smart, accurate and making plays. And leading.
Cougs D-line vs. Stanford O-line: Stanford has the most physical offensive line in the conference. The Cougars' front seven showed some signs of improvement against a good Arizona O-line, but they still rank 119th in the nation in run defense. If you can't stop the run versus Stanford, well, suffice it to say, you are in big trouble, because Jim Harbaugh loves to be cruel -- which means running power at you over and over again until you wilt. You know, like he did to USC last year.
Great Scott? The storybook, at least from the Arizona side of things at it faces Washington, is Matt Scott replacing Nick Foles as the Wildcats' starting QB and playing great until Foles is able to return. That allows Scott to redeem himself for losing the starting job after three mediocre games in 2009. Fact is, plenty of folks in Tucson think Scott is a pretty good QB and they aren't panicking about him taking over. The truth, in fact, is the Wildcats' offense has been hot-and-cold, even with Foles. A more punchy running game would make things a lot easier for Scott, but it's likely he will have to make plays passing against Washington and going forward to keep the Wildcats in the Pac-10 race.
Bruising Bruins: What happens if UCLA eschews the passing game and runs right at the Oregon and it works? Sure, that doesn't sound very likely -- Stanford sure couldn't do it. But who thought the Bruins would overpower Texas a few weeks back and not need a passing game to post a blowout victory? As far as upset scenarios go, most for the Bruins start with an ability to consistently run the ball at the Ducks -- fast but undersized -- which also has the added benefit of keeping the Ducks' offense on the sidelines. You know, like Ohio State did in the Rose Bowl.
Sun Devils turn the corner: Was the win at Washington a breakthrough for Arizona State? Well, we should know Saturday at California. The Sun Devils, who should be rested after a bye, won a number of converts while losing three tough, competitive games to Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State, but it's hard to become too effusive about a team that keeps almost winning. You know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And curling. And parallel parking. But we digress. The win in Husky Stadium wasn't fancy, but it wasn't sloppy, which was why there was a happy ending. If QB Steven Threet doesn't throw interceptions, and the Sun Devils as a whole avoid stupid penalties, this team can play with anyone.
Luck for Heisman? Stanford probably could run 75 times and beat Washington State. But style points matter, on a team and individual level. Harbaugh wants to win big and help his team climb the national polls. And QB Andrew Luck needs to post some impressive numbers to remain in the Heisman Trophy discussion. If the Cardinal softens up the Cougars with the power run game, there figure to be plenty of opportunities over the top. Luck should get three or four TD passes and then sit out the fourth quarter. Unless, of course, the Cougs make his life unexpectedly difficult.
Wildcats and Huskies and a pass rush: Arizona, led by DEs Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, leads the Pac-10 with 21 sacks. The Huskies, led by mobile QB Jake Locker and pretty good pass protection, have surrendered just eight sacks. Some Wildcats (and Huskies) fans might recall Locker having a fairly fancy moment of escapability against Arizona last year (hint: 56 yards). That's a strength-on-strength matchup. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have surrendered 17 sacks, second worst in the Pac-10 (a surprising number but the O-line had a terrible game at Washington State). The Huskies only have 13 sacks, which also ranks second to last in the conference. And the Huskies will be without the services of injured end Talia Crichton. That's a weak-on-weak matchup. Considering the Wildcats are starting their backup QB -- albeit an experienced one in Scott -- it seems the Huskies would really like to get a strong rush. And the Wildcats want to thwart that desire.