Thursday, November 11, 2010
What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 11
By Ted Miller
Issues to consider heading into the 11th week of games.
Brock Mansion needs a fast start: Getting off to a fast start versus Oregon doesn't mean much. Just ask Stanford, which led 21-3 before the Ducks switched the engines to ludicrous speed. Oregon is a second-half team (see a 215-48 scoring advantage after the break). But there is no way Cal can start slow and stay in this game, particularly with a QB making his second career start. Mansion needs to gain some early confidence, and he needs to not be forced to throw every down in order to play catch-up. Moreover, you may have noticed that both of Cal's blowout Pac-10 losses -- USC and Oregon State -- were over at halftime.
Nick Foles struggled at times against Stanford after missing two games with a dislocated knee cap.
Foles back in sync: Arizona QB Nick Foles didn't play badly at Stanford. He just wasn't himself. Part of that was more than a handful of dropped passes, a couple on key third-down plays. But Foles probably shook off all the rust at Stanford due to missing two games with a dislocated knee cap, and another week of practice also should have helped him recover his rhythm for USC's visit. Foles doesn't have to look over his shoulder at backup Matt Scott, who played well in two starts while Foles was out, because Scott is out indefinitely with a wrist injury. A key for the Wildcats getting back on track -- and getting the "Zona Zoo" into the game -- is the offense clicking early against the Trojans.
No letdown for Cardinal: The reason sportswriters are always writing about "letdowns" is they happen so often (just ask South Carolina). And so we have Stanford, which is riding high -- sixth in the BCS rankings! -- after beating Arizona. But Arizona State is fully capable of hanging with the Cardinal. For one, the Sun Devils will have a speed advantage on both sides of the ball, so if the Cardinal isn't focused, it will get upset on the road. Often the toughest step for teams to take -- one that advances them good to elite -- is learning how to bring their A-game consistently. As well as finding ways to win if they only can muster their B-game.
Run, Jacquizz, run! The loss at UCLA hit Oregon State hard. Suddenly, a team that was in the Rose Bowl race is now fretting just earning bowl eligibility because of back-loaded scheduled. The visit from Washington State, in fact, could be considered a must-win. Much of the hand-wringing this week was over the shortcomings of the running game due to poor offensive line play. While the Cougars are greatly improved, you can't hide their numbers versus the run: 119th in the nation (out of 120), yielding 223 yards per game. That's why Beavers fans should expect lots of Jacquizz Rodgers, early, middle and late (if necessary).
LaHeisman moments? You guys may have heard but there's some, er, stuff going on at Auburn concerning QB Cam Newton (one word for USC fans: schadenfreude). At present, Newton is the leading Heisman Trophy candidate. More than a few list have Oregon running back LaMichael James at No. 2. A lingering scandal at Auburn, however, could have voters looking to James. So if James were to put up big numbers at Cal, and maybe post a few more fancypants plays, he could move to the top of the Heisman heap with just two games to play.
Barkley vs. Reed, Elmore: Arizona was the best pass rushing team in the Pac-10 before Stanford didn't allow a sack last weekend. USC doesn't allow many sacks, either. But Wildcats defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, who have combined for 13.5 sacks, should be plenty motivated to get back on the sack track. And they probably need to if Arizona is going to beat USC. While Trojans QB Matt Barkley wasn't great in the win over Arizona State last weekend, he's still one of the nation's most talented and efficient passers. If he has time, he will pick apart a Wildcats secondary that has proven surprisingly vulnerable.
Can ASU play mistake-free? Here's the thing: Arizona State is good. It just hasn't figure how to win. Three of its four losses have come by a field goal or less (and the Sun Devils also, by the way, gave Oregon its toughest game). There are so, so many what-if moments. This isn't new: Last year, the Sun Devils lost four games by five or fewer points. While the Sun Devils have been less sloppy over the season's second half in terms of penalties and turnovers, it still seems like critical penalties and turnovers -- and missed field goals and PATs -- are killing them. But here's a guess: If they put up a clean sheet vs. Stanford, they will at least be in the game last in the fourth quarter.
Tuel time?: Oregon State is ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in pass-efficiency defense. At times this year, they've struggled to pressure the QB, and they've surrendered 16 TD passes, third most in the conference. Washington State's sophomore QB Jeff Tuel has taken a step forward this year, and freshman receiver Marquess Wilson is a budding star. The Cougars can throw the football. If Washington State is going to notch the upset -- and end a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak -- it likely will because it puts up big numbers in the passing game.