Thursday, September 8, 2011
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2
By Ted Miller
Ten issues to consider heading into the second week of games.
1. Foles versus Weeden: It's possible we'll have 750-800 yards passing in Arizona's visit to Oklahoma State. It's a showdown of two marquee quarterbacks in the Wildcats' Nick Foles and the Cowboys' Brandon Weeden, though the showdown of marquee receivers -- Juron Criner and Justin Blackmon -- doesn't look like it will happen because Criner has missed practices with an undisclosed illness. The Cowboys bombed Arizona in the 2010 Alamo Bowl 36-10, which was the last of five consecutive season-ending losses for the Wildcats. The Wildcats want redemption, but for them to have any chance, Foles must outplay Weeden.
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles completed 34 of 42 passes for 412 yards and five touchdowns in Week 1.
2. Play smart, Arizona State: Missouri is one team that can claim as many injuries to key players as Arizona State -- the Tigers are down six starters. It's possible that the Tigers will play things fairly close to the vest with new QB James Franklin, who's a better runner than passer, perhaps waiting for the Sun Devils to make mistakes. And that strategy has worked in the past for teams facing the Sun Devils. ASU has long been penalty- and turnover-prone. The Sun Devils have the talent to win this game outright ... as long as they don't blow it. If ASU wins the turnover battle and is at least close to even in penalties, it should be a happy Friday night in Tempe.
3. Play loose, attack, Oregon State: The Beavers odds are pretty darn bad at Wisconsin. Even without significant injuries, or a loss to Sacramento State in the opener, few would be predicting an upset. Most likely, the best-case scenario for Oregon State is a respectable performance that includes no new injuries. Still, the Beavers need to reclaim their pride and confidence. They need to enjoy the big stage and regain some swagger. To do that, they will need to play loose and take some chances. Throw deep. Run some trick plays. Blitz. Try to have some fun, because that's exactly what didn't seem to happen last weekend.
4. Can Colorado block Cal? You might have noticed that I picked Colorado to upset California. If you want to know why that pick may end up making me look bad, it's the matchup of the Buffaloes' offensive line against the Bears' strong front seven. Hawaii pushed the Buffs around, recording seven sacks and holding them to 17 yards rushing. Cal has a more talented front seven than Hawaii, so that's a huge issue worth watching during the early going: Are the Buffs able to protect Tyler Hansen and create some gaps for Rodney Stewart? Playing at home will help, but the Colorado O-line is where an upset will start. Or end.
5. Oregon's fire: The last time the Ducks suffered a disappointing season-opening loss in a marquee nonconference game was in 2009 at Boise State. You might recall the Ducks didn't play particularly well the next two weeks against Purdue and Utah, though they managed to win both games. While the players will talk about trying to get the bad taste of the LSU game out of their mouths, it's easy to imagine the Ducks coming out flat against Nevada. This is not the same Nevada team that went 13-1 in 2010, but the Wolf Pack are good enough to steal one if Oregon takes too long to wake up.
6. Man-up, Washington: The Huskies played soft on both sides of the ball in a weak effort against Eastern Washington. That performance won't beat Hawaii, which pushed Colorado around on both lines and is coming to Seattle expecting to win. If Washington thinks it can coast into its visit to Nebraska the following weekend, it's going to get embarrassed. Two key issues: 1. QB Bryant Moniz is the Warriors' offense as both a runner and passer. He must be contained. And hit. 2. The running game must get going with Chris Polk. The Hawaii front seven had its way with the Buffs. Are the Huskies next?
7. Lucky numbers: While everyone knows Stanford QB Andrew Luck is the best player in college football, he's going to have to put up some numbers to win the Heisman Trophy. 171 yards passing -- his total in the opener -- won't get it done. Duke should offer an opportunity for Luck to pad his stats a bit. While the Cardinal's chief interest is getting their running game going -- it sagged a bit against San Jose State -- Luck throwing aggressively downfield is also a good thing.
8. Lobbestael as starter: It's one thing to come off the bench and play well. There's no thinking time. It's all about instincts. But with the injury to QB Jeff Tuel, Marshall Lobbestael now knows he's Washington State's starter for at least six weeks. He's had time to process that -- and perhaps overthink and get nervous about that. The Cougars have the players to beat UNLV at home without Tuel. But Lobbestael needs to be a good game manager. He's not going to be asked to throw for 350 yards. He needs to avoid mistakes, go through his progressions and take what the defense gives him.
9.Utah's secondary vs. USC's Matt Barkley and Robert Woods: Utah completely rebuilt its secondary this offseason, replacing all four 2010 starters. While reviews were solid during preseason practices, we have no idea how good the unit is. We will have some idea after it faces Barkley and Woods, two future high NFL draft choices. If there is one matchup where it looks like the Trojans can exploit the Utes, it's in the passing game. Utah's first job is to contain Barkley and make things uncomfortable for him in the pocket, which might not be too difficult with an uncertain Trojans O-line.
10. Reproduce the second half at Houston: UCLA played terribly at Houston for a half, which left it down 31-14. But the Bruins were pretty good on both sides of the ball in the second half. First, that shows that they fought back, which is a good sign. But it also shows the Bruins can get it done on both sides of the ball. If the Bruins play like they did in the second half for all four quarters against San Jose State, they will romp the Spartans and build some confidence for Texas' visit the following weekend.