Thursday, September 29, 2011
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 5
By Ted Miller
Ten issues to consider heading into the fifth week of games.
Wynn flinging it? Utah QB Jordan Wynn is understandably tired of talking about his surgically repaired shoulder, but many will continue to wonder about it until he looks 100 percent in an A-list performance. He's mostly improved each week, but coming off a bye week he should be well-rested and as healthy as he's been. With a high-scoring Washington offense coming to town, he might need to look like his old, efficient self for the Utes to win.
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn has passed for 578 yards and five TDs this season.
Arizona D steps up or Barkley bounces back? Trojans QB Matt Barkley turned in a poor performance at Arizona State, with two interceptions, a fumble and a number of missed throws. Arizona's defense has been a perfect backdrop so far for tour de force offensive performances. Will Barkley be the latest A-list player to make the Wildcats look bad? Or will the Wildcats step up, as their friends in Tempe did a week ago?
ASU stays focused: Speaking of Tempe, the Sun Devils are at home against 0-3 Oregon State. On paper, it would look like an easy, blowout win. But ASU isn't a team that can believe anything will be easy just yet, particularly against a program that has beaten it three straight times. The Sun Devils need to step on the gas early and keep pressing until the game is clearly in hand.
Does Lobbestael get time to throw? Washington State's strong crew of receivers has a decided advantage against Colorado's secondary, which was questionable even before it got banged up. That would seem to play right into Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael's hands. But the Buffaloes compensate for their secondary with a fierce pass rush, see 14 sacks, which leads the Pac-12. So will Lobbestael be able to punish Colorado pressure? Or will he have a long day looking up at the lights around Folsom Field?
Luck vs. Bruins defense: While the Bruins defense played OK at Oregon State, it's still been dreadful this year, mustering just three sacks while giving up 183 yards rushing per game, which ranks 11th in the conference. If Stanford runs well bell-to-bell, this is going to be a blowout. And if Andrew Luck can stand in the pocket unmolested, this is going to be a blowout. The 2011 Bruins defense was billed as a group that would attack. It's going to have to take some aggressive chances to slow down Luck and the Cardinal.
Polk versus Utes run defense: Huskies running back Chris Polk is one of the nation's best runners. He ranks second in the Pac-12 with 127 yards rushing per game. Utah's run defense is yielding just 79 yards per game, which ranks third in the conference. While UW QB Keith Price has been brilliant thus far -- see a nation-leading 14 TD passes -- know that coach Steve Sarkisian wants to challenge the Utes with the running game. If the Utes make the Huskies one-dimensional, that will make things tough for Price on the road.
Any help for Foles? The defense isn't Arizona's only problem. The Wildcats also have one of the nation's worst running games and have surrendered 12 sacks, most in the conference. It's mostly been QB Nick Foles versus the world during the three-game losing streak. Will any other Wildcats step up? Will a defender make a play that gives Foles a short field? Will the running backs and offensive line create any sort of running threat? Will the O-line give Foles time to throw? Foles can't do it alone, particularly on the road against a quality team.
Rodgers revs up: Know what would be the best way for the Beavers to energize? A couple of big plays from receiver James Rodgers, who will be playing his second game since returning from knee surgery. Rodgers looked good against UCLA and made some plays. Here's a guess he'll be less focused on his knee and more focused on making plays than he was in his first game back. When healthy, he's one of the most dangerous players in the nation. Can he unleash his old self on the Sun Devils?
Rodney Stewart let loose: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman gashed the Cougars for 191 yards and four touchdowns. Can Colorado's Rodney Stewart follow his lead? The Cougars are better on defense than they have been, but these are still many of the same players who yielded 220 yards on the ground in 2010. Stewart and the Buffs running game has mostly been held in check, see a No. 11 ranking in the conference. It would be a good time for Stewart and company to reverse that early-season trend.
Bruins get physical: One of the best things UCLA can do is keep Luck off the field. That means run the ball. The Bruins have run well in the early going with 214 yards per game. Stanford has the nation's No. 1 rated running defense, but it has yet to play a good running team. Also, this is the Cardinal's first game without standout linebacker Shayne Skov. If the Bruins can run consistently, and physically challenge the Cardinal front seven, that could open things up for QB Richard Brehaut. And Stanford is yielding a 65.8 percent completion rate, third worst in the conference.