NCF Nation: Anthony Kimble
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Eight things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.
1. Moevao at 75 percent or backup Canfield at 100? Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao didn't look fully healthy last weekend against California, though he managed the victory fairly well. He hasn't practiced much this week; his strained throwing shoulder is still bothering him. Sean Canfield is not a typical backup. He's more physically talented than Moevao -- he was projected as a future star when he signed in 2005 -- and started nine games last year. He played well during the seven quarters he had to step in for Moevao. But the screws are significantly tighter on the road in front of the rowdy Arizona fans with a Rose Bowl berth just two wins away.
2. California's beleaguered offensive line vs. Stanford's blitz-happy D: Cal quarterbacks have been sacked 19 times in the last five games. For comparison, Stanford quarterbacks have gone down 17 times -- all season. The Cardinal defense also is tied with Oregon for the Pac-10 lead in sacks, averaging three per game. A good running game would slow down the Stanford pass rush, and the Cardinal is not great against the run, ranking seventh in the conference in run defense (141 yards per game). But Cal has struggled to run of late, averaging just 81 yards on the ground in the last three games. Reports are that speedy tailback Jahvid Best is feeling healthy. But will he have space to get fancy?
3. Out of the misery, will a star -- for at least an afternoon -- rise out of the Apple Cup? Both Washington and Washington State rank among the nation's worst on defense. On the other hand, they also rank among the nation's worst in offense. Neither team boasts a statistically impressive player who will receive All-Conference consideration. That's how it is when two teams combine for a 1-20 record. Yet one will win this game. And rivalry games often feature a special individual performance that fans remember for years to come. So who among the Cougars and Huskies rises to the occasion?
4. Arizona LBs vs. Jacquizz Rodgers: Everyone knows that Rodgers is coming, but no one has stopped him yet (see seven 100-yard games). He hides behind a wall of blockers then shoots through the hole, and it seems like it takes a defense time to figure out his tendencies. The Wildcats' linebackers, particularly leading tackler Sterling Lewis and Ronnie Palmer (8.5 tackles for a loss), will have their hands full. And the Beavers may lean on Rodgers even more than usual, considering the questions at quarterback.
5. Riley will need to rally: In his past two games, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. He's seemed skittish at times since he was knocked out of the Oregon game with a concussion. While Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard can lean on a power running game, it's likely the Bears will need to throw well to consistently move the ball and keep the Cardinal defense honest. Playing at home should help, and Stanford's weakness is pass defense. That means Riley shouldn't complete less than 50 percent of his passes.
6. Beavers must ground Gronkowski: Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski has 34 receptions and eight touchdowns, which means he hits pay dirt once every 4.3 receptions. If he catches nine passes against Oregon State, that could be the difference. And the Wildcats will try to get him nine balls. Gronkowski is too athletic for most linebackers, so Beavers safeties Al Afalava and Greg Laybourn need to make Gronkowski work for every catch and, most important, get him down on first contact instead of letting him rev up his 260 pounds in space.
7. Cal LBs vs. Stanford power running: Cal's 3-4 defense has been mostly a success this season. It ranks third in the conference in scoring (21.9 points per game) and fourth in rushing (124.3 ypg). It has, however, sometimes struggled against the run, see 144 yards from Jacquizz Rodgers and 149 from Arizona's Keola Antolin. But both of them were smaller, slashing, scatback types. Stanford runs right at a defense with 230-pound Toby Gerhart and 210-pound Anthony Kimble. That power attack has worked against just about every defense, see 200 yards rushing vs. USC. How will Cal's four outstanding linebackers match up?
8. How can the loser of the Apple Cup possibly get motivated for another game? One team will walk away from the Apple Cup with something warm and reassuring to cling to -- a victory. Of course, the other will see its season-long misery only increase with the knowledge that it will be widely viewed as the nation's worst BCS conference team. Yet both have another game to play. Washington visits California, while Washington State heads to Hawaii. Neither figures to win. But it's hard to imagine the loser will be able to muster much intensity and focus for a 12th and final embarrassment.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Welcome to Soap Opera Saturday: Down year in the Pac-10? Whatever! This is the Conference of Intrigue on Soap Opera Saturday! (Cue dramatic music). We've got a coach with a history, a tale of woe and redemption. A man facing his demons. Likely in the rain. Rick Neuheisel and his band of UCLA Bruins, the football family that brought him into the football world, return to Seattle to face the bitter and woebegone Washington Huskies, the team he left in an acrimonious split that has been wounded and lost ever since. But there's more in the Northwest! California visits Oregon State, and the last time these two teams tangled, the Bears were poised to ascend to No. 1 in the nation. But then quarterback Kevin Riley, a freshman filling in for injured starter Nate Longshore, while leading a potential game-tying drive, made a fateful decision to scramble with no timeouts and the clock ran out on the Bears. And their glorious season promptly fell apart, as that became the first of six losses in seven games amid locker room recriminations. Meanwhile, downstate in Eugene, Oregon faces the Arizona team that ended its 2007 national championship hopes when quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon crumpled to the ground with a knee injury. Wait! There's more! Remember the Greatest Upset of All-Time! USC, a 41-point favorite, going down at home vs. Stanford. Guess who's coming to dinner, Stanford!
Oregon State Canfield a Rose Bowl team. Or it Can'tField one: Sean Canfield has been solid for Oregon State since taking over for quarterback Lyle Moevao, who's still nursing a shoulder injury this week and is questionable for the Cal game. Canfield has completed 70 percent of his passes for 440 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in roughly seven quarters of action. But California is a much better team than Arizona State and UCLA, and the Bears defense has been outstanding of late. It has limited opponents to under 300 yards of total offense in five of nine games and in the last six games it has recorded 19 quarterback sacks among 41 tackles for a loss and forced 19 turnovers (12 interceptions and seven fumbles). The Bears' 17 interceptions this season lead the Pac-10 and rank third in the nation. Canfield has been surprisingly poised thus far, but Beavers fans surely remember that a year ago, as a nine-game starter, he tossed 15 interceptions. The Bears will come after him. And they'll drop eight into coverage and try to tempt him to force balls into tight spaces. How will he respond? And will Moevao be ready and available, if needed?
Arizona's success this year is defined by run defense; Oregon's by running the ball: Oregon leads the Pac-10 and ranks fifth in the nation with 274 yards rushing per game. Only USC shut down the Ducks' running game, holding them to 60 yards on the ground. Arizona has been decent against the run this year with its no-name but productive defense, ranking sixth in the conference (131 yards per game). Yet, at least during the first half of the season, the Wildcats faltered against power running teams. New Mexico rushed for 211 yards with rugged Rodney Ferguson leading the charge, while Stanford piled up 286 yards behind twin 100-yard efforts from Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble. That convinced coach Mike Stoops that the Wildcats needed to get fancier up front, mixing up looks and using more stunts to keep opposing linemen -- and offensive coordinators -- guessing. It worked great against California, which only rushed for 110 yards at Arizona, and pretty well against USC (151). But these new looks have been on film for a couple of weeks now. They won't surprise the Ducks. Or will the Wildcats have a few new wrinkles for the run-happy, spread-option?
Does Stanford have enough offensive balance to challenge the USC defense? Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 186 yards against USC. Since then against the Trojans D: Nothing. Seven of nine opponents have been held under 100 yards rushing. The Trojans have allowed only one touchdown in their last five games and that came on a 15-yard drive by Arizona following a turnover. They have held their last four opponents to less than 200 yards of total offense. So the odds of Stanford just lining up and playing smash mouth in the run game, particularly with running back Toby Gerhart hobbled with a hamstring injury, fall somewhere between zero and none-at-all. The image of last year's upset victory, in fact, were well-thrown, clutch passes from Tavita Pritchard. Last week at Oregon -- in a persistent rain -- Pritchard completed 15 of 22 for 138 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Not spectacular numbers, but they suggest the Cardinal might have a larger offensive inventory now than they showed during the first half of the season.
The stars are rising for Arizona State: The Sun Devils will take one more step in the milquetoast portion of their schedule Saturday by trouncing Washington State. Expect to see more from some of the familiar names who created high -- and misguided -- expectations during the preseason. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his nation-leading 41st consecutive start, and he's finally getting some help on offense as his skill position cohorts get healthy. Receiver Michael Jones, muted much of the season with a variety of injuries, hauled in 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend's trouncing of Washington. Running back Keegan Herring, who's been limited much of the season with a hamstring injury, had 22 carries for 144 yards, giving the offense a one-two, lightning and thunder punch at tailback with burly Shaun DeWitty. Meanwhile, on the defen
se, underrated safety Troy Nolan has helped the offense by scoring two touchdowns over the previous two games -- a 41-yard interception return against Oregon State and a 44-yard fumble return against the Huskies.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Is it just me or is Stanford's offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage, blowing Notre Dame off the ball?
It's early in the second quarter and Stanford is on pace to rush for more than 300 yards.
So it's not just me.
Yet the game is only tied 7-7.
On Stanford's first two drives, it had first downs inside the Notre Dame 30-yard line, but failed to record a point.
First, each drive was slowed by a false started penalty. Then killed by an interception.
But that 95-yard TD drive to tie the game was a thing of physical beauty -- physical as in 12 of the 14 plays were runs.
One way to keep Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen from picking apart the mediocre Stanford secondary is to control the football.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State