NCF Nation: Ed Donatell
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
USC needs style points to stay No. 1: It's clear that USC coach Pete Carroll respects and genuinely likes Oregon State coach Mike Riley. But the Trojans can't afford to sleepwalk through the Pac-10 schedule, looking bored and sloppy while winning by seven to 10 points. The nation saw the Beavers get physically manhandled 45-14 at Penn State, and the Trojans need to turn in a similarly dominant performance if they want to remain atop the polls. While this is not a topic that coach Pete Carroll will engage, he's well aware that his team needs style points because he's not going to get much credit for just running the Pac-10 table, considering no other conference team is presently ranked.
California should bounce back: Cal didn't use its bye week to get healthy. It used it to get more physical with a lot of full-go hitting. Of course, considering what happened last year -- the team went into a tailspin when its high-expectations imploded -- the chief concern is making sure that the upset loss at Maryland doesn't ruin the season. While the Cal players and coaches didn't seem to care much about getting a dose of Pac-10 redemption against the Mountain West Conference, which is 5-0 vs. the Pac-10 thus far, the Bears should be pretty gritty for their return home. The Rams, though 2-1, were picked to finish at or near the bottom of the MWC. They don't run the ball well and only beat Sacramento State by three points. If the Bears are angry, this would be a good weekend to take out some aggression.
If the Huskies can't stop Stanford, they can't stop anyone: Washington's 2007 defense was widely considered the worst in program history. But the 2008 Huskies are putting up even worse numbers, despite hiring veteran NFL coach Ed Donatell. They presently rank 118th in the nation in total defense -- just ahead of SMU, which is last -- surrendering an eye-popping 521 yards per game. Stanford, however, will offer a much more manageable offense than Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma (which are ranked Nos. 7, 4 and 13, respectively, in total offense). The Cardinal ranks 109th in the nation in passing, though QB Tavita Pritchard improved enough to hold onto his job in the win against San Jose State. The key to stopping the Cardinal is simple: Keep RB Toby Gerhart in check and force the Cardinal to pass.
UCLA might be able to run against Fresno State: First, the Bruins rushed for a season-high 115 yards in the loss to Arizona, so they moved up from worst in the nation (119th) to 117th. Second, senior TB Kahlil Bell, who's missed essentially the entire season with an ankle sprain, is expected to play. Bell, when healthy, is one of the Pac-10's best running backs. Third, Fresno State's run defense is ranked 95th in the nation (185.7 yards per game). And, finally, the Bulldogs will be without their two starting DTs,Jon Monga (knee), perhaps their best defensive player, and Cornell Banks (ankle). Their replacements are two freshmen and a sophomore.
Things are getting tougher, not better at Washington State: A desperate situation got even more arduous for the Cougars when it was discovered that starting QB Kevin Lopina's shoulder injury was actually a "fracture of the L-4 transverse process of his vertebrae" and he'll be out two to six weeks (and here's a guess it's closer to six). With No. 2 Gary Rogers done for the year with a fractured vertebra, that means redshirt freshman Marshall Lobbestael is now the man. Lobbestael looked great coming off the bench against Portland State, but starting against Oregon is a different story. And things are thin behind him, with true freshman J.T. Levenseller likely the first option ahead of redshirt freshman walk-on Dan Wagner. Oh, by the way, the Cougars also announced that junior linebackerJason Stripling is done for the year due to a shoulder injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten big issues to consider as we enter the first weekend of action.
- Is USC QB Mark Sanchez's dislocated knee cap in the past or will it riddle him much of the season? Trojans coaches aren't shy about pointing out the vast distance between the way Sanchez is playing and the way the other QBs are. He's the guy. So, it's a blow if his knee doesn't hold up. He's an athletic guy who is unafraid to scramble, but he probably should play things fairly safe at Virginia.
- Oregon QB Justin Roper needs to take control in the huddle and show his teammates he's the man. By most accounts, one of Nate Costa's primary edges in the Ducks QB competition was leadership. Coaches always talk about taking charge in the huddle, and Costa did -- and Roper sometimes didn't. With Costa out for the season with a knee injury, Roper needs to grab his teammates by their figurative lapels and show them he's in charge. Otherwise, coaches might look to backup Jeremiah Masoli.
- We'll get a good measure of California's new 3-4 defense right out of the gate. Michigan State has a huge (average weight: 308) and experienced offensive line leading the charge for one of the most explosive running backs in the country in Javon Ringer. The Bears new linebacker-heavy defense needs to thwart the Spartans running game, or this one probably won't go well.
- Will UCLA QB Kevin Craft be able to manage the offense and avoid major mistakes? The Bruins won't win a track meet with Tennessee. The only way this one stays tight is if Craft and the offense play safe and smart and lean on their defense and special teams, which then need to do their part. If the Bruins consistently win the field position battle, the defense could force new Vols starting QB Jonathan Crompton to make his own gaffes, which could give Craft and company the short field they need.
- Will Washington State's new no-huddle offense be just the ticket for QB Gary Rogers? Rogers, a fifth-year senior, has waited a long time to take over the offense. New coach Paul Wulff's fast-paced, spread scheme doesn't seem like the ideal fit for the 6-foot-7 senior, but coaches surely mixed and matched parts to fit his skill set. Oklahoma State's defense isn't very good. The Cowboys figure to run all over the Cougars thin defense -- might the Cougars and Rogers return the favor?
- Arizona shouldn't just mail it in against overmatched Idaho; make a statement Wildcats! Arizona has the softest schedule in the conference, and these types of nonconference patsies are supposed to help a team build its confidence. But what if Arizona wins 27-24? That message is little more than a whimper. QB Willie Tuitama and his veteran offense should be satisfied with no less than 40 points, and the rebuilt defense should want to hold Idaho to no more than half of that.
- Arizona State's offensive line can start shutting up the so-called pundits by not allowing a sack against Northern Arizona: It's as easy as that. Last season's 55 sacks -- the oft-repeated stat of ignominy in Tempe -- will no longer be brought up as soon as the line shows QB protection problems are a thing of the past. The Lumberjacks aren't USC, but they certainly will come after QB Rudy Carpenter. If Carpenter's pants are free of grass stains after the final gun, mission accomplished.
- Give me the, er, darn ball! USC coach Pete Carroll has repeatedly -- endlessly -- insisted that he sees no problem in trying to give as many as four TBs carries in a game. That means Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford will each get touches at Virginia. McKnight, due to his versatility, is a sure-thing. But how will the ball be distributed among the other three?
- All eyes are on QB Kevin Riley, but don't be surprised if TB Jahvid Best steals the show: Best is one of the nation's fastest football players. My guess is he's a step (or two) faster than Michigan State's Javon Ringer. So it's possible Spartans defenders will be shocked when the pursuit angles they've taken on Ringer leave them looking at Best's rear end.
- Washington's defense will be better, but by how much? The Huskies don't have amazing talent, but the biggest thing veteran NFL coach Ed Donatell can do to improve the defense is install a sound scheme the players understand. Last season, the Huskies often didn't know where to go and didn't understand why they were asked to do things. Without a sound plan, a team has no hope against Oregon's potent, elusive spread option.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ed Donatell was not afraid to take, perhaps, the toughest job in Pac-10 coaching this season.
For one, he joined Tyrone Willingham's staff at Washington. As everyone knows, Willingham is decidedly on the hot seat and probably needs to lead the Huskies to a bowl game to retain his job for a fifth season.
Second, Donatell takes over the Pac-10's worst defense from 2007 -- statistically the worst in the history of the program.
Third, only six starters return from that unit, including only one with significant experience on the defensive line.
And, finally, beleaguered Husky fans love defense. They've been suffering for a while now watching various lineups flub around on the field with the memory of Don James' stingy units still fresh in many boosters' memories.
Donatell, who did get the security of a two-year contract worth $334,000 annually, brings a fresh perspective. He spent 12 of the past 13 seasons in the NFL and coordinated defenses for the Green Bay Packers (2000-2003) and Atlanta Falcons (2004-2006). Over the years, he's coached with Pete Carroll, Bruce Coslet, Mike Shanahan and Mike Sherman.
He said he likes attacking defenses, and Huskies fans surely would love to duplicate his 2004 Falcons unit that led the NFC in sacks.
How did you end up at Washington?
Ed Donatell: In a nutshell, with the Atlanta Falcons, it was my seventh year as a NFL defensive coordinator. When [Falcons coach Jim Mora] was let go, I wanted to remain a coordinator and did not get that done. So I went and worked with the Jets as a senior assistant. I looked at [NFL] coordinator positions and didn't get one last year. So I just kept moving along and this Washington thing came up. I knew it was a storied university with a great tradition and I've always believed teams that won in the past can win again. And the reputation of Tyrone Willingham and the people on the staff, it seemed like a good match for me to join up with them. I wanted to continue as a guy leading defenses.