NCF Nation: Everson Griffen

The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

Mays would have been a first-round pick last year. I know folks believe his perceived weaknesses would have revealed themselves on film Insider then just as they did this season. But the 2008 USC pass defense was simply extraordinary in large part because of Mays playing an intimidating and impenetrable center field.

So Mays blew it by coming back for his senior season. And he now knows this.

As for you, San Francisco 49ers fans: Didn't you guys do fairly well a few years back with another hard-hitting former USC safety? I got a $5 bill right here that says Mays is going to become an outstanding NFL safety.

Griffen is another story: First-round talent with questions about his attitude and work ethic. (Keep this in mind about Mays: his work ethic couldn't be any better).

Who would have thought that Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would go before Griffen? Te'o-Nesheim is superior to Griffen in only one way but its a critical one: motor. Griffen's is questionable, Te'o-Nesheim's is not.

The lesson here is that being good isn't enough. The NFL cares about the entire package. And NFL teams don't want players who aren't self-starters, who don't motivate themselves.

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

Here are the Pac-10 picks to this point (11:15 a.m. ET ).

First round
DE Tyson Alualu, California, Jacksonville (10)
RB Jahvid Best, California, Detroit (30)

Second round
DT Brian Price, UCLA, Tampa (35)
S T.J. Ward, Oregon, Cleveland (38)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, New England (42)
S Taylor Mays, USC, San Francisco (49)
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford, Minnesota (51)
OT Charles Brown, USC, New Orleans (64)

Third round
TE Ed Dickson, Oregon, Baltimore (70)
WR Damian Williams, USC, Tennessee (77)
LB Donald Butler, Washington, San Diego (79)
DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona, Houston (81)
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington, Philadelphia (86)
OG Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State, Cleveland (92)
CB Kevin Thomas, USC, Indianapolis (94)

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)

Will USC get off the carpet?

November, 2, 2009
11/02/09
1:40
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Now what for USC?

 
  Steve Dykes/Getty Images
  Pete Caroll’s Trojans need to rebound strongly if they still want to be in the BCS bowl race.
Well, Trojans fans first need to recognize -- and stomach with equanimity -- that other Pac-10 fans and, really, the entire nation want to sing-and-dance for a week. The appropriate image, one that might be some consolation, is the Munchkins singing "Ding Dong the witch is dead!" in the Wizard of Oz.

Yes, the little people are thrilled.

Every other team in the country has suffered many, many, many double-digit defeats since 2001. Seems like it's about time the Trojans suffered their second.

Of course, there will be blustering about the Trojans being overrated despite the fact they have accomplished more this season than just about any other team in the nation, posting three wins over teams ranked in the current BCS standings, all of them on the road.

Oregon is better than USC. No question. That doesn't mean the Trojans aren't a top-10 team.

And if USC wins the rest of its games and finishes 10-2 -- and Oregon takes care of business and wins the Pac-10 title -- the odds are good that the Trojans still will earn the conference a second BCS bowl berth.

So despair not USC fans!

Or maybe you should.

That defense that gave up (clear throat) 613 yards on Saturday is banged up. Linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a shoulder injury and won't play this weekend at Arizona State and could be out for weeks. Middle linebacker Chris Galippo and backup strong side linebacker Jarvis Jones suffered neck sprains against the Ducks, which could be issues for a while even if they can play Saturday. Defensive lineman Armond Armstead fractured his wrist. Defensive end Everson Griffen is experiencing turf toe, another injury that could linger for weeks.

And more than a few folks are wondering if if All-American safety Taylor Mays' is hurting. Mays, who missed the Washington loss with a sprained knee, didn't look like himself against the Ducks.

Meanwhile, on offense, fullback Stanley Havili (shoulder) and tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) should be considered questionable for the trip to Tempe. Both veterans were missed at Oregon.

The performance at Oregon made this manifest: It's possible that there actually are limits to USC's talent and depth. That losing eight A-list defensive starters and a quarterback who was the fifth-overall NFL draft pick can, in fact, be an issue, just as starting a true freshman quarterback has a downside no matter how poised, talented and intelligent that quarterback is.

And don't forget the coaching turnover the Trojans have gone through over the past season: two new coordinators, a new quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller and a new defensive line coach. Sometimes new voices complicate a team's culture and dynamic.

The defensive implosion still feels shocking, though, particularly because five games into the season it looked like the Trojans had merely reloaded.

Entering the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17, the Trojans ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (238.6 yards per game), fourth in scoring defense (8.6 ppg), fifth in run defense (64.8 ypg) and hadn't allowed a touchdown pass.

Three games later, the Trojans rank 36th in the nation in total defense (331.88), 27th in scoring (19.13), 44th in run defense (118.75) and have given up six TD passes.

If those numbers hold steady, this will be Pete Carroll's worst defense since 2005 -- the worst in his nine-year tenure -- which is surprising considering how good that team was.

The breakdowns against Notre Dame and Oregon State mostly happened after the Trojans grabbed big leads, so a letdown was a possible explanation, though a repeated loss of focus doesn't speak well of the Trojans players and coaches.

But the way Oregon dominated the second half suggested the Trojans might not be in great physical shape. The Ducks players said they wore down USC and who could argue? After three consecutive poor fourth quarters, maybe the Trojans need to do some more cardio.

Some might point to a lack of heart. Oregon punched the Trojans in the mouth, and the Trojans didn't respond.

That, however, will be measured going forward, starting at Arizona State.

USC should be plenty motivated by its now-myriad doubters. Folks have taken shots at USC for years while not believing their own words. Everybody -- deep down -- knew what USC was: The team that always would be favored over everyone else on a neutral field.

Now there are actually legitimate grounds to question how good USC is. An unprecedented string of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles is in serious peril.

Therein lies another potential consolation prize for USC. Remember: You Trojans are tired of bludgeoning Big Ten teams in the Rose Bowl.

So what if USC gets off the floor, towels off its bloody face and whips the remaining teams on its schedule?

Then it will go to another BCS bowl and earn an opportunity to make a simple statement: We're still USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


What to watch from a Notre Dame perspective in Saturday's game against USC:

1. Jimmy Clausen vs. Taylor Mays: Earlier this season, we had the treat of watching Tim Tebow collide with Eric Berry. Here's another matchup of top-flight quarterback against an All-American, future NFL safety. Don't expect many high-impact, Tebow-meets-Berry like crashes between the two since Clausen doesn't run nearly as much as the Florida star. Still, the Irish quarterback and his receivers have to be aware at all times of where Mays is on the field. Clausen's Heisman Trophy hopes -- and Notre Dame's chances at victory -- depend on a productive passing day.

2. Notre Dame's offensive line vs. the USC pass rush: The Trojans share the national lead in sacks, and if the Irish offensive front can't keep Clausen clean, it will be a long night for the home team in South Bend. "If we play like we did last year and get dominated like we did last year, it won't make a darn bit of difference what Jimmy does," head coach Charlie Weis said. USC has a bunch of studs on the defensive line, including Everson Griffen (four sacks) and Nick Perry (six sacks). Notre Dame has to slow them down to have a chance.

3. Joe McKnight vs. the Irish defense: Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley is a true freshman, and Notre Dame will try to bring lots of pressure after him. But Barkley usually isn't asked to win games. The USC offense really goes as the running game goes, specifically McKnight. He's averaging 7.1 yards per carry with six touchdowns. McKnight is also a threat in the passing game. He's the best back the Irish have seen this year, and he can change the game more than anyone else on the USC side.

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
9:30
AM ET
AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller


All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- He's 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. And he's got a cannon for an arm.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a special athlete playing in a special game, and it's hard not to recall that the last time that combination came together opposite USC, the Trojans saw Vince Young break their hearts and end their bid for a third consecutive national championship.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Terrelle Pryor can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.

That's why, as much as anything, USC's visit to Ohio State on Saturday likely comes down to how the Trojans rebuilt defense contends with Pryor, who is 10-1 as the Buckeyes starter and was preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

"This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I think you'll see he's not just a runner. He's working hard to be an all-around quarterback. He's showing that."

Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Buckeyes season-opening win over Navy. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

Last year, Pryor transformed from the nation's consensus top recruit to the Buckeyes' starter, much like Matt Barkley is doing this fall for USC.

In last year's game in the Coliseum, Pryor alternated with senior Todd Boeckman, rushing for 40 yards and completing 7 of 9 passes. He became the full-time starter thereafter.

"He's still not a wily veteran by any means," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he's doing what he's doing and why we're doing what we're doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things."

While observers from both sides call Pryor a complete quarterback -- not just an athlete taking the snap -- the aspects of his game that are hardest to contend with are his speed and improvisational ability.

"I've always said that the most difficult aspect of defending an opponent is when they have a quarterback that can run and run on plays that aren't designed to be quarterback running plays," Carroll said. "When a pass starts and it breaks down and it takes off, it becomes a sweep or a draw or a scramble situation. It's just so out of the normal structure, that, you know, anything can happen. So that's an X factor that a running quarterback presents."

The theme for the USC defense: Tackle, tackle, tackle.

And with prejudice.

"You've really got to key on your up-field shoulder and rely on your technique with a running quarterback like that," end Everson Griffen said. "We've got to swarm as a team and hit him hard every time he runs. Hit him hard -- make it harder for him, not as fun."

Griffen said the defense expects to see more speed option and designed runs with Pryor. Because the Buckeyes are playing in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium -- "The Horseshoe" -- it will be easy for Pryor to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he sees a vulnerability in the Trojans' defense.

So it will be a chess match.

The Trojans might assign a spy for Pryor. It certainly will try to limit his running lanes. But the likelihood is Pryor will make plays with his feet. It's a matter of limiting them, which the Trojans failed to do with Young.

"A really good runner like Terrelle Pryor can go where he wants to go," Carroll said. "You can say you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets out again. He's really got a knack for escaping. You can holler at guys for not containing, but he just dips and goes. He's really good at it and he's really fast. The thing you hope you do is when you get your chances you tackle him because he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys drip off him a lot. He doesn't run over you, he just runs. He's fast and really strong and really big and he's difficult to get down. When he wants to go, he goes."

And there's always the issue of overcompensating. If Pryor breaks contain and two or three Trojans shirk their responsibilities in pursuit, then Pryor might be able to make a play downfield.

"You play the offense -- you don't want to look at it as playing Terrell Pryor," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "You want to look at it as playing the Ohio State offense."

That said, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 total yards in the Longhorns' nail-biting victory in the BCS title game.

So there's no other way to say it: USC's defense has a Pryor engagement on Saturday.

Pac-10 best of spring

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Optimism is a powerful thing. And spring is a time for renewal. So this is a "Best of" list, without any of the "Negative Nellie" stuff.

Best spring game performance by a quarterback: Stanford redshirt freshman Andrew Luck all but won the starting quarterback job over incumbent Tavita Pritchard after completing 18 of 25 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns to lead the White team to a 42-17 victory over the Cardinal.

Best spring game performance by a quarterback II: Washington quarterback Jake Locker seemed fine working in a pro-style offense after completing 16 of 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. The two incompletions, by the way, were drops.

Best spring game performance by two quarterbacks: Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli and Justin Roper combined to complete 37 of 56 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns and neither threw an interception in the Ducks' spring game. Perhaps it was the rainy weather only fit for a Duck?

Best spring, overall, by a quarterback: Under intense, national scrutiny ,USC's Aaron Corp threw only one interception throughout spring practices and was consistently solid throughout the session, which earned him the nod as the Trojans No. 1 quarterback over spectacular freshman Matt Barkley entering the offseason. Under coach Pete Carroll, every previous Trojan quarterback who had been tapped No. 1 out of spring started the season opener.

Best performance by a true freshman: Barkley made the recruiting gurus who ranked him No. 1 look smart.

Best spring game on defense: Talk about a penetrating performance. USC's backup defensive end Nick Perry had six tackles for loss, including four sacks, among his seven tackles. Yeah, USC's defense is going to be hurting in 2009.

Best spring on defense: Six guys stood out: Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond III, UCLA's tackle Brian Price, Oregon State tackle Stephen Paea, Arizona State defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, Arizona linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka and USC linebacker Malcolm Smith.

Best surprise: USC transfer and notorious underachiever Jamere Holland suddenly decided to become Oregon's best deep threat and turned in an outstanding spring. Golly, sometimes listening to your coaches helps.

Best breakout: While California has questions at receiver, the general feeling is sophomore Marvin Jones is almost certainly one of the answers.

Best 'it's about time' breakout: USC's Everson Griffen might be the nation's most talented pass-rusher, but his high-performance engine has also been a high-maintenance engine. Yet his effort and intensity were consistentthis spring, which meant no one could block him.

Best comeback: California offensive tackle Mike Tepper has been through a lot, but he's hoping his sixth year will just be about anchoring a line with a lot of upside. Read Tepper's story here.

Best comeback II: Got a funny -- mean, but funny -- note during the 2008 season that instructed the Pac-10 blog to refer to Oregon State receiver Darrell Catchings as Darrell Droppings. Can't do that now because Catchings lived up to his name -- the real one -- this spring.

Best position change: Arizona sophomore Robert Golden, a marquee 2008 recruit, switched from cornerback to strong safety this spring, and early word is he could become an All-Conference player at his new position. The move further allowed the Wildcats to switch Cam Nelson to free safety from strong and get Trevin Wade on the field to complement Devin Ross at corner.

Best coaching decision: Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh wants his best 11 on the field at any given time, and he's willing to get creative to do it. That's why he's got a handful of guys playing both ways, including Owen Marecic (fullback and middle linebacker), Michael Thomas (cornerback and receiver), Richard Sherman (cornerback and receiver) and Alex Debniak (linebacker and running back). Will it work? We'll see. But it's undoubtedly interesting.

Best candidate for a karmic change: No team had worse injury issues this spring than Washington State, which is clearly in the midst of a major rebuilding project. Then promising defensive end Cory Mackay, who'd impressed this spring, suffered a serious back injury after he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. The Cougars are overdue for some luck. Perhaps it arrives this fall?

Best catch of the spring: You may have already watched this grab. Watch Arizona State receiver Kerry Taylor one more time. It's worth it.

Best position in conference: The Pac-10 might have the nation's best collection of talent in the secondary, with USC and California boasting units that should rank among the nation's best. Consider: FS Taylor Mays (USC), SS T.J. Ward (Oregon), SS Josh Pinkard (USC), CB Walter Thurmond III (Oregon), CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA), CB Syd'Quan Thompson (California), CB Devin Ross (Arizona), CB Omar Bolden (Arizona State), FS Rahim Moore (UCLA), CB Shareece Wright (USC), among others.

Best position in conference II: Five running backs who eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2008 are back, led by California's Jahvid Best and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers.

Best potentially surprising position: If you talked about good Pac-10 defensive linemen in recent years, you were basically talking about USC. Not in 2009. Nine of the Pac-10's top 30 players, at least by, er, one person's accounting, are defensive linemen, and that list included only one player from USC (Griffen, at No. 30) and didn't include Cal's Cameron Jordan.

Best quote: "How do we go from nine to one?" said Chip Kelly on what he believes are his marching orders as Oregon's new coach. "Nine" is where the Ducks finished last y
ear in the final coaches' poll.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

"Relax," said the night man. "We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!"

  • When Mike Bellotti walked off the field this week, it closed the book on his Oregon coaching career -- and opened a new one as athletic director.
  • The Arizona Board of Regents has approved Wildcats coach Mike Stoops' contract extension and raise.
  • I've previously advised some teams -- OK, it was Washington -- that can't get recruiting right to merely find out who Oregon State is recruiting and then recruit those guys. Well, this Paul Buker story is about how smart I am. Not specifically, but by implication. OK, not by implication but, well, just read the story. Oh, and how do Oregon State's receivers measure up? And these guys make the calls on defense.
  • Checking in on Stanford recruiting.
  • More on UCLA's Kevin Prince earning the No. 1 quarterback spot.
  • What did we learn about USC defensive end Everson Griffen? That he can be as good as he wants to be. But he has to want to be.
  • Sark attack on the links.
  • Former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser is going to be a high school head coach.
  • Jon Wilner looks at the Pac-10's 2010 NFL draft prospects.
  • The American Football Coaches Association will review the results of a three-month study of the USA Today coaches' poll. Here's a place to start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ever wonder what a coach might say about a quarterback competition the day before he announces a pecking order?

You're in luck!

USC coach Pete Carroll stopped by for a chat with the Pac-10 blog on Monday, the day before he announced on his Web site that Aaron Corp would emerge from spring practices No. 1 on the quarterback depth chart, ahead of true freshman Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain.

 
  Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
  Pete Carroll boasts an 88-15 record since arriving at USC.

That bit of stolen thunder aside -- and the announcement was mostly a foregone conclusion -- it's never a bad time to talk with a coach who's 88-15 in eight years at USC and has finished ranked in the top four of the AP poll seven consecutive seasons.

After all, he's got a new book deal to benefit his charity, A Better LA, and a new Web site for kids.

And he's got a football team that likely will be favored to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship and again compete for a national title.

Word on the street is you guys have an intense quarterback competition going on over there: Where does that stand?

Pete Carroll: Guys have really battled hard and done well. We're pleased with the play at the quarterback position. The competition is going to continue. We'll name a guy who's going to start the spring game for us and then the competition will just continue. We've got to call something here after a month of playing. We'll find out what happens when we get back to camp in the fall.

You've told me in the past you prefer to anoint a quarterback as early as possible to allow him to develop into a clear leader: How will that be a part of the decision in the fall?

PC: We'd like to do that [name a starter], but you've got to do the right thing and let the competition play itself out. What that means is, in the past when we named Matt Leinart over Matt Cassel, it meant that Leinart was going first and Cassel was battling him. The competition remained on. It will be the same situation. It's a very hard-fought, close competition and in fairness it's going to take longer to know exactly what we are going to do for the long haul.

It seems like running backs Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler have asserted themselves this spring: Have they done enough to eclipse the established guys?

PC: I don't think there's any question Curtis McNeal has. Marc Tyler has been hurt most of the spring -- he's only had a couple of days when he's full speed. He's done well. But McNeal has taken advantage of the opportunity to be out there every day and he's really been effective.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We're talking about links. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We're talking about links. Not a game.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.

2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.

3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?

4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.

5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.

6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.

7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.

8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.

9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.

10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Oregon should feel right at home tonight. It's cloudy and cool (68 degrees) with a chance of showers. Just like it is much of the year in Eugene.

  

The winner tonight between No. 9 USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-10) and No. 23 Oregon (4-1, 2-0), however, figures to feel pretty sunny. That team will walk away as the Pac-10 front-runner, though California, a future foe for both, might have something to say about that.

Oregon does boast a 5-3 record in its last eight meetings against the Trojans, including a 24-17 win last year.

The last time the Ducks visited the Coliseum in 2006, though, they got thudded 35-10. The Trojans were coming off a loss to Oregon State then, too. The last time USC coach Pete Carroll lost consecutive games against Pac-10 foes?

Never.

He's also 7-0 against conference teams that beat him the year before, delivering retribution by a 248-114 count. A team hasn't won two in a row against the the Trojans since 2001-02 (Kansas State), Carroll's first two seasons at Troy. Carroll's first season, when USC finished 6-6, is also the last time the Trojans lost consecutive games.

USC is riding a 25-game winning streak in the Coliseum.

And the Oregon programs haven't swept USC since 1957.

So, in other words, there are plenty of trends and factoids that suggest USC will make a statement to the nation tonight that it is premature to count the Trojans out of the national title hunt.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The general consensus is that USC is angry and the Oregon Ducks, to paraphrase Bruce Banner, aren't going to like the Trojans when they are angry.

That's the run-up to Saturday's clash in the L.A. Coliseum: Exit Dr. Banner (the USC team that looked woeful at Oregon State last Thursday) and enter an angry green -- make that Cardinal and Gold -- Hulk (the Trojans who've spent a long week-plus hearing a nation crow about their embarrassing loss).

"I don't know if they are angry but they are going to be ready," said an unusually terse Pete Carroll.

USC defensive end Kyle Moore is typically a go-to guy for reporters who regularly cover USC. He's smart and outgoing but, most important, he's good for a colorful quote. But not this week. Moore's colorful personality turned beige when asked what happened to USC's defense against the Beavers.

"We're past that game," he said. "We can't go back and replay it."

True. But is he bothered by how the national media pounded the Trojans after they lost?

"People can jump on whatever bandwagon they want," Moore said. "One week they love us. One week they hate us."

So, sure, there's some "grrrr" there.

Of course, Oregon faced a similar situation last year when it was headed to Michigan, which was supposed to be beside itself after it lost at home to Appalachian State, an FCS school, and subsequently got pilloried as victims of one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

All the Ducks did in Ann Arbor, though, was roll up 624 yards of offense and deliver one of the worst whippings the Wolverines had ever taken, 39-7.

Therefore, pardon Oregon coach Mike Bellotti for finding the "anger" angle a little amusing. "It was going to be a challenging game anyway," he noted.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Oregon State's real test is Utah: The massive, shocking upset is a staple of college football and its frequency relative to other sports is one of the reasons we love the game so much. The issues for Oregon State is whether there's an encore for its win over top-ranked USC. Follow a victory over USC with a win at No. 15 Utah, and the Beavers figure to be the first two-loss team to enter the national polls. Or they can lose and retreat to the muddle of the middle-50 teams, their 15 minutes of 2008 fame over. The key for the Beavers will be the run game. Can Jacquizz Rodgers slash and dash against the Utes like he did against the Trojans? Most would say why not? But it's tougher going on the road, and Utah's run defense is stout. It ranks fifth in the nation and yields just 60 yards per game and 2.0 yards per rush. Oh, by the way, the Utes also have the best secondary in the Mountain West Conference, so passing won't be easy either against the nation's No. 5 overall defense (223.4 yards per game).

USC goes blue collar: The demotion of sophomore defensive end Everson Griffen and the likely decreased carries for sophomore tailback Joe McKnight may suggest that a true culture of competition is back at USC. Griffen and McKnight were both marquee recruits even among the Trojans superstar recruiting classes and both are exceptional physical talents. But the production -- and in Griffen's case, consistent effort -- hasn't been there. Griffen has just seven tackles and a sack thus far. His backup,Clay Matthews , a former walk-on, has 17 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. So who should start? As for McKnight, he's been spectacular at times and seemed to break through against Ohio State, but Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford each are more complete players and are far more likely to run north-south and get tough yards. Oregon's defensive scheme is to gang up on the run and force teams to throw into its talented secondary. But it's possible the Trojans will want to play some smash-mouth at home and take out their anger, which might mean less McKnight.

Stanford needs ball control: The injury report tells you what you need to know about the Stanford offense: Running back Toby Gerhart (concussion) will play at Notre Dame but wide receiver Richard Sherman (knee) will not. With its most talented receiver again on the sidelines, the Cardinal will need to lean on its dramatically improved running game, with the capable Anthony Kimble spelling Gerhart at times. The Fighting Irish defense is mostly bend-but-don't break, surrendering yards (385 ypg) but not a whole lot of points (18.5 ppg), but it's hardly dominant against the run (134 ypg). While Stanford is grinding it out, it also is keeping the Irish offense and rapidly improving quarterback Jimmy Clausen -- 20-for-35, 275-yards, three touchdowns in a win over Purdue -- on the sidelines and away from the Cardinal's suspect secondary.

Is Arizona State really going to run? Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson is a wily sort, and he's not above using the media for his purposes. This week he told reporters that his offense must run the football, period, and that if he had one regret he wished he'd run more against Georgia. For real? The Sun Devils ran 19 times and gained four yards against the Bulldogs, so Erickson is almost saying he'd rather bang his head against a wall 25 times rather than 19 times. And consider that, just three weeks ago before the Stanford game, Erickson told reporters that, "Right now, philosophically, we're going to come out flinging it." Then they came out and ran 36 times and passed 36 times. Sure, the return of speedy running back Keegan Herring will help the Sun Devils' anemic -- last in the Pac-10, 110th in the nation -- running attack, but this offense with Rudy Carpenter out front prefers to "fling" it. It is notable, however, that Cal is playing very good pass defense: It's ranked 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and leads the Pac-10 with eight INTs.

I have no feel for Cal's reopened QB competition, and maybe that's the point: How many teams opt for a high-profile QB controversy after a 42-7 victory with a critical game the next weekend? That's what Cal coach Jeff Tedford did by announcing that starter Kevin Riley, a sophomore, would need to fight off a challenge from senior Nate Longshore, who's started 26 career games, during practices this week. Tedford's official explanation is the offense has been starting slowly the past few games, and Riley has been inconsistent of late. He completed just 6 for 13 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State, one of two games this year when he's passed for less than 60 yards. In fact, Riley hasn't looked good since the season-opening win over Michigan State, when Longshore seemed to hammer the final nails into his QB coffin by tossing two interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD. Tedford said it looks like Riley is pressing, which was something Longshore often did as well. One possible explanation: Riley may need the competitive pressure in practice to thrive. Or maybe Longshore is legitimately winning back his coaches' favor. Guess we'll see on Saturday, eh?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- USC defense end Everson Griffen has a confession to make.

Yes, he prefers an opposing quarterback to be a big, lumbering pocket passer rather than an athletic scrambler.

 
  Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE
  Freshman quarterback phenom Terrelle Pryor figures to play a role for the Buckeyes against USC.

"With a quarterback who scrambles around, you've just got to work that much harder to get the sack," he said. "Yeah, we like quarterbacks who stay in the pocket because they are right there waiting for you."

Right there waiting to get earholed.

Not so with a running QB.

USC also has a history vs. running QBs.

Washington's Jake Locker gave the Trojans some problems last year. And Oregon's Dennis Dixon beat them while rushing for 76 yards on 17 carries.

Finally, everyone remembers a noteworthy evening a few years back when a certain tall, highly athletic scrambler made USC's defense look discombobulated and, yes, very average.

Therein lies the intrigue of Ohio State freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound dual-threat quarterback figures to be a part of the Buckeyes game plan Saturday at USC.

But how much? And is he going to go all Vince Young on the Trojans?

Everybody's got a theory.

"I think if [Ohio State running back] Chris Wells doesn't see much playing time, we'll see a lot of him, just to make us think about a running quarterback," Griffen said.

USC coach Pete Carroll said he expects Wells to play and he doesn't seem sold on his defense getting a heavy dose of Pryor.

"There's no way a quarterback can be ready with everything at this time -- they're doing a beautiful job of managing him," Carroll said. "I noticed when the [Ohio] game was tight they didn't play him very much."

That's because, for all the Pryor hype, Ohio State already has a pretty good quarterback in first-team All-Big-Ten performer Todd Boeckman, who's likely going to be far more comfortable on a big stage.

Boeckman threw for 2,379 yards and 25 TDs with 14 interceptions last year. He's no slouch. And, by the way, even at 6-4, 244 pounds, he's hardly immobile.

"He's got good arm strength and he can scramble too for a big guy," Griffen said.

Last year, Griffen was in a similar situation as Pryor. He was a touted freshman thrust into early playing time. Only it's that much harder when the freshman plays QB and the venue is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the nation's No. 1 team.

"He's going to be nervous," Griffen said.

Linebacker Brian Cushing as a true freshman played against Young in the 2005 national title game.

(Question: "You played against Vince Young, right?" Cushing: [Flicker of a glower] "Oh yeah.")

"By the time Vince was doing it to us he was a redshirt junior in his fourth year in the program," Cushing said. "Terrelle is still young. He looks good in the game film. He can pass and run. He's going to be special in the future."

In other words, while Pryor adds another wrinkle for a defense to prepare for, the Trojans don't expect him to be a major headache until they make a return visit to Columbus in 2010.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Two weeks from today and we'll all be reading about Oregon State's visit to Stanford -- Thursday night football, baby!

  • Arizona's camping at army base Fort Huachuca is providing time for reflection. Perhaps the Wildcats have found a new preseason tradition? Devin Veal might provide some depth at WR.
  • Speaking of going away to camp, Arizona State makes a one-day trip to Camp Tontozona for a scrimmage on Saturday. An extended stay at Tontozona was made unnecessary when the school built an $8.4 million in-door practice facility. Topping the notebook is WR Chris McGaha's pesky toe injury. Nice column here from Scott Bordow on an ASU freshman quarterback by the name of Elway.
  • Scrimmage at California, and it appears that Kevin Riley outplayed Nate Longshore in this one... the plot thickens. Here's a more detailed report. Notice all the newcomers -- freshmen and JC transfers -- who get mentioned? Funny thing: This was supposed to be Jeff Tedford's worst recruiting class. But he told me that this class has more guys who are ready to contribute than any previous group. Go figure.
  • Oregon WR Terence Scott burned his redshirt year in 2007 for two receptions, but he's not bitter. The JC transfer could help the Ducks in '08. And preseason camp isn't all about sweat, X's and O's and injuries. There's fun, too.
  • Scrimmage! Oregon State goes live and frosh RB Jacquizz Rodgers was the star of the day. In fact, The Oregonian's Paul Buker comes to this conclusion about the Beavers offense: "If we can believe what we've seen in Fall camp, there will be no comparison between this year's offense and the unit in 2007 that moved the ball in fits and starts, dinks and dunks and a fly sweep here and there." But Rodgers won't likely be the No. 1 guy. That's Ryan McCants. Important sidenote: OG Jeremy Perry didn't participate in the scrimmage, choosing to rest his sore knee.
  • Want to know a dark-horse guy to come out of nowhere and put up big numbers? My pick is Stanford's Toby Gerhart, a powerful guy running behind an offensive line that appears to be coming together.
  • If UCLA is going to exceed middling expectations, a good place to perk things up would be special teams. Competition at LB? Hale, yes! And the interior defensive line is a given with Brigham Harwell and Brian Price, but things aren't too shabby at DE, either. It looks like Michael Norris has won the CB job opposite Alterraun Verner.
  • Scott Wolf's USC notes include something on a Longhorn Spy (kidding!) and an explanation for why DE Everson Griffen was so steamed the other day.  The story behind a kicker and his Mohawk. And are things deeper at TB than expected?
  • Folks are in the money at USC, according to this post from the LA Times' USC blog, and we're not just talking about the revelations this week that Pete Carroll took home $4.4 million in 2006-07. Check out how much offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian pockets: $704,380.
  • Washington may start a 26-year-old millionaire in its secondary. It's hard not to root for UW kicker Ryan Perkins. And big -- HUGE -- recruiting news for Washington and Tyrone Willingham. Molly Yanity chats with OT Ben Ossai, who's got the talent to become an All-Pac-10 player.
  • Washington State isn't kicking it yet, but Wade Penner might be the guy who does so. A look at the Coug running backs and a practice recap. Vince Grippi also gives his take on the starting 22 here. The WSU Football Blog return.

SPONSORED HEADLINES