NCF Nation: internal affairs 9

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Masoli won't run wild vs. California's 3-4 defense: Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the Ducks' last two games, both victories. He's only passed for 189 yards in those games. He's been effective because defenses haven't been accounting for him as a runner -- or at least the accounting has been ineffective. But Masoli's ability to run out of the spread-option is no longer a surprise wrinkle. Moreover, California's 3-4 defense is better cut out for spying on the ball misdirection Masoli uses to lure defenders out of their assignments. The Bears' four linebackers are athletic and experienced, and Oregon's offensive line, though a veteran group, likely will need some time to figure out blocking a scheme they haven't faced this season. Masoli's passing has been hot and cold this year, but he may need to be hot against Cal for the Ducks to win.

It's easy to run on Washington State; Stanford should pass: Talk about tempting. Stanford owns the most physical running game in the Pac-10 with an outstanding offensive line led by center Alex Fetcher and tailback Toby Gerhart. And Washington State offers the 118th-ranked run defense in the land, which surrenders an eye-popping 266.3 yards per game. Stanford could run every play and win going away. But Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard needs to regain his confidence and rhythm. He was out of sorts in the loss to UCLA two weeks ago, completing just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Stanford is going to win this game and improve to 5-4. But finding a sixth win and earning bowl eligibility is the ultimate goal. That's going to require a passing game, considering the ruggedness of the upcoming schedule: at Oregon, USC, at Cal. So Stanford should force itself to showcase a balanced attack because that's what it will need to get to a bowl game.

Mark Sanchez, Washington's pass defense is like a magical pill for struggling quarterbacks: While the dominance of USC's defense should have been the main story coming out of the Trojans' 17-10 win at Arizona, more than a few folks focused on the continuing inconsistency of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez completed 21 of 36 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown, interception and costly fumble on the USC 15-yard line and he was off-target most of the night. But Pac-10 schedulers have a gift for him waiting in the LA Coliseum: The milquetoast that is the softest pass defense in all the BCS conferences. Sanchez and his receivers should absolutely feast on Washington, which allows opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes, yields 10 yards per completion and has surrendered 19 touchdown passes. The Huskies have grabbed just three interceptions and recorded five sacks. In other words, a day of target practice with little to no resistance should restore Sanchez's rhythm.

It's shocking to say but Oregon State has the advantage at quarterback: That can't possibly be true, right? Arizona State boasts Rudy Carpenter, who's climbed high on the Pac-10 passing charts and will be making his 39th consecutive start. But Carpenter hasn't been the same since he sprained his ankle. He ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency -- one spot below Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao, whose 13 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions bests Carpenter's 9 and 7. Carpenter was the decided difference in the Sun Devils' comeback from a 19-0 deficit for a 44-32 win against Oregon State last year. While Carpenter passed for 361 yards with four touchdowns -- including scoring tosses of 64, 43 and 48 yards -- then-Beavers starting quarterbackSean Canfield hurled five interceptions. Carpenter now faces one of the Pac-10's best secondaries and aggressive pass rushes without the benefit of a quiet home crowd facilitating his line of scrimmage audibles. And the Sun Devils' offensive line and running game? Never mind. Advantage Moevao.

Cal quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will be critical vs. Oregon's aggressive pass rush: Bears quarterback Nate Longshore played one of his best games in Cal's classic 31-24 win at Oregon a year ago, throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bears' offensive line isn't as good this year and the Ducks' pass rush is even better. That's why it should be a significant benefit having the far more athletic Riley under center. Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.5 sacks per game, and ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu rank one-two in the conference with eight and six sacks. Meanwhile, the Cal line is beaten up, likely down three starters and a reserve on Saturday. That suggests the Cal quarterback will need to be on the move a lot, and Riley is far better at moving than the slow-footed Longshore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are a few tidbits from across the conference heading into this week's games.

1. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel evoked a deeper pledge of accountability from his team in the week between the Tigers' loss at Texas and last week's game at Colorado. The Missouri coach made each player visit his office and pledge their best effort against Colorado. The ploy worked as the Tigers responded with a 58-0 shutout over the Buffaloes -- Missouri's first shutout in a conference game since 1986.

2. Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray, projected by many to be the best back in the conference before the season, finally appears back to form after two strong weeks of play. The main reason, Murray said, is his confidence in making sharper cuts on the field is finally returning. Murray sustained a dislocated kneecap late last season and had trouble bouncing back from the injury for mental and physical reasons. But not any longer. Murray has accounted for 287 yards rushing and receiving and scored six TDs in victories over Kansas and Kansas State.

3. Texas Tech coaches are gaining confidence in walk-on kicker Matt Williams, who was used only for extra points last week against Kansas. Tech coaches are finding that Williams' range is strong for field goals of up to about 40 yards and may consider using him for those kicks in Saturday's South Division showdown against Texas. Donnie Carona remains their choice for longer field-goal attempts.

4. Expect converted freshman wide receiver Daymond Patterson to remain at cornerback for the foreseeable future at Kansas. Coach Mark Mangino said the position switch was made because of lack of personnel at the defensive position. Patterson got a tough baptism last week as he faced off against Texas Tech's high-powered aerial attack. And it won't get much easier this week when he faces Kansas State.

5. Nebraska linebacker Phillip Dillard's recurring ankle injury will result in a variety of players likely filling his position if he can't go Saturday against Oklahoma. Tyler Wortman, Colton Koehler and walk-on freshmanMatt Holt will get some of the playing time. But the most likely scenario could be that Cody Glenn would slide to the position from his starting weak-side position. The Sooners' run-heavy philosophy likely will keep the Cornhuskers from sliding an extra defensive back into the position in their base defense.

Big Ten internal affairs

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
12:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to take a closer look at five Big Ten teams.

1. Wisconsin -- Running back P.J. Hill is fully participating in practice after being limited by a leg injury last week, but he could take a backseat to redshirt freshman John Clay on Saturday at No. 21 Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). Head coach Bret Bielema said Hill, Clay and Zach Brown will compete for carries throughout the week, with all three players likely being used in some form against the Spartans. But Clay started last week against Illinois and remains No. 1 on the depth chart. The Badgers also should get some help along the offensive line, as tackle Gabe Carimi and guard Kraig Urbik returned from knee injuries. A source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the starting offensive line might be shuffled, with Urbik moving to right tackle and Eric Vanden Heuvel moving from right tackle to left tackle.

2. Illinois -- Head coach Ron Zook hinted at changes earlier this season, and he did it again after the Illini fell last Saturday at Wisconsin. Zook was still peeved after Monday's practice, telling reporters, "You got any ideas? Everybody seems to have ideas. I'll take them all. Here's the deal. We'll be ready to go. Yeah, I'm a little bit feisty right now. I don't have an answer for you. I wish I had an answer. I'd give it to you." This week's depth chart doesn't reflect many changes, but Illinois is looking for more help at outside linebacker to flank Brit Miller. Expect the rotation to increase at both linebacker and safety on Saturday against Iowa (ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET).

3. Northwestern -- The Wildcats could feature a new starting offensive backfield and a different approach on offense Saturday at No. 17 Minnesota (ESPN2, noon ET). Junior quarterback Mike Kafka, who could start in place of injured starter C.J. Bacher, is more of a rushing threat who ran the option when he started four games as a true freshman. Though Bacher injured his leg on a 10-yard run against Indiana, Northwestern won't hesitate to have its quarterback on the move against the Gophers. "Every spread offense in the country I'm watching runs the quarterback," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "It's an element of the offense and it's an inherent risk. That's why you recruit and get your other guys ready in case something ever does happen." Northwestern has been plagued by turnovers this season, so the game plan might be more conservative for Kafka, emphasizing the option and his strengths.

4. Purdue -- Quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Justin Siller have different styles and strengths, but coach Joe Tiller expects to have a similar package on offense no matter who starts Saturday against Michigan. Painter sustained a mild separation of his throwing shoulder last Saturday and could miss the game. Siller has been alternating between running back and quarterback this season, and he would give the Boilers more of a rushing threat. "There are differences in the sense that, you know, Justin is not the prototype drop-back guy, though he can throw the drop-back routes and he has," Tiller said. "This week we'll be closer to having a similar package for the two of them because [Siller will] have another week back into the offense."

5. Michigan State -- As opposing defenses focus on stopping running back Javon Ringer, the Spartans are extending their passing attack and their depth at the wide receiver position. Sophomore Blair White ignited for 138 receiving yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Michigan, and true freshman Keshawn Martin is gradually claiming a greater role. With Deon Curry limited by a back injury, Michigan State has looked to other wideouts to step up. "We have more depth this year than we had last year," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We really have six, eight guys, that are functional."

ACC's internal affairs

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
12:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON: Entering Saturday's game at Boston College, the Tigers have a chance to be as healthy as they've been all year, and that's saying a lot. Clemson has had 12 injured players miss games and seven are offensive or defensive linemen. As a result, Clemson has started five different offensive line combinations in the first seven games and it could have another different lineup in Chestnut Hill. Starting defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson, a team leader who hurt his knee during summer camp and hasn't played a down all year, has been practicing this week. Running back C.J. Spiller, who hasn't played the past seven quarters, has looked pretty mobile at practice, and starting guard David Smith, who hasn't played since he sprained his ankle in the first half against South Carolina State, could also be back. The bye week might have been the best thing to happen to the Tigers this season.

FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles' run-based offense took a hit last weekend when leading rusher Antone Smith and his backup, freshman Jermaine Thomas, were both injured against Virginia Tech. Smith's biggest concern right now seems to be his ribs, but he is expected to play. Thomas, though, had a concussion and his availability is less certain even though he practiced this week. Depending on how much they've healed, it's possible that receiver Preston Parker could be used more in the running game like he was last year against Maryland. He was forced into the starting role after all three of the Noles' scholarship runners were injured. Both Smith and Thomas, though, seemed determined to play at Georgia Tech. Smith is the fourth-leading rusher in the ACC with 77.1 yards per game, but leads with 11 touchdowns.

VIRGINIA: Virginia coach Al Groh said this week that he expects tight end John Phillips to be among the leading tight ends in the nation before the season is over. Last year, with receiver Kevin Ogletree injured and the production from the receivers down, three Cavs' tight ends combined to catch 93 passes. Some of those plays this year have gone to Ogletree and Maurice Covington. This year, Groh said he expects his tight ends to get 50-55 passes. Phillips has shown his versatility this season and is second on the team and tied for fifth in the ACC with 35 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown. That's more production than he had in his first three seasons combined (21 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns).

DUKE: The Blue Devils' coaching staff faces an interesting challenge this week. For the first six games of the season, Wake Forest ran a spread offense, and then last week, the Deacs made a sudden change to the I-formation and surprised Miami by throwing the ball just eight times. Duke's staff is now forced to prepare for two different offensive styles. While the Blue Devils are comfortable with their base defense, they're expecting to have to make adjustments. Duke's defense has been inconsistent this season, looking good against Navy's run, but unable to stop anything at Georgia Tech. Odds are Duke will see a more balanced Wake Forest offense on Saturday.

WAKE FOREST: Filming for the movie "The 5th Quarter" will take place during Saturday's home game against Duke. The movie is based on the Demon Deacons' 2006 championship season during which linebacker Jon Abbate was driven by the death of his 15-year-old brother, Luke. The crew purchased about 150 tickets for the game and will sit in section five, where Abbate's parents used to sit. The actors will be reacting to the game as it goes on, but since some scenes take place in September and others in November, they're going to have to change from short-sleeves to parkas during the game.

Big East internal affairs

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
12:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Connecticut: Donald Brown's amazing season has left Andre Dixon a forgotten man this season. Dixon actually led the Huskies in rushing last season, but he's only gotten three carries this year as Brown has piled up more than 1,300 yards. Dixon was slowed by an ankle injury at the start of the year but is healthy now. UConn coach Randy Edsall says Dixon hasn't done anything wrong and is contributing on special teams; there just aren't enough handoffs to go around the way Brown is performing.

South Florida: The Bulls' comeback attempt at Louisville was hampered by injuries. Running backs Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor were limited, while starting right tackle Marc Dile (leg), tight end Trent Pupello (head) and linebacker Brouce Mompremier (head) got hurt and had to leave the game. True freshman Danous Estenor took over for Dile, who returned to practice this week. Senior guard Zach Hermann, who has been out since the opener with a broken foot, will travel to Cincinnati and may play.

Syracuse: The Orange hope to have two additions to their backfield on Saturday against Louisville. Fullback Tony Fiammetta should be good to go after missing the South Florida game with a lower leg problem, while backup tailback Delone Carter appears ready after sitting four games with a hamstring injury. Fiammetta is important as both a blocker and in the receiving game, while Carter can either give starting halfback Curtis Brinkley a breather or come in on two-back sets.

Pittsburgh: The season-ending ankle injury to center Robb Houser means that fifth-year senior Dom Williams will return to the starting lineup. Williams will play left guard, while C.J. Davis moves over to center. Williams, the team's oldest player at 24, started the first two games of 2005, including one against this week's opponent, Notre Dame. If Williams falters, Pitt will probably turn to true freshman tackle Lucas Nix.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers shredded Auburn's defense in last week's 34-17 win without one of their most effective offensive players. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown did not play because of lingering shoulder and thigh injuries. West Virginia had been using Brown in the backfield with Pat White as a blocker/runner/decoy on short-yardage situations. Brown has practiced this week and should be ready to play at Connecticut. Freshman right guard Josh Jenkins, out since the Rutgers game with a knee injury, could return to add depth to the offensive line.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Support for the MAC: After winning two consecutive conference championships and starting this conference season 5-0, you'd think Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour would be a little bit greedy about the three-peat. And while, he wants to win his third consecutive conference title, he thinks that what Ball State, the Chippewas' chief competition for the MAC title, is doing with its undefeated record is good for the conference.

"That's something that's very special because you know how tough it is to come out week after week and be focused and be ready to play," LeFevour said. "So, it's a very special thing that they've done to this point."

He might change his tune when the two teams meet on Nov. 22.

Tulsa pressure: Life was nice and peaceful for the first eight weeks of the season, but now that Tulsa has popped into both national polls and the BCS standings, coach Todd Graham and quarterback David Johnson said the interviews and general conversation about the undefeated season and potential BCS bowl are becoming a distraction from what's happening on the field.

"It's just starting to become a distraction when the rankings and stuff come out now," Johnson said. "Coach Graham has talked about the things that distract us and just focusing on the next step. It's just about understanding how to stay humble and grounded and where our strength and power comes from."

Southern Miss suspensions: Coach Larry Fedora indefinitely suspended two players from the Southern Miss football team, the school announced.

Calvin Wilson, a redshirt junior offensive lineman, and Jamison Hughes, a redshirt freshman defensive back, will continue to practice during the suspensions.

Though the incident was not specified by the university, the violation of team policy is the latest in a series of happenings involving Southern Miss football players. On Saturday night, wide receiver Torris Magee was arrested for residential burglary. Fedora announced in his news conference on Monday that Magee had left the team prior to the incident.

Just when you thought it was solved: Think you know who the Navy quarterback is? Think again. One week it's Jarod Bryant, then an injury forces Ricky Dobbs into the game. Dobbs has an amazing performance in which he rushes for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns. That might warrant a start in this week's game, but several media outlets are reporting that former and oft-injured starter Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada was running the first-string offense in preparation for this week's game against Temple.

While Dobbs, a sophomore, certainly earned the starting spot, Kaheaku-Enhada was the team's starter at the beginning of the season and has been limited by injuries. The game against Temple would be the senior's last true home game.

Jarett Dillard streak ends: Unfortunately, every good streak must come to an end sometime, and wide receiver Jarett Dillard was hoping the one that ended last week against Tulane would have ended with graduation. Tulane held Dillard out of the end zone last week, which broke his streak of 11 consecutive games with a touchdown. It also was the first time since Dillard was a freshman that Rice won a game in which he did not score. He had a touchdown in Rice's last 14 wins. Oddly, the last team that Rice beat without a Dillard touchdown was Tulane in 2005. Rice is 2-0 against Tulane when Dillard is held scoreless and 0-2 when he reaches the end zone.

Internal affairs in the SEC

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We take our weekly "Internal Affairs" look at the SEC. And by the way, judging by the performances from Florida and Georgia last week, I guess the Big 12 Conference isn't the only one capable of putting up big offensive numbers. The Gators and Bulldogs combined for 115 points and 889 yards of total offense in their blowout wins:

Less is more: LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee hasn't been as bad as some of the criticism the last week would suggest. It's just that four of his bad throws have turned into touchdowns for the other team. The Tigers aren't going to kick him to the curb, but they are going to give him less responsibility and will condense the playbook the rest of the season. The idea is to put less on his shoulders and give him fewer things to think about. Lee has been sharing snaps this season with Andrew Hatch, but Hatch is nursing an injury to his left leg. LSU coach Les Miles said true freshman Jordan Jefferson has continued to get increased snaps in practice and could play Saturday against Tulane.

Throwing to Demps: It's a given that freshman Jeffery Demps has changed the way defenses are playing Florida. You've got to account for his speed on every play. He's a touchdown waiting to happen. The newest wrinkle with Demps is using him more out of the backfield as a receiver. He catches the ball well and is a nightmarish matchup for any linebacker or safety trying to cover him. The other thing that having Demps in the backfield does is that it allows the Gators to keep Percy Harvin at receiver or in the slot, and they can move him to the backfield when they want to and not necessarily because they have to.

Catching Clark: Get ready for a heavier dose of true freshman Arceto Clark at Mississippi State. Last week in the win over Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom decided to take the redshirt off of Clark, and he only ran one time for 2 yards. Look for that role to greatly expand this week. He's a receiver the Bulldogs can do some different things with and will also likely get some chances returning kicks. Clark was recruited as a cornerback, but Croom talked him into moving to offense this summer. He has the kind of speed the Bulldogs have been lacking on the offensive side of the ball.

Pressing the Vols: Nobody has respected Tennessee's passing game this season, which is why the Vols have routinely seen eight men in the box. Look for South Carolina to load the box even more this Saturday. The Gamecocks have a lot of faith in their cornerbacks to cover in man coverage and will take their chances in going after Tennessee quarterback Nick Stephens, who's hit a few big-gainers to Denarius Moore, but hasn't consistently been able to make teams pay by completing passes down the field. He'll get every chance against the Gamecocks, who will dare the Vols to beat them deep.

Bosley back at center: It looks like senior Jason Bosley is back at his original position of center to stay. With Auburn going back to more of its power sets, the Tigers want one of their most physical blockers in the middle of things. Bosley and Ryan Pugh, who is now back at right tackle, had switched positions earlier in the season. When the Tigers moved Bosley initially, he was playing with an injured shoulder and having trouble snapping the ball, which was of particular concern when they were operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun. Auburn is looking for anything to jump-start an offense ranked 109th in total offense and 102nd in scoring offense.

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