NCF Nation: Jeff Byers
From Scouts Inc. reports on ESPN.com:
- Everyone expected USC S Taylor Mays to shine in this setting and Mays did not disappoint. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Mays posted an official time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash. While we are still concerned about his inconsistencies on film, Mays clearly has early-first-round natural ability, and teams are sure to fall in love with his upside if they haven't already.
- Arizona State's Dexter Davis, TCU's Jerry Hughes, Michigan's Brandon Graham and Utah's Koa Misi all played defensive end in college but are expected to move to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Base 3-4 teams looking for help at outside linebacker were interested to see how they ran in the 40-yard dash, and none of them disappointed. Davis (4.56 seconds), Hughes (4.59), Graham (4.69) and Misi (4.69) all are fast enough to play linebacker in the NFL. Those times are unofficial, of course, but it's worth pointing out that the average 40 time for outside linebackers at the 2009 combine was 4.78.
- It should come as no surprise that Campbell, USC's Charles Brown and West Virginia's Selvish Capers stood out during one-on-one mirror drills. All three looked fluid and quick, but Iowa's Bryan Bulaga showed the best poise of the group. Bulaga didn't overreact to head fakes or quick changes in direction and stayed with his man throughout.
- USC G/C Jeff Byers had a hard time sinking his hips and keeping his shoulders back before starting his one-on-one mirror drill, and Byers' technique deteriorated once Idaho OT/G Mike Iupati forced him to change directions. Byers had a particularly difficult time staying low and that's a real concern because hip and back injuries forced Byers to miss two seasons early in his collegiate career and he looks stiff.
From other sources:
- Former Oregon State linebacker Keaton Kristick is making an impression.
- Former Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield had a good combine.
- Danny O'Neil notes that many Pac-10 players helped themselves, including Mays, Jahvid Best, Donald Butler and Toby Gerhart.
- Mays may be overcoming doubters. As did Gerhart. But some think Mays' game tape speaks louder.
- By the way, Best is fast, and San Diego might be interested.
- Speaking of fast, here's more on the speed guys.
- You can find the top performers here.
And yet Kiffin, Tennessee's head coach for just one year, is coming back west to coach the Trojans and replace his mentor Pete Carroll.
Kiffin's head coaching career has been spotty. He was 7-6 in one season at Tennessee and had an acrimonious split in 2008 with the Oakland Raiders, where he went 5-15.
Kiffin, who coached under Carroll from 2001-2006, has been known to be outspoken. Almost immediately after he was hired at Tennessee, he got in trouble with the SEC for making comments about other coaches and other programs, particularly Alabama and Florida. During his brief tenure in Knoxville, Kiffin had some issues with the NCAA, and his players had some off-field trouble.
Yet hiring Kiffin also might turn out to be a home run, particularly when you consider the staff he is putting together.
Kiffin, 34, will bring his father and defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, as well as assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron with him to USC.
The elder Kiffin is one of the country's mostly highly regarded defensive minds. Orgeron is considered one of the nation's best recruiters. He was the Trojans recruiting coordinator from 2001 to 2004, when USC multiple times landed the nation's No. 1 class.
A source told the Pac-10 blog that USC also is expected to pursue Norm Chow as offensive coordinator. Chow is presently the offensive coordinator at UCLA, but he was Carroll's coordinator when the Trojans won consecutive national titles in 2003 and 2004.
"Lane Kiffin is a great get," said USC offensive lineman Jeff Byers, a sixth-year senior who played for Kiffin for three seasons. "He learned under coach Carroll. He's a guy who's been there. He's a great recruiter. I think it's a great hire -- I think [athletic director] Mike Garrett pulled a great one out of his hat. I don't think anybody was thinking Lane Kiffin."
The recruiting skill is significant. Kiffin and Orgeron are leaving behind a class at Tennessee that presently ranks sixth in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. His first class with the Vols ranked 15th.
One of the major worries when Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks was that the Trojans recruiting class, presently ranked 11th, would fall apart. Odds are pretty good that won't happen now. Orgeron is a force of nature in recruiting.
And let's face it: While USC was always well-coached under Carroll, the secret of his success was recruiting the best players.
As far as Xs and Os, if Kiffin is able to pair his dad and Chow, he will have as good a pair of coordinators as any program in the nation.
“It’s great news," quarterback Matt Barkley told ESPNLosAngeles. "I remember meeting Kiff way back on the recruiting trail when I was a freshman in high school. I liked him when I met him. I like that he knows how to live and breathe the Trojan way.”
Barkley also pointed out that the Kiffin combination -- and potentially Chow -- will mean significant continuity in terms of scheme on both sides of the ball. The elder Kiffin was one of Carroll's defensive mentors, and they share many of the same philosophies.
"It’s comforting to know that not a lot is going to change,” Barkley said. “Kiff will have his own way of doing things, but I’m glad the offense isn’t going to be a whole lot different."
"Kiff" does have his own way of doing things, that's for sure. His hiring will generate national buzz, good and bad.
Now all he needs to do is duplicate Carroll's 83.6 percent winning percentage.
QB Sean Canfield, Sr., Oregon State
RB Toby Gerhart, Sr., Stanford
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, So., Oregon State
RB LaMichael James, RFr., Oregon
WR James Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Damian Williams, Jr., USC
TE Ed Dickson, Sr., Oregon
OG Jeff Byers, Sr., USC
OG Gregg Peat, Sr., Oregon State
OT Charles Brown, Sr., USC
OT Chris Marinelli, Sr., Stanford
C Kenny Alfred, Sr., Washington State
K Kai Forbath, Jr., UCLA
DT Brian Price, Jr., UCLA
DT Stephen Paea, Jr., Oregon State
DE Tyson Alualu, Sr., California
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington
LB Keaton Kristick, Sr., Oregon State
LB Mike Mohamed, Jr., California
LB Donald Butler, Sr., Washington
S Rahim Moore, So., UCLA
S Taylor Mays, Sr., USC
CB Trevin Wade, So., Arizona
CB Alterraun Verner, Sr., UCLA
P Trevor Hankins, Jr., Arizona State
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The true freshman stepped into the huddle. He told his teammates not to worry. He would lead them to victory in a hostile environment.
|Brad Schloss/Icon SMI|
|Matt Barkley faces a true test going into the Horseshoe for his first start on the road.|
And Tennessee lineman Jason Layman turned to Peyton Manning and told him to "Shut up and call the play."
It's not easy being a true freshman quarterback for many reasons, including veteran teammates who couldn't care less about a scintillating prep pedigree.
USC guard Jeff Byers is a 24-year-old, sixth-year senior. He's the leader of a veteran offensive line that might be the nation's best unit. He's seen just about everything while blocking for three different quarterbacks who are now in the NFL.
Nonetheless, if true freshman Matt Barkley gave him an earful about a blown assignment, he said he'd take it without complaint.
"Oh yeah, because the kid is good," Byers said. "But I don't think he'd be one of the guys who would say that. He'd be one who'd slap you on the butt and say, 'Let's go get 'em. We all make mistakes.'"
And what about Barkley making his first road start inside the unfriendly confines of Ohio Stadium, aka the Horseshoe?
"I think he'll thrive in those kinds of places because he's such a great competitor," Byers said.
There are two powerful, competing forces at work amid the pregame hype for No. 3 USC's visit to No. 8 Ohio State.
One camp in L.A. provides a collective shoulder shrug when asked about the combination of Barkley and infamous atmosphere of the Horseshoe, where the Buckeyes are 24-1 in nonconference games under coach Jim Tressel, the lone defeat coming in 2005 to eventual national champion Texas.
Barkley has repeatedly said he's not worried, and even added a "bring it on" after practice Tuesday, which might help turn the volume of the 102,000 on hand up another notch from 11 to 12.
The other force counters that Barkley is still a true freshman -- he turned 19 this week -- and that he's never played in an environment like the Horseshoe and that no matter how poised he may be, that environment will at least distract him even if he's not intimidated.
And distracted quarterbacks tend to make mistakes, particularly young ones.
USC coach Pete Carroll has fielded the question 100 different ways since the Trojans stomped San Jose State 56-3 in the opener, and the media haven't worn down his faith that Barkley will not only be fine but will excel because of the environment.
"I would think he's going to have fun with it and he's going to be excited to see what it looks like to be in an opponent's stadium of that stature and all," Carroll said. "And then he's going to go play. I don't think it will matter to him at all. That's just the way he's been and how he's handled things and he has such confidence and such comfort in his own skin. That will be extended into the setting as well."
New USC starting quarterbacks have good track records in big, early-season nonconference road games under Carroll. Matt Leinart was a sophomore when the Trojans whipped No. 6 Auburn 23-0. Junior John David Booty was brilliant -- completing 24 of 35 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions -- when the Trojans bludgeoned Arkansas 50-14.
But neither was a true freshman.
Of course, the USC offense isn't only about Barkley. Far from it. Nine starters are back from 2008, and there's depth at every position.
"If you threw a freshman quarterback in there and everyone else was a rookie, it would be frightening," Tressel said. "But the beauty that Pete Carroll has there with Matt Barkley being in the game is that the offensive line is perfectly choreographed and all those folks he's got around him -- handing it to and throwing it to and protecting him and so forth -- that is as good of a situation as you can have."
Moreover, USC contends that Barkley is a true freshman in title only.
Receiver Damian Williams is tight with Aaron Corp, who lost the starting job to Barkley. But Williams said he knew Barkley was special early in spring practices, which Barkley participated in after graduating early from Mater Dei High School in Newport Beach, Calif.
"He was making throws that I didn't think high school quarterbacks were capable of making," Williams said.
Barkley also immediately asserted himself in the huddle against San Jose State, even when the offense sputtered in the first quarter.
"He came to the huddle calm and collected ... he gave us a couple of pep talks in the huddle," running back Joe McKnight said.
Byers was particularly impressed by how quickly Barkley put bad plays behind him, including the lone sack the Trojans surrendered.
"I thought that was a defining moment," Byers said. "I loved how he was in the huddle. More important than how he played -- his numbers -- was just how he handled himself and controlled the offense and led us."
Ah, but that competing force just smirks. To it, all this feels like a pep talk for a young man who is about to enter the belly of the beast.
A Horseshoe? On the Buckeyes side of things, Ohio Stadium is grinning as it anticipates the arrival of Matt Barkley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Matt Barkley is now The Man.
USC quarterbacks win Heismans. They win Rose Bowls and national championships. They get drafted in the top half of the first round of the NFL draft and make a lot of money.
Heck, some even pose for magazines in short shorts.
And Barkley, who turns 19 on Sept. 8, is the first to start the first game of his true freshman season.
|AP Photo/Jae C. Hong|
|Matt Barkley is prepared for all that comes with being the starting quarterback at USC.|
It's hard being a true freshman quarterback for any team, but at USC the spotlight burns brighter than anywhere else.
USC opens its season at home Saturday against San Jose State. That will be a test run.
The next weekend the entire nation will tune in to see what Barkley can do against Ohio State in the decidedly unfriendly confines of the Horseshoe in Columbus.
It seemed like a good time to check in with Barkley to see how things were as he steps into his marquee role.
Life before you were USC's starting quarterback and life after: How have things changed for you?
Matt Barkley: It's not too different -- except that the whole world is now looking at me [laugh]. I'm not really trying to change who I am. I'm just trying to be me and play football like I always have and stay true to my roots. But this is a dream come true. It's pretty crazy how it's all played out over the last couple of months, but I'm loving it. It really is neat.
What do you think you did to win the job?
MB: I think I just did what the coaches asked me to do: manage the game and be a leader that the offense can count on. Not try to do too much. Not try to be Mr. All-America because we've got such a great team this year. I just need to be able to manage that and get the ball to guys who can make plays. I think all the hard work during the offseason, the hours we put in, have really paid off now.
Leadership is such an important part of being a quarterback. How does a guy who's an 18-year-old true freshman take a leadership role when you're running a veteran offense with a bunch of guys who are headed to the NFL?
MB: That's why coming in January really helped me, just to get to know the guys and establish relationships with the older players. That really helped. Just being normal, just showing them that I know how to play the game and that I'm not intimidated by anything or anyone. Just try to slowly earn their respect. It's been a cool process.
So if Old Man Byers [sixth-year senior offensive lineman Matt Byers] misses a block, you feel completely comfortable getting on him and saying, 'Man, you've got to make that block!'
MB: I don't fear getting into anyone's face because that will make them better. They'd do the same to me. [Senior safety] Will Harris has been talking in my ear hole this whole summer, trying to get in my head. He's been trying to motivate me and trying to make me better. So, no, I'm not scared of Old Man Byers.
So have any of the veterans pulled you aside and given you advice?
MB: Nothing too specific, but all of them have been great and encouraging me just to be myself and don't try to mold into anyone or try to fit the stereotypical USC quarterback role. Just be who you are. Also, to really try to control the ball. That's what coach [Pete] Carroll has emphasized over and over again -- protect the ball.
That's what everybody seems to talk about -- that you've got great talent and throw a great ball and you're a smart, savvy guy but that you also try to do too much and throw interceptions. How much is that on your mind? Would consciously avoiding interceptions slow you down?
MB: No, I don't think it has. I've made an emphasis this summer on not throwing picks, on not turning the ball over. Take the easy completions, the easy checkdowns and even throwing the ball away, which I've learned to do better. Whenever we're getting positive yards, it's a good thing. It wasn't easy at first because that's not the way I played growing up. But it has become a lot easier to be comfortable with checking the ball down and getting positive yards.
You come out of the Coliseum tunnel Saturday against San Jose State. You walk onto the field with the first-team offense. What will be going through your mind? It's got to be a lot different than high school.
MB: No doubt I'll have butterflies. It really will be a dream come true. I probably will be a little nervous, but I think after warm-ups and we get our juices flowing, it will be just like any other day out on the practice field. You try to block all the other stuff out. I'll probably get motivated by the crowd, feel their energy. But when it comes game time, you learn to block all that out.
I know you only play one game at a time, but you've got to think a little about Ohio State. A hostile environment is a big thing for a quarterback. Has that drifted into your mind a little bit, to play in front of 105,000 fans who don't like you very much?
MB: [Laughs] It has. I'm only taking one game at a time, but I have thought about it. It's going to be an awesome game, an awesome environment. Our whole team is excited to go back East and play them. We'll see what happens. But for now I'm really just focusing on San Jose State.
Have you and backup quarterback Aaron Corp had a chance to talk about how things went down?
MB: Not directly. Not specifically. It happened. We didn't talk much that day. Everything kind of carried on like normal -- normal meetings, normal practice -- besides the title switch. We didn't really get into a deep conversation about it. It wasn't bad though.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It's never easy to put a preseason all-conference list together. Should you project forward or look back? How do you choose between three A-list cornerbacks or leave off a couple of deserving defensive ends?
Perhaps this list will be much different by mid-December.
QB Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon
RB Jahvid Best, California
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
WR Damian Williams, USC
WR James Rodgers, Oregon State
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona
C Kristofer O'Dowd, USC
OG Jeff Byers, USC
OG Colin Baxter, Arizona
OT Charles Brown, USC
OT Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State
K Kai Forbath, UCLA
DE Will Tukuafu, Oregon
DT Brian Price, UCLA
DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DE Dexter Davis, Arizona State
LB Keaton Kristick, Oregon State
LB Reggie Carter, UCLA
LB Mike Nixon, Arizona State
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon
CB Syd'Quan Thompson, California
FS Taylor Mays, USC
SS Cam Nelson, Arizona
P Bryan Anger, California
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Jeff Byers has been around a long time at USC and he's seen a lot. He started games for the 2004 team that won a second consecutive national championship. And he's seen his promising career almost end due to injuries, which killed two of his seasons.
"Old Man Byers," as some of his teammates hail the sixth-year offensive guard, will anchor perhaps the nation's best offensive line this fall as a sixth-year senior. Yet his chief reason for hanging around for so long might surprise you.
"I came back because I wanted to finish my masters' degree, first off," said Byers, who will turn 24 in September.
|USC guard Jeff Byers has been smart about his career and education.|
That would cost most folks around $350,000.
Of course, when you are a conscientious student that long, you pick up some quirks. Byers, for example, often answers questions in outline form: "A. B. C."
Such as: "Jeff, are you guys already thinking about the marquee matchup at Ohio State on Sept. 12?"
Byers: "No, because: A. We've got to get through summer workouts; B. We've got to get through camp; and, C. We've got to beat San Jose State before we can start thinking about Ohio State."
Byers is one of five returning starters from a line that: A. Gave up only 18 sacks in 2008, fewest in the Pac-10; B. Led a rushing attack that averaged 195 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry; and, C. Is very deep considering the entire 2008 two-deep is back, and touted sophomore Tyron Smith is pushing to eclipse Butch Lewis at right tackle.
More than a handful of publications have ranked the Trojans line as the nation's best unit, not that Byers cares.
"It's hard to be called the best when you haven't played a down of football yet," he said. "It's like getting ranked No. 1 in the preseason. What does it matter? If you don't finish No. 1, it doesn't matter. It puts a target on your chest, but at the same time, you've got to remember it truly means nothing right now. Just because they say you're the No. 1 offensive line right now doesn't mean you are going to play like it."
That's sort of how Byers is. He's not flashy. He doesn't self-aggrandize. He's skeptical of hype.
Given an opportunity to join the chorus of USC fans who griped -- not without justification -- about the Trojans getting left out of the national championship discussion in 2008, Byers instead just scoffed.
"If we wanted to play for the national championship, we should have beaten Oregon State," he said. "That's the way it goes. If you lose, then you let your fate be in other people's hands. If you go 12-0, you've got a pretty good shot of getting to the national championship game. All it would it would have taken for us was beating Oregon State. Then there's no questioning. I'm not upset about it. Worrying about that is not going to help anything. It's not going to change it. It's the way the system works."
That sense of perspective probably comes from seeing just about everything in his career since he was a consensus prep All-American out of Fort Collins, Colo., in 2003: a national championship, a 34-game winning streak, major back and hip injuries, Vince Young going super-human to stop the Trojans from three-peating, a loss to 41-point underdog Stanford and five consecutive Pac-10 titles.
Things are never boring around the Trojans. It's not easy to leave that behind. So Byers applied for and earned a sixth year from the NCAA.
Said Byers, "If you've got an opportunity to keep playing in college, A. It's not going to hurt you in the NFL; and, B. Playing for one of the best teams in the country, and arguably the best coach in the country, you can't go wrong with that. The NFL is going to be there next year."
Byers is heading into a third consecutive healthy season, which should help his draft prospects. He also played at a light 285 pounds last year. Now he's just under 300, and he thinks his quickness and flexibility are better.
As for the Trojans offense, it welcomes back nine starters. The pregunta gigante, of course, is who plays quarterback: Can true freshman Matt Barkley beat out sophomore Aaron Corp, who was tapped No. 1 coming out of spring?
"Whoever plays between those two, we're going to have a great shot of winning a lot of football games," Byers said.
But Byers also echoes what just about everyone else says when assessing Barkley: He's special.
"Barkley is very mature for his age -- I forget all the time that he is only a freshman," Byers said. "We'll be sitting there wanting to give the younger guys a hard time and it's like, 'Wait a second. Barkley is with these guys!' Regardless of whether he plays this year or not, he's going to have a very bright future."
As for his future, Byers hasn't decided how he's going to use his MBA just yet. He interned at Toyota's North American headquarters doing strategic planning. There's always consulting. And investments and portfolio analysis are also intriguing.
Oh, and there's the business plan of getting a fat NFL signing bonus, not that Byers is planning to go all fleet-of-Bentleys on us.
That's not Old Man Byers' style: "I'm happy with my '98 Nissan Maxima," he said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- Redundant questions are part of any BCS bowl game buildup, but two predominant inquiries served to annoy the participants in the 95th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi more than usual.
For No. 8 Penn State: "So what do you think if USC's top-ranked defense?"
"I've lost count how many times someone has asked about USC's defense," Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark said.
For No. 5 USC: "Penn State beat Oregon State, 45-14. If you're so great, how did you lose to the Beavers?"
"For whatever reason, that game for us was one that was not respected in a sense, and Oregon State proved that anybody who thought that was wrong about the year they had," USC coach Pete Carroll said.
The value of these and other microanalyzed curiosities will be shortly revealed, as the Trojans and Nittany Lions go nose-to-nose on a beautiful Southern California afternoon.
A third well-explored topic: Motivation.
Penn State is playing in its first Rose Bowl since 1995. USC is playing in its fifth over the last six seasons, and the Trojans began the year thinking national championship or bust.
"I would never back away from any opportunity to play [Florida or Oklahoma]," Carroll said. "I think with our defense that we have we can beat anybody. I don't have any question in my mind that could happen. I think Penn State is just as worthy as all of those teams."
That is part of it. It's possible that if one team wins impressively, it will earn a handful of No. 1 votes in the final polls.
As for that USC defense, it enters the game on pace to finish with one of the best statistical seasons in the last quarter century. The Trojans are holding opponents to 7.8 points per game. No team has gone an entire season allowing fewer than eight points per game since Auburn in 1988 (7.2 ppg).
"These guys pack a punch," Clark said. "But I feel our offense does, too. This is going to be a 12-round bout."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
LOS ANGELES -- They are similar. And they are different. Much like the programs they will lead into the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi.
But USC's Mark Sanchez and Penn State's Daryll Clark share an understanding that playing quarterback at their respective schools means every member of a massive fan base is going to have a strong opinion about you.
|Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire|
|Mark Sanchez completed 64.4 percent of his passes this season.|
Sanchez, who ranked 11th in the nation in passing efficiency, is the most criticized quarterback in the country. Clark has been microanalyzed ever since his play was judged as declining following the narrow win over Ohio State, a game in which he suffered a concussion.
Both completed over 60 percent of their passes and they combined for 47 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions, but neither escaped the wrath of highly critical fans, who seem to fondly remember past quarterbacks playing much better.
"There's pressure," Sanchez said. "People expect success here. But that's why you come to USC. You want to be great and you want to measure yourself against those guys."
Those are sentiments the two share, though they arrived at their experiences via different routes.
Clark grew up tough in Youngstown, Ohio. Sanchez comes from the leafy streets of Mission Viejo, Calif. Both came from strong families.
Sanchez was everybody's All-American, the nation's top prep player in 2004. Clark was highly recruited but struggled to academically qualify, which caused many schools to back off, and he had to attend a prep school.
Sanchez challenged John David Booty for the starting job in 2006, but Booty's superior experience carried the day. He stepped in for the injured Booty as the starter three times in 2007, winning twice, but proved to be a streaky passer.
That continued this season. He started the season brilliantly, with seven touchdowns in the first two games and earned mention as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Then he started to scatter periods of inconsistency into his performances.
He started slowly in the loss to Oregon State and threw a bad interception late. He threw three interceptions against Arizona State. He turned in uneven performances against Arizona and UCLA.
Still, criticism doesn't sit well with his teammates.
"People are silly!" guard Jeff Byers said. "We're 11-1. Something had to go right with our offense."
|AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster|
|Daryll Clark has thrown for 17 TDs and run for nine more.|
Clark won a hotly contested battled with Pat Devlin for the starting job in the preseason. He also started fast, throwing nine touchdowns passes while not throwing his second interception until the season's seventh game. The Nittany Lions new "Spread HD" offense became a national sensation.
But then he and that offense struggled mightily in the win over Ohio State. Clark was nine of 23 for 86 yards with an interception in the loss to Iowa and was inconsistent the following week at home against a woeful Indiana squad.
Of course, 341 yards and four touchdowns in the season-finale whipping of Michigan State smoothed things a bit.
"Daryll set the bar very high," offensive coordinator Galen Hall said. "He is probably tougher on himself than we are."
A Rose Bowl victory would probably take the sting off much of the criticism. Both have the opposing defense's attention.
For USC, that means containing Clark the runner as well as Clark the passer -- see nine rushing touchdowns.
"He's a dual threat type of guy," USC linebacker Brian Cushing said. "He can throw the ball long to a receiver or he can tuck the ball and run. Anytime you play against a quarterback like that you have to keep your options open and know that he can hurt you in many ways."
The Penn State players see Sanchez as the point where the Trojans offense starts. Or, perhaps, stops.
"What I see first is his intelligence," linebacker Navorro Bowman said. "He's what makes the USC offense, so he's the guy we have to stop the most."
Sanchez is considering jumping into the NFL draft a year early. Clark appears set to return for his senior season.
But first things first.
"A lot of people don't think we have a chance in this game," said Clark, obviously thinking a lot of people are wrong.
And Sanchez isn't buying the notion that USC will be overconfident playing another Big Ten school -- the Trojans have won eight straight against the conference by an average margin of 28.4 points -- or that they will come out flat because they are bored playing in their fifth Rose Bowl in six years.
"I don't think we'll come out flat; I don't think we'll come out overconfident," he said. "I think coach [Pete] Carroll has got this team just right."
When the smoke clears, at least one of the quarterbacks figures to be completely embraced by his fan base.
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
|AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill|
|Joe McKnight rushed for 105 yards on 12 carries as USC crushed No. 5 Ohio State, 35-3, Saturday.|
LOS ANGELES -- Everyone knew USC's defense was going to be dominant, but after two games its offense isn't too shabby either.
In fact, it's shaping up to be one of the most balanced units in the country.
In the 35-3 steamrolling of Ohio State, the Trojans rushed for 164 yards and passed for 184 yards against one of the nation's premier defenses.
Two weeks before, they rolled up 208 yards on the ground and 350 through the air in the 52-7 assault against Virginia.
It's hard to figure which type of attack -- air or ground -- the Trojans are more proficient in.
"Teams need to prepare for both because we have too many good running backs and receivers who can catch the ball and an O-line that can run block or pass block," said quarterback Mark Sanchez, who tossed four touchdown passes, two of which went to Damian Williams.
"I think our offense is great at both," DT Fili Moala said. "They do a great job of keeping you guessing. They're fast enough to run zone plays and strong enough to come right at you with powers and leads. And that quarterback back there, when he's hot he's hard to stop."
Coach Pete Carroll called the gameplan "beautiful," and it's clear the Trojans used their two weeks of work well.
Sanchez seemed particularly enthused about his 35-yard TD pass to Stanley Havili, which gave USC the lead for good at 7-3 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
Sanchez had studied a number of Buckeyes pressures, particularly ones that used safeties and corners that forced linebackers into pass coverage.
When he saw the Buckeyes show one of those pressures, he exploited it for a score. Havili had about two steps on linebacker Marcus Freeman when Sanchez hit him in stride down the far sideline.
"We ran the play 12 times in two weeks -- the exact same look, the exact same pressure, the exact some formation -- and it worked," Sanchez said. "It was perfect. It felt like we'd done it a million times already."
The offensive line, which replaced four starters, also deserves credit. The Trojans averaged 5.1 yards per rush and yielded just one sack.
So, they can pass block and run block.
"It doesn't really matter if we run or pass, but if you asked any offensive lineman, they'd say they're better at the run game because that's what offensive linemen want to do," OG Jeff Byers said.
During spring practices and early preseason work, the USC defense dominated the offense. The offense started to find its rhythm the week before the Virginia game.
"I don't think they were struggling. they were just playing against us," safety Taylor Mays said. "But, you know, Ohio State is like a No. 1 defense also."
Which means the top-ranked Trojans might be tops on both sides of the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes to power USC to a 35-3 thumping of Ohio State on Saturday.|
LOS ANGELES -- On page 76 of the "Book of College Football's Unwritten Rules", it says: "When USC is ranked No. 1 and stomps on all-comers, the Trojans will feature a leading Heisman Trophy candidate".
It appears that rule will be in effect in 2008. The only question is: Which Trojan will be leading the race for the program's eighth bronze trophy?
Linebacker Rey Maualuga had an original idea when asked about who his team's top candidate should be.
"You are looking right at him," quipped Maualuga, who returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown in the Trojans 35-3 pounding of No. 5 Ohio State. "Unfortunately, quarterbacks always get all the attention."
He then said some nice things about his quarterback and endorsed him. It made Mark Sanchez, who was sharing a stage at the time, start blushing.
Most of the Trojans felt the same way.
"Clearly our defense is our strong point -- there's no question that Rey and [Brian] Cushing are special, special football players -- but if you play defense you can't win the Heisman Trophy," guard Jeff Byers said. "So it's got to be Mark. He fits into that spot so well. And, truth be told, he's good enough to win it."
Sanchez threw four touchdown passes against the Buckeyes and now has seven on the season. His overall numbers -- 17 of 28 for 172 yards with an interception -- weren't spectacular, but he was playing against what was billed as the nation's best defense.
"He's working the offense the way it works," coach Pete Carroll said. "We really can count on him. He's really a big-time player for us already."
While Sanchez is the undisputed leader of the Trojans offense, he might get some competition for the unit's most "special" talent designation.
McKnight scooted and juked and whirled and sprinted for 106 yards on just 12 carries (8.8 per carry) and often left the Buckeyes grabbing air.
"He's so explosive," Sanchez said. "In my head, the only thing I'm thinking about with Joe is get it to him -- quickly and as smooth as possible. When he's got time and a little space, anything can happen. He can light up that scoreboard."
McKnight, however, has a problem. There's only one quarterback, but six other running backs carried the ball against Ohio State.
"Joe is obviously a tremendous football player but we've got a stable full of running backs and it's hard to get enough carries," Byers said.
With the Pac-10 -- other than the Trojans, of course -- having a terrible day Saturday, it doesn't appear the road to another conference title and BCS title game will be too arduous.
That means Sanchez and McKnight likely will be front-and-center all season.
At this point, Sanchez looks like he leads the ticket.
"I think you've got to go with the shot-caller out there -- Mark is well on his way," defensive tackle Fili Moala said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
LOS ANGELES -- A full day's worth of notes and quotes as coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel talked to reporters on both ends of the USC-Ohio State showdown.
Carroll and Tressel don't know each other personally but that doesn't mean they don't know each other.
"We know them through recruiting," Carroll said.
They don't steal prospects from each other's states very often -- Ohio State has three players from California, USC one from Ohio -- but both programs recruit nationally.
Tressel noticed some familiar names when he looked over the USC roster.
"Gosh -- all of those guys were on our wish list," he said.
USC hasn't always won recruiting the recruiting battles either -- see Chris Wells and Ted Ginn, Jr.
CARROLL AND WOODY
The best anecdote of the day was Carroll talking about his year as an Ohio State assistant coach under Earle Bruce.
It just so happens that it was 1979, the season Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl to USC and Charles White.
But Carroll's biggest thrill was looking out a window and seeing former coach Woody Hayes as he walked down the sidewalk.
"I had never seen him before," Carroll said. "So I dropped everything and took off across the parking lot and met him and I introduced myself."
Carroll said it was especially gratifying that Hayes knew who he was. They, of course, talked football.
"To me that was a really special moment," Carroll said.
Tressel to an L.A. audience about the poor performance in the 26-14 victory over Ohio on Saturday: "I've tried not to spend too much time looking back at that... We survived, I guess."
Carroll on the Ohio State-Ohio game:
"I don't think that has anything to do with it... They just won that game a little differently than everybody wanted them to and expected them to."
Tressel on the comments from Ohio State WR Ray Small suggesting that there is a "class" difference between the two schools: "It's disappointing when anyone talks... The only thing I can say about Ray is Ray doesn't have a malicious bone in his body and has no ill-intention... Those of us who speak to the press at times can error... Obviously it wasn't a good thing but he's a good kid."
USC safety Kevin Ellison, who was injured most of the 2005 season, on comparing OSU QB Terrelle Pryor to Vince Young: "I couldn't compare them right now. Vince Young was a totally different level. Terrelle Pryor is a freshman. I'm sure he'll be good a couple of years down the line. But you're talking about Vince Young, the second pick of the NFL draft."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
I really labored over some of these.
QB: Rudy Carpenter, Sr., Arizona State
RB: Jahvid Best, So., California
RB: Jeremiah Johnson, Sr., Oregon
TE: Rob Gronkowski, So., Arizona
OL: Alex Mack, Sr., California
OL: Jeff Byers, Sr., USC
OL: Juan Garcia, Sr., Washington
OL: Max Unger, Sr., Oregon
OL: Andy Levitre, Sr., Oregon State
WR: Mike Thomas, Sr., Arizona
WR: Brandon Gibson, Sr., Washington State
K: Thomas Weber, So., Arizona State
DE: Nick Reed, Sr., Oregon
DT: Fili Moala, Sr., USC
DT: Brian Price, So., UCLA
DE: Dexter Davis, Jr., Arizona State
LB: Rey Maualuga, Sr., USC
LB: Brian Cushing, Sr., USC
LB: Zach Follett, Sr., California
CB: Jairus Byrd, Jr., Oregon
CB: Alterraun Verner, Jr., UCLA
FS: Taylor Mays, Jr., USC
SS: Patrick Chung, Sr., Oregon
P: Keenyn Crier, So., Arizona
KR: Ronald Johnson, So., USC
PR: Sammie Stroughter, Sr., Oregon State
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
One week and it begins...
- Topping the list: the status of Oregon QB Nate Costa. While the particulars don't look good -- the vagueness and "no comment" statements two days after the incident raise eyebrows -- there's still no official word on Costa's injured knee. It's probably a good thing that the running game looked good at Friday's scrimmage.
- It's meet the team at Arizona, and you might want to bring your new depth chart. Is coach Mike Stoops making his last stand -- or is he on the cusp of breaking through? The Tucson Citizen's Anthony Gimino seems to favor the latter.
- Arizona State might have the Pac-10's best cornerback. While he doesn't have talent like Omar Bolden, DT David Smith is the sort of hard-hat plugger most teams would love to have.
- Is Anthony Felder California's forgotten LB? Getting philosophical with the decision to start Kevin Riley over Nate Longshore.
- What about Oregon State's special teams?
- From the Stanford student paper: the Cardinal defense.
- UCLA's QBs just can't get out of the news. Now there's questions about who Kevin Craft's backup might be. And what about this line from Brian Dohn's story: "At one point, Craft threw interceptions on three straight passes, but Chow said he wasn't concerned." Not concerned? Also, this on the OL lineup: "Nick Ekbatani (right tackle), Darius Savage (right guard), Micah Reed (center), Scott Glicksberg (left guard) and Micah Kia (left tackle). However, if Kia cannot play against [Tennessee], Brandon Bennett would start at left tackle." A look at UCLA's "other" CB, Michael Norris. And David Carter gives the Bruins some depth on the DL.
- After all the injury tumult, USC breaks camp feeling pretty darn good. It appears QB Mark Sanchez is a go. USC names team captains: Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Kevin Ellison and Jeff Byers. The 2008 season at a glance. Injury update. And the face of the Trojans defense has two noses.
- Washington center Juan Garcia's foot holds up during a scrimmage, so he should play against Oregon. Just amazing -- kudos to Garcia and the UW trainers. It appears three freshmen will get carries in the Huskies backfield. More from OC Tim Lappano on the skill positions. Afternoon practice notes. And more notes. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Molly Yanity made her own depth chart, so this link is to help Tyrone Willingham get it right.
- Washington State is still a work in progress. That's a polite way of saying Friday's practice was ugly. And what are the remaining questions?