NCF Nation: Jeremiah Johnson

What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
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Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC during Week 4.

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNC State seems to have a knack for celebrating big upsets, including last year's win over then-No. 3 FSU.
1. Upset city? Raleigh, N.C., has been the site of a huge national upset in each of the past two years. NC State topped then-No. 7 Clemson 37-13 in 2011, then shocked No. 3 Florida State 17-16 last year. The Wolfpack will have the nation's eyes watching them tonight when they host the No. 3 Tigers.

2. A couple of big conference games. Yes, this week's college football schedule is quite underwhelming, but the ACC has a rather nice lineup. The conference has three league games and every team but Boston College is playing this week, plus it has an intriguing nonconference matchup between West Virginia and Maryland.

3. Lee tries to keep it going through the air. Georgia Tech started its four-game division stretch on a strong note at Duke, and it will try to gain some early separation in the race Saturday against North Carolina. Vad Lee threw four touchdown passes against the Blue Devils, and while matching that for a second straight week may be asking a lot, offensive fireworks figure to be the norm again in a rematch of a game the Yellow Jackets won last year by a 68-50 score.

4. Journell's rebound. Cody Journell missed two field goals and an extra point in Virginia Tech's five-point win at East Carolina. Credit the senior for owning his bad day afterward, vowing to never let it happen again. He had entered the contest 36-of-46 for his career, and he will look to get back on track Saturday against Marshall.

5. Option galore. Jim Grobe has said the option is here to stay at Wake Forest. Viewers will see plenty of it in Saturday's game either way, as the Demon Deacons travel to Army, looking to get back to .500 after two straight losses. The Black Knights are currently seventh in the nation in rushing, at 314 yards per game.

6. Hunt's chance to shine. Terrel Hunt took advantage of the extra snaps last week from Syracuse, completing 15 of 18 passes for 265 yards and three scores. He'll get his first career start this week against Tulane, looking to give the Orange a second straight win and get them back to .500 before they open their inaugural ACC slate a week later against Clemson.

7. FCS dark horses. Virginia hosts VMI, FSU hosts Bethune-Cookman and Miami hosts Savannah State. All three look like layups on the surface, but the FCS cannot be looked at as a complete afterthought given some of its early-season successes against the big boys of FBS. Let's not forget NC State's close call two weeks ago with Richmond, either.

8. Maryland CBs. Geno Smith isn't walking through that door for West Virginia, but the Terps will still have their work cut out for them against Ford Childress and the Mountaineers, as they are down starting corners Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle as they look to get to 4-0. Isaac Goins and Will Likely will get the starts.

9. Connette looks for first win. Brandon Connette's first start for Duke was so-so, as he went 15-for-28 for 122 yards as the Blue Devils struggled to move the ball against Georgia Tech. He returns home to face a Pitt team with an experienced secondary that is still looking to live up to big expectations after two games.

10. Pitt backfield looks to keep it up. The Panthers are going for ACC win No. 1, and they seem to finally have some semblance of a ground game after early-season questions. Converted end James Conner ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico, and Isaac Bennett tallied 101 yards and two scores himself. Duke gave up 344 yards on the ground last week against Georgia Tech, though the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense is nothing like Pitt's pro-style attack.
Maryland opens spring practice Saturday, with plenty of questions on both offense and defense. I had a chance to catch up with coach Randy Edsall earlier this week to preview the spring. Here is a little of what he had to say.

Going into the spring what’s your No. 1 priority?

RE: I want to get everybody to do their job, and to do their job to the best of their ability. Offensively, it’s to make sure that we’re going to take advantage of our playmakers and at least come out with eight offensive linemen we feel really good about and see how Ricardo (Young) can do handling all the snaps he’s going to get. Then defensively, for us to come out as a swarming, tough physical defense in terms of trying to find out who our best 11 are and then work to create a top 22.

You mentioned Ricardo, obviously taking the majority reps with C.J. Brown still limited. How do you approach building the chemistry you need on offense and getting everything done to prepare for the fall knowing you don’t have your starting quarterback?

[+] EnlargeMaryland's Randy Edsall
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRERandy Edsall and Maryland begin spring practice on Saturday.
RE: Hopefully from a 7-on-7 standpoint, C.J. gets some of that work. That will be great, but if not, just being on the field and having the presence and seeing things -- there’s going to be plenty enough time between the summer and preseason practice in order to develop chemistry and consistency that we would want out of all those guys.

So the backup job is wide open for competition with Ricardo, and then Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills when they come back?

RE: There’s no question.

In terms of the running back situation, I know Justus Pickett transferred, and Wes Brown is out with an injury. Do you have concerns over depth?

RE: Brandon Ross is going to be the guy who’s the No. 1 guy in the spring, and then Albert Reid, and Joe Riddle, and then we also have Kenny Goins. Kenny is a guy who can be a running back and/or a fullback. Wes had a shoulder done, then had ankle done from an old high school injury, so he’ll be ready to go come the fall. We’ll have four guys there, and then Kenny’s a guy that can carry the ball, too.

What will you work on this spring to try and get the run game going?

RE: That to me all starts up front with the offensive line and I really feel like going into the spring you’ve got Mike Madaras at left tackle, De’Onte Arnett at left guard, then you have Sal (Conaboy) and Evan Mulrooney at center, Andy Zeller at right guard, and Nick Klemm at right tackle. And Silvano Altamirano is a guard, and Ryan Doyle at tackle. My biggest thing is I want to find at least three tackles, three guards and we have two centers that have played. Now we have to get more consistent and do a better job up front. In terms of who we’ll have at quarterback, who we’ll have at running back, who we’ll have at wide receiver gives us some weapons from a skill position. Now we have to do is make sure we’re consistent up front, so that to me is the biggest thing offensively this spring is the offensive line and getting them to be more consistent with their assignments, more consistent with their technique and fundamentals and developing that cohesiveness with guys playing together and hopefully guys staying healthy.

You mentioned the skill position players you do have. At receiver, you’ve got this abundance of talent and depth. How do you see the competition playing out?

RE: Deon Long and then Amba Etta behind him right now. Amba showed us a lot last year and we redshirted him. There we’ve got to have tremendous competition and guys with the ability to make plays. Then on the other side, you’ve got Nigel King, who came on at the end of the year last year, made some plays against North Carolina, and then another freshman Malcolm Culmer, whom we redshirted and then you have Stefon (Diggs) as a slot guy. It gives you a lot of opportunities to get the ball in peoples’ hands who can make something happen after they catch it. Those are the things we have to do to make sure that we find guys who can make the plays on the ball and distribute that. We’ve got some weapons there. So if people want to load the box, you’ve got to make sure we can throw it and catch it, and if they want to worry about some of the receivers we have, then you’ve got to have the ability to run the football.

Is this the best group of talent and depth you’ve had at the skill positions?

RE: Yeah I think so. That’s where we have to get everybody to understand that yeah, they do have ability but they have to go out there and work hard each and every day. If they do that, we’ve got the ability to make a lot of things happen. We’ve got to get the people up front on the offensive line to be really tough, sound, good technicians and competing every play. If we do that, then because of the running backs and because of the receivers we have, that can make their job a little bit easier.

Defensively, you’re losing a lot of your leaders. Where are you looking for the leadership on that group?

RE: We played a lot of people on defense last year so it’s not like we’re going in with guys who haven’t played a whole bunch. But now guys like Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson, Cole Farrand, Darius Kilgo, Matt Robinson, who we’re going to make him an outside linebacker as opposed to a safety, and then Keith Bowers. Those are the guys that have to step up from a leadership standpoint. And then guys like Quinton Jefferson, who played last year as a true freshman. He has to be more productive for us this year and then Anthony Nixon is back, so it’s just a matter of other guys stepping up in those roles. The thing is, we’re going to be playing in the same scheme, so they’ll be better from that standpoint. They’ll be a year older more, a year more mature, a year stronger. But that’s the thing: who are going to be those leaders?

What’s the strongest part of the defense?

RE: The one thing I take a look at in terms of up front, I really think Darius Kilgo has a chance to take his game to another level. Quinton Jefferson, him and Justin Anderson fighting it out at the one end and then Keith Bowers and, Roman Braglio -- a young man with a tremendous motor that we redshirted last year. We’ve got to get one of the safety spots shored up, between Sean Davis and A.J. Hendy and then I think at the corner, Will Likely and Alvin Hill, you may see them because they have a lot of skill set. They can find a way to get on the field, whether as a nickel or dime package. I think the strength of defense is the athletic ability and the ability to be able to run. That’s something that’s going to help us.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Media guides aren't typically known for understatement. More often than not, the descriptive blurb fancies up a player, telling a reader that some guy you've never heard of is among the best at his position. Or that he was ranked in this super-fantastic way by some recruiting analyst.

Under LaMichael James' pleasantly grinning photo, however, is this: "Should figure in the mix at running back at some point in 2009."

 
 Steve Dykes/Getty Images
 LaMichael James put up 183 rushing yards against USC.
Ha! You think?

The Oregon redshirt freshman running back started figuring in the offensive mix fairly quickly, in no small part because starting running back LeGarrette Blount went all Mike Tyson at Boise State.

Playing Robin to Blount's Batman at Boise, he rushed for 22 yards on just two carries. After Blount was suspended, he got 56 against Purdue. What a nice little, 5-foot-9, 180-pound back he was.

Then, boom! 152, 118, 81, 152, 154 and 183.

That 183, of course, came at the expense of the previously impenetrable USC run defense in the Ducks 47-20 throttling of the mighty Trojans. It was his "Hello, world" moment, his stentorian Halloween "Boo!" to the rest of the Pac-10.

Suffice it to say that James, who ranks 15th in the country with 114.75 yards rushing per game while averaging 7.0 yards per carry, is fitting into the mix.

Naturally, Oregon coach Chip Kelly alights on the scary part.

"Each week he keeps getting better and better and he hasn't stopped," Kelly said. "He's a freshman. I don't think you've seen his best yet."

Which means Stanford, which plays host to the Ducks on Saturday, might see a back who's even better than the one who sliced and diced the Trojans like a teppan-yaki chef at a Japanese steakhouse.

Of course, the Ducks' spread-option, which piled up 613 yards against USC and ranks ninth in the nation in scoring (35.6 points per game), isn't all about James.

"He's very, very, very talented," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "This team is red-hot. The execution was at the highest level that I've seen anybody run the spread-option -- the speed in which they do it."

James hails from Texarkana, Texas. The Pac-10 blog has never been there, but it's reasonable to imagine that Eugene is probably a bit different than James' hometown. There's the weather, of course. Belt buckles are probably a bit larger in Texarkana, and the hair a bit longer in Eugene. And then there are the Texarkana football fans who gave James a quizzical look when he announced he was going to play for the Ducks.

James picked Oregon over TCU, Minnesota and Oklahoma State in large part for the pure adventure of going someplace exotic.

"I just wanted to be different," he said. "I like the challenge. If someone tells me I can't do something, I feel like I need to prove it. I want to be the person who went to Oregon and made it."

He's certainly doing that.

James generated a good deal of positive buzz during his redshirt year, but the Ducks felt no need to play him with Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount leading the nation's No. 2 rushing attack.

Entering 2009, James was projected as the "lightning" backup to the thunderous, 240-pound Blount in the "Oh Le-La!" backfield, but things -- you may have heard -- changed fairly quickly when Blount melted down at Boise State.

Now Blount is, apparently, about to return from his suspension. That could mean Blount will take carries away from James.

"I don't care about the carries," James said. "As long as we win the game, I'm very happy."

That might sound like potentially empty talk, but James said Blount is "like a brother" to him. He pointed out that they ran post-practice gassers together this week in anticipation of Blount's return. He said Blount has received a bum rap nationally based on one horrible incident.

"LeGarrette is not that type of person. He's a great person," James said.

James almost certainly will remain the No. 1 option whenever Blount returns. He's gone from "in the mix" to being the main course.

Kelly said he thought James had a chance to be special. Just not this special, this quickly.

"I thought he was going to be a really good player," Kelly said. "Did I think he was going to run for 180-something against USC? No."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Lumbergh's gonna have me come in on Saturday, I just know it.

  • Former Michigan quarterback Steven Threet talks about his transfer to Arizona State.
  • Here's why former Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson wasn't drafted. By the way, did any of you think Johnson looked slow when he went 76 yards for a touchdown in the Holiday Bowl? Another day for the defense at Ducks spring practice.
  • The Oregon State offensive line is a work in progress. It's good to have two good quarterbacks ... or is it?
  • Check out highlights of Stanford's spring game.
  • Who helped themselves this spring at USC?
  • Washington State feels good about the foundation it built this spring. Thorough analysis of where the Cougars stand, position by position.
  • Husky Stadium won't get funding for a much-needed renovation because of a "psychological disconnect," Washington AD Scott Woodward told the Seattle Times. And it appears that there's some bad blood between Washington and Washington State over the issue. Said Woodward:

"The most disappointing thing about it is that [WSU president] Elson Floyd and [WSU athletic director] Jim Sterk didn't do anything to try to contain that little group of Cougars that were out there doing that. It was a shame that they didn't show leadership or courage to curtail something like that."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It looked like a potential Oklahoma State blowout. Then it became a swirl of momentum shifts.

 
  AP Photo/Denis Poroy
  Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson, left, celebrates with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli after Johnson's 76-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State during the first quarter of the Holiday Bowl.

And then Oregon just asserted itself with a physical brand of Pac-10 football that wore down the Cowboys.

In a battle of big-time offenses, the Ducks pounded the Cowboys with 307 of their 566 yards coming on the ground in a 42-31 victory in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

As for defense, the Ducks were vastly superior.

Before the game, a few of the Ducks defensive players -- namely All-American end Nick Reed -- groused about not getting respect.

When the Cowboys jumped to a 17-7 first-quarter lead, gaining nearly 200 yards in the process, their gripes made them look silly.

But Oklahoma State, which rushed for only 118 yards, scored just 14 points over the final three quarters.

So the Ducks defense, which pounded quarterback Zac Robinson and took control of the line of scrimmage, deserves nearly as much credit as an offense that scored 35 second-half points.

Now there is a huge qualifier: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was the best player on the field in the first half. But he hurt his knee with about four minutes before halftime and, though he shifted in and out of the lineup, he wasn't the same player afterwards.

Bryant caught 13 passes for 167 yards but was a non-factor after the injury, and Robinson looked lost without him.

Meanwhile, Ducks sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, clearly out of sorts during the early action, carved up a physically overmatched Cowboys defense in the second half. He earned game MVP honors by rushing for 99 yards with three touchdowns -- running over Cowboy tacklers multiple times -- and passed for 259 yards and a touchdown.

The Ducks, ranked 15th in the final AP poll, finish the season at 10-3 -- their fourth 10-win season under coach Mike Bellotti -- and should receive top-10 consideration because of their mastery of the No. 13 Cowboys.

With the Pac-10 improving to 3-0 in the bowl season with two more to play, the so-called down season in the conference is looking more and more like a fluke of ambitious nonconference scheduling.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Three days until the next Pac-10 bowl game. Be strong.

  • Miami couldn't stop California's Jahvid Best, and a Miami columnist raises an eyebrow at the Bears' play calling. Jake Curtis does an outstanding job tying a bow on Cal's season and Emerald Bowl win.
  • Oregon and Oklahoma State are similar in one way: They both benefit hugely from a sugar daddy booster. Good news for the Ducks: Running back Jeremiah Johnson returned to practice.
  • With no Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State needs Ryan McCants to step up. Big. And there's little question where the Beavers' defense will be focused.
  • It appears USC won't have fullback Stanley Havili or safety Kevin Ellison for the Rose Bowl, which is two big hits.  Here's a reason for quarterback Mark Sanchez to return for his senior season. Know how USC has, at times, struggled against mobile quarterbacks? Interesting tidbit from this story on Penn State:

With backup quarterback Pat Devlin's departure to Division I-AA Delaware earlier this month, [quarterback Daryll] Clark likely won't run as much against USC. If he were to be injured in the Rose Bowl, the Lions would be down to wide receiver Derrick Williams, who has taken direct snaps from the shotgun in the Wildcat formation, and Paul Cianciolo, who has played in just three games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Ah, bowl time. I feel like I've missed out on a lot of the early fun from a lot of great games already.

The Big 12 finally starts on Monday night when Missouri faces Northwestern in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

We'll have Oklahoma State and Oregon Tuesday in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl in San Diego and Kansas and Minnesota in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., on Dec. 31.

  • How Missouri handles the stinging disappointment of another Big 12 championship game loss: The Tigers say they are intent on finishing strong, becoming the first team to win 10 games in back-to-back seasons in school history. But they have struggled defensively at the end of the season, allowing 102 points in losses to Kansas and Oklahoma. Northwestern's offense shouldn't prove troublesome, considering the Wildcats scored at least 28 points in a game only once in their final nine games of the season. What Missouri defense will show up in its bowl game?
  • The end of an era at Missouri: Chase Daniel and Chase Coffman will end illustrious careers with the Tigers, along with offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, who is off to his new job as head coach at Wyoming. Jeremy Maclin likely could be playing his final college game. This potent offensive mix has been the most productive offense in the school's recent history. Could they have one more huge outburst left in them in their final game together?
  • Better health for the Jayhawks: Key players like Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and Todd Reesing were banged up most of the second half of the season for Kansas. After a month of rest and playing in the warm Arizona climate, will the potent Kansas trio be ready to take advantage of slumping Minnesota? The Gophers arrive with a four-game losing streak, compared to Kansas' excitement after a thrilling upset victory over Missouri in the Jayhawks' season finale.
  • Can the Jayhawks protect Reesing?: When Kansas was at its most successful offensively this season, Reesing was afforded protection and Sharp was a consistent runner. But the Wildcats often struggled to do that against the Big 12's power teams. It will be critical for Kansas redshirt freshman tackle Jeff Hatch to protect Reesing's blind size from Minnesota defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg, who led the Gophers with nine sacks.
  • Oklahoma State's defense without Tim Beckman: The Cowboys' former defensive coordinator left immediately for his new job as head coach at Toledo, leaving Mike Gundy without a coordinator for the bowl game against Oregon. First-year defensive line coach Glenn Spencer takes over Beckman's job of coaching linebackers. A game plan has been formulated with his work along with that of cornerbacks coach Jason Jones and safeties coach Joe DeForest. It could provide a big challenge against an Oregon offense that ranks fourth nationally in rushing, seventh in scoring and eighth in total offense.
  • A Holiday Bowl of points: Want to see a bowl game where the two teams combine for triple digits in points and into the thousands in yards between them? This could be your game. Oklahoma State features a talented array of offensive weapons like quarterback Zac Robinson, wide receiver Dez Bryant, running back Kendall Hunter and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Oregon will counter with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running backs Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount and tight end Ed Dickson. Considering that both teams have scored at least 40 points six times apiece this season, brace for a shootout in San Diego. Who needs a San Diego delicacy like fish tacos when you can gorge yourself on a delicacy like this?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Sure, the Big 12 couldn't fill all of its bowl agreements. Fans in Houston and Shreveport will have to do without a Big 12 representative in their bowls this season.

But the conference appears to have been situated in some winnable games. Early odds have not been released, but it would be surprising if more than a couple of Big 12 teams were underdogs in their games.

With that being the case, the Big 12's national stature may be riding on a big bowl season. Because if teams from the conference collectively fail this season, it will be presumed as little more than a pass-heavy league where defense isn't played.

Here's my own unofficial listing of the attractivness of the conference's seven bowl games this year.

1. BCS Championship Game
No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Florida, Jan. 8, 8 p.m., FOX: This game has everything. It's the battle between two of three best scoring offenses in the country. Two likely Heisman finalists in Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow. And Bob Stoops needs a victory to restore some of the national lusture to his program -- against the school where he first emerged as a national name.
2. Fiesta Bowl
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 10 Ohio State, Jan. 5, 8 p.m., FOX: The Longhorns aren't exactly excited to be in the desert. But an impressive victory and a lackluster national championship game might give them an argument for a shared national title. The game will pit two traditional powers. And unlike most Big 12 games this season, defense won't be an afterthought.
3. Holiday Bowl
No. 13 Oklahoma State vs. No. 17 Oregon, Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN: I can't wait for this game. Jeremiah Johnson vs. Kendall Hunter. Phil Knight vs. T. Boone Pickens. Pistol Pete vs. that crazy Duck mascot. This one will be like a game we've seen in the Big 12 a lot this season. First team to 50 points wins in a game where the two teams may combine for more than 1,000 yards.
4. Cotton Bowl
No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 25 Mississippi, Jan. 2, 2 p.m., FOX: It should be quite a show with Mike Leach and Michael Crabtree helping usher out the Cotton Bowl's era at the old stadium in Fair Park. The two teams had shootouts in 2002 and 2003 in an earlier series and I'm expecting a similar game in this one.
5. Alamo Bowl
No. 21 Missouri vs. No. 23 Northwestern, Dec. 29, 8 p.m., ESPN: The Big 12's North champions limp into this game coming off a two-game losing streak. And the game will be played in the Alamodome, a place where they were they lost the Big 12 title game last season. But Chase Daniel's final collegiate game promises to be a festive one, particularly when it's in his home state.
6. Gator Bowl
Nebraska vs. Clemson, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., CBS: This one will pit Nebraska's underrated offense against a Clemson defense that ranks in the top 17 teams in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. But Clemson will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator and Roy Helu Jr. has been running strongly in recent games, likely given the Cornhuskers a slim edge.
7. Insight Bowl
Kansas vs. Minnesota, Dec. 31, 5:30 p.m., NFL Netwo
rk:
The Jayhawks will toast their first back-to-back bowl appearances in school history by meeting a Minnesota team that lost its last four games and finished 91st in total offense and 104th in rushing. If the Kansas secondary can hold up, Mark Mangino could have his team in line for its third-straight bowl victory.

Dec. 30, 8 p.m., (ESPN)

Oklahoma State take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: For followers of offensive fireworks, this might be one of the most intriguing bowls all season.

Both teams rank among the top eight in total offense and scoring, and among the top seven teams nationally in rushing. Oklahoma State's high-powered attack rang up at least 55 points on five different occasions. And Oregon scored at least 54 points five times this season and scored 120 points in its last two games,

The balanced Cowboys will be making their first trip to San Diego since Mike Gundy led his team there as a quarterback in 1988. Kendall Hunter led the Big 12 in rushing, and playmaking wide receiver Dez Bryant ranked third in receiving yards and third in punt returns.

But a struggling Oklahoma State defense that allowed 134 points in its last three games will be tested by a productive Oregon offense keyed by productive running backs Jeremiah Johnson (219 yards in the season finale against Oregon State) and LeGarrette Blount, who needs only 72 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season. Oklahoma State is very strong in the trenches offensively, but will be supremely test by Oregon defensive end Nick Reed, who ranked second nationally in sacks and tied for fourth in tackles for losses.

This game could hinge on special teams and Oklahoma State might have an edge there with punter Matt Fodge and kick returner Perrish Cox in featured roles.


Oregon take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: A matchup between ranked -- and similar -- teams that should feature a lot of points.

Oregon ranks seventh in the nation in scoring (41.92) and Oklahoma State ranks eighth (41.58). The Ducks rank fourth in rushing (278 ypg); the Cowboys, seventh (256).

How about stopping the other? The Ducks are 24th vs. the run (119 ypg); the Cowboys are 27th (124). Oregon ranks 78th in scoring defense (28 ppg); the Cowboys rank 70th (27 ppg).

If there is a major difference between the teams, it's that Oklahoma State is a much more consistent passing team, with quarterback Zac Robinson ranking fourth in the nation in pass efficiency while throwing to the extremely dangerous Dez Bryant, who's hauled in 74 passes for 1,313 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for 572 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games of the season, but he was inconsistent passing much of the year.

This is perhaps the most important bowl for the Pac-10 in terms of perception. If the Ducks manage to win, the maligned conference would prove that it's not just USC and nine dwarfs.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 Tom Hauck/Getty Images
 Jeremiah Johnson ran for 219 yards and a score for the Ducks and Oregon all but crushed Oregon State's hopes of going to the Rose Bowl with a 65-38 victory Saturday.

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- What came out of the Oregon locker room minutes after the Ducks rumbled through Oregon State's Rose Bowl plans was mostly predictable: It was about us, not them.

One way to make the predictable post-game locker room chatter resonate, however, is to actually make it about you and not them. And the Ducks made it all about their super-special selves by putting on an extraordinary offensive show in a 65-38 track meet where they were a lot faster.

They rolled up 694 total yards against the nation's 15th-ranked defense by posting 10 plays of more than 20 yards and eight of more than 35 yards.

"Our offense, obviously, could not be stopped," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti explained.

And that doesn't include defensive touchdowns of 40 and 70 yards.

The Ducks rushed for 385 yards against a defense that previously yielded just 112 yards per game. The Ducks passed for 309 yards against a defense that previously yielded just 178 yards per game.

And as fancy as the Ducks were, they didn't turn the ball over.

"I don't know how they make these impossible plays," Oregon strong safety Patrick Chung said. "One pass, T-Scott is gone. One block, Jeremiah is gone. It's an explosive offense."

"T-Scott" is receiver Terence Scott who hauled in a 76-yard touchdown pass that made the count 51-31 early in the fourth quarter.

"Jeremiah" is running back Jeremiah Johnson, whose 83-yard touchdown run overshadowed his 79-yard run that didn't go for a touchdown. Johnson needed just 17 carries to net 219 yards, the biggest individual rushing total in the 112-year history of the Civil War.

While Oregon has run well all season -- its 268 yards rushing per game ranked sixth in the nation -- it's the recent development of the passing game that has led to 120 points in the last two matchups.

Sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a first-year JC transfer who began the preseason at No. 5 on the depth chart, completed 11 of 17 for 274 yards with three touchdowns.

"Everybody was up in arms a couple of weeks ago -- everyone was booing him -- but he doesn't pay attention to that," offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said. "He has as strong an arm and as quick release as anybody I've ever seen."

But this was Masoli's and the offense's best all-around show of the season. In previous critical Pac-10 showdowns vs. USC and California, the Ducks only scored 26 points combined.

"I think we were lacking continuity," offensive guard Mark Lewis said. "We had all the pieces in place but we may not have trusted each other as much."

Suffice it to say, there was trust in a gleeful locker room.

The Ducks, who will go to the Holiday Bowl unless UCLA upsets USC next weekend, ended a two-game losing streak in the series and won in Corvallis for the first time since 1996. OSU would still go to the Rose Bowl if UCLA beats USC.

Oregon State trailed 37-17 at the half and narrowed the margin to 13 points three times in the second half. But they couldn't stop the Ducks.

"I don't have anything I can put my finger on or any excuses -- nothing," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "Oregon played better than the Beavers tonight."

The Beavers piled up 463 yards themselves, but only 89 of those yards came on the ground. With running back Jacquizz Rodgers on the sidelines, the Ducks made OSU one-dimensional.

"That was a big loss for them," Chung said. "He's a very good running back."

But this ended up not being about the Beavers, whose fans started bolting when tight end Ed Dickson hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Masoli with four minutes left.

The Ducks stole the spotlight.

Moreover, after endless national chatter about how down the Pac-10 is this season, there were a lot of eager grins among the Ducks about the Holiday Bowl, which will be played against the No. 3 team from the Big 12.

Fancy Big 12 offenses? We shall see.

"Everything is starting to plug into place for us," Lewis said. "It will be interesting to see how the Holiday Bowl turns out."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Wow, this one went all to pieces for Oregon State.

Oregon State's defense, ranked 13th in the nation, entered the day giving up 289 yards per game. The Ducks had 281 with 8:24 left in the second quarter.

They finished the half with 442 and lead 37-17 at the break

Penn State, in its 45-14 win over Oregon State on Sept. 6, only had 454 total yards, the most the Beavers had previously given up this season by 77 yards.

So, yeah, the Beavers defense is having a horrible, rotten day.

Ducks running back Jeremiah Johnson has 203 yards on 12 carries, his biggest chunks coming on runs of 83 and 79 yards.

That almost makes quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's 8 of 14 for 155 yards with a touchdown seem pedestrian.

Things started to turn when a pair of OSU trips inside the Ducks 10 yielded only three points.

Of course, the Ducks saw a pair of impressive drives inside the Beavers 10 end in short field goals, but they also were in the midst of exploding for 20 second-quarter points.

If there is one thing the Beavers can draw hope from it is this: The Ducks led Arizona 45-17 at halftime two weeks ago and barely held on for a 55-45 win.

The Beavers are going to need a miracle to earn their first Rose Bowl invitation in 44 years.

Perhaps coach Mike Riley will go with Sean Canfield in the second half, though Moevao did lead a 48-yard touchdown drive in 34 seconds to close the first half.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- The Roses are going to dry up and blow away if Oregon State can't slow down this Oregon offense.

The Ducks, in a bit of a surprise, came out throwing. Then they ran. Both types of attack yielded big big plays.

On their first touchdown drive, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for 69 of the 80 yards.

A few weeks ago, Masoli's passing was drawing boos from his home fans.

Then, after the Beavers cut the Ducks lead to 10-7, Jeremiah Johnson got great blocking on the perimeter and sprinted 79 yards to the Beavers 8-yard line. His sidekick, LeGarrette Blount, rumbled in on the next play to make it 17-7.

The Ducks owned a 198-88 advantage in total yards in the first quarter.

Rose Bowl dreams won't survive that.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Turnovers are always critical. But what you do with them is often just as important.

California got better value out of Oregon's three turnovers than the Ducks got out of the Bears' three turnovers, and that's why Cal walks away with a sodden 26-16 victory headed toward a key showdown at USC next Saturday.

The Bears had two touchdown drives of less than seven yards due to an Oregon interception and fumbled punt. They also got a safety on a snap that sailed over the Oregon punter's head.

That's 16 points.

Meanwhile, the Ducks transformed Cal's miscues into just six points (they botched the PAT).

Here's another crushing mistake: Trailing 19-16 but with all the momentum on their side, Oregon faced a third-and-1 on the Bears 10-yard line.

But the Ducks were flagged for a false start and couldn't convert.

Matt Evensen then missed a 29-yard field goal to tie the game.

And the momentum swung away to Cal for good.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- It didn't take long to erase the notion that an angry USC was going to take out its frustrations by physically manhandling poor, wide-eyed Oregon.

The Trojans weren't going to regain their mojo, lost during a disastrous performance at Oregon State, just by whipping themselves into a frenzy. They were going to have to play soundly and make plays. They did that in the first half. At times. And at times they didn't.

At times, in fact, they looked just like the sloppy, disjointed crew that lost its No. 1 ranking and had much of the college football nation writing them out of the national title picture.

But when things clicked into place -- my, oh, my.

USC started to look like the team that buried Ohio State three weeks ago in the second quarter, when it exploded for 24 unanswered points to jump ahead 27-10. Mark Sanchez's halftime numbers: 13 of 18 for 233 yards and three touchdowns.

The technical term for that is: really good.

Let's not forget a very important fact about the Trojans shot at redemption: It's coming against a very good team that, when it can keep a quarterback healthy, is as potent on offense as anybody in the nation.

It was hardly a picture-perfect for USC.

The Trojans gave up 179 yards to the Ducks, who were 5 of 11 on third downs. They were flagged seven times for 61 yards, three times extending Ducks drives that appeared over.

But things seemed to take a USC turn after, on fourth and 2 from the Ducks 34, Sanchez found a wide-open Damian Williams for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10.

The Trojans get the ball to start the second half, and another touchdown could make things very difficult on Oregon. But don't be too quick to count out the Ducks. Their offense works at a fast pace, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (12 of 19 for 103 yards) has looked solid.

There may be some plot twists remaining.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It was a terrible weekend for the Pac-10. The conference went 3-7 overall, California and Arizona State were upset and likely will fall out of the national polls and UCLA and Washington gave up 114 points combined in blowout defeats.

So, not much in the way of helmet stickers.

USC QB Mark Sanchez: It's not just that he tossed four touchdown passes in the 35-3 win over No. 5 Ohio State. It's the way he has embraced a leadership role on the team. It's clear that he commands respect from both offensive and defensive players.

The USC defense: Ohio State had 177 yards and 13 first downs at halftime. The Buckeyes gained just 30 yards and earned two first downs in the second half. The Trojans also forced three turnovers, with linebacker Rey Maualuga returning one 48 yards for a score. 

Oregon's run game: LeGarrette Blount rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and Jeremiah Johnson added 17 carries for 96 yards as Oregon rushed for 306 yards in its 32-26 overtime win at Purdue. The Ducks entered the game averaging 332 yards rushing per game, so they apparently were a little off.

Oregon State QB Lyle Moevao: Moevao completed of 20 of 34 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions as the Beavers bounced back from a drubbing at Penn State with a 45-7 win over Hawaii in front of their relieved home fans.

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