NCF Nation: Joe Longacre
Getting deep into this week's games.
Pressuring the quarterback won't be as easy for Oregon State against Arizona: Oregon State's defensive scheme is all about pressure, and it gave California a heavy dose last weekend, sacking Kevin Riley five times and rattling him many others. The Beavers average 2.8 sacks per game, with ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler combining for 13. But Cal was starting a freshman and sophomore JC transfer at the tackles. Arizona this week will offer junior Eben Britton, a potential NFL first-round draft pick, and senior James Tretheway, who plays beside Joe Longacre, a 37-game starter. The Wildcats haven't been spectacular protecting quarterback Willie Tuitama this year, see 23 sacks yielded. But this is one of the Pac-10's more experienced units, and they won't be cowed by the nation's No. 15 defense.
Stop the run, retake the Axe: Stanford relies almost entirely on its running game. USC knew that last weekend, but burly Toby Gerhart & Co. still rushed for 200 yards against the nation's best defense. The Cardinal can run on just about anybody, so they will try to run against California's 3-4 defense, which ranks fourth in the Pac-10. The Bears hardly dominated the action on the line of scrimmage last week against Oregon State as freshman Jacquizz Rodgers piled up 144 yards on 27 carries. On the other side of the ball, Cal got 116 yards rushing from Jahvid Best against the Beavers, but 65 of those came on one spectacular run. On the plus side for the Bears, though, is the potential absence of Cardinal linebacker Pat Maynor, who missed the USC game with a bruised knee. Still, the ledger leans toward Stanford as the team most likely to run consistently.
Brandon Gibson, you're the best player on the field: Combing the depth charts of Washington and Washington State, it's difficult to see where the pressure points are. Both teams have been so weak across the board in all areas that it's hard to find a strength-on-weakness matchup. It's all weakness on weakness. Both teams are bad on offense (national rankings of 117 (UW) vs. 118) and defense (110 (UW) vs. 112). But at the beginning of the season, Cougars receiver Brandon Gibson was an All-American candidate after finishing seventh in the nation with 107 yards receiving per game in 2007. In last year's Apple Cup, he caught the game-tying and game-winning touchdown passes among his six receptions for 137 yards. The Huskies rank 117th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. While Gibson's senior season -- he considered (and probably regrets not) entering the NFL draft last spring -- has been a massive disappointment, no one in the UW secondary can keep up with him. But can the Cougars get the ball to the best player on the field?
Which quarterback has a Big Game? Or just not a Bad Game? Neither Cal nor Stanford wants to find itself needing to throw to win the Big Game. In his past two games, Bears quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. Riley has seemed to regress as the year's gone on, even as coach Jeff Tedford finally made him the permanent starter. While Stanford's Tavita Pritchard has improved in fits and starts, he completed only 9 of 22 for 111 yards with an interception against USC last weekend. Riley ranks sixth and Pritchard ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Both offensive coordinators want to run the ball and allow their quarterbacks to be game managers and perhaps supply a nice scramble or two. But in games like this, it often seems like a quarterback leaves his fingerprints on the final result, either in a good way or a bad way.
Rodgers can seal up Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year against Arizona: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers can put an exclamation point on the greatest true freshman season in Pac-10 history over the next two weeks. He is on the cusp of becoming the first frosh to win conference Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the conference and ranks ninth in the nation with 123 yards per game. The next highest true freshman? Houston's Bryce Beall at No. 42. He's a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and an All-American candidate. But can he carry the Beavers to the Rose Bowl? Arizona has a decent but hardly dominant run defense (sixth in the Pac-10). The Beavers probably want to limit the plays the potent Arizona offense gets in its home stadium. Which means Rodgers going for 100-plus for an eighth time this year would leave a rose-fragranced afterburn.