NCF Nation: Will Tukuafu

EUGENE, Ore. -- Quick: Who had the best defense in the Pac-10 last year?

Wrong. It was Oregon.

At least the Ducks had the best defense if you compare only Pac-10 games, which seems reasonable because of the broad range of relative difficulty with the nonconference schedules.

Oregon ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 vs. conference foes in rushing defense (118.6 yards per game), No. 1 in total defense (316 yards per game), No. 1 in sacks (3.1 per game) and No. 2 in scoring defense (22.7 points per game).

(Some snarky sorts might point out that these numbers are skewed for a significant reason: Oregon's defense didn't have to play its offense, which was No. 1 vs. conference foes with 41.7 ppg).

Therefore, it's understandable that some Ducks might be affronted when pundits wonder whether Oregon, once viewed as the consensus conference favorite and a potential national title contender, will go south in 2010 because of the season-long suspension of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

"We took it as an insult because we're not just the quarterback position," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said.

Coach Chip Kelly has this to say about his defense: "We're going to be better than last year."

In one sense, the Ducks must replace four starters: end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Walter Thurmond. But Ward and Thurmond missed significant action due to injury, so their backups actually qualify as returning starters.

Kelly believes he's two-deep at every spot on the depth chart. The loss of a pair of defensive linemen? He ticks off 10 guys he believes can contribute in 2010 and is particularly high on a guy who was a reserve tight end last year: sophomore Dion Jordan, who's moved to defensive end.

Jordan is 6-foot-7, 240 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, according to Kelly.

"I think he's going to be a special, special player," Kelly said. "He's going to be the next really good football player here. He's shown it in just five practices. There are times he's unblockable."

Unblockable is good.

Moving speedy Eddie Pleasant from strongside linebacker to rover gives the Ducks secondary another physical presence -- as the hard-hitting Ward was -- while also opening up opportunities for Bryson Littlejohn, Bo Lokombo, Josh Kaddu and Michael Clay to get on the field at linebacker.

So how does Paysinger anticipate the Ducks defense will be different in 2010?

"We have a lot more speed," he said. "And hunger."

What to watch in the Pac-10 this spring

February, 19, 2010
2/19/10
11:47
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Taking a look at what to watch for as teams head into spring practices, officially ringing the bell on preparations for the 2010 season.

Arizona
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.

The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.

Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.

Arizona State
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.

O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.

The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.

California
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A

What to watch:

Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?

Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.

RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.

Oregon
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.

The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.

Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.

Oregon State
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.

Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.

The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.

Stanford
Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.

Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.

Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.

UCLA
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.

Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.

The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).

USC
Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.

Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).

Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.

Washington
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.

Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?

The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.

Washington State
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.

O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.

Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.

Pac-10 newcomers to watch

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
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Which guys will you start hearing about this spring? And then continue hearing about into the fall?

Here are some guesses.

Arizona

LB Derek Earls, 6-3, 220 and/or LB Paul Vassallo, 6-3, 240

The Wildcats must replace all three starting linebackers from 2009. It's almost certain at least one of these two JC transfers starts.

Arizona State

OT Brice Schwab, 6-7, 310

Schwab, a touted JC transfer who originally committed to USC, is expected to immediately work his way into the Sun Devils' starting lineup, giving their beleaguered offensive line a boost.

California

RB Trajuan Briggs, 5-11, 200

Through the years, Cal has thrived with a tandem of running backs. With the departure of Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen moves up to No. 1. But who's his wingman? Coach Jeff Tedford gushed about Briggs at signing day, and he'll be there to compete this spring.

Oregon

DE Isaac Remington, 6-5, 265 and/or DE Anthony Anderson

The Ducks lost two starting defensive linemen, including end Will Tukuafu. Kenny Rowe is the undersized speed rusher on one side, but can Remington immediately push himself into the mix on the other? And will Anderson step up after making noise as a freshman on the scout team?

Oregon State

WR Markus Wheaton, 6-0, 167

The Beavers don't have any flashy newcomers this spring, but Wheaton, who caught eight passes last year, is a potentially dynamic player who might assert himself this spring.

Stanford

WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, 6-3, 201

Stanford doesn't have any new guys around for spring practices, but Patterson, a touted 2009 recruit who caught one pass as a true freshman, probably senses his opportunity. With Toby Gerhart gone, and quarterback Andrew Luck back, the Cardinal figures to throw the ball more in 2010, which means the receivers will need to step up.

UCLA

TE Joseph Fauria, 6-7, 245

The Bruins lost two quality senior tight ends, but this Notre Dame transfer figures to step right in and compete for playing time.

USC

WR Kyle Prater, 6-5, 200

With the departure of Damian Williams, there will be opportunities for young USC receivers. Prater's big frame would be a nice complement to Ronald Johnson's speed.

Washington

RB Deontae Cooper, 6-1, 185

With starter Chris Polk sitting out this spring after shoulder surgery, Cooper should get plenty of opportunities to make a statement that he's ready to contribute as a true freshman.

Washington State

OT David Gonzales, 6-5,290 and/or G Wade Jacobson, 6-5, 300

Washington State has to get better on the offensive line. These two might begin to fight their way into the starting lineup this spring.

Oregon didn't see this Pryor coming

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
10:45
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[+] Enlarge
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Oregon.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Oregon felt good about its defensive plan for the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

The Ducks watched plenty of Ohio State film. They felt they understood what to expect from the Buckeyes offense. They wanted to run the ball and not take chances in the passing game because sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor was not a confident, consistent passer.

So the plan was simple.

"The plan was to make him throw the ball," Ducks defensive end Kenny Rowe said. "But when he threw it that good, the plan didn't go well."

No, it didn't. Ohio State piled up 419 yards in its 26-17 triumph, while making the Ducks fancy-pants offense look mostly pedestrian.

Pryor threw 37 times -- six more attempts than he had in any game this season -- but the critical problem was he completed 23 of them for 266 yards with two touchdowns and a mostly meaningless interception on a deep ball on third and long.

"It was surprising to us," coach Chip Kelly said. "We felt, watching their last couple of games where they didn't throw it very much, they were rather conservative. They came in and opened it up. Obviously, Terrelle beat us."

Said end Will Tukuafu: "I was surprised. I think [Pryor] was surprised. But they were feeling it. He threw up the right balls to the right guys. They made the big plays."

Not only did Pryor beat the Ducks with his arm, he was able to do things the defense expected but couldn't stop. Pryor also was the game's leading rusher, gaining 92 yards on 20 carries. Most of those yards came on scrambles, many of which featured Pryor just eluding fairly solid pressure from the Ducks.

"He's big and he's fast and he's tough to bring down," linebacker Casey Matthews said.

And that passing and running helped the Buckeyes convert third down after third down -- they were 11 of 21 on the night -- and to possess the ball for 23 more minutes than the Ducks.

"You're breaking your neck for two plays and this guy scrambles and stuff," Tukuafu said. "It's frustrating, but he's a great athlete."

Kelly reiterated that he doesn't care about time of possession. But his quick-strike offense does need the ball. It only ran 53 plays on the night. The Ducks averaged 69 plays per game this season.

"If I were to draw up anything that could stop us, it's keeping the ball out of our hands," tight end Ed Dickson said. "Their offense kept the ball out of our hands."

Pryor kept the ball out of Oregon's hands.

Every Oregon player and coach seemed surprised that Pryor was able to play such a complete game, to look like the dual-threat quarterback that his talent suggested but his play rarely produced.

In the other locker room, however, at least one guy wasn't surprised with Pryor's performance.

"I always thought I could have a game like this anytime," Pryor said.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Oregon's defense doesn't pencil out. It's clearly very good, but it shouldn't be.

The Ducks lost six starters, four of whom were NFL draft picks, from a 2008 defense that ranked 82nd in the nation in total defense and 78th in scoring defense. T.J. Ward was a returning starter at free safety, but he's only recently returned to action after being injured in the first half of the season-opener at Boise State. Cornerback and team captain Walter Thurmond III, generally considered the Ducks' best player, blew out his knee on Sept. 26.

Look at it like this: Name a defensive starter for Oregon.
 
 AP Photo/Chris Carlson
 Linebacker Spencer Paysinger and the Oregon defense have surprised many with their performance so far this season.


Defensive end Will Tukuafu? Good for you. He's long been an underrated player. Clay Matthews? Actually, Oregon's middle linebacker is "Casey" Matthews, but it's the same gene pool, so that's not too bad.

It's a no-name crew that has been riddled by injuries -- Willie Glasper, who replaced Thurmond, also was lost for the year to a knee injury -- yet here Oregon is, ranked 19th in the nation both total defense and scoring defense.

When Washington scored a fourth-quarter touchdown in a 43-19 defeat last weekend, it was the first TD against the Ducks' defense in 15 quarters.

How can this be? Oregon hasn't ranked among the top 40 in total defense since 2004. It hasn't had a "special" defense since 1994, when the "Gang Green" led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl.

There are a lot of explanations, though.

"They're being very aggressive and they've really been aggressive mixing their odd front and their 4-2 front," said USC coach Pete Carroll, whose Trojans visit Oregon on Saturday. "It's been problematic for their opponents. They've had a lot of pressure and a lot of plays in the backfield."

That's true. Oregon ranks third in the Pac-10 and 10th in the nation in sacks (3.14 per game) and is 25th in the nation in tackles for a loss (7.0 per game).

UCLA had just 211 yards and didn't score an offensive touchdown against Oregon. Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said the Ducks play hard, play their gap responsibilities and are good tacklers.

California's only points against Oregon in a 42-3 defeat came after the Ducks fumbled the opening kickoff. The drive totaled minus-8 yards. Coach Jeff Tedford said Oregon has speed at every position, which will be critical in the matchup with the Trojans.

"I think Oregon's defense is going to match up pretty favorably [with USC]," he said.

Washington moved the ball at times against Oregon, but the Ducks recorded four sacks and forced three turnovers, one of which concluded a first-half goal-line stand. Coach Steve Sarkisian said Oregon isn't giving up big plays, which has been a problem in the past.

"They're making teams drive down the field and not get yards in chunks," he said.

As for Oregon's longtime defensive coordinator, Nick Aliotti, he gives a jovial shrug. Why is his defense so good? Beats him.

"If I had the answer to that, I would bottle it," he said.

Maybe it's better chemistry. Maybe the focus and work ethic are better.

Of course, Aliotti is being a bit coy. There have been some scheme tweaks.

Coaches who have played the Ducks, as well as Carroll, note Oregon has diversified its defensive alignments and is running more zone blitzes.

"Yeah, we're doing more of that," Aliotti said after a brief pause. "I'm trying not to give away all our secrets."

Aliotti also admitted he's not trading out personnel groups as much, which can disrupt a defense's rhythm and sometimes lead to confusion. He also talked about the coaching staff being "on the same page," which suggests some staff changes, specifically the addition of defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, have helped.

Linebacker Spencer Paysinger, one of the returning starters you've never heard of but is, nonetheless, a really good player, said he likes how the defense is playing more aggressively and is "able to put bodies on people instead of just dropping into zones."

He's also noticed how the defense's play has turned Aliotti's frown upside down. More than a few Oregon fans have groused about Aliotti's defense through the years because it didn't match the typically high-powered offense. When Aliotti defended his defense, some rolled their eyes.

Those complaints are rarer these days.

"He does have a smile on his face," Paysinger said. "He knows his defense has been lights out the past few games."

While Aliotti clearly is enjoying the defensive renaissance -- he's coached at Oregon 19 seasons, split between three different tenures -- he's also quick to note the season is only seven games old and, oh by the way, USC is coming to town.

He's not ready to talk about this crew as the second-coming of his "Gang Green" unit just yet.

Not that he's ruling out a new nickname at some point.

"Maybe we'll give them something fancy at the end of the year," he said.

Preseason All-Pac-10 team

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
10:05
AM ET

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

What's our preseason projection for the Pac-10? Probably not many shocks here. This mirrors my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

1. USC: The Trojans are No. 1 until somebody knocks them off the mountain. With nine starters back on offense, including what might be the nation's best offensive line, there will be plenty of help for the new quarterback. And do you really think USC's defense won't be elite again in 2009? Come on.

2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.

3. Oregon: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount give the Ducks a strong one-two punch on offense and an athletic corps of linebackers and cornerback Walter Thurmond and end Will Tukuafu will lead the defense. Both lines are questions that, if answered, could push the Ducks to the top of the conference.

4. Oregon State: Rebuild or reload? The Beavers have transitioned to the latter category, which is why most are overlooking a defense that needs to replace eight starters, including the entire secondary, and an offensive line that must replace three first-rate starters. There are two veteran quarterbacks in Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield and the explosive Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- leading the offense, while tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Keaton Kristick lead the defense.

5. Arizona: Losing three offensive mainstays -- quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tackle Eben Britton --- hurts, but the Wildcats should be even better on defense in 2009, and the general feeling is the offense will be solid whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles wins the job. For one, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best target in the Pac-10.

6. Stanford: The Cardinal have lots of guys back -- 17 -- from a team that fell just short of bowl eligibility in 2008. They also have seven home games after playing just five a year ago. The key is passing -- on offense and defense. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is supposed to be the answer for the offense, while an injection of young talent should improve the athleticism in the secondary.

7. UCLA: The Bruins have two big questions: quarterback and offensive line. The defense should be good, led by tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- all three are All-American candidates -- but it won't matter if the running game remains anemic. One big reasons for optimism: five offensive players are again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and tackle Sean Sheller.

8. Arizona State: Not unlike UCLA, Arizona State has questions at quarterback and on the offensive line while the defense looks solid. Senior Danny Sullivan played well in the spring and looks to be the favorite at quarterback, while new faces could key dramatic improvement on the offensive line. If things fall into place, the Sun Devils could win eight or nine games, but it's hard to project that until the offensive line proves itself.

9. Washington: The good news is the Huskies could be the most-improved team in the conference. Of course, it's hard to regress from an 0-12 season. Moreover, Washington could play much better and still have little to show for it because the nonconfernce schedule features LSU and Notre Dame. Still, the return of 18 starters, as well as quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker E.J. Savannah, suggests the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall.

10. Washington State: The biggest hope for the Cougars lies in a potentially improved running game that could keep a defense that is thin on talent on all three levels off the field. That didn't happen last year -- see an offense that ranked 118th in the country that surrendered 38 turnovers, tied for most in the nation. But there's experience on the offensive line and James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy give the Cougars a pair of solid backs. If either Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina provides adequate quarterback play, Washington State might surprise some folks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.

Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.

Such as ...

Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.

California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.

Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.

Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.

Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.

UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.

USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.

Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.

Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We had no idea who Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was at this time last year. Heck, he hadn't even signed, much less played for the Ducks.

Masoli didn't step out of the shadows, though. He was immaculately conceived.

But we did know who Mark Sanchez was. And Jahvid Best. And Brian Price. We just didn't know who they'd become.

We're thinking about guys taking the step up from being a good player to being a star player.

We're thinking about guys stepping out of the shadows and into the light and, to paraphrase the immortal words of Norma Desmond, saying, "All right, College GameDay, I'm ready for my close-up."

Arizona

  • WR Delashaun Dean: The junior will form a solid tandem with senior Terrell Turner. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he's got the size that makes things easy on a first-year starting quarterback. Caught 13 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns in the Wildcats' season-ending wins over Arizona State and BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Arizona State

  • WR Kyle Williams: The senior ranked fourth in the nation in punt returns last season (17 yards per return) and sixth in the conference in all-purpose yards, but he needs to break out as a receiver in 2009. While he only ranked sixth on the Sun Devils with 19 receptions last year, four of those went four TDs and he averaged over 19 yards per catch.

California

  • DE Cameron Jordan: He stepped into the starting lineup when Rulon Davis got hurt, and he didn't play like a sophomore. He finished with 11 tackles for a loss, four sacks and an interception. He and the underrated Tyson Aluala might be the best DE tandem in the Pac-10.

Oregon

  • FS T.J. Ward and DE Will Tukuafu: These two seniors played well last year but mostly in the shadows of rover Patrick Chung and DE Nick Reed. Ward led the Pac-10 in solo tackles (64) and is a lights-out hitter, while Tukuafu recorded 7.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss (fifth most in the conference).

Oregon State

  • LB Keaton Kristick: Sure, he was second-team All-Pac-10, but it sure was hard for a LB outside of USC to get much attention last season. Kristick, a senior, had 14 tackles for loss among his 82 total stops in 2008. He will lead an LB corps that should be the strength of a rebuilding defense in 2009.

Stanford

  • LB Chike Amajoyi: The junior regressed a bit last year after hanging up impressive numbers as a freshman, but he has all the physical tools to be an outstanding linebacker. He's expected to step in for Pat Maynor at weakside linebacker.

UCLA

  • FS Rahim Moore: Moore ranked fourth on the Bruins' defense last year with 60 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions as a true freshman. There's no doubt who the Pac-10's best free safety is -- USC's Taylor Mays -- but Moore may be the second-best guy as a sophomore.

USC

  • WR Damian Williams: He's hardly unknown -- he was the Trojans' leading receiver last year -- but Williams was merely honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2008. In 2009, the junior transfer from Arkansas will be the best receiver in the Pac-10.

Washington

  • WR D'Andre Goodwin: Sure, he was the Huskies' leading receiver last year. But that's like being the leading scorer for the Washington Generals. But with a new pro-style offense being installed and the return of a healthy Jake Locker, Goodwin should see more balls and get more opportunities to show his stuff.

Washington State

  • LB Louis Bland: The undersized freshman -- he's listed at a cornerback-like 5-foot-10, 203 pounds -- was second on the team with nine tackles for loss, and he played a key role in the triumph over Washington in the Apple Cup. His quickness will make him a playmaker on the Cougars' defense in 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

1. California OTs vs. Oregon DEs: The California offensive line is expected to be missing three injured starters and a backup who would have started Saturday against Oregon. While left tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been a steady performer all year, the redshirt freshman will have his hands full with Nick Reed, the Ducks' relentless pass rusher. On the other side, Donovan Edwards, a JC transfer who signed in the late summer, will make his first start and will square off against the underrated Will Tukuafu, who has six sacks. Oh, by the way, it also appears that redshirt freshman Justin Cheadle will be stepping in for Noris Malele at right guard.

2. Mark Sanchez will have his way with the Washington pass defense: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez has been inconsistent this year, particularly on the road -- see his uneven effort at Arizona. But he's not on the road Saturday, and visiting Washington will offer him the most inviting pass defense of any BCS conference team. Moreover, the Huskies probably will be missing injured starting cornerback Mesphin Forrester. Sanchez should put up big numbers and then sit out the second half.

3. Will Washington State open up the offense for quarterback Kevin Lopina?: Lopina completed just 6 of 9 passes for 28 yards against USC in a 69-0 humiliation. It seemed like the Cougars coaches opted for a noticeably conservative game plan because they were worried about getting Lopina hurt and didn't want to risk him re-injuring his back in a game they weren't going to win. With the decision to no longer redshirt J.T. Levenseller -- coach Paul Wulff said Levenseller would play at Stanford -- perhaps the handcuffs will be off Lopina and he will run the entire offense.

4. Does Rudy have any magic left? Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his 39th consecutive start at Oregon State with a bum ankle, no running game and a decimated receiving corps. Last year, he was brilliant in leading the Sun Devils back from a 19-0 deficit against OSU, passing for 361 yards with four touchdowns in a 44-32 victory. It's hard to imagine things will go as well in Corvallis against a high-pressure Beavers defense that probably wants redemption.

5. USC's defense will miss safety Kevin Ellison: Ellison, our midseason defensive MVP, is out two-to-four weeks with a torn MCL, so the nation's best defense is without its headiest player for a few games. That won't matter against the Huskies, but it could in upcoming games with California and Notre Dame. Ellison, who will be replaced by junior Will Harris, is the second starter to go down in the Trojans secondary. Earlier, top cover cornerback Shareece Wright was lost to a season-ending neck injury.

6. Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard will regain his form against Washington State: Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard was mostly awful in the loss to UCLA, completed just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Enter the Washington State defense, which makes everyone look good. While the Cougars are incompetent stopping the run -- 266 yards per game -- their likely attempt to gang up against Stanford's power running game will mean opportunities for Pritchard in the passing game.

7. Moevao and Rodgers: First-team All-Pac-10? Why the heck not? If true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers and quarterback Lyle Moevao, the conference's most improved player, continue to put up big numbers, why wouldn't this pair lead the All-Pac-10 team? Rodgers, in fact, with a conference-leading 116 yards rushing per game, is almost a shoo-in. Moevao leads the conference with 254 yards passing per game, but he likely will need to outplay Arizona's Willie Tuitama and USC's Mark Sanchez down the stretch. But if the Beavers make a run at the Rose Bowl, who's to say he won't?

8. Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli may need to throw to beat Cal: It's been a mostly dry fall in Eugene -- as we all know it NEVER RAINS IN AUTZEN STADIUM! -- but it looks like it's going to be a wet one Saturday in Berkeley. While such conditions may not encourage passing, the Ducks' run-heavy, spread-option offense may find the going tough if it is one-dimensional vs. Cal's 3-4 defense. This is a homecoming for Masoli anyway, so know that he'll want to put the ball in the air to impress family and friends.

9. Will Washington play hard for lame-duck coach Tyrone Willingham? It might not matter if the winless Huskies give USC their best shot -- the Trojans are better at every position. Yet it will be fairly obvious in the early-going how much Willingham's players still care. Will they show some pride and fight for themselves and their outgoing coach? A season's best performance might cause some to wonder where the effort was when it could still help Willingham, but if that is indeed what happens know that a team is tipping its helmet to its coach.

10. Quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will keep Cal in the game with Oregon: It's safe to assume Cal's makeshift offensive line won't be able to consistently handle the Ducks defensive front. If slow-footed Nate Longshore were the Bears quarterback, that would be a huge issue. But Riley can make plays with his feet -- both with rollouts and with scrambles. If the conditions are sloppy, Riley's improvisation skills could become a key element in the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

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

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

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

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

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

Emptying the Pac-10 notebook

October, 10, 2008
10/10/08
7:07
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Factoids, notes and quotes from around the Pac-10...

Curious Stat of the Week...

Which team leads the Pac-10 in third-down conversion rate?

0-5 Washington, at 53.2 percent

Bet you didn't see that one coming.

ARIZONA STATE (2-3, 1-1) at USC (3-1, 1-1)

  • USC is a perfect 8-0 vs ASU this decade, last losing to the Sun Devils in 1999. Over the eight wins, USC has averaged 39.8 PPG.
  • The Trojans are going for their 400th victory at the Coliseum.
  • ASU coach Dennis Erickson has faced USC six times with three different Pac-10 teams, going 1-5.
  • In USC's 44-34 win last year, the Sun Devils mustered just 16 yards rushing and 259 total yards. USC also racked up six sacks.

ARIZONA (4-1, 2-0) at STANFORD (3-3, 2-1)

  • Stanford is only 3-7 at home against Arizona (6-6 in Tucson).
  • Stanford has won four of five in the series.
  • Arizona leads the Pac-10 and is second in the nation in total defense allowing just 226.2 yards per game.
  • Arizona leads the conference in scoring with 43.6 points per game

WASHINGTON STATE (1-5, 0-3) at OREGON STATE (2-3, 1-1)

  • In Oregon State's 52-17 win last year, the Beavers running game accounted for 218 yards and six touchdowns. The Beaver defense picked off seven Cougars passes.
  • Mike Riley is looking for his 50th victory as Oregon State's coach.
  • The Cougars offense has been mostly terrible, but receiver Brandon Gibson ranks second in the Pac-10 in receptions per game (6.0) and third in receiving yards per game (76.7). He's caught at least one pass in 29 straight games, tied with Arizona's Mike Thomas for longest current streak in the conference.

UCLA (2-3, 1-1) at OREGON (4-2, 2-1)

  • UCLA is 14-6 in Eugene.
  • Last year, the Bruins blanked the then-No. 9 Ducks 16-0. The Bruins defense held Oregon -- which lost quarterback Dennis Dixon the week before when it was upset at Arizona -- to 12 first downs and 148 yards total offense and forced four turnovers. UCLA only had 220 total yards.
  • UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft was intercepted four times in the first half of the opener against Tennessee but has thrown just one pick since then and hasn't thrown an interception in three games.
  • UCLA has lost 11 of its last 14 road games and has been outscored 423-160 in those losses, according to the LA Times.

They said it...

Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson on his defense in the second half of last weekend's loss at California.

"We played probably as well as the defense has played since I've been here. We ran to the football, played very physical, very aggressive, created a turnover, did a lot of things and took the run away from them."

USC coach Pete Carroll on Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter

"This guy is going to be a good NFL player. He's going to be a high draft pick I think when guys take a look at him."

Further....

  • Arizona and California own the conference's longest winning streaks: two games.
  • The conference is 13-15 in nonconference games with three remaining (USC and Washington vs. Notre Dame; Washington State at Hawaii)
  • California has intercepted 10 passes in five games -- tops in the conference --matching the Bears total from all of 2007.
  • Oregon State has given up the fewest turnovers in the conference, losing the ball only six times in five games. Washington State has the most, yielding 19 turnovers in six games.
  • Arizona has scored touchdowns in 22 of 28 red zone trips.
  • California freshman punter Bryan Anger is 7th in the nation with an average of 45.1 yards per boot. He's the only freshman ranked among the top-17 punters, 13 of whom are juniors or seniors.
  • Oregon defensive ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu are Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference in sacks (six and five) and tackles for a loss (both with 9.5), and the Ducks are tops in the conference with 18 sacks (3.0 per game).
  • Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim had three QB sacks last week at Arizona, the Huskies first sacks of the season.
  • In 12 Pac-10 games, the home team is 9-3.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Oregon defensive end Will Tukuafu first heard the phrase from his junior college coach, Ken Giovando.

As Oregon backslid in the first half Saturday, making "enough mistakes to last the rest of the season," according to head coach Mike Bellotti, Tukuafu began to repeat the line: Adversity introduces a person to himself.

"Things aren't always going to go our way," Tukuafu said. "But when those things don't go our way, how are we going to react? I think we reacted pretty well today."

More than a few things haven't gone Oregon's way during the last month, but the 16th-ranked Ducks continue to find a way.

Consider the stumbling blocks and the Ducks' response:

  • After losing projected starting quarterback Nate Costa to a season-ending knee injury, Oregon put up 110 points in its first two games behind Justin Roper.
  • Left tackle Fenuki Tupou was suspended for the season opener for receiving improper benefits from an agent, but Oregon pounded Washington, 44-10.
  • When the offense couldn't find the end zone for the better part of three quarters Saturday, the defense put up a wall at its own 40-yard line and wouldn't let Curtis Painter and Purdue cross it.
  • As starting running back Jeremiah Johnson played with a recently separated right shoulder, backup LeGarrette Blount stepped up with 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the second overtime.
  • When Roper went down with a sprained left knee in the first overtime, freshman Chris Harper led the winning touchdown drive.

"We got as close as you could get to losing, but still we got a victory," offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said. "In the end, you're 3-0 and in January and February, no one's going to talk about the Purdue game."

Most of Oregon's mistakes Saturday stemmed from Kelly's unit, but the defense faced its own hurdles. Purdue's Kory Sheets gashed the Ducks for an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage and put his team up 20-3 on the first play of the second quarter.

But from that point, the Ducks' defense locked down. Purdue consistently got good field position but didn't advance past Oregon's 38-yard line on its next 11 possessions. The Boilermakers racked up just 22 yards on 17 plays in the second quarter.

"I challenged the defense to shut them out, and they did," Bellotti said. "They put the momentum on our side."

As Blount walked over to Kelly outside the visitors' locker room after the game, the coach embraced the 229-pound junior and said, "I'm proud of you."

Johnson insisted his shoulder was fine, but Bellotti acknowledged the back wasn't 100 percent. The Ducks needed Blount to step in, just as Roper did for Costa and Harper eventually did for Roper.

Though Jairus Boyd's 87-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter was undeniably the game's turning point, Blount changed field position and ignited the offense with a 72-yard dash from his Oregon's 4-yard line.

"He's one of a kind," Johnson said of Blount. "That's my boy. When I went out, he came in and did an excellent job today."

The heroics from Blount, Boyd and others helped Oregon survive a multitude of mistakes in all three areas of the game. Roper had two passes intercepted in Purdue territory, Oregon lost the turnover battle 4-3 and committed several costly penalties. The Ducks' inability to handle a short kickoff into the wind set up a Purdue touchdown.

Late in the third quarter, Bellotti slammed his headset to the turf after the defense was nearly whistled for illegal substitution on consecutive plays.

"I can't think of a game anywhere that we played that poorly," Bellotti said.

"We weren't nearly as focused," Harper said. "I don't think we had the same intensity we had for Washington or some of those other games. We came out sluggish."

They'll have to be better starting next week against Boise State, and more adversity awaits. Roper is expected to miss the game, meaning Harper or Jeremiah Masoli will start at quarterback.

Relief was the general sentiment after Saturday's win, but there were lessons, too.

"It makes me want to work harder," said Tukuafu, who had two sacks and recovered a fumble. "We want to understand the mind-set now. We faced a little adversity and our mind-set changed. Our work habits, all those things, increased a lot more this week."

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Not to be too serious, but take a moment and remember what day it is. 

  • Arizona surely is sorry to hear the New Mexico QB is struggling
  • Arizona State's tight ends are playing OK, which is a bit of a surprise after significant attrition at the position. Here's a boost for the offensive line. Turns out the "Bring on Georgia" promotion wasn't a conspiracy from Atlanta.  My wife loves Chick-fil-A, so consider this an apology.
  • Maryland may not look good on film, but this is a long road trip for California. Let's hear it for the fullback, who brings out the Best in the Bears running game. For those interested in a review of how the Tree Sitters started sitting, here's a good read.
  • Nice story on Oregon's "other" defensive end, Will Tukuafu, becoming the Ducks' emotional leader.
  • What's wrong with the Oregon State defense?
  • Stanford TE Jim Dray, back from a knee injury, could play against TCU.
  • UCLA might be able to exploit BYU's secondary. Which Kevin Craft shows up at BYU to run the Bruins offense? Speaking of QBs, an update on Ben Olson. And might Moya be Craft's go-to guy?
  • Hey, it's USC -- that means celebrities on the sidelines! DT Fili Moala likes Ohio State's physical style of play. A keyboard battle over the USC-Ohio State showdown. Spicer wants to spice things up.
  • The good news is Washington safety Darin Harris is OK. The bad news is his concussion will sideline him for the Oklahoma game. Also in the story: RB Chris Polk is likely done for the year due to a shoulder injury but the freshman likely will qualify for a redshirt year. Where's the pass rush? Frosh TE Kavario Middleton is stepping up.
  • Washington State is down, but LB Gary Trent is the sort of player who can bring the program back. Former coach Jim Walden asks for patience.
  • Jon Wilner reacts to an Indianapolis Star report on "special admits" for football programs, of which California led the nation.

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