Thursday, October 14, 2010
What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 7
By Ted Miller
Issues to consider heading into the seventh week of games.
1. Top half, bottom half: Here's a guess that the winner of California's visit to USC will finish in the top half of the Pac-10, while the loser will end up in the bottom five. While, obviously, any team can make a late-season run -- or do a late-season face plant -- both these teams seem to be at a crossroads. USC is coming off two defeats on last-second field goals. California is riding a little momentum after breaking a two-game losing streak. While neither team looks capable of running the table, the winner could be headed for eight or nine wins, the loser six or seven.
An efficient performance by Cal's Kevin Riley at USC could mean the difference between finishing in the top half or bottom half of the conference.
2. Life after James: Oregon State has already played -- and won -- a game without receiver James Rodgers this year (Arizona State). But now, after Rodgers blew out his knee, the Beavers head to Washington with an offense that must be re-tooled without him. Rodgers did so many things for the Beavers, from fly sweeps to deep routes. He also was a vocal senior leader. His absence likely means QB Ryan Katz will have to take a more prominent role in terms of leadership, which shouldn't be hard considering the way he's played over the past two games. It will be interesting to see what tweaks the Beavers' offense will make without Rodgers. Don't be surprised to see Jacquizz Rodgers' number get called more often against the Huskies' struggling run defense.
3. Tuel vs. Arizona's pass defense: Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel has been impressive of late, passing for 556 yards and three TDs in the past two games against solid pass defenses -- UCLA and Oregon. In fact, the Cougars rank fifth in the conference with 252 yards passing per game. Arizona's pass defense was ranked among the nation's best until it was shredded last week by Katz. If the Cougars have any chance for an upset, it will be with Tuel passing the ball to his better-than-you-think corps of receivers.
4. Riley vs. the Trojans' secondary: USC has struggled on defense as a whole this year, but it is much worse against the pass -- see a young secondary that tackles poorly -- than against the run -- see a talented, if thin, front seven. Last week, Cal's senior QB Kevin Riley had a forgettable game passing, but he's going to have to throw well to win at USC. The Trojans rank 116th in the nation in passing defense (287.5 yards per game), so that is a weakness Riley must attack. While Riley has been inconsistent throughout his career, he also has posted plenty of efficient performances. He'll need one of those for the Bears to win.
5. Locker redemption II? Washington QB Jake Locker was sick last weekend against Arizona State and it showed in his play. He should be better this weekend. So, does that mean the return of the fired-up, running-and-gunning Locker who led the Huskies to victory at USC? Oregon State has improved on defense the past couple of weeks, but it has struggled at times to pressure the QB and stop offenses on third down. It also has given up a lot of passing yards. A marquee performance from Locker could get the Huskies season -- and dimming bowl hopes -- back into the sunshine.
6. Letup for Arizona; Coug opportunity? Arizona is coming off a frustrating loss to Oregon State that knocked it out of the top-10. It's possible that the Wildcats will still be nursing their wounds and won't be entirely focused on a Washington State team that, let's face it, still doesn't scare anyone, despite a couple of competitive performances. The Wildcats beat the Cougars 48-7 last year, and that result might block the players' ears when coach Mike Stoops is yelling about avoiding a letup that could lead to a massive upset. The Cougs have clearly improved this season. Stoops says he can see it on tape. The question is: Will his players see that too and take the game seriously enough to avoid the upset?