Thursday, September 22, 2011
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 4
By Ted Miller
Ten issues to consider heading into the fourth week of games.
Pressure Barkley: USC QB Matt Barkley comfortable in the pocket? That's not a good thing for a defense, particularly when he gets to find receiver Robert Woods. USC has allowed just two sacks this year, and Arizona State will be missing its best pass-rusher -- defensive end Junior Onyeali, who's out indefinitely with a knee injury -- so the Sun Devils might need to get creative with blitzes. You know, like they've done with linebacker Vontaze Burfict this year, see four sacks.
Matt Barkley has passed for 892 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception so far this season.
Foles on his own? Arizona QB Nick Foles is a heck of a player but he will not beat Oregon on his own. He needs help from the Pac-12's worst running game, its worst defense and an offensive line that has yielded seven sacks.
Washington D needs to step up: Arizona has the worst defense in terms of yards allowed in the conference, but the Huskies are the worst in terms of points surrendered: 36.7 ppg. And the Huskies are 11th in the conference in yards allowed, too. Coordinator Nick Holt is the conference's best paid defensive coordinator (without the last name "Kiffin," at least), and it was widely believed in the preseason that the Huskies had enough talent to be an A-list defense this fall. The early results have been terrible. A visit from California to start the Pac-12 schedule is a heck of an opportunity for Holt and the UW D to reverse their fortunes.
No slow start in the 'Shoe, Colorado: As pointed out by the Boulder Daily Camera: "The Buffs have been outscored 40-20 in the first half in the first three games and 14 of the Buffs' 20 first-half points came against [Colorado State]." It wouldn't be a good idea to fall behind early against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. For one, having lost 19 in a row on the road, it likely wouldn't help the Buffaloes' confidence. Second, Ohio State's grind-it-out offense is much better playing from ahead than playing from behind -- see below.
Brehaut takes over: Richard Brehaut has an opportunity to decisively win the UCLA QB job. He just needs to put up numbers in a victory at Oregon State. Most observers have long felt coach Rick Neuheisel has favored Kevin Prince in the Bruins' seemingly endless QB competition, but Neuheisel will favor the guy who gets him a W. Brehaut should have a chance against the Beavers' pass defense, which is the worst in the Pac-12.
Osweiler bounce back: ASU QB Brock Osweiler was lights out at home against Missouri but he struggled at Illinois. Now he's back home facing USC, which has beaten the Sun Devils 11 consecutive times. Osweiler needs to regain his Missouri form -- or at least approximate it -- in order for Arizona State to jump to the front of the Pac-12 South Division pecking order.
Ducks make statement: After losing to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, which inspired many national pundits to write Oregon off, the Ducks quietly rolled up a pair of dominant wins at home against inferior foes. But now Oregon opens the Pac-12 schedule on ESPN2 with a chance to make a statement: "We're still here." If the Ducks can match -- or eclipse -- Stanford's impressive 37-10 win in Tucson last weekend, they likely will hush some of the doubters.
Zach Maynard's first big road test: The Cal QB has been solid in the Bears' first three games, including winning at Colorado, but playing at Husky Stadium is not something he's done before, certainly not during his days as the starting QB at Buffalo. While the Huskies' defense has been vulnerable, it's also faced three experienced QBs. Expect the Huskies to throw a lot at Maynard, whose biggest weakness in the early going has been accuracy.
Colorado run D vs. Ohio State: Colorado ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, and it will surely gang up on the run at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had only 209 total yards at Miami last weekend, including 35 yards passing. The way to stop the Buckeyes' offense, who completed a dreadful 4 of 18 passes against the Hurricanes, is to force them to throw. Can the Buffs do that?
Mannion the man? While Oregon State redshirt freshman QB Sezan Mannion saw a lot of action in the first two games, this is his first official game as the Beavers' starter. He's going to get some help with receiver James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni returning to action, but it will be up to Mannion to deliver the ball on time and in the right spot against UCLA.