Thursday, October 6, 2011
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 6
By Ted Miller
Ten issues to consider heading into the sixth week of games.
Maynard vs. Autzen: California QB Zach Maynard has played at Colorado and Washington, but a night game at Autzen Stadium on ESPN is another level of loud and intense. Further, Maynard and the Bears have been off since Sept. 24, when they scored just three second-half points and had numerous red zone failures at Washington. Against the high-powered Ducks, you have to take advantage of every opportunity. This is a big opportunity for Maynard and the Bears to convince their fans the program is back on track. Ending the Ducks 18-game home winning streak probably would do that.
Zach Maynard has played well in road tests at Colorado and Washington. Thursday he travels to Oregon.
Hazing Hays? Utah QB Jon Hays thought he'd be facing Ouachita Baptist and Truman State this year. But when Nebraska-Omaha dropped football, he jumped at an offer from QB-deficient Utah. Now he gets No. 22 Arizona State and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has four of the Sun Devils' 14 sacks this year. It seems safe to assume that ASU is going to come after Hays, both with blitzes and coverages designed to confuse him. How will Hays handle the pressure of his first start against an extremely athletic defense?
Cougs run D: This is simple. Washington State must slow down UCLA's running game. Why is that notable? Well, UCLA rushed for 437 yards in a 42-28 win last year. While the Cougars are only allowing 127 yards rushing per game, they gave up 227 yards to San Diego State and 161 yards to Colorado, their only two quality opponents thus far. UCLA averages 200 yards rushing per game, but it still isn't terribly efficient throwing the ball. Washington State has a good chance to win if it holds the Bruins to their average rushing numbers.
Luck vs. Colorado secondary: Perhaps the biggest mismatch of the weekend appears to be Stanford QB Andrew Luck -- at home -- facing off with a Colorado secondary that was a big question even before injuries knocked out several top players. Luck completed 23 of 27 throws -- 85 percent -- against UCLA's beaten-up secondary last week. The biggest thing for the Buffs: Don't let receivers get behind you, see Marquess Wilson from Washington State.
Foles, Foles, Foles: Arizona has become a one note team: The passing game with QB Nick Foles, who ranks third in the nation with 375 yards per game. The defense has been bad. The running game has been bad. But Foles showed last week at USC that the Wildcats are not an easy out because of him. Oregon State has been rotten against the pass this year. If the Beavers are going to notch their first win, they will have to slow Foles down -- at least a bit -- or hope the Wildcats (Foles) make mistakes.
Fighting for Neuheisel? UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel sits on one of the hottest seats in college football. In fact, it's unlikely he will survive into 2012 if the Bruins lose at home Saturday against Washington State. You'd suspect his players know this. If the Bruins come out flat and uninspired, that would indicate they don't really care what happens to their coach. And, by the way, they'd also look like spineless patsies. But if they come out with focus and intensity, it would suggest they want Neuheisel to keep his job. It's get good or get gone time, and at this moment it's on the Bruins to show they care.
Clean sheet for Sun Devils? With Utah missing its starting QB, Arizona State has a lot going for it in Salt Lake City. But if the Sun Devils duplicate the sloppy performance they produce during their last road game -- a 17-14 defeat at an inferior Illinois team -- they will lose. The key here: Protect the football, minimize the penalties. Force the Utes and Hays to make plays to win.
James on the loose? Oregon running back LaMichael James had just 91 yards -- 3.1 per carry -- against California last year. His best performance that night, in fact, was his cavalier attitude in front of reporters who asked about his obviously hurt ankle. Then, he said he was fine. This week, he admitted it was a bad injury. James is healthy now. An ESPN audience will be watching. Many aren't including him in the Heisman Trophy discussion, which doesn't make much sense but is the reality. It would be a nice time for one of those tour de force performances we've seen from him on big stages in the past.
Balanced Buffs? Colorado's best -- only? -- chance at Stanford is playing keep-away with Luck. There is no way that can happen if the Buffaloes can't run, which has been an issue this season. Unfortunately for Colorado, Stanford ranks fourth in the nation in run defense, while the Buffs are eighth in the conference in run offense. But if Rodney Stewart gets in a groove early, it will open things up in the passing game. And if the Buffs are forced to pass 50 times? Things will get ugly.
Mannion becomes the Man? Wow, what a month for Sean Mannion. He becomes Oregon State's starter as a redshirt freshman, which seems like a good thing, only he displaced a guy who was widely thought to be pretty good -- Ryan Katz -- and Mannion is in the cockpit for an 0-4 team. It is unlikely, however, he will be presented a better opportunity to win over Beavers fans than this weekend: At home versus a terrible Arizona defense. If Mannion puts up big numbers in a victory, his life -- and coach Mike Riley's life -- will become much easier. If not, the dark clouds of winter will come early in Corvallis.