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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Pac-10 internal affairs: Rudy may be running (limping?)

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Will Arizona go small and get big?: USC's defense hasn't allowed a point in 10 quarters. It's ranked No. 1 in scoring defense and No. 2 in total defense. In other words, the Trojans have the nation's best defense. Only one team had success of any kind against them and that was Oregon State, which used a balanced attack to gain 343 total yards in a 27-21 victory. Balance is the key. Without at least a threat to run, an opposing quarterback is simply fresh meat for a fast USC defense, which can then tape its ears back in the pass rush. The Beavers, however, gashed the Trojans with diminutive true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers, who used his 5-foot-7 frame to his advantage instead of disadvantage. After the game, the Trojans defenders actually complained that they couldn't find Rodgers amid the crowd of large bodies. Just so happens that Arizona boasts two speedy, undersized backs. Freshman Keola Antolin (5-foot-7) burst onto the scene with 149 yards rushing on 21 carries with three touchdowns in the 42-27 win over California. He stepped in for Nic Grigsby (5-foot-10), who fumbled in the first quarter, but Grigsby is solid when he holds onto the football -- see 627 yards rushing and nine touchdowns this year with a 5.9 yards-per-carry average. Considering the Wildcats' offensive line is a more experienced group than the Beavers' was, the question is whether the Trojans have learned to find the little guys who are trying to slice them apart.

Ducks foresee sack time with Rudy: In Oregon's 35-23 win over Arizona State last year, the Ducks sacked Rudy Carpenter nine times, including 3.5 takedowns by end Nick Reed. To say the least, it was a long day for Carpenter. The problem for him this go-around is there are abundant reasons to believe he will be again running for his life ... or limping for his life, considering he's nursing an ankle sprain. The Sun Devils have no running game to slow down Oregon's pass rush; they rank 117th in the nation in rushing. While the inexperienced offensive line has mostly pass protected better than last year's unit that surrendered 55 sacks, it still has yielded 2.5 sacks per game. Meanwhile, Reed is back, leading the Pac-10 with eight sacks this season, and his opposite end, Will Tukuafu, is just behind with six. In fact, Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.57 sacks per game. So there's your game: Can Rudy get enough time to pick on the Ducks hobbled secondary? Or will he hobble off the field himself?

Washington's players can make a statement on their feelings for Tyrone Willingham by playing hard vs. Notre Dame: It's not hard to pick apart what's gone wrong with Washington during the Tyrone Willingham Era. That's been going on ad nauseum for nearly two years and it won't end until the school puts his administration out of its misery. What can be said is this: Willingham is a man of integrity who cares about his players and has never been accused of unethical behavior. So how do his players feel about him? We'll see this weekend. While Willingham played off the Notre Dame angle this week, this also is a man of considerable ego and his ego will never be more vulnerable than it will be Saturday. If the Fighting Irish blow Willingham out of Husky Stadium, it will be a humiliating repudiation of him as a coach, at least in terms of popular perception. Thing is, Notre Dame isn't that good and the Huskies aren't that bad. If Washington plays hard for four quarters and fights for its coach, this won't be a blowout.

UCLA's offensive line vs. California's defensive line is a battle of wounded animals: UCLA's offensive line was considered a significant weakness entering the season. Each time coaches shuffled the available bodies and produced a small step forward, adversity seemed to bite back. This week, after starting the same five for consecutive games, it was freshman left tackle Jeff Baca going down with a hamstring injury during practice Tuesday. If he can't go against California, Micah Kia (bad back) likely will replace him, while Mike Harris (bum ankle) would make his first start at right tackle. Meanwhile, Cal's defensive front was forced to burn the redshirt of touted freshman Trevor Guyton against Arizona. With end Rulon Davis and tackle Kendrick Payne out and end Tyson Alualu slowed by a leg infection, the Bears got pushed around up front by Arizona, which gained 404 yards on a defense that had previously given up just 291 yards per game. The advantage here might go to the Bears for a simple reason: UCLA can't win on the road. The Bruins have lost five straight away from the Rose Bowl and 12 of their past 15. The O-line is the area that suffers most in a hostile environment.

You'll know in the first quarter if USC is going to roll: USC went to Oregon State planning to take the crowd out of the game. It didn't happen when the Trojans fell behind 21-0. A fast start at Arizona is a hot topic this week. "It's imperative that we're scoring on that first drive," USC quarterback Mark Sanchez told reporters Tuesday. "That means a lot. For the offense, it gives us confidence. It pumps up the defense. Things just go." While the Wildcats received a confidence boost by whipping Cal, they are not at the point where they won't lose faith against an early show of force from the Trojans. And it's not just a fast start; Oregon got that but then faltered for a moment and USC exploded. The Wildcats will have to be at their focused best -- think that dominant third quarter vs. Cal for an entire game -- to notch the upset. In Arizona's favor: It has won six in a row at home, tied for the longest home winning streak in the conference with USC and Oregon State, and a packed house is expected. A tight score at halftime will keep fans in the stands barking at the Trojans. A big USC lead at the break will send them to University Blvd. for a cold one. Or two.