Pac-12: Al Afalava

Strength coach Q&A: Oregon State's Bryan Miller

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
11:30
AM ET
There are two reasons to check in with Oregon State strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller.

First, there's the Beavers freakishly strong defensive tackle Stephen Paea. He might be the strongest football player in the United States -- NFL included. How the heck did that happen? Then there's the Beavers' outstanding reputation for developing players (see seven players drafted by NFL teams in 2009).

Miller has been the head of the Sports Performance Center staff since July of 2008 and he arrived at Oregon State in 2006. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a Specialist in Sports Conditioning and a Level I Club Coach (U.S. Weightlifting).

Here's what he had to say.

So were you always a guy who focused on strength and conditioning as an athlete growing up?

Bryan Miller: Absolutely. I'm the son of a high school coach in Chicago. So being properly prepared throughout the year was taken very seriously in the Miller household.

How did you get into this as a profession?

BM: My undergrad degree was actually in marketing. But the further I got into my senior year of college, the less I wanted to wear a coat and tie and sit at a cubicle. So, like a lot of people in my family who are coaches -- football and baseball coaches -- that's definitely the pedigree of my family. It was just something that came naturally.

I realize this is a big question, but how would you summarize your philosophy?

BM: I would say it is a very methodical series of progressions for the total growth and development of the athlete, from when they are freshmen to when they are seniors.

It seems like coach Mike Riley is very good at finding guys in recruiting who aren't top prospects and turning them into NFL players -- 6-foot-5 offensive linemen who only weight 220 pounds as high school seniors. As his strength and conditioning guy, is that something you specialize in?

BM: I would say the room we need to make up for in development is a lot more than some of the other schools that are bringing in those five-star recruits. They are getting linemen in the door who are 6-5, 300 pounds who are already pretty strong and very athletic. The guys we're bringing in are 6-5 but, like you said, as low as 220. So the room we have to make up to put them on the field is a lot.

How do you motivate guys who aren't big fans of conditioning? Are you a carrot or stick kind of guy?

BM: Definitely a carrot. I think one of the philosophies we have here that is different from other schools is we work on our conditioning all year round -- January to January. So at any point during the year we're in very good shape. With the exception of incoming freshman, with everybody else on the team, when we start our first day of summer conditioning, it's never really that hard because we are already in pretty decent shape going in. The other thing is, with the size of players we bring in, our starting offensive linemen are under 295. Same thing with our defensive linemen. We don't have many guys over 300 pounds. From that standpoint, conditioning comes pretty easily to our guys.

Say you're a 15-year-old who wants to play college football: What are the most important things for him to be doing, strength and conditioning-wise, to get a scholarship?

BM: The first thing is proper, usable strength. I say proper and usable because we get some freshmen who think because they can bench-press 300 pounds they're strong enough to play their position. But most freshmen we bring in the door can't do 10 push-ups the right way. So all the freshmen who come in the door here, they don't do any bench press for the first five months. All they do are different types of push-ups.

Speaking of bench press: We've seen the video of Stephen Paea: Is he just a freak of nature or is that about a lot of that hard work?

BM: It's a combination of both. First is, genetically, he's got strength out the butt. He probably had no idea how strong he really was. It was just something that came naturally to him. Then once we got him into a very organized training program, his strength dramatically took off. Again, it came very easy to him, so it was something that he embraced. Having done that, he sets a very good example for all the younger players.

How many times do you think he'll bench 225 at the NFL combine?

BM: I'm going to shoot for the moon and say 50 [which would be a new record].

Who is another one of your hardest workers?

BM: [Defensive end] Gabe Miller, he's a stud. He's actually one of our faster guys and he's 255.

Do you have an all-time workout warrior?

BM: I feel like I'd be leaving people out if I only mention a couple of people. Hmm. Al Afalava he's definitely at the top. And Joey LaRocque and Victor Butler.

Ranking the Pac-10 safeties

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pac-10 is solid at safety -- it's not all about Taylor Mays either.

In fact, the stockpile in the secondary likely will make choosing an All-Pac-10 team a big challenge.
  1. USC: It doesn't matter if Josh Pinkard stays at safety or moves to corner: The Trojans are stacked here, starting with Mays, a two-time All-American. Will Harris is hardly a stop-gap if he steps in for Pinkard, and there's good depth.
  2. California: While the Bears lack the Trojans' star quality, they are experienced, productive and deep with Marcus Ezeff and Brett Johnson leading the charge.
  3. Arizona: Cam Nelson is an all-conference-type player, while Robert Golden is an all-conference-type talent who is transitioning from cornerback.
  4. Oregon: T.J. Ward is one of the conference's premier hitters. He figures to become a complete player this fall. Javes Lewis won the competition at rover to replace Patrick Chung.
  5. Stanford: Bo McNally is a reliable veteran and Delano Howell, albeit green as the former running back switches to defense, will improve the Cardinal's athleticism.
  6. UCLA: Sophomore Rahim Moore looks like a budding star. Tony Dye leads the battle at strong safety over fellow sophomore Glenn Love.
  7. Oregon State: Junior Suaesi Tuimaunei will replace Al Afalava at strong safety and Lance Mitchell will set in for Greg Laybourn at free. While they lack experience -- Tuimaunei started twice in 2008 -- they are more athletic than their predecessors.
  8. Arizona State: Perhaps it's a sign of the Sun Devils' depth that expected starters Clint Floyd and Ryan McFoy are listed second-team on the depth chart behind Jarrell Holman and Keelan Johnson. Coach Dennis Erickson said Monday he hasn't decided who will start. This gives us pause, though there's no lack of athletic ability here.
  9. Washington State: The Cougars probably feel pretty good about Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, a solid pair of returning starters.
  10. Washington: Nate Williams is a solid strong safety and redshirt freshman Greg Walker has flashed ability at free, but the Huskies have a long way to go in the secondary.

Pac-10 Q&A: OSU's Banker didn't experience downturn

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
6:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting five players drafted last spring sort of hurt the image of Mark Banker's defense at Oregon State.

These Beavers aren't scrappy overachievers any longer. They're getting paid.

Fact is, Banker's defense has been one of the most consistently good units in the Pac-10 since he became coordinator in 2003.

 
  Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
  Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker's unit returns just three starters.
The attacking style of his "gap cancellation" scheme also is a lot of fun to watch.

But the Beavers welcome back just three starters and have to replace their entire secondary.

Of course, as Oregon State fans are quick to note, last year the Beavers also welcomed back just three starters, and none from their front-seven.

Still, the last time the Beavers defense struggled was 2005 when a pair of freshmen corners got eaten alive.

Those culprits, Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, by the way, were two of those five drafted players.

So, just as camp gets started, we figured we'd check in and see what's up with Banker and his crew of "Gap Cancellers."

I'm sure I'm going to refer to your "gap cancellation scheme" about 50 times this season. Please, explain the basics of your defense?

Mark Banker: Most defenses are either contain defenses or they are spill defenses. We are a spill defense, meaning what we would prefer to do take away the middle the field -- both in the pass game and run game -- and we want teams to work outside on the perimeter. One reasons is we are able to use our speed to run things down as the opponent runs out of room to the outside. A lot of that starts up front. We teach our defensive line an attacking style of play. We're getting vertical off the ball and the most important thing they can do is look at the inside portion of their gap -- usually referred to a hip -- and if that hip disappears inside, they close to it to make sure there's no daylight inside so the ball bounces to the outside.  It allows our linebackers to be, rather than just downhill inside, where they give away 100 pounds per man, it gives our guys a chance to go where that thing gets spilled. We create basically an alley by our secondary showing up and leveraging the ball and the linebackers are able to run through that alley to make the play.

You guys put a lot of pressure on you cornerbacks to be able to cover man-on-man: How is that going to work with a pair of new starters?

MB: Athletically we like how the (less experienced) players in our secondary have developed. (Senior cornerback) Tim Clark has played in game situations since as early as his sophomore year. In fact, during Timmy's sophomore year, (former starting cornerback) Keenan Lewis got hurt and he had to come in against Cal, and they had a guy named DeSean Jackson. I think (Jackson) had seven yards on the day [actually one reception for eight yards]. One big expectations is Timmy can become an every-down type of player and we only have to deal with the other side when it comes to starting. But you know James Dockery, who we lost last year (to injury) and we got back for the spring, continues to grow. He's very much a competitor. Brandon Hardin is another -- a big kid who has good size and strength and has every capability to be that guy as well. His big thing, just like any of the corners, is an understanding of how to play specific techniques by down-and-distance and field position. That has eluded him at times. But has shown great promise. Those are two guys who came to mind. Patrick Henderson is a senior and sort of a journeyman. He saw some time last year in some bit roles. Unlike 2005, this season we have some players, with some depth who might lack the game experience but at least they've been in the program and know what is expected. 

You lost eight guys from last year's unit: Who's going to be the toughest to replace?

MB: That's a loaded question because out of the seven players who were drafted, (five) were starters on defense. The corners were valuable because of their experience. A guy like (safety) Al Afalava, his heart and soul and leadership ability, that's hard to replace. The two ends, Slade (Norris) and Victor (Butler). Each one of them, in their own right, were special. It was a tough group that played well together. We're not replacing chopped liver. The guys who are stepping in got a lot to live up to. The immediate concern is in the secondary, no doubt in my mind. Because you can play good for 75 plays, but if the game is 76 plays long, all it takes is one shot down the field, and things get evened up. We've got to be smart in the way we play in the secondary and rely on the front to create pressure in the passing game. I think there are guys stepping into different spots -- we've got four ends and possibly a fifth that we feel really good about.

Who are your best pass rushers going to be?

MB: The two who come to mind are (end) Ben Terry, who will be a starter. I think he will be able to rush the passer with great effectiveness. Another guy, who right now is not a starter and was a tight end at this time last year, is Gabe Miller. I think he's going to be a good pass rusher. And then a guy coming off the bench in third down situations, Taylor Henry, a redshirt freshman this year, has got that ability. At the same time, (end) Kevin Frahm, who will be a starter for us, has changed his body a lot. He is very much like (former end) Jeff Van Orsow from the standpoint of his intellect and his work ethic. He's probably a step faster than Jeff and Jeff was old reliable. And we've got an X-factor in this guy, Matt LaGrone, a transfer from (Nevada), who was a basketball player and has been with us who had to sit out. He's 6-foot-6 and he's got some stuff to him. But those three guys I mentioned -- Ben Terry, Gabe Miller and Taylor Henry -- from a standpoint of being edge rushers, those three guys would probably be the ones to watch. 

It seemed like tackle Stephen Paea, even when he was banged up, really asserted himself at the end of last season. How good can he be?

MB: You know he hasn't really played a lot of football [Paea starting playing football as a high school senior], so he's still learning the game, which is kind of scary. He is so explosive off his first two steps and then he's just so physically strong. And he's fast. I think his upside, as long as he stays healthy, is way out there because he's still learning the game itself and the intricacies to it. But he sure is a powerful, powerful guy who is very, very dominant. I think he is among the elite defensive tackles in this conference, no doubt about it.

Linebacker Keaton Kristick looks like a regular, if slightly larger, college student: Why is he so productive?

MB: He's a typical linebacker that we try to have in this defense. He was a tailback in high school, so he was his high school's best athlete. His background helps him out from a standpoint of his football intellect. He's extremely competitive. He has that desire to succeed. Football means a lot to him. And [linebackers coach] Greg Newhouse does
a tremendous job communicating to him. He has his attention and Keaton loves it. He listens and sucks up all the information like a sponge. He takes action upon his goals and things he wants to accomplish.

You've built a strong defensive foundation at Oregon State. Does your eye ever wander? Do you see yourself somewhere else in the future?

MB: Absolutely. In this business it's important to progress. I have aspirations within the profession, but one drive I have that is stronger than anything is quality of life. The next job I take has to be something that is, No. 1, that is better than the one I have. And, as you said, we've got some things established here. This is going on my 13th or 14th season coaching with (Mike Riley). I enjoy the atmosphere he sets. I enjoy the people I am around, day-in and day-out. I truly appreciate that my family is involved in the program. Money is important. Some day being able to have my own program is important. But some of those other things I just mentioned are equally, if not more important, to me. Life is too short and I've seen too many people who don't enjoy life. This is a great place to be coaching football.

Big East nips Pac-10 for draft lead

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
10:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

[Note this is a corrected post... apologies for not factoring in the underrated Big East].

The Big East nipped the Pac-10 for the lead among conferences in the 2009 NFL draft.

The eight-team Big East supplied 27 total players in the draft, or 3.4 players per team. The Pac-10 supplied 32 selections (3.2 players per team). The 12-team SEC was third with 37 selections overall, or 3.1 per team. The 12-team ACC was third with 33 (2.8 per team).

Last year, the Pac-10's led with 3.4 per team vs. 2.92 per team for the SEC and ACC (2.75).

USC led the way with 11 players selected, including three in the first round, though many are shaking their heads of linebacker Rey Maualuga's tumble into the second round. Every draft-eligible Trojan who started last season was picked.

Oregon State was second with seven players selected and Oregon was third with six. Arizona State, with a pair of seventh-round selections, maintained a 45-year streak with at least one player drafted.

Not all the news was good: Stanford, UCLA and Washington each had no players selected.

Here's the complete list

Arizona

Eben Britton, OT, Jacksonville, second
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville, fourth

Arizona State

Troy Nolan, S, Houston, seventh
Paul Fanaika, OG, Philadelphia, seventh

California

Alex Mack, C, Cleveland, first
Zach Follett, LB, Detroit, seventh
Cameron Morrah, TE, seventh

Oregon

Patrick Chung, S, New England, second
Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo, second
Max Unger, C, Seattle, second
Fenuki Tupou, OT, Philadelphia, fifth
Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Pittsburgh, sixth
Nick Reed, DE, Seattle, seventh

Oregon State

Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo, second
Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh, third
Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas, fourth
Slade Norris, OLB, Oakland, fourth
Brandon Hughes, CB, San Diego, fifth
Al Afalava, S, Chicago, sixth
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay, seventh

Stanford

NONE

UCLA

NONE

USC

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets, first (No. 5)
Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston, first (No. 15)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay, first (No. 26)
Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati, second
Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis, second
Patrick Turner, WR, Miami, third
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Cleveland, fourth
Kyle Moore, DE, Tampa Bay, fourth
David Buehler, PK, Dallas, fifth
Cary Harris, CB, Buffalo, sixth
Kevin Ellison, S, San Diego, sixth

Washington

NONE

Washington State

Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth

Pac-10 lunch links: Carroll on the final polls

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

So who do you think would win if USC played Florida this weekend? Me too.

Pac-10 lunch links: USC should cheer for Oregon State

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Links don't stink with a cold drink unless it's pink.

What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 13

November, 21, 2008
11/21/08
9:36
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

1. Moevao at 75 percent or backup Canfield at 100? Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao didn't look fully healthy last weekend against California, though he managed the victory fairly well. He hasn't practiced much this week; his strained throwing shoulder is still bothering him. Sean Canfield is not a typical backup. He's more physically talented than Moevao -- he was projected as a future star when he signed in 2005 -- and started nine games last year. He played well during the seven quarters he had to step in for Moevao. But the screws are significantly tighter on the road in front of the rowdy Arizona fans with a Rose Bowl berth just two wins away.

2. California's beleaguered offensive line vs. Stanford's blitz-happy D: Cal quarterbacks have been sacked 19 times in the last five games. For comparison, Stanford quarterbacks have gone down 17 times -- all season. The Cardinal defense also is tied with Oregon for the Pac-10 lead in sacks, averaging three per game. A good running game would slow down the Stanford pass rush, and the Cardinal is not great against the run, ranking seventh in the conference in run defense (141 yards per game). But Cal has struggled to run of late, averaging just 81 yards on the ground in the last three games. Reports are that speedy tailback Jahvid Best is feeling healthy. But will he have space to get fancy?

3. Out of the misery, will a star -- for at least an afternoon -- rise out of the Apple Cup? Both Washington and Washington State rank among the nation's worst on defense. On the other hand, they also rank among the nation's worst in offense. Neither team boasts a statistically impressive player who will receive All-Conference consideration. That's how it is when two teams combine for a 1-20 record. Yet one will win this game. And rivalry games often feature a special individual performance that fans remember for years to come. So who among the Cougars and Huskies rises to the occasion?

4. Arizona LBs vs. Jacquizz Rodgers: Everyone knows that Rodgers is coming, but no one has stopped him yet (see seven 100-yard games). He hides behind a wall of blockers then shoots through the hole, and it seems like it takes a defense time to figure out his tendencies. The Wildcats' linebackers, particularly leading tackler Sterling Lewis and Ronnie Palmer (8.5 tackles for a loss), will have their hands full. And the Beavers may lean on Rodgers even more than usual, considering the questions at quarterback.

5. Riley will need to rally: In his past two games, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. He's seemed skittish at times since he was knocked out of the Oregon game with a concussion. While Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard can lean on a power running game, it's likely the Bears will need to throw well to consistently move the ball and keep the Cardinal defense honest. Playing at home should help, and Stanford's weakness is pass defense. That means Riley shouldn't complete less than 50 percent of his passes.

6. Beavers must ground Gronkowski: Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski has 34 receptions and eight touchdowns, which means he hits pay dirt once every 4.3 receptions. If he catches nine passes against Oregon State, that could be the difference. And the Wildcats will try to get him nine balls. Gronkowski is too athletic for most linebackers, so Beavers safeties Al Afalava and Greg Laybourn need to make Gronkowski work for every catch and, most important, get him down on first contact instead of letting him rev up his 260 pounds in space.

7. Cal LBs vs. Stanford power running: Cal's 3-4 defense has been mostly a success this season. It ranks third in the conference in scoring (21.9 points per game) and fourth in rushing (124.3 ypg). It has, however, sometimes struggled against the run, see 144 yards from Jacquizz Rodgers and 149 from Arizona's Keola Antolin. But both of them were smaller, slashing, scatback types. Stanford runs right at a defense with 230-pound Toby Gerhart and 210-pound Anthony Kimble. That power attack has worked against just about every defense, see 200 yards rushing vs. USC. How will Cal's four outstanding linebackers match up?

8. How can the loser of the Apple Cup possibly get motivated for another game? One team will walk away from the Apple Cup with something warm and reassuring to cling to -- a victory. Of course, the other will see its season-long misery only increase with the knowledge that it will be widely viewed as the nation's worst BCS conference team. Yet both have another game to play. Washington visits California, while Washington State heads to Hawaii. Neither figures to win. But it's hard to imagine the loser will be able to muster much intensity and focus for a 12th and final embarrassment.

Oregon State can't attract elite recruits, settles for wins instead

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
5:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

USC is the nation's elite recruiting powerhouse. The Trojans have more budding NFL talent than any other team in the nation, and no one else is really even that close.

Oregon State is not a recruiting powerhouse. It typically ranks between 7th and 10th in the Pac-10 recruiting rankings and never sniffs the nation's top-25.

And yet the Beavers are the only team in the nation that has beaten USC twice since 2002.

Moreover, at the start of the season, among Pac-10 teams only USC and California had won more games over the previous six years than Oregon State (47).

The Beavers appear poised to play in their eighth bowl game over the last 10 years at season's end and they have won their last four. They finished ranked in the final AP top 25 the previous two seasons and finished fourth in 2000.

And despite stinking at attracting four- and five-star recruits, the program has produced 16 NFL draft picks over the past six seasons, including stars like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson, Nick Barnett and Steven Jackson.

And those pesky little Beavers are presently in control of their Rose Bowl destiny: Win out, and they meet the Granddaddy for the first time since 1965.

This is despite having the fewest returning starters from 2007 in the Pac-10 (10, including just three on defense).

The how-the-heck-does-this-happen actually isn't that complicated: Mike Riley just has a better eye for talent than most head coaches who are obsessed with recruiting rankings -- despite their protests to the contrary -- and he and his staff do a better job developing and finding the right fit for the talent they do recruit.

Want a list of nobody recruits?

How about quarterback Lyle Moevao, defensive ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris, receivers Sammie Stroughter, James Rodgers and Shane Morales and safety Al Afalava. All rated barely a blip among the recruiting services.

But ask Riley about his recruiting philosophy and he doesn't talk about some secret formula or esoteric measures. He's not some college coaching Bill James with a sabermetric advantage.

"The fit is important because we want guys who want to be here and are happy because this is not LA," Riley said. "It has to be a fit in a lot of ways even outside the football realm."

He wants guys who want to play for Oregon State. He doesn't want guys who use the Beavers as a fall-back, or who view the slow pace of Corvallis as a negative.

Riley also likes players who performed at a high level in high school ("Past performance is a great predictor," Riley says). It's clear he prefers speed over size. And he wants guys who really enjoy playing football.

Dennis Erickson, who's limping Arizona State squad visits Oregon State on Saturday, deserves plenty of credit for leading the 2000 Beavers to a victory in the Fiesta Bowl. But he readily admits he inherited a good core of talent when he took over for Riley in 1999.

"They were players like they have there now -- they were tough-nosed, hard-nosed guys," Erickson said.

Riley also might have the best coaching staff in the Pac-10.

Whatever Riley and company are doing, it works.

Consider Northwest rival Washington. Only once since 2004 did Oregon State finish ahead of the Huskies in the recruiting rankings -- Tyrone Willingham's first class in 2005 -- yet the Beavers have whipped the Huskies five games in a row -- four of those victories coming in Husky Stadium.

And now Washington is again looking for a coach.

While Riley's track record should raise some eyebrows in Seattle, he doesn't appear eager to bolt town for a few more bucks.

"I'm really thankful for my second chance," said Riley, who's Oregon State tenure was split up by an ill-fated three seasons leading the San Diego Chargers. "I'm going to hold on for dear life."

Which means that Oregon State will continue to lose in the recruiting rankings but nonetheless win games.

What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 8

October, 17, 2008
10/17/08
9:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.

2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.

3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?

4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.

5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.

6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.

7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.

8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.

9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.

10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.

Pac-10 lunch links: Update on Oregon's tumbling fan

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

These links have a special "scratch and sniff" feature.

  • Arizona is looking for better defensive tackles.
  • Arizona State's bye week didn't start great. Clint Floyd, a true freshman who has started the past two games at strong safety, is expected to miss two to four weeks because of a lacerated kidney, and, Matt Hustad, a backup offensive lineman expected to break into the starting lineup when he got healthy, won't because he's now out for the season, requiring a second knee surgery.
  • The latest on The Great Falling Fan at Oregon. And quarterback Justin Roper looks fairly healthy as he tries to get his job back.
  • Oregon State safety Al Afalava, who knocked Washington quarterback Jake Locker out in last year's game, said his family is concerned about what might happen to him at Husky Stadium.
  • Is Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh about to become a hot coaching commodity? Note the status of the Bay Area's two NFL teams.
  • More changes for the UCLA offensive line, but will it help the running game against Stanford?
  • USC running back Joe McKnight is questionable for the visit to Washington State.
  • It's almost certain that Washington quarterback Jake Locker won't play again this season.
  • Washington State quarterback Gary Rogers thought he was paralyzed when he went down against Portland State

Pac-10 internal affairs: California won't run over Arizona

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:11
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

California won't run over Arizona: In Arizona's two losses, its defense got run over by a big back -- New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson and Stanford's Toby Gerhart, a pair of 230-pound bruisers. California is not a power-rushing team with Jahvid Best, who's expected to return after dislocating his elbow on Sept. 27, and Shane Vereen, neither of whom pushes the scale past 200 pounds. Moreover, the Bears have two injured starting linemen, tackle Mike Tepper and guard Chris Guarnero. Without Best, the Bears rushed for just 79 yards at home against Arizona State, and playing on the road makes it harder to use a variety of run audibles. Best and Vereen can hit home runs, but they don't grind out four yards and a cloud of dust. Cal will need balance to win, and the Bears passing game has not clicked this season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats pass defense is holding opponents to just a 55.3 completion percentage and has grabbed eight interceptions. Hmm.

A two-quarterback system might work for Stanford: Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard has steadily improved this year and was 13-of-17 for 113 yards and a touchdown before he was knocked out against Arizona with a concussion. He's likely to start against UCLA on Saturday. But Alex Loukas' running ability off the bench confused the Wildcats defense and was the key component of the 11-play, 60-yard game-winning drive. Loukas completed a 21-yard pass and ran four times for 32 yards, and apparently earned more playing time, according to coach Jim Harbaugh. Loukas not only adds a nice change of pace, but he also forces a defense to use valuable practice time preparing for a running quarterback and some spread-option plays.

Washington State's goal is to protect quarterback Kevin Lopina: If you read a week's worth of stories on Washington State, you can't help but wince. Two of the Cougars top three quarterbacks are done for the year. Kevin Lopina, who took over the starting job two games into the season, will return to face USC's fearsome defense after missing the past three games with a fractured vertebrae. If the Trojans knock Lopina out, the Cougars must turn to either walk-on freshman Daniel Wagner or burn the redshirt of true freshman J.T. Levenseller, with coach Paul Wulff suggesting this week he'd have no alternative but to go with Levenseller because there's half a season remaining. That means the Cougars figure to try to run the ball and use a lot of quick-hit passes to minimize the hits on Lopina, a strategy that isn't likely to put many points on the board. Of course, as a 43-point underdog, don't expect the Cougars to give the Trojans a scare. In fact, don't be shocked if USC coach Pete Carroll, who's team isn't exactly healthy, calls off the dogs fairly early and doesn't try to become the fourth Pac-10 team to score 60-plus on the Cougs.

UCLA may be able to force Stanford to pass: Sure, UCLA's rushing defense ranks eighth in the Pac-10 (171.3), which would seem to bode well for Stanford's potent ground game. But the Bruins have faced the nation's No. 6 (Oregon) and No. 16 (Fresno State) rushing attacks in recent weeks. Moreover, Stanford's more conventional power-running scheme matches strength-on-strength as the Bruins defensive tackle combo of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell is as good as any in the conference. It's almost certain that defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will try to force Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to throw the ball. The Bruins secondary has been terribly inconsistent this year -- strong safety Bret Lockett is fighting to hold onto his job this week -- but Pritchard, while improving, has a tendency to force passes into coverage, see eight interceptions vs. seven touchdowns. The Bruins secondary has only four interceptions this season, but that has been a point of emphasis in practices this week. Stanford beat Arizona despite losing the turnover battle, 0-3. It will be harder to do that on the road.

Beavers should be on upset alert: There is absolutely no logical reason to believe that Washington can upset Oregon State. The Huskies are winless, beaten up and about to fire head coach Tyrone Willingham. Oregon State has won three of four and is in the middle of the Pac-10 race. The Beavers are superior in just about every area and should be highly motivated. Yet this is college football, and only twice since 1999 has a Pac-10 team gone winless in the conference (though Washington did it in 2004). Moreover, the Huskies' loss last year at Oregon State was hotly contested and bitterly lost, including a controversial knock-out hit on quarterback Jake Locker by Beavers safety Al Afalava, which has been a hot topic this week (though let's be clear that the hit was legal). The Beavers won 19 games over the previous two seasons, but managed to get drubbed both years by inferior UCLA teams, so it's not inconceivable that the Beavers could come out flat with overconfidence.

Injury update links

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
4:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

This week on Worlds Most Dangerous Jobs... Pac-10 quarterback!

  • UCLA released this to the media about wide receiver Terrence Austin, who was injured in the fourth quarter at Oregon.

"[Austin] was fitted for a neck collar, placed on a board and transported from the field to RiverBend Hospital. While on the field, he was conscious and able to move his arms and legs.

Tests at the hospital were negative. He was diagnosed with a neck strain and a mild concussion and released from the hospital in time to fly home to Los Angeles with the UCLA football team late Saturday night.

  • Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter appears to have been playing on a broken ankle against USC, according to the East Valley Tribune. The Sun Devils have a bye before Oregon comes to town. Wonder if Carpenter can make consecutive start No. 38?
  • Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard suffered a concussion against Arizona and is questionable for the for Saturday's game at UCLA. If he can't go, his likely replacement is Alex Loukas, who led the game-winning drive vs. the Wildcats.
  • Washington State fans.... all I can say is at some point you guys are due some serious luck. No. 3 quarterback Marshall Lobbestael is apparently out two to four weeks with a knee sprain. There is good news, though. It  appears that No. 2 Kevin Lopina will be ready to play at USC on Saturday. Sure, Lopina can't wait to face the USC defense with his patchwork offensive line.
  • I agree with this column: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez looks far from 100 percent to me, too.
  • Moving from quarterback, here's an injury note on Oregon State's beaten up secondary, courtesy of The Oregonian: "OSU played without safety Al Afalava (groin injury) and cornerback Brandon Hughes (hamstring). ... When cornerback Keenan Lewis went out with a turf toe in the second half, the Beavers were missing three-fourths of their starting secondary." The good news is those injuries won't likely matter at Washington, and after that the Beavers have a bye.

Banged up Beavers

September, 30, 2008
9/30/08
1:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Oregon State paid a price for its huge win over then-top-ranked USC.

With a date Thursday with 15th-ranked Utah looming, the Beavers could be down not just three starters but three of their best players.

WR Sammie Stroughter is nursing a hip pointer.

CB Brandon Hughes is nursing a hamstring injury.

SS Al Afalava is nursing a groin injury.

Mike Riley just said on the weekly Pac-10 teleconference that all three are questionable, noting that none of the threesome practiced Monday, which functioned as a normal "Wednesday practice" for a Saturday game.

He also said that OG Jeremy Perry could play for the first time against Utah. Of course, he said the same last week and Perry didn't play vs. the Trojans.

Pac-10 Morning: Arizona in search of 2-0

September, 4, 2008
9/04/08
10:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

They say fans improve the most between week one and week two.

Pac-10 Morning: No more QB rotation for Cal

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
10:06
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Anyone else believe the Pac-10 might be a little deeper than it was initially projected?

  • After Nate Longshore threw a pair of ill-advised interceptions during his brief playing time against Michigan State, California coach Jeff Tedford has decided that Kevin Riley is the exclusive QB. No more rotating, which is a good call, says Gary Peterson. Post-practice notes. More here.
  • Coach Mike Stoops on Arizona's defense: physical, good tackling. And that included the backups.
  • This might be a concern: After WR Chris McGaha nursed a pesky toe injury throughout the preseason, now WR Michael Jones, who caught six passes for 162 yards against Northern Arizona, is dealing with a strained Achilles tendon. Walk-on CB Pierre Singfield has broken through for Arizona State.
  • It's still uncertain who gets the QB call at Oregon with Justin Roper still sidelined with a concussion. Some notes.
  • In a big boost for Oregon State's defense, safety Al Afalava is back from suspension. Notes on Saint JoePa here and here. Is this a good time to play a ranked team on the road?
  • Stanford will need to challenge Arizona State's offensive line, And what about the Cardinal passing gameFirst-look Stanford and a feature on DT Ekom Udofia from an ASU perspective.
  • The lowdown on UCLA's injuries, including three senior starters on offense. Still, things are buzzing around the Bruins. The freshmen contributed. Beating Tennessee probably will help recruiting. But the work is far from done.
  • USC jumps to No. 1. What's up with Ohio State's Beanie Wells? USC's got its own injury issues, most particularly LB Rey Maualuga's finger.
  • The worst surprise for Washington at Oregon was the poor production from the offensive line and, ergo, the running game. The closest thing to a Huskies standout was true freshman TE Kavario Middleton.
  • Washington State remains hopeful but it doesn't help that another OL, guard Andrew Roxas, went down in Tuesday's practice with a right knee injury and will be out two games. However, Howie Stalwick's notebook includes this good news: "On a more encouraging note, projected starters Jeshua Anderson (wide receiver), Vaughn Lesuma (offensive tackle) and Reid Forrest (punter) all practiced after extended absences due to injury." More on injuries. The defense played fairly well against Oklahoma State.
  • Some SEC fans are coming to terms with the notion of respect. Dan Raley surveys the Pac-10, leading with speculation on Washington coach Tyrone Willingham's job status.

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