Pac-12: Blake Ayles
- Arizona's kicking and punting haven't been good.
- A Thursday practice report from Arizona State.
- Jeff Tedford and Lane Kiffin have a deep connection. What does it mean when Cal fans shout, "We want Riley!"
- Oregon cornerback Chad Peppars helps a woman in distress, and running back Kenjon Barner is doing OK, says coach Chip Kelly.
- James Rodgers' mother thinks he'll come back to Oregon State in 2011. Nice story on the origins of Stephen Paea.
- Stanford's Stepfan Taylor stepped up after making mistakes.
- UCLA focuses on protecting its quarterback, which should help the anemic passing game.
- USC cornerback Shareece Wright takes charge of the Trojans sagging defense. Is tight end Blake Ayles ready to contribute.
- Washington quarterback Jake Locker is battling a thigh bruise.
- Taking a measure of Washington State's progress.
- Oregon fans won't want to read this, but I found it an interesting update on, er, "someone."
Middleton, by the way, was named preseason first-team All-Pac-10 by Phil Steele, even though he only caught 26 passes last year and was being challenged for the starting job by Chris Izbicki.
Only four teams welcome back their starting tight end, and only one -- California's Anthony Miller -- even earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Why is the position down? Attrition after an "up" season. Consider the departed: Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, Oregon's Ed Dickson, Stanford's Jim Dray, UCLA's Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and USC's Anthony McCoy. Those guys are now stocking NFL rosters.
So where do things stand? Well, you might say we graded the position on a curve, though there is plenty of potential here.
- California: Miller was the Bears' third-leading receiver last year. Six-foot-7 sophomore backup Spencer Ladner saw action in seven games.
- UCLA: While the Bruins lost their top two TEs, they look solid here with Cory Harkey, Notre Dame transfer Joseph Fauria and hybrid TE-WR Morrell Presley.
- Stanford: Even though the Cardinal lost Dray, Coby Fleener was their top pass-catcher at the position, and the depth is good with Konrad Reuland, Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo.
- Oregon State: The Beavers get credit here for H-back Joe Halahuni, who caught 35 passes for 486 yards and three TDs in 2009. Senior Brady Camp is a good blocker with 18 career starts.
- Oregon: The Ducks lose Dickson, but David Paulson saw extensive action in 2009 and JC transfer Brandon Williams was impressive this spring.
- Arizona: Gronkowski's back injury made A.J. Simmons the season-long starter, so the Wildcats are at least experienced. Redshirt freshman Jack Baucus is the backup.
- Washington State: The Cougars' depth chart lists five TEs, with Skylar Stormo and Zach Tatman offering experience at the top.
- USC: Attrition and injuries make this a questionable position for the Trojans. If Blake Ayles and Rhett Ellison stay healthy, things should be OK. The incoming freshman class is strong, starting with Xavier Grimble, who ranked No. 1 at the position, according to ESPN Recruiting.
- Washington: With Middleton, the Huskies would have been in great shape. Izbicki had a good spring, but he only caught three passes for 7 yards in 2009 and the depth is questionable.
- Arizona State: Jovon Williams is gone and Dan Knapp is a tackle, but the Sun Devils could move up here just because the position figures to be more involved in the offense in 2010. Trevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle top the depth chart.
Why is it deep? Start with the fact that nine starting centers are back from 2009, though Washington's Ryan Tolar has moved to guard and former starting tackle Drew Schaefer has moved inside to center. Then consider that of those nine, six earned a spot on the 37-man watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's best center. Even Washington State, which lost Kenny Alfred, probably feels pretty good about Andrew Roxas, who's started nine career games.
The big names: Six players are legitimate all-conference candidates: USC's Kristofer O'Dowd (he could be the top center in the 2011 NFL draft), Arizona's Colin Baxter and Stanford's Chase Beeler (both were second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010), Oregon State's Alex Linnenkohl (who has 26 career starts), Oregon's Jordan Holmes and UCLA's Kai Maiava.
Thin: Tight end
Why is it thin? Only four teams welcome back a starting tight end, none of whom earned all-conference honors. In fact, only one returning tight end, California's Anthony Miller, earned honorable mention. And consider the list of departed players from 2009: Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, Oregon's Ed Dickson, Stanford's Jim Dray, UCLA's Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and USC's Anthony McCoy. Phil Steele recently named his four All-Pac-10 teams, and he made Washington's Kavario Middleton the first-team tight end. Middleton caught 26 passes last year and he's fighting with Chris Izbicki for the starting job.
Fill the void? Miller and Middleton (Izbicki?) could be breakthrough players. UCLA is excited about the Joseph Fauria-Cory Harkey combination. Joe Halahuni, though a hybrid, H-back sort, is a threat for Oregon State. Stanford's Konrad Reuland, a Notre Dame transfer, is promising. It appears that David Paulson, Dickson's backup last year, and JC transfer Brandon Williams will be solid for Oregon. Perhaps Blake Ayles finally stays healthy for USC.
And there's ash in the pages. Now I've got myself lost.
I was writing to tell you that my feelings tonight
Are a stain on my notebook that rings your goodbye.
- California needs oft-injured receiver Michael Calvin to break through.
- Oregon State's pro day was low key.
- UCLA players to watch this spring.
- USC receiver Jordan Cameron has moved to tight end because of the uncertain health of Blake Ayles. Linebacker Chris Galippo is a Trojan to watch this spring.
- Bob Condotta answers your Washington football questions.
- Rating Pac-10 team chemistry.
The Trojans need McCoy, one of their most productive players, because backup tight end Blake Ayles won't play because he also hurt his ankle. Ayles has struggled while stepping in for McCoy, who's caught 16 passes for 375 yards this season.
Williams, probably the best receiver in the Pac-10, is also leading the conference in punt returns. Redshirt freshman Brice Butler will replace Williams at receiver, while running back Joe McKnight will return punts.
On the plus side of the ledger, playmaking fullback Stanley Havili, who's been out with a shoulder injury, will start.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Based on news reports and this this useful Web site: The latest on injuries heading into week one.
TE Rob Gronkowski, back, questionable
OG Vaughn Dotsy, finger, probable
WR Delashaun Dean, hamstring, probable
OT Tom Njunge, biceps, questionable
C Garth Gerhart, toe, questionable
C Thomas Altieri, concussion, probable
OG Zach Schlink, knee, out
DT Lawrence Guy, biceps, probable
DE James Brooks, suspension, out
RB Jahvid Best, toe, probable
TE Tad Smith, knee, out
OT Mitchell Schwartz, leg, probable
S Marcus Ezeff, ankle, questionable
WR Michael Calvin, knee, probable
LB Robert Mullins, knee, out
TE Skylar Curran, ankle, probable
WR Rory Cavaille, shoulder, out,
OT Bo Thran, knee, questionable
WR Darrell Catchings, wrist, out
WR Markus Wheaton, NCAA Clearinghouse, questionable
WR Geno Munoz, abdominal, questionable
QB Lyle Moevao, shoulder, out
RB Ryan McCants, knee, out
CB Brandon Hardin, leg, out
OT Timi Oshinowo, knee, out
LB Tony Wilson, knee, out
S Josh LaGrone, knee, out
S Lance Mitchell, hamstring, probable
OT Allen Smith, knee, out
S Taylor Skaufel, knee, out
OT Chris Marinelli, shoulder, probable
LB Alex Debniak, knee, out
OG Micah Kia, knee, out
OL Nick Ekbatani, knee, out
DE Reginald Stokes, knee, out
DT Jess Ward, knee, doubtful
RB Christian Ramirez, ankle, questionable
DE Chinonso Anyanwu, hip, out
WR Gavin Ketchum, hamstring, questionable
OG Stanley Hasiak, stinger, probable
FB Chane Moline, hip, probable
CB Shareece Wright, knee, academics, questionable
WR Ronald Johnson, collarbone, out
DE Armond Armstead, foot, out
C Kristofer O'Dowd, knee, doubtful
DT Averell Spicer, ankle, questionable
OG Nick Howell, ankle, questionable
LB Luthur Brown, academics, out
TE Blake Ayles, heart condition, probable
QB Aaron Corp, leg, questionable
QB Mitch Mustain, illness, probable
CB Patrick Hall, knee, out
CB Justin Glenn, knee, questionable
DT Cameron Elisara, shoulder, probable
RB Johri Fogerson, ankle, probable
RB Chris Polk, concussion, probable
WR James Johnson, ankle, probable
DE Darrion Jones, illness, probable
TE Kavario Middleton, hamstring, probable
DE Everrette Thompson, ankle, questionable
S Jason Wells, Achilles, doubtful
WR Jeshua Anderson, hamstring, probable
RB James Montgomery, knee, probable
CB Brandon Jones, ankle, probable
WR Jeffrey Solomon, ankle, probable
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, foot, questionable
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Happy birthday Halle Berry, Gary Larson and Tim Tebow.
- Arizona is much deeper than when coach Mike Stoops first arrived in Tucson. And a driving rain storm at Fort Huachuca is a good thing. My favorite paragraph of the day:
While the Wildcats practiced, Fort Huachuca soldiers were in the midst of a week-long field training exercise in nearby Garden Canyon. The canyon, located at the base of the Huachuca Mountains, includes replicas of Afghan and Iraqi villages; soldiers interact with contract players -- actors -- posing as sheiks and police chiefs.
- Bigfoot was spotted at Arizona State. At the end of a Paola Boivin column, Sun Devils offensive tackle Shaun Lauvao is projected as a seventh-round NFL draft pick. Got a crisp $1 bill that says he goes higher, and that's not just because I second Boivin's take that Lauvao is a cool cat.
- California is looking for a fullback. It may have found a playmaker among its freshmen.
- No black jerseys at Oregon practice, in large part because both lines are works in progress.
- You may be worried about Oregon State's cornerbacks but they are not worried about themselves.
- Checking in with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Cardinal offensive line is young but promising.
- UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price gets a little chippy. That's a good thing. It leads to stuff like this.
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley bounced back from a poor morning workout, while it appears Aaron Corp might be back sooner rather than later. More on TE Blake Ayles' heart issues.
- There are many hard-working guys behind the scenes on football teams. Here's a look at Washington. The Husky linebackers, who might be sneaky good, are hungry. A practice report.
- Washington State's offensive line is bringing nasty back. Is Jeshua Anderson going to be more than a track guy?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Handful of notes from Thursday's practices.
- USC starting defensive tackle Averell Spicer will be out two to three weeks with a high ankle sprain, which could put in jeopardy his start on Sept. 5 vs. San Jose State. While junior Derek Simmons is listed behind him on the depth chart, 330-pound JC transfer Hebron Fangupo has been impressive in camp thus far.
- Also at USC, tight end Blake Ayles will undergo further testing for an irregular heartbeat, though Ayles told the Orange County Register he expects to practice Friday. Meanwhile, No. 1 cornerback Shareece Wright's bruised knee swelled up and may require an MRI.
- At Washington, coach Steve Sarkisian said cornerback Dominique Gaisie is unlikely to be academically cleared. That means three of the Huskies' six JC transfers -- Johnny Tivao and Daniel Mafoe are the other two -- won't make it into school.
- Stanford linebacker Clinton Snyder suffered a "stinger" at practice, while guard Chris Marinelli continues to sit out with a shoulder problem.
- At Washington State, DT Bernard Wolfgramm and LB Myron Beck, who are both coming back from back surgery, sat out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Quick hits from around the conference...
Talented by oft-injured reserve receiver Brandon Smith suffered a knee injury Saturday. ... The Sun Devils continue to await word from the NCAA Clearinghouse on whether super-recruit linebacker Vontaze Burfict has academically qualified. Burfict is practicing with the team. ... Reserve defensive tackle David Bertrand has left the program. ... Coach Dennis Erickson reiterated that he will call plays this fall.
Wide receiver Verran Tucker, who missed spring due to academics, suffered an undisclosed injury after Sunday's practice. ... Receiver Michael Calvin, who's coming back from an ACL injury, has played well during the first few practices. ... Devin Bishop will be challenged at weakside outside linebacker by JC transfers Ryan Davis, Jarred Price and Jerome Meadows, though Price and Meadows could play inside. ... Matt Summers-Gavin is playing first team left guard, the position on the offense line that is most up for grabs.
Redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James, who was injured during the spring, has looked good thus far and is the frontrunner to win the backup job behind LeGarrette Blount.. .. Receivers Jeff Maehl, Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson sat out Sunday's practice with injuries. ... Two recruits, Cliff Harris and Justin Brown, haven't reported because they still await a verdict from the NCAA Clearinghouse.
The Beavers begin practices today at 2 p.m. ... Sean Canfield will begin preseason practices as the No. 1 quarterback. Last season's starter, Lyle Moevao, will be taken along slowly as he comes back from shoulder surgery. ... With Jacquizz Rodgers also coming back from shoulder surgery, and backup Ryan McCants out with a knee injury, one of the key preseason competitions is at backup tailback between freshmen Jovan Stevenson and Ashton Jefferson.
Offensive lineman Chris Marinelli may miss most of camp because of a chronic left shoulder problem. ... Offensive tackle Allen Smith hasn't been cleared to practice.
The Bruins reported on Sunday. ... Defensive end Chinonso Anyanwu will be sidelined for at least three months due to hip surgery. ... Wide receiver Osaar Rasshan has retired due to injury. ... Fullback Jayson Allmond will not report until NCAA Clearinghouse issues have been resolved.
Shane Horton switched from safety to weakside linebacker. ... Senior linebacker Luthur Brown and freshman safety Patrick Hall aren't practicing because of academic issues. ... Sophomore tight end Blake Ayles, who missed the end of last season and spring practice because of a knee injury, has looked good in practices thus far. ... Cornerback Shareece Wright (neck) and running back Allen Bradford (hip) also have been cleared to practice.
Center Matt Sedillo left the team. ... Johri Fogerson has moved from safety to tailback. ... A pair of JC transfers, offensive Daniel Mafoe and defensive tackle Johnny Tivao, haven't qualified academically. ... Receiver Vince Taylor and running back Brandon Yakaboski will miss camp with a knee injuries. ... Oft-injured safety Jason Wells has been cleared to practice.
Coach Paul Wulff is serving a three-day suspension due to NCAA penalties he incurred while coach at Eastern Washington. ... Sophomore Marshall Lobbestael returned to practice after off-season knee surgery. He is competing with Kevin Lopina for the starting job. ... Linebacker Louis Bland and backup center Alex Roxas have not been cleared to practice due to injuries. Senior Jason Stripling stepped into Bland's spot. ... Defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm is practicing but his back problems are still causing him issues. ... Guard Kevin Freitag will miss the season due to toe surgery. ... Defensive lineman Qwayshawne Buckley failed to qualify academically.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues; links.
- Talented but oft-injured USC tight end Blake Ayles won't be able to go when spring practices start Saturday. A Q&A with Trojans freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. Some good stuff here on the Trojans' secondary -- lots of intrigue for such an experienced area.
- Arizona has added power to its speedy backfield.
- Sizing up the potential Arizona State quarterbacks.
- LeGarrette Blount is back from suspension, but that doesn't mean he inherits the starting running back job. Previewing the Oregon secondary.
- It appears this guy leads UCLA's quarterback competition before it's even started. Here are 10 Bruins to watch this spring.
- USC cornerback Shareece Wright rejects a plea bargain and will continue his fight for justice against the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office.
- The No. 4 Husky heading into spring practices.
- Both state of Washington schools are looking for a rebound. Washington State is starting spring practices, and Cougs every will celebrate this enduring presence.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It's not completely accurate to call it feast or famine at the tight end this spring in the Pac-10.
Washington, California, Stanford, etc. will insist they've got a wealth of talent at the position, despite the lack of returning production.
But in trying to evaluate a position, it seems best to stick with what is proved over what is potential. So there doesn't seem to be much middle ground here.
- Arizona: It's always nice to have back a certain preseason All-American, which is what the Wildcats have in future first-round draft pick Rob Gronkowski. It's also nice to have all four names on last season's depth chart at tight end and H-back coming back in 2009.
- UCLA: Ryan Moya earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2008, but he wasn't even the No. 1 tight end entering the season. That would be Logan Paulsen, who returns this spring after missing last year with a broken foot. And there's talented sophomore Cory Harkey. And touted true freshman Morrell Presley, who's enrolled and will participate in spring practices.
- Oregon: Ed Dickson was second-team All-Pac-10 -- yes, tied with Moya -- in 2008, and his athleticism makes him an NFL prospect. And this depth chart lists eight guys at the position heading into spring.
- USC: Is it possible for a USC player to be underrated? Yes. Let me introduce you to Anthony McCoy, who caught 22 passes for 256 yards last year. Toss in talented sophomore Blake Ayles -- nagging injuries limited him in 2008 -- and you've got two big targets for whoever wins the quarterback job.
|AP Photo/Elaine Thompson|
|Rob Gronkowski hauled in 47 receptions for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2008.|
- Oregon State: The good news is all five names on the 2008 depth chart at tight end and H-back are back. The less excited news is those guys combined for 29 receptions. Can the combination of Howard Croom and Brady Camp become more than just solid?
- Stanford: Starter Austin Gunder, the Cardinal's third-leading receiver in 2008, is gone, but his 17 receptions were just four more than backup Coby Fleener. Notre Dame transfer Konrad Reuland also figures to be firmly in the mix this spring. And, curiously, Stanford signed four tight ends during the recruiting season, though they won't be around until the fall.
- California: Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver, surprised many when he opted to enter the NFL draft a year early. That was a hit. But backup Tad Smith is a good blocker -- just three receptions in 2008 -- and many are high on sophomore Anthony Miller, who caught the winning touchdowns pass in the Emerald Bowl victory over Miami (though that was his only reception of the season).
- Arizona State: There are a lot of names here but little certainty -- see just seven combined receptions among returning players. Sophomore Dan Knapp looked good before getting hurt. Redshirt freshman Steven Figueroa could be a factor. Senior Jovon Williams saw a lot of action last year. Touted freshman Christopher Coyle arrives in the fall.
- Washington: If sophomore Kavario Middleton, a touted but physically undeveloped 2008 recruit, has been working hard in the weight room, he could become one of the conference's breakout players. Behind him are sophomore Chris Izbicki and JC transfer Dorson Boyce.
- Washington State: The top two names from the 2008 depth chart -- Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard -- are gone. Senior Tony Thompson had four catches last year. Touted JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, tabbed as the starter when he signed, shocked the staff by opting to go on a two-year church mission. There's hope that Zach Tatman, a former walk-on offensive lineman, might be able to step in. Perhaps some young guys will step up.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
LOS ANGELES -- A cool breeze swept across the Howard Jones practice field at USC on Wednesday evening, and it brought a sniff of fall to accentuate the growing big-game buzz and chilled out worries about the Trojans' injury situation with three days until Ohio State comes to town.
Linebacker Brian Cushing, a day after sitting out half of practice with a bruised hip, was back running with the defense showing few, if any, ill-effects.
"It didn't bother me at all," said Cushing, who still sports a brace on his banged-up left wrist.
Receiver Vidal Hazelton also returned to practice, though he was still limited by his sprained ankle and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said the junior is not 100 percent.
"Yeah, he came out and ran today and did some good looking stuff but if it blows up tonight or if it blows up in the morning it will make it difficult for him to practice tomorrow," he said.
Other than a sprained ankle to backup strong safety Will Harris, the Trojans appear healthy.
Of course, a bye week after the massacre of Virginia helped.
"I think we've taken full advantage of it and we're better because of it," coach Pete Carroll said.
STANLEY HAVILI IS A BACK IN FULL: He gets lost in the shuffle of USC's half-dozen running backs, but Stanley Havili is more than a battering ram of a blocking back for the offense.
"He can do a lot of things. We move him all over the place," Carroll said.
Havili, a 225-pound sophomore, caught one pass for 14 yards and ran once for five yards against Virginia, but he averaged 6.4 yards on 21 carries a year ago and hauled in 34 receptions for 248 yards with five TDs in 2007.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel noticed, pointing out "the fullback who does all the catching and all those things."
Said Carroll, "We really trust him. We really go to him in critical situations when we need to. For just a sophomore, he is such a big factor in this offense."
WHAT AYLES THE TROJAN OFFENSE: Freshman TE Blake Ayles' stat line from Virginia won't blow your mind: one reception for two yards.
But he's definitely part of the plan on offense, though perhaps not to a large extent against the Buckeyes.
"We're using him in all different situations but we're not ready to put him out there play after play after play," Carroll said.
Ayles has skills.
"He's a unique athlete at the position," Carroll said. "He's fast. He's really tough. He loves blocking."
ANECODOTE OF THE DAY: Carroll was asked about any memories he had of his single season as an Ohio State assistant coach in 1979 when the Buckeyes went to the Rose Bowl undefeated but lost to USC.
He recalled the second game of the season against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were coming off a messy performance against Ohio (note the interesting symmetry).
"We were thinking they don't look very good at all," Carroll said.
Day before the game, he called a coaching buddy, Dante Scarnecchia, who's currently the Patriots' offensive line coach.
Scarnecchia noted that Minnesota's staff had visited with Mouse Davis at Portland State during the offseason. You know: Davis, the father of the run-and-shoot.
That's not what Minnesota ran against Ohio -- and not what the Buckeyes had expected to see.
"I couldn't hang up the phone fast enough," Carroll said. "We were totally skunked."
Sure enough, Minnesota shocked the Buckeyes with a run-and-shoot offense and jumped ahead at halftime.
Ohio State coach Earle Bruce spent the entire halftime ripping into defensive coordinator Dennis Fryzel, who didn't get any time to re-think the second-half scheme, according to Carroll.
But Ohio State pulled out the game, 21-17, mostly containing the Gophers with their standard defense.
Afterwards, reporters went to Fryzel to ask how the Buckeyes escaped.
"[Fryzel] said, 'The greatest halftime adjustments!'" Carroll recalled.
Wonder if the Buckeyes, after looking terrible against Ohio, come out in a run-and-shoot?
CARROLL IS PUMPED: Carroll isn't your average 57-year-old coach. He not only opts to throw passes -- surprisingly good ones -- during some practice periods, on Wednesday he ran down the field with the kickoff team.
Bet Bear Bryant never did that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
LOS ANGELES -- A full day's worth of notes and quotes as coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel talked to reporters on both ends of the USC-Ohio State showdown.
Carroll and Tressel don't know each other personally but that doesn't mean they don't know each other.
"We know them through recruiting," Carroll said.
They don't steal prospects from each other's states very often -- Ohio State has three players from California, USC one from Ohio -- but both programs recruit nationally.
Tressel noticed some familiar names when he looked over the USC roster.
"Gosh -- all of those guys were on our wish list," he said.
USC hasn't always won recruiting the recruiting battles either -- see Chris Wells and Ted Ginn, Jr.
CARROLL AND WOODY
The best anecdote of the day was Carroll talking about his year as an Ohio State assistant coach under Earle Bruce.
It just so happens that it was 1979, the season Ohio State lost in the Rose Bowl to USC and Charles White.
But Carroll's biggest thrill was looking out a window and seeing former coach Woody Hayes as he walked down the sidewalk.
"I had never seen him before," Carroll said. "So I dropped everything and took off across the parking lot and met him and I introduced myself."
Carroll said it was especially gratifying that Hayes knew who he was. They, of course, talked football.
"To me that was a really special moment," Carroll said.
Tressel to an L.A. audience about the poor performance in the 26-14 victory over Ohio on Saturday: "I've tried not to spend too much time looking back at that... We survived, I guess."
Carroll on the Ohio State-Ohio game:
"I don't think that has anything to do with it... They just won that game a little differently than everybody wanted them to and expected them to."
Tressel on the comments from Ohio State WR Ray Small suggesting that there is a "class" difference between the two schools: "It's disappointing when anyone talks... The only thing I can say about Ray is Ray doesn't have a malicious bone in his body and has no ill-intention... Those of us who speak to the press at times can error... Obviously it wasn't a good thing but he's a good kid."
USC safety Kevin Ellison, who was injured most of the 2005 season, on comparing OSU QB Terrelle Pryor to Vince Young: "I couldn't compare them right now. Vince Young was a totally different level. Terrelle Pryor is a freshman. I'm sure he'll be good a couple of years down the line. But you're talking about Vince Young, the second pick of the NFL draft."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian|
|Pete Carroll and the Trojans have their sights set on a Pac-10 title.|
LOS ANGELES -- Sat down with USC coach Pete Carroll on Sunday night. He ate ice cream and answered questions.
What's your feeling on this scenario: Let's say Mitch Mustain starts at quarterback against Virginia and has a lights out game. Do you have a philosophical opinion on whether an injured starter [Mark Sanchez] always retains his job or do you go with the hot hand against Ohio State?
Pete Carroll: I would never... I can't even answer a question about that. To surmise what's going to happen with one guy and then what we're going to do with the next guy? I wouldn't even tell you what the first stage of it is let alone the second or third. So I'm not going to answer that. Too much conjecture there.
You talk about getting better and growing every year. What have you changed in the past couple of years about how you do things?
PC: Not very much. We do mostly the same stuff with just small changes. It depends on our staff continuity. This year, we've got 99 percent staff continuity so it's really easy [only staff change was the GA who works with the secondary]. We're able to do more things with that. When we're bringing new people along, we can't do that. We can't afford to go off and experiment. This year, we've done more things but it's kind of like if you have a philosophy then why would you change? The consistency is part of the philosophy -- how you recruit, where you recruit, who you recruit. The consistency of what the expectations are, the consistency of the standards for practice, the offseason programs. All of those things are the same. We get better at them. We get better versed on knowing what we want and getting more astute as we go along but we don't change much.
I know this is going to sound pretty stupid, but you're the only coach who can be asked this: Is winning the Rose Bowl ever not enough?
PC: No. You've got to understand that our mindset is to focus only on what we can control. We can only control getting to the Rose Bowl. Winning our conference and going to the Rose Bowl is what our goal is every year. Our goal isn't about national championships, because we don't have control of that -- that's in somebody else's hands. We found that out years ago , when we were No. 1 but then we were No. 3. We already knew that but that just proved it. If we win our games and we're out there and they want us to go somewhere else, then we'll go. We love the Rose Bowl.
Does it ever register with you that there's such a small margin for error for USC that if you don't win the national championship then some believe it hasn't had a successful season?
PC: I know people say that but I don't care. They can say whatever they want.
Could you give me a couple of names of younger guys who have stepped up in preseason practices?
PC: A guy who's had a really good camp is Travon Patterson, a wide receiver. He's caught touchdowns on every big day, every big scrimmage we've had. He's playing fast and has made a lot of plays for us. The guys who have done a lot of good stuff are the freshmen -- [TE] Blake Ayles is a guy you might not have expected to but he's looked great. The other guy is [RB] Allen Bradford. He's had a great camp again. I really like [WR] Jordan Cameron. All four of the freshmen defensive linemen [Armond Armstead, Jurrell Casey, Wes Horton and Malik Jackson] -- they look great. These guys have a chance to play early. Uona Kaveinga has been playing second-team "Mike" linebacker. [Safety] Drew McAllister has looked really good -- he's had three or four picks in big, scrimmage-type situations and hit well. It's been a really solid freshmen class. The offensive linemen have looked good but it's going to take them some time.
Things get a little juicer in Part II, when Carroll talks about new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, his future and what he thinks of his legacy.