Pac-12: Cameron Elisara
While the Huskies used a three-game winning streak at season's end to earn bowl eligibility, it's hardly certain they are a better team today than they were on Sept. 18, particularly with a decimated defensive line that will be missing three key players: Cameron Elisara, Talia Crichton and Semisi Tokolahi.
Obviously, the Huskies defense will have to play much better after giving up 533 yards in the first meeting. But can it? Or will the Huskies just have to outscore the Cornhuskers, which brings along the nation's No. 8 scoring defense?
So let's ask this question: Who might dramatically change this game if he stepped up with a marquee performance?
Quarterback Jake Locker: Too obvious? Well, it's the only answer. For the Huskies to have any chance, Locker needs to turn in his best work this season -- both with his arm and with his feet. And he should be plenty motivated to do so. Recall that the first meeting was widely seen -- here and other places -- as a showdown between Locker, the touted NFL prospect, and perhaps the best secondary in the nation. Well, if that was the case, the Cornhuskers won by knockout. Locker completed just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. He also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown, but the performance was a public failure in a disappointing season for Locker. His NFL draft status started to apparently slide precipitously from sure-No. 1 overall to potentially the second-round. Locker, however, could redeem himself with a big evening, and that could send him into the NFL draft evaluation process with game film that might reignite flagging interest. The horrible result in the first game was hardly only Locker's fault. The Huskies played poorly in all phases. This Seattle Times article does a good job of explaining one area where Locker got little help: his receivers. But the only way the Huskies are going to produce a different result -- even if we're just talking about a competitive game -- is if Locker comes up big.
The Huskies ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (31.2 points per game) and seventh in total defense (401.2 yards per game). Both totals are worse than 2009. The Huskies did play better down the stretch, but that that might have been a function of less competition: UCLA, California and Washington State.
Will a Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl rematch provide an opportunity to make an opposite statement? We checked in with Holt to get his take.
What's your overall feeling on how the defense played this season?
Nick Holt: We got better as the season went on, more confident in what we were trying to do. Our problems started when we got some guys hurt upfront, losing two starters on the defensive line [DT Cameron Elisara and DE Talia Crichton]. We didn't have a lot of depth going into the season. That was one of our worries going into the season -- hey, we've got to stay healthy for us to be a solid defense, not a great defense. We couldn't lose anybody. Sure enough, we lose two defensive starters by mid-October. But anyway, we got better as we went back and re-focused on some of the simple calls we have. We just started doing some of the ordinary stuff a lot better. Getting off blocks. Tackling. Stuff that we thought we were good at, or better than we have been. It really started quite honestly with Nebraska. We just didn't do the fundamentals very well [in that game]. We got distracted. Maybe guys were trying too hard. Throughout the course of the year, we just went back to teaching and coaching, the ordinary things. And we just got better. Nothing flashy. We're really not that flashy. We just played solid tough defense, at times.
The defense played better over the final three games: Who were some guys who took a step forward over those final three games?
NH: Well, the last four or five games of the season, I think our corners, our two starting corners [Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson], played really solid football. Tackling and playing the ball, those two guys come to mind. I think a couple of in the defensive line in played better as the season went on. Everrette Thompson was more consistent and more physical. And I think our true freshman, [defensive end] Hau'oli Jamora, we always thought he would be a good player, and he's not huge, but he was very effective. And then [defensive tackle] Semisi Tokolahi, he played the last four or five games and gave us some added girth inside. He was really solid for us. Unfortunately, he got hurt in Washington State, broke his leg, so he won't be able to play in the bowl game. Those guys come to mind. [Linebacker] Mason Foster, week-in and week out, played well. The same with [strong safety] Nate Williams.
The Nebraska game on Sept. 18: What went wrong?
NH: Number one, we didn't play very well up front, especially our front four. We just weren't aggressive. We got knocked off the ball. We played soft, quite honestly. When that happens, it doesn't matter what you do with the linebackers and defensive backs. They can't cover up that stuff. When you are letting a team basically run an inside zone play for eight, nine or 10 yards a pop, and you are not stopping it with your base defenses, something is up, something is wrong. That game opened our eyes. We've got to get back to being physical. We just got distracted with maybe all the option stuff, trying to do too much. We lost the emphasis of good fundamentals. Number two, we didn't tackle very well. At all. We let some runs get out on us with some arm tackles. We gave away a lot of explosion plays where we had guys there on the line of scrimmage, and we just didn't make the tackle. We lost our leverage, or missed a tackle. Number three, we didn't play very well on third down. We had a couple of third and longs, and they ran some rudimentary things, and we missed tackles. Some slants and some other things. We had guys out there. But that's just the way it is right now in our program. We didn't do some of the fundamental football stuff in that game very well. We really had to go back and teach some stuff, get back to the fundamentals.
You guys bounced back pretty well, though, after a bye, winning at USC.
NH: We didn't lose patience with our kids. We just coached them up and coached them up, and they got better. And in the future we will be a lot better if we keep recruiting well.
What's your feeling on your guys' mindset for a rematch with Nebraska?
NH: I think they're motivated to play well. I think they are excited about the opportunity to just be in a bowl game and finishing the season strong. I think they would be motivated regardless of who they're playing. But we are playing Nebraska, and I think their focus is, hey, we didn't play very well the first time. They got after our butts a little bit. We need to play better. We need to make this a better football game than in was in September. I think that's the mindset.
What's the first priority for slowing down the Cornhuskers this time around?
NH: You've got to stop their running backs first, really. They have all these trick plays and stuff, but looking back on it, I think their running backs -- No. 10 and No. 22 [Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead] -- are really good football players. Their offensive line is good. So you got to stop the two running backs first and then you've got to contain the quarterback. You can't let him get 80 yards on a run or run 60 yards for a touchdown. He might get a couple of yards here and there, but you've got contain him, contain plays with him scrambling, or busting the line with a quarterback run. And then no gimmick-type plays. They do have some nice gimmicks. They get in the wildcat formation and the running back throws long balls for touchdowns and things like that. They are a run team, but because they are so effective running the ball, their play-action is really good. Guys get open.
What's the No. 1 off-season priority to get better in 2011?
NH: Recruiting. But that being said, our linemen in our program -- defensive linemen and offensive lineman -- need to get bigger and stronger and faster. Our front seven on defense -- linebackers and defensive line -- we need to get bigger and stronger and faster. We're getting there. But that's why we are where we are right now. Our interior guys, whether it's on offense or defense, we need to get more physical, we need to get bigger. We're getting there, but we're playing some young guys. Those young guys should be redshirting, but we don't have that luxury. The weight room is huge for us this year.
How close are you guys talent-wise -- one recruiting class, two more recruiting classes -- to being where you want to be?
NH: I think we have some talented guys, especially on offense. Our running backs and our receivers are as good as there are. But we're a ways away at the non-glamor positions. But those non-glamor positions are where you win championships: up front. Our guys are battling. But we're not there. Our guys are making progress. How long? Hopefully, it's not long, but quite honestly it's a process -- it's another two or three years before you're really good up front.
Darron Thomas: Oregon's sophomore QB completed 22 of 31 passes for 308 yards with three TDs and no interceptions in the 60-13 win over UCLA on Thursday. And he was named a semifinalist for the O'Brien Award, given annually to the nation's best quarterback.
Matt Scott: Arizona's backup QB was outstanding in relief of Nick Foles. He completed 18-of-22 for 223 yards with two TDs and zero interceptions against Washington. He also rushed for 65 yards on seven carries in the 44-14 victory. The performance means there's no need to rush Foles back, even though Foles' recovery from a knee injury is ahead of schedule.
Arizona's defense: If defense wins championships, then the Wildcats can't be counted out of the Pac-10 race. They rank No. 7 in the nation in scoring defense, No. 10 in total defense, No. 7 against the run and their 3.57 sacks per game ranks second. Three new LBs? Co-coordinators? Hey, no worries! (Oh, by the way, former coordinator Mark Stoops is doing pretty darn well at Florida State, too.)
California: If Cal were actually a stock, it would have made and lost fortunes for day traders across the country: The team that was humiliated by USC (buy low!) then blew out Arizona State. So, Bears, do you take the show on the road at Oregon State or is it time to sell high?
Marquess Wilson: Washington State true sophomore QB Jeff Tuel has found his go-to guy in Wilson, a true freshman. Wilson caught six passes for 150 yards with a TD at Stanford and he now leads the Pac-10 with 99.5 yards receiving per game.
UCLA: The Bruins have been blown out in consecutive Pac-10 games and they've lost starting QB Kevin Prince for the season. Oh, and two offensive starters were suspended for Saturday's game with Arizona, which has the best defense in the Pac-10. Not a good week.
Washington's defense: The Huskies' defense ranks among the nation's worst in most major statistical categories, including 102nd in scoring (33.1 ppg) and 104th vs. the run (202.7 ypg). It doesn't help that they will play host to Stanford, owners of the conference's best O-line, with their best defensive lineman, Cameron Elisara out. He's the second D-line starter to go down -- the other is end Talia Crichton -- for a unit that isn't deep.
Steven Threet: The Arizona State QB got knocked out of the Cal game with a concussion, but not before throwing two more interceptions, giving him a Pac-10-worst 13, as well as the conference's lowest efficiency rating. In response, the Sun Devils' coaches are going to simplify the offense in order to get Threet back on track.
Jake Locker: He's banged up, the Huskies' bowl hopes are sagging and his numbers aren't good. Locker still figures to be a high NFL draft pick -- just probably not as high if he'd left after his junior season. His senior season, at least so far, can't be what he'd hoped for.
Stanford's pass defense: While the overall numbers are OK, the area that could hold Stanford back this year is pass defense. Tuel completed 21 of 28 passes for 298 yards with four TDs at Stanford, and the health of safety Delano Howell is a concern. Locker might be looking to reverse the course of his -- and the Huskies' -- season against the Cardinal secondary.
And it's typically not a strength position in the Pac-10. Coaches who have worked both down south and out west will tell you that one of the peculiar differences is how many more DTs there are in SEC and ACC country. (Quarterback goes the other way.)
So how do things stack up?
- USC: The Trojans would rank among the nation's best at the position if not for the season-ending knee injury to Christian Tupou. Still, Jurrell Casey is a beast, Hebron Fangupo is huge and DaJohn Harris was one of the surprises of spring practices.
- Oregon State: All-America candidate Stephen Paea is powerful and explosive and if he turns in a big season beating double-teams, he could end up a first-round NFL draft pick. Brennan Olander is a returning starter and converted end Kevin Frahm provides depth.
- Arizona State: Both 2009 starters, Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola, are back, and Corey Adams and Williams Sutton should provide quality depth.
- Oregon: Brandon Bair is underrated, and Zac Clark saw plenty of action as a backup in 2009. While inexperienced, there's young talent to provide depth.
- Washington: The Huskies are solid with Cameron Elisara and Alameda Ta'amu, returning starters who turned in their best work this past spring.
- California: Hard to rate teams that use a pure 3-4 because there's only a single nose tackle. Still, if Derrick Hill can stay healthy, he and Kendrick Payne will be an outstanding tandem making life tough for opposing centers.
- Stanford: The Cardinal is breaking in its own 3-4 this year. Nose tackle Sione Fua is solid in the middle, with Terrence Stephens his backup. Stephens saw limited action as a true freshman in 2009.
- UCLA: The Bruins are replacing two starters, including the dominant Brian Price. David Carter, Justin Edison and Nate Chandler were solid in spring practices, so the position isn't a huge concern.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are replacing two starters, including the underrated Earl Mitchell, a third-round NFL draft pick. After spring practices, Sione Tuihalamaka and Lolomana Mikaele topped the depth chart, which featured six names.
- Washington State: Another position where the Cougars might be "better than you think," particularly if Bernard Wolfgramm can stay healthy. Touted JC transfer Brandon Rankin was impressive this spring, and true sophomore Anthony Laurenzi, a five-game starter in 2009, offers experienced depth.
2009 overall record: 5-7
2009 conference record: 4-5 (seventh)
Offense: 9, Defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2
Top returners: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Polk, OT Senio Kelemete, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Devin Aguilar, LB Mason Foster, CB Desmond Trufant
Key losses: FB Paul Homer, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, LB Donald Butler
2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)
Rushing: Chris Polk* (1,189)
Passing: Jake Locker* (2,800)
Receiving: Jermaine Kearse* (866)
Tackles: Donald Butler (94)
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (11)
Interceptions: Mason Foster* (3)
1. There's depth at tailback: While sophomore Chris Polk, who rushed for 1,113 yards last year, sat out because he's still recovering from shoulder surgery, backups shined, starting with a pair of true freshmen who enrolled early: Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier. Toss in impressive efforts in the spring game from Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson, and there are five tailbacks competing for touches.
2. The interior D-line should be tough: Senior Cameron Elisara saw time at end and tackle, which allowed Alameda Ta'amu, Tyrone Duncan and Semisi Tokolahi to show what they can do. Senior De'Shon Matthews and touted incoming freshman Sione Potoa'e also could be in the mix. Being able to rotate four or five reliable tackles is a luxury the Huskies defense hasn't had in recent years.
3. Uncertainty in the secondary is a good thing: Nate Williams will start at strong safety, and Desmond Trufant, who missed spring with a sports hernia, is almost certainly going to be one cornerback. After that, though, things are uncertain. The good news is that's about competition, not a lack of capable players. Redshirt freshman free safety Will Shamburger was one of the spring stars, while Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell, Adam Long and Anthony Boyles are in the mix at corner.
1. Will the injured ends mend? The Huskies defense needs ends Everrette Thompson (torn Achilles) and Kalani Aldrich (knee) to be healthy in 2010. Both sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries. Both are expected back but it remains to be seen whether they will be 100 percent (or even close to it). Even though Elisara showed that he could play end, if needed, and Talia Crichton had a good spring, there's just not enough depth at the spot to be a top-level defense without them. It's possible a true freshman will see action here.
2. SAM I am? Mason Foster is an all-conference candidate on the weakside and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who's the SAM -- strongside -- linebacker? Two former safeties, Alvin Logan and Victor Aiyewa, are candidates, though Aiyewa saw little action this spring due to a shoulder injury, as well as Matt Houston.
3. Who backs up Locker? After junior Ronnie Fouch opted to transfer, there are only two scholarship quarterbacks after Locker: true freshman Nick Montana and redshirt freshman Keith Price. Coach Steve Sarkisian has repeatedly said he's in no rush -- and not worried -- about his backup spot. Of course, the screws tighten a bit if Locker gets hurt.
And there it finds receiver Devin Aguilar.
Even a jaded onlooker who's watched plenty football practices finds himself glancing side-to-side to confirm the appropriate reaction: "Golly."
Most quarterbacks would have been sacked. The Locker of 2007 or 2008 probably would have used his 4.4 speed to run for a short -- or perhaps not so short -- gain. But this is Locker 4.0, who bypassed an opportunity to be a top-10 NFL draft pick on April 22 and returned to the Huskies for his senior season. Once seen as just an athlete playing quarterback, now he can play well within a pro-style system while reserving the right to riff a bit of improvisation when the feeling strikes.
"A lot of times when plays break down is when you get your biggest plays," he said. "It's about a good balance of both; of understanding when it's going to be productive to get outside the pocket and try to make a play and when you need to stand in there and make a throw."
This Locker, who accounted for 28 touchdowns in 2009, is expecting to refine his considerable skills in Year 2 under coach Steve Sarkisian and lead the Huskies to their first bowl game since 2002.
"In my opinion, the real strides, the real improvement, occur from Year 1 to Year 2," Sarkisian said. "That's historically what we've seen."
That expectation is shared by more than a few folks. It's why many draft experts are projecting Locker to go No. 1 overall in 2011 -- ESPN's Mel Kiper told reporters it was "etched in stone."
But first things first: Locker has yet to experience a winning season or go to a bowl game in his career. He can't do it alone. What's ignited the buzz in Seattle, however, is that he won't need to. His supporting cast on offense is the match of any in the Pac-10, particularly at the skill positions.
- The highlight was, predictably, an impressive play from quarterback Jake Locker. Locker scrambled out of the pocket to his left and and the right-hander then flicked a perfect pass to Devin Aguilar 40 yards down the sideline. Said one observer, "Do you think any other quarterback in college football could do that?" Answer: Probably not. "He's playing at a real high level," coach Steve Sarkisian said.
- "Hey, Nate Williams," Sarkisian barked at his senior safety. "Punch that out!" Sarkisian was telling Williams to try to force a fumble on a short completion. It doesn't take long to see Sarkisian isn't likely to become a CEO coach. He's involved in teaching on both sides of the ball.
- True freshman quarterback Nick Montana appears capable of competing for the backup job with redshirt freshman Keith Price -- Sarkisian certainly is far from committing to a redshirt season for him. While Montana looks skinny in his uniform, he doesn't seem overwhelmed during the early going (as a first-year player, he's not available for interviews). He tossed a couple of nice passes downfield and showed respectable mobility outside the pocket. Of course, he also looks like a freshman at times -- facing his first college pass rush, he had a pass batted down and was wild with a few throws.
- The Huskies are clearly thin at defensive end, which is why tackle Cameron Elisara is seeing action on the outside.
- True freshmen running backs Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier both have caught Sarkisian's eye. They could be in the mix in the fall behind Chris Polk, who's sitting out spring after shoulder surgery.
- Headed down to Oregon State on Wednesday. Having heard so much about the arm strength of Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz, it will be interesting to see how the zip on his passes compares to Locker's.
- Juron Criner is coming into his own for Arizona.
- Arizona State is playing a difficult game of quarterback roulette.
- California's future looks bright at running back.
- Kenny Wheaton's life has been about more than just the biggest play in Oregon football history. Oregon assistant -- and former Duck and NFL player -- Rashad Bauman knows love and tragedy.
- Oregon State's Lyle Moevao is doing all he can to prepare Sean Canfield for Autzen Stadium. This link is all about the graphic on the left. That is funny.
- Jim Harbaugh has some play-calling regrets from the Big Game.
- UCLA DT Brian Price is thinking about his future. A lot is on the line -- in recruiting -- when USC and UCLA play.
- USC RB Joe McKnight is leaning toward returning for his senior season.
- A crack at what Steve Sarkisian might say to his Huskies as they get ready for the Apple Cup. Some Washington notes.
- The Keith Gilbertson connection is deep with the Huskies, but it now extends to the Cougars. But the Cameron Elisara crossover might be more surprising.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Some injury notes based on news reports.
Guard Conan Amituanai sprained his knee against Washington. He won't play against Stanford. Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell was hurt in a freak accident on Oct. 9 -- he was knocked out by a door and required stitches -- and didn't play Saturday, but he might return this week. Receiver Bug Wright (knee), defensive end Brooks Reed (ankle), running back Nic Grigsby (shoulder), running back Keola Antolin and defensive end D'Aundre Reed (hand) are all questionable.
The Sun Devils got two player back at Washington State -- guard Garth Gerhart and safety Ryan McFoy -- and didn't suffer any additional injuries. Receiver Kerry Taylor (hamstring), guard Matt Hustad and cornerback Omar Bolden (knee) each missed the Washington State game and are questionable this week.
After taking the weekend off, the Bears may get guard Matt Summers-Gavin (shoulder), wide receiver Nyan Boateng (foot) and tight end Spencer Ladner back for the UCLA game. On the downside, receiver Verran Tucker is battling a calf injury and backup nose tackle Kendrick Payne, who didn't play against USC, is doubtful with plantar fasciitis.
The Ducks only practice Wednesday and Friday during their bye week. It's unclear if quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (knee) or safety T.J. Ward (ankle) will be ready to participate. Offensive tackle C.E. Kaiser sat out all last week with a shin injury but he played against UCLA.
Offensive guard Gregg Peat bruised his knee against Stanford but he should be able to play after the bye week at USC. Running back Ryan McCants (knee) has yet to play this season but he is questionable for the USC game. Receiver Darrell Catchings (ankle) isn't expected to be ready by Oct. 24.
Defensive end Erik Lorig didn't play at Oregon State because of a groin injury. Safety Delano Howell is nursing a quad injury. Both are questionable for the visit to Arizona.
Linebacker Reggie Carter played through a sprained knee against Oregon but he's questionable for the Cal game. Tailback Johnathan Franklin and safety Glenn Love are both nursing sprained ankles. Defensive end Korey Bosworth bruised his ribs but is probable for Saturday.
Receiver Ronald Johnson (collarbone) and defensive end Armond Armstead (foot) are expected to be cleared to play at Notre Dame.
Offensive guard Greg Christine broke his fibula against Arizona and is likely done for the year. He was replaced by sophomore Nick Wood. Running back Chris Polk played through a sprained shoulder against Arizona. Linebacker E.J. Savannah and defensive tackle Cameron Elisara are nursing stingers.
It's good news and bad news for the Cougars. Cornerback Daniel Simmons may be done for the season after breaking his leg against Arizona State. On the plus side, guard Zack Williams (ankle) should be ready for the visit to California after the bye week. Tackle Steven Ayers (ankle) and guard B.J. Guerra (knee) are questionable, as are defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm (hip) and linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (staph infection).
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
The 2006 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.
Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses.
In the big picture, USC ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., behind No. 1 Florida (sorta makes sense, eh?). UCLA, at No. 19, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.
Scout.com ranked USC No. 1 in the nation, Arizona 19th, UCLA 20th and California 23rd. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Arizona State (32nd in nation), Washington (35th), Stanford (38), Oregon State (41), Washington State (45) and Oregon (52).
Oregon last? Hmm.
Anyway... here's an overview
How many are expected to start in 2009: Nine (CB Devin Ross, DT Earl Mitchell, FS Cam Nelson, WR Terrell Turner, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore, WR Delashaun Dean, OG Conan Amituanai, C Colin Baxter)
Misses: QB Tyler Lyon, RB Derke Robinson
Verdict: This is an underrated class -- even guys who aren't listed as starters are projected to contribute in 2009. It's also notable that the few who didn't pan out -- or were problems, such as DE Louis Holmes -- were the big names.
Misses: DE Jermaine Williams, RB Rodney Glass
Verdict: A solid class when you consider that nine of the 24 signees were JC players who have already moved on -- a group that included RB Ryan Torain and S Troy Nolan, who were the class's most elite performers.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Six (CB Darian Hagan, DT Derrick Hill, QB Kevin Riley, C Chris Guarnero, DE Tyson Alualu, LB Mike Mohamed)
Verdict: Ratings, smatings. Montgomery, Slocum and Prueitt were highly rated, Alualu and Mohamed barely registered. Overall, a solid class.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Five (C Jordan Holmes, LT Bo Thran, RT C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Spenser Paysinger)
Verdict: Decidedly mixed. One thing is for sure: This class bolstered the Ducks offensive line. Also interesting, Bair and Paysinger transitioned to their current positions from tight end and receiver, respectively.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Lots of full-go spring action this past weekend. Let's check in.
The lead: The offense broke through after the defense had previously dominated this spring. From the Arizona Republic:
Four quarterbacks combined to throw for 332 yards and four touchdowns at Sun Devil Stadium with another score coming on the ground. Danny Sullivan completed nine of his final 11 passes to solidify his hold on the No. 1 quarterback job.
[Coach Jeff] Tedford maintains he won't pick a starter until August, but junior Kevin Riley continues to produce the best -- 9-of-16, 89 yards, one touchdown on Saturday.
[Quarterback Kevin] Prince battled protection issues while completing 8-of-14 passes for 91 yards. Freshman Richard Brehaut led the Bruins to their only score on his first drive but was inconsistent, completing 6-13 for 61 yards. Senior Kevin Craft completed 3-of-6 passes for 25 yards with an interception and a fumble.
The lead: Freshman Matt Barkley threw three touchdown passes and continued to make USC's quarterback competition interesting. From the Los Angeles Times:
After eight practices, the former Santa Ana Mater Dei High star is handling just about everything Coach Pete Carroll and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates have thrown at him.
And while scrimmage statistics can often be misleading because of situational set-ups and lineup shuffling, Barkley mostly looked like a seasoned veteran while completing 10 of 13 passes for 195 yards.
The lead: The No. 1 offense scored three touchdowns against the No. 1 defense, but Huskies fans might be more excited about how the D-line played. From the Seattle Times:
If there was one area that seemed to stand out most, however, it might have been the starting defensive line of ends Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Darrion Jones and tackles Alameda Ta'amu and Cameron Elisara. When last seen in action, the UW defense allowed 431 rushing yards in the 48-7 loss at Cal that capped the 0-12 2008 season.
But Saturday the Huskies never allowed a rush of longer than 11 yards and had five QB sacks. UW's running backs had 88 yards on 32 carries.
The lead: The Cougars have been hit hard by injuries this spring, but the running game was a bright spot in Saturday's scrimmage, with California transfer James Montgomery making a statement. From the Tacoma News Tribune:
Montgomery and three-time team rushing leader Dwight Tardy looked sharp, both rushing for more than 60 yards while averaging 6-plus yards per carry.
Coaches say the starting job is still up for grabs, but Montgomery has turned heads.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Turns out the post on Pac-10 defensive tackles doesn't fit our present format either. Drat.
So let's take another look.
- Arizona: Earl Mitchell leads a crew of five returning tackles from the 2008 depth chart, not to mention the return from suspension of former starter Lolomana Mikaele.
- Oregon State: Stephen Paea had five sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2008. He's a load. Junior Mitchel Hunt is the frontrunner for the other tackle, and the depth chart features four or five guys who can play.
- UCLA: Brian Price's 14 tackles for a loss led all conference interior defensive linemen. If he sharpens up against the run, he could become an All-American. Jerzy Siewierski and Jess Ward will battle for the spot next to Price. Both have seen significant action.
- USC: Fili Moala is gone, but four of the top five tackles from 2008 are back, including returning starter Christian Tupou. Sophomores Jurrell Casey and Armond Armstead look like the next great Trojan DTs.
- Arizona State: Lawrence Guy earned Freshman All-American honors and Saia Falahola and Jonathan English have both seen a lot of action. In the fall, 292-pound touted freshman Corey Adams arrives.
- Stanford: Ekom Udofia, Matt Masifilo, Sione Fua and Brian Bulcke give the Cardinal an effective, experienced crew inside. They combined for 12.5 tackles for a loss in 2008.
- California: A 3-4 defense obviously means fewer tackles, but the Bears top two nose tackles -- Derrick Hill, who will miss spring after arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and Kendrick Payne -- should be solid.
- Oregon: Both starters need to be replaced. Tonio Celotto, who battled nagging injuries last year, and Blake Ferras appear to have the inside track, but newcomers will have to help immediately.
- Washington: Everyone is back, but no one stood out in 2008. The thinking is sophomores Alameda Ta'amu and Senio Kelemete should be much better after being prematurely thrown into action. There's also junior Cameron Elisara and Johnny Tivao, a 5-foot-10, 350-pound JC transfer.
- Washington State: Three of their top four tackles on the season-ending depth chart are gone, but maybe that's the good news. Junior Toby Turpin, who had 20 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss last year, will man one spot and Bernard Wolfgramm is the frontrunner for the other.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
You're going to hear a lot of talk over the coming weeks heading into the NFL draft about how important defensive tackles are and how rare the dominant ones are.
The recent history with defensive tackles in the Pac-10, outside of USC, of course, isn't great. Not counting the Trojans, the only conference defensive tackle picked in the first round since the 2000 draft was Oregon's Haloti Ngata in 2006.
That may change in either 2010 or 2011 with UCLA's Brian Price, a rising junior and the top returning interior defensive lineman in the conference.
Here's our list of the top returning tackles heading into spring practices, followed by notes on where each team stands at the position.
- Brian Price, UCLA: 4.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss led all conference interior defensive linemen.
- Stephen Paea, Oregon State: He's a load who's also productive, see five sacks, 11 tackles for a loss.
- Lawrence Guy, Arizona State: 10 tackles for a loss as a true freshman. Hello upside.
- Earl Mitchell, Arizona: 40 tackles, 5.5 for a loss after switching from H-back.
- Christian Tupou, USC: Sure, he only had 12 tackles last year, but he started for the nation's best defense, which counts for a lot.
- Derrick Hill, California: Mostly platooned with Mika Kane last year, but he's got the talent to break through as a junior.
Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back all five tackles listed on their 2008 depth chart and are expected to reinstate suspended former starter Lolomana Mikaele. Toss in marquee, 21-year-old JC transfer Jonathan Hollins, and the Wildcats probably have more depth at the position than any other team in the conference.
Arizona State: The biggest question is will 292-pound incoming freshman Corey Adams start beside Guy from day one. Saia Falahola and Jonathan English have both seen a lot of action, so it's not a sure thing.
California: A 3-4 defense obviously means fewer DT-types play. The question for the Bears is the pecking order behind Hill: Cody Jones and Kendrick Payne both missed last season with injuries, and is rising sophomore Trevor Guyton a big end or nose tackle?
Oregon: The interior d-line is probably the Ducks biggest question mark, seeing that both starters need to be replaced. There are high expectations for Tonio Celotto, who battled nagging injuries last year, but there is little to no experience. A pair of incoming JC tackles are expected to help immediately.
Oregon State: Paea can be a force when healthy, and there are experienced players competing to replace Pernnell Booth. The spring focus will be mostly on replacing both defensive ends.
Stanford: Brian Bulcke and Sione Fua give the Cardinal a quietly effective combination inside. They combined for seven sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Matt Masifilo leads the depth, which will be at issue this spring. [Edit: As a reader pointed out in an email, starting DT Ekom Udofia will be back in 2009. So the Cardinal D figures to be fairly solid in the interior].
UCLA: Price will demand two blockers next year, particularly with the departure of the solid Brigham Harwell. The Bruins will be fairly experienced inside, but will any other player step forward to complement -- and take the focus off -- Price?
USC: Sure, Fili Moala is a big loss, but the Trojans will still will boast the strongest interior defensive lineup in the conference. Start with Tupou and the player he beat out in 2008, Averell Spicer. Then toss in Jurrell Casey and Armond Armstead, who both were impressive in limited action as true freshmen last year. USC actually might be STRONGER at tackle than 2008. Seriously.
Washington: Good news is just about everyone is back. Bad news is the Huskies got pushed around up the middle last year. Still, if rising sophomores Alameda Ta'amu and Senio Kelemete have big off-seasons in the weight room, they could form a solid troika with Cameron Elisara. And incoming JC transfer Johnny Tivao is listed at 5 foot 10, 350 pounds, so that's something.
Washington State: Lots of questions here for the Cougars, who will be young inside with the departure of three of their top four tackles on the season-ending depth chart. Rising junior Toby Turpin, who had 20 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss last year, will man one spot and Bernard Wolfgramm is the frontrunner for the other. And might the Cougs consider adopting a 3-4 scheme?