Pac-12: Dan LeFevour

Pac-10 helmet stickers

September, 6, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

Lots of big performances in the Pac-10 this weekend:

USC quarterback Matt Barkley: The touted true freshman completed 15 of 19 for 233 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in the Trojans' 56-3 win over San Jose State. Barkley didn't look like a true freshman while leading a Trojans offense that, after a slow start, was dominant.

California quarterback Kevin Riley: Riley started slowly but exploded much like the Bears offense. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 298 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in Cal's 52-13 victory over Maryland. Guess not having Nate Longshore looking over his shoulder helps.

Washington coaching staff: The Huskies didn't win but they fought like crazy and played with fire against LSU. Not only that, the Huskies dominated statistically -- they decisively outgained and outrushed the Tigers -- though they were decisively beaten 31-23 on the scoreboard. Head coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt deserve credit for transforming the Huskies, a team that quit on coach Tyrone Willingham. After Sarkisian's tutelage in a pro-style offense, quarterback Jake Locker passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns

Arizona's defense: Central Michigan and touted quarterback Dan LeFevour only managed 182 total yards and 11 first downs in a 19-6 loss at Arizona. With a dominant defense, the Wildcats don't need to worry so much about who plays quarterback or whether tight end Rob Gronkowski is healthy.

Arizona State linebacker Mike Nixon: Nixon became the first Sun Devil in 20 years to intercept three passes in one game, returning one for a touchdown in an easy 50-3 victory over Idaho State. Nixon, who also blocked a punt, tied for the Pac-10 lead with five interceptions last year.

LeFevour will challenge Arizona's no-name defense

August, 31, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

While Arizona's opener against Central Michigan isn't the marquee game of the week, it might be called the sneaky-interesting game of the week.

That's because it matches Chippewas star Dan LeFevour, one of the nation's top quarterbacks, against the Wildcats' no-name defense.
Dale Zanine
Dan LeFevour has already passed for over 9,400 yards in his career.

LeFevour, a senior leading a spread-option offense for a third consecutive season, piled up 3,376 yards of total offense last year and accounted for 27 touchdowns. He's a potent threat both running (592 yards) and passing (2,784 yards). Think Jake Locker but as a more refined passer.

"Dan's a great player," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "He deserves all those accolades. He's one of the best we'll see all year at the position."

Speaking of accolades, at what point does Arizona's defense start to get some?

Arizona welcomes back seven starters from a unit that ranked third in the Pac-10 in both scoring (21.3 points per game) and total defense (313 yards per game), and when you talk to different coaches across the conference, there is widespread admiration for the soundness of the Wildcats' scheme.

"They have had a really disciplined scheme for years," USC coach Pete Carroll said before playing Arizona last year. "They are basically a zone team and they mix their pressures nicely. A lot of zone pressure, not too much man to man pressure, but they just have a real good sense of playing zones and they fill up the field and make it look like the field is too small. There's not a lot of spaces and they break up the ball well and they position and anticipate beautifully. They are going to keep you in front of them. They are not going to give you any big plays which is a good idea in this conference. They are real disciplined at it. So they show real consistency and when their playmakers start to grow up in their system like they have had in the past, they are able to make a lot of things happen."

Carroll can BS with the best of them, but that is clearly a thoughtful, respectful answer.

And guess what? Those playmakers are growing into their system, which means it might not be a no-name defense for long. Defensive end Brooks Reed, safety Cam Nelson, cornerback Devin Ross, strong safety Robert Golden, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka each could become all-conference-type players.

But coordinator Mark Stoops isn't eager to celebrate individuals.

"We're not overwhelming at any one position, but we have good players across the board. We're pretty solid," he said. "But if you don't play within the system, for each other, with your hair on fire, you're very average. I don't care if you're Miami, Oklahoma or USC."

Mark Stoops made the point that the only time the defense got blown up in 2008 was the first half against Oregon when the Ducks scored 45 points.

"It was embarrassing," he said. "That was the only time last year that was pure frustration."

Number of Arizona adjustments at halftime? Zero. It was merely a case of reminding players to take care of their technique and responsibilities within the scheme.

After the break, Oregon scored only 10 points, and the Wildcats nearly came back from a 28-point halftime deficit before falling 55-45.

Central Michigan, which is breaking in three new starting offensive lineman, won't likely be able to run the ball consistently. LeFevour has two good receivers in Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, so this likely will be a strength-on-strength matchup with the secondary, with LeFevour's scrambles also challenging the Wildcats.

The Chippewas are favored to win their third MAC title over the past four seasons, and LeFevour is looking to make a national statement.

This is far from a gimme for the Wildcats, who have blown nonconference games against inferior foes the past two seasons.

"They're not going to be awestruck by the environment," Mike Stoops said.

Best case-worst case: Arizona

August, 7, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Up next: Arizona

Best case

Many touted Central Michigan as a potential upset special at Arizona in week one, in large part because NFL teams are high on Chippewas' quarterback Dan LeFevour. But a quarterback can't do much when he's flat on his back.

Wildcats end Brooks Reed records three of the Wildcats seven sacks, while sophomore quarterback Matt Scott is steady in his first start, throwing for a touchdown and running for another in a 38-10 victory.

After dispatching Northern Arizona, the Wildcats head to No. 15 Iowa, which is far more salty on the offensive line. But the Hawkeyes have no answer for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who catches 10 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats make a statement that they will be a Pac-10 contender.

Still, there are skeptics. Just about everyone projects a loss at Oregon State.

And just about everyone is wrong. Arizona, playing perhaps its most complete game of the Mike Stoops era, shocks the Beavers 35-17 in Reser Stadium, with Nic Grigsby rushing for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

TV folks also finally scrap the "Stoops Cam," which in past years had picked up the emotional coach acting, well, emotional. "He's the new Tom Landry," notes one scribe. "He just stands there in his visor. Buy the guy a fedora."

Scott looks more like Washington's Jake Locker in a 41-20 victory over the Huskies, passing for 210 yards and rushing for 78, but the momentum ends with a second-consecutive heartbreaking loss to Stanford, this time when Cardinal strong safety Delano Howell returns a Scott interception for a late touchdown in a 24-20 defeat.

The Wildcats bounce back with wins over UCLA and Washington State and they carry a 7-1 record and No. 12 ranking into Berkeley for a showdown with the No. 8 Bears.

The Rose Bowl -- Arizona has never been and Cal hasn't played in one since 1959 -- is still up for grabs.

While the Wildcats had won two out of the past three from the Bears, this time there's just a little too much Jahvid Best, who rushes for 135 yards and turns a screen pass into a 68-yard touchdown in a 28-24 win.

The Wildcats trudge home, but 15,000 fans meet them at the airport, which inspires them in a 42-35 overtime victory over Oregon.

Reed, now a frontrunner for the Ted Hendricks Award, records two sacks in the 28-17 victory over Arizona State, giving him 15.5 for the season, a total that is second only to Tedy Bruschi's 19 in 1993.

The Wildcats head to Los Angeles to play spoiler for unbeaten USC, which is a win away from the BCS title game, but the Trojans offensive line takes control in the fourth quarter in a 31-20 decision.

Still, an invitation to the Holiday Bowl isn't too shabby, though Stoops isn't sure what to think of a date with big brother Bob and Oklahoma.

As often seems to happen in the Holiday Bowl, the team that wishes it were someplace else -- in this case, Oklahoma -- struggles. The Wildcats grind out a 24-20 win, sacking Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford four times.

The Wildcats finish 10-3 and ranked 10th. Tucson columnists opine that Stoops is "probably off the hot seat. For now."

Worst case

Sometimes the pessimistic projections prove true.

The quarterback tandem of Matt Scott and Nick Foles -- neither managed to separate himself during preseason practices -- is no match for Central Michigan's NFL prospect Dan LeFevour, who throws three touchdown passes in a 28-24 upset of the Wildcats.

After beating Northern Arizona, the Wildcats fall at Iowa and Oregon State. With a bye week before heading to Washington, coach Mike Stoops announces that Matt Scott will be the quarterback. Scott then leads a conservative offensive effort in a win over the Huskies.

That's the good news. The bad news is tight end Rob Gronkowski suffers a season-ending thumb injury.

Scott, who's clearly more comfortable running than throwing, rushes for 95 yards in a win over Stanford, but that approach isn't as effective against UCLA's fast defense, which holds the Wildcats to just 220 total yards.

Foles takes over, and throws for 285 yards and two touchdowns in an easy win over Washington State. But California's secondary is a bit more athletic, and the Bears intercept Foles three times in a 30-17 win.

When Foles can't get it done in a 40-20 loss to Oregon, Scott earns the start against arch-rival Arizona State.

Scott plays well, but the Wildcats fall when Sun Devils kicker Thomas Weber breaks a 20-20 tie with a 57-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

The dispirited Wildcats are no match for USC in the season-finale, falling 44-10, a four-game losing streak capping a disappointing 4-8 season.

"Stoops seat couldn't be hotter," the headlines read.

Five scariest nonconference games

July, 13, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Five scary nonconference games favored Pac-10 teams shouldn't overlook:

Central Michigan at Arizona (Sept. 5): Arizona was excited about winning eight games last year. The Chippewas have won at least that many three years in a row. They've got 16 starters back -- including 10 on defense. And, in contrast to the Wildcats who will be breaking in a new quarterback, Central Michigan can lean on Dan LeFevour, who's 14th on the NCAA career list for total offense.

Purdue at Oregon (Sept. 12): Purdue shouldn't be fast enough to keep up with the Oregon, but it made things quite difficult for the Ducks last year. Moreover, this game is sandwiched between the marquee season opener at Boise State and a visit from Utah. Even though Purdue has been sliding of late and changed coaches, the Boilermakers are still a Big Ten team worthy of respect.

Oregon State at UNLV (Sept. 12): Oregon State is a notoriously slow-starting team -- see three consecutive 2-3 starts. UNLV welcomes back 15 starters from a team that won at Arizona State a year ago. The Beavers are (again) rebuilding their defense, particularly their secondary. UNLV is talented and experienced at wide receiver. The Rebels are thinking bowl game. And even though this is an 8 p.m. kickoff, the guess here is it will be fairly toasty in Vegas, at least significantly more so than in Corvallis.

California at Minnesota (Sept. 19): Some folks have been touting California as a team that is talented enough to unseat USC (who, me?) But this game should get the Bears' full attention, and not just because they fell flat on a trip east to Maryland in 2008. Minnesota is clearly trending up in the Big Ten under coach Tim Brewster, who is a first-rate recruiter. The Gophers also are one of the Big Ten's most-experienced teams with 17 starters back. Moreover, Cal will be the Gophers' first BCS conference foe in their fancy new stadium, so the atmosphere should be frenzied against the visitors from Berkeley.

USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 17): It's almost impossible to imagine Notre Dame besting the Trojans if you watched last year's game, a 38-3 throttling that wasn't even as close as the 35-point spread suggests. However, recall that the year before losing to 41-point underdog Stanford in 2007, USC rolled the Cardinal 42-zip. At some point, Notre Dame is going to beat the Trojans in this national rivalry. The Irish will be playing at home, where they last challenged the Trojans in 2005, and they also have 17 starters back to help save Charlie Weis' job.