Pac-12: Greg Smith

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 27, 2011
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Issues to consider heading into the ninth week of games.

Barkley vs. Luck: Stanford's Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in college football, the Heisman Trophy favorite and is almost certain to go No. 1 overall in this spring's NFL draft. USC's Matt Barkley is pretty good, too, and could be picked in the first round. He certainly could help his stock -- and his team -- by outplaying Luck on Saturday. For USC to notch the upset, Barkley almost certainly will need to match or, more likely, exceed Luck's numbers. Last year, these two combined for six TDs and no interceptions as Stanford won 37-35 with a field goal in the waning moments.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireStanford's Andrew Luck puts his Heisman campaign on the line Saturday against another marquee quarterback, USC's Matt Barkley.
James and Thomas watch: Oregon is probably not going to have much trouble with Washington State at home on Saturday, though, of course, you never know. The big issue will be whether quarterback Darron Thomas or running back LaMichael James play. It's not really about how much they play or even how effective they are. It's more about them being ready to go for a crucial two-game road trip: at Washington on Nov. 5 and at Stanford on Nov. 12. Those are games when the Ducks will want -- need? -- to be at full strength.

Return of Onyeali: Arizona State appears poised to dash to the Pac-12 South Division title, and a visit from 1-7 Colorado doesn't figure to slow the Sun Devils down. But the return of defensive end Junior Onyeali from a knee injury is big news. Onyeali, the conference's defensive freshman of the year in 2010, was hurt Sept. 17 at Illinois. The Sun Devils' defense has mostly played well in his absence, with Greg Smith and Davon Coleman stepping up opposite Jamaar Jarrett. But four good DEs is a good thing. A really good thing.

Maynard sharp II? California QB Zach Maynard had perhaps his best game in the Bears' 34-10 victory over Utah, passing for 255 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 36 yards and a score. He rolled out and moved around in the pocket and seemed to be sharper, more confident and, most important, more accurate with his throws. Was the win over the Utes a turning point game for him, and therefore the Bears' offense? If so, the Bears should roll over UCLA, which is awful on defense.

Where's the O, Utah? Speaking of the Utah-Cal game, the Utes' offense didn't show up. It turned the ball over four times -- three interceptions from QB Jon Hays -- and gained just 178 total yards, including just 13 yards rushing. It's certain that the Utes won't have a juggernaut offense anytime soon. They didn't have one approaching that even when Jordan Wynn was playing quarterback. But if the season is to be salvaged, they are going to need to figure out ways to get a few points on the board. A solid defense can keep things close, but it's hard to win if you can't score.

Price vs. the Arizona secondary: Four Arizona players are suspended from Saturday's game at Washington for their role in a brawl with UCLA just before halftime last week. All four are from a secondary that has already lost two starters to injury. Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and nickelback Jourdon Grandon are suspended for the entire game; cornerback Lyle Brown and strong safety Mark Watley are suspended for the first half. While Richardson is the only starter, things are still going to be tough against a Huskies passing offense led by quarterback Keith Price and a deep crew of receivers. Price leads the Pac-12 with 22 touchdown passes and ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency. Even before the suspensions, the Wildcats ranked last in the conference in pass efficiency defense, with opponents completing 71 percent of their throws.

Other than Woods? Before showing balance at Notre Dame, USC's offense was all about Barkley throwing to receiver Robert Woods. Stanford's defense, which got gashed by Barkley-to-Woods last year, figures to be all over Woods with bracket coverages with safeties helping cornerbacks on just about every play. Woods still figures to have his moments. It's not like he's a secret, yet he still ranks second in the nation with 129 receiving yards per game. But the Trojans need other receivers to step up and help Barkley. Or, even better, what if the running game, which piled up 219 yards against the Fighting Irish, comes through again?

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

September, 26, 2011
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Taking stock of the fourth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Arizona State ended an 11-game losing streak to USC with a 43-22 victory in front of an inspired home crowd. The win pushed the Sun Devils back into the national rankings and bolstered their position in the Pac-12 South Division.

Best game: Washington outlasted California 31-23, with the Huskies' defense getting a fourth-down stop on their 2-yard line to preserve the win.

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireBrock Osweiler threw for 223 yards as Arizona State snapped its losing streak to USC.
Biggest play: With USC down six and facing a third-and-5 from the Arizona State 14-yard line, Sun Devils defensive end Greg Smith sacked and forced a fumble from Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, and defensive tackle Bo Moos recovered. The Sun Devils then drove 82 yards for a touchdown and a 36-22 lead with 6:48 remaining in the game.

Offensive standout: LaMichael James rushed for a school record 288 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns in the Ducks' 56-31 win at Arizona.

Defensive standout: Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan had 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss to go along with five total tackles in the Ducks' win over the Wildcats.

Special teams standout: Oregon State's Jordan Poyer returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. He also had 56 yards on two kickoff returns. He ended up with 156 return yards in the game.

Smiley face: Washington's maligned defense held California to just three second-half points, including none in the fourth quarter. The Bears had just one TD in five red zone chances.

Frowny face: Arizona gave up 415 yards rushing to Oregon. The Wildcats presently rank 114th in the nation in run defense (233.5 yards per game). They also rank 106th in the nation in scoring defense (35.0 ppg) and 112th in total defense (484 ypg).

Thought of the week: Assuming that Stanford's Andrew Luck will win first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, who would you pick for second team right now? Eight conference QBs rank among the top 40 in the nation in passing efficiency. While USC's Barkley, Arizona's Nick Foles and Oregon's Darron Thomas entered the season as "name" QBs, through four games the second-best Pac-12 QB would be Washington's Keith Price, followed closely by Arizona State's Brock Osweiler.

Questions for the week: At 0-3, Oregon State is the first team to have a stamp of doom put on its season. Who's next? You might be able to say that the loser of Arizona's visit to USC and Washington State's trip to Colorado will start to see reasons for optimism this season slip away.

DE James Brooks leaves Sun Devils

July, 13, 2011
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Arizona State is no longer in great shape at defensive end, as we rated the Sun Devils just 24 hours ago.

James Brooks, a senior two-year starter at defensive end, has left the team for personal reasons, according to a school spokesperson.

Brooks was a talented player who had an up-and-down career. Most notably, he blocked two extra points in the Sun Devils' double-overtime win over Arizona. On the downside, he struggled with academic issues and staying out of coach Dennis Erickson's doghouse.

Last year, he had 25 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.

"James has done a lot of great things for our football program," Erickson said in a statement released by the school. "We will continue to help him in any way we can."

The loss of Brooks means sophomore Junior Onyeali and senior Jamaar Jarrett likely will be the Sun Devils' starting ends. They combined for 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in 2010. Greg Smith also is an option, and JC transfer Gannon Conway also looks the part, though he's not played a down of Pac-12 football.

Doug Haller offers some additional perspective here.

Preseason position reviews: defensive end

August, 2, 2010
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The best way to neutralize the impressive quarterback talent in the Pac-10 this fall is to get someone in their faces as much as possible. That's what pass-rushing defensive ends do, and there is a solid cast of them coming back.

Even the two teams that fall in the "We'll see" category here don't lack for talent or experience. They just have obvious questions heading into preseason camp.

So how do things stack up?

Great shape
  • Arizona: The Wildcats were in great shape at the spot last year with the same two players, though Ricky Elmore eclipsed Brooks Reed when he recorded 10.5 sacks while Reed was hurt (ankle) much of the season. Word on the street is Reed has been a maniac in the weight room this offseason. Solid depth here, too.
  • USC: Two players worth buying stock in: Armond Armstead and Nick Perry. Perry had eight sacks as a backup in 2009 and Armstead was dominant this spring. Transfer of Malik Jackson hurts depth.
  • Oregon: Kenny Rowe led the Pac-10 with 11.5 sacks in 2009, while Dion Jordan was perhaps the breakout player of the Ducks' spring practices.
Good shape
  • California: Cameron Jordan has been good, but he has a chance to be great: Is 2010 his year? Trevor Guyton is the leader to replace first-round draft pick Tyson Alualu, while Deandre Coleman and Ernest Owusu provide high-quality depth.
  • UCLA: Datone Jones had a great spring, while Keenan Graham looks like the favorite to start on the opposite side. Solid depth with Damien Holmes, Iuta Tepa and touted incoming freshman Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers struggled to rush the passer in 2009 and returning starter Matt LaGrone quit, but Gabe Miller is a talented athlete who came on late and had a good spring. Sophomore Taylor Henry is No.1 on the other side.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace four-year star Dexter Davis. James Brooks and Greg Smith are the likely starters. Solid depth here but no standouts.
  • Washington State: The Cougars are sneaky good with sophomore Travis Long and senior Kevin Kooyman.
We'll see
  • Stanford: The Cardinal is hard to rate because they are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas, returning starters at end, are now outside linebackers and don't qualify. Meanwhile, Matt Masifilo and Brian Bulcke are experienced tackles but are new to end.
  • Washington: This is as pure of a "we'll see" as you can get. Four-year starter Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is off to the NFL and potential starter Andru Pulu got kicked off the team. If Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich are healthy and ready to play 12 games, the Huskies are solid. Maybe even better than solid. If not, things are iffy.

Tuitea leads Sun Devils in weight room

May, 17, 2010
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Arizona State's Toa Tuitea, a sophomore defensive tackle, has been named the Sun Devils' "Hard Hat Program Champion," which recognizes his work in the football program's strength and conditioning program.

He topped a list of 48 Sun Devils who were honored.

A news release from the school said the "Hard Hat Program was created to reward those individuals who do what's right in the weight room even when no one is looking ... a Hard Hat Player is someone who is self-motivated, a competitor, committed to personal and team excellence, dependable, accountable, disciplined and most importantly, puts the team first."

To become a Hard Hat Player, a player has to achieve a certain point total during winter workouts. He earns points based on his effort for strength training, speed development and conditioning sessions. They are also awarded points for competitive events and performing extra workouts in the "Blitz Package Program." Each athlete is evaluated after every workout by the sports performance staff with input from an athlete's position coach when applicable.

The list of the honored includes: Corey Adams, Derrall Anderson, George Bell, Omar Bolden, Jarrid Bryant, Mike Callaghan, Jonathan Clark, Chris Coyle, Dean DeLeone, Eddie Elder, Steven Figueroa, Evan Finkenberg, Clint Floyd, Garth Gerhart, Lawrence Guy, Jon Hargis, J.J. Holliday, Matt Hustad, Osahon Irabor, Patrick Jamison, Keelan Johnson, Brandon Johnson, Anthony Jones, Kyle Johnson, Cameron Kastl, Ronald Kennedy, Dan Knapp, Trevor Kohl, LeQuan Lewis, Shelly Lyons, Cameron Marshall, Shane McCullen, Jamal Miles, Bo Moos, James Morrison, Gerald Munns, Brock Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad, Cole Rarrick, Jamarr Robinson, Andrew Sampson, Zach Schlink, Max Smith, Adam Tello, Steven Threet, Matthew Tucker and Thomas Weber.

Starters or key contributors who didn't make the list (for whatever reason, including injury or excused absence) include: linebacker Vontaze Burfict, receiver Gerell Robinson, receiver Kerry Taylor, defensive end James Brooks, defensive tackle Williams Sutton, defensive tackle Saia Falahola, defensive end Greg Smith and linebacker Brandon Magee.

Spring breakout players

May, 4, 2010
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Every spring, a handful of players make names for themselves. Here are pairs for each Pac-10 team -- one on offense and one on defense -- who should make names for themselves into the fall.

Arizona

FB Taimi Tutogi: The sophomore can play fullback, tailback or tight end. At 6-foot-2, 258 pounds, he packs a punch.

DT Sione Tuihalamaka: The redshirt freshman appears to be a potential starter inside, replacing Earl Mitchell.

Arizona State

OT Evan Finkenberg: The redshirt freshman is likely to start at one tackle spot for the Sun Devils.

DE Greg Smith: The true sophomore backed up Dexter Davis last fall. Word is he's a high-motor guy.

California

RB Isi Sofele: The sophomore isn't big but he's got the quickness to be a playmaker and counterpoint to starter Shane Vereen.

NT Kendrick Payne: The sophomore had a great spring and may unseat Derrick Hill as the starter.

Oregon

WR Justin Hoffman: The sophomore not only caught everything thrown his way, he also is a tenacious blocker on the outside.

DE Dion Jordan: The sophomore switched sides of the ball from tight end and looks like a potential star.

Oregon State

RB Jordan Jenkins: The versatile sophomore could push Ryan McCants -- who also had a good spring -- for touches behind Jacquizz Rodgers this fall

DE Taylor Henry: The Beavers needed the sophomore to step up after Matt LaGrone quit the team. He did. Looks like a potentially dangerous pass rusher.

Stanford

TE Levine Toilolo: The 6-foot-8, 244-pound redshirt freshman has an imposing frame as well as good speed. Made a lot of plays this spring.

LB Shayne Skov: The sophomore became a starter last year when Clinton Snyder blew out his knee. Don't be surprised if he earns All-Conference honors.

UCLA

WR Randall Carroll: The true sophomore looked more like a receiver with great speed than a speed guy playing receiver this spring.

DT Nate Chandler: The junior moved from tight and immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup.

USC

RB Dillon Baxter: The early-entry true freshman made more spectacular plays this spring than any other USC player.

SS Jawanza Starling: The sophomore was a standout in the rebuilding secondary, though he'll face a challenge from Drew McAllister in the fall.

Washington

RB Deontae Cooper: Cooper and fellow true freshman Jesse Callier made the most of their early entries, playing well enough to look like contributors next fall

FS Will Shamburger: The redshirt freshman was a standout from start to finish, and finished spring practices as the starter ahead of sophomore Nate Felner.

Washington State

OT Wade Jacobson: The 6-foot-6, 307-pound JC transfer was a standout this spring and figures to start at one of the tackle spots.

DT Brandon Rankin: The touted JC transfer needs to gain a few pound in order to play inside but he looked like a dynamic presence much of spring.

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