Pac-12: Kaluka Maiava

USC's no-name linebackers aren't so bad

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
12:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Poor ole USC. What is it to do? All of its wonderful, scary linebackers are gone to the NFL. Boy, are the Trojans going to be in trouble in 2009.

No more Maualuga, Cushing -- Cush! -- Matthews or Maiava. Even the names sounded slightly menacing. Heck, Rey Maualuga even became a folk hero and YouTube sensation for his blow-up hits.
 
 Ric Tapia/Icon SMI
 Middle linebacker Chris Galippo leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.


Into their place stepped Smith, Morgan and Galippo. That's two common, yawn-inducing surnames and a third that recalls a failed campaign in World War I.

Poor ole USC. Five games into the season, its no-name defense -- other than fancypants safety Taylor Mays -- only ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (8.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (238.6 yards per game) and fifth in run defense (64.8 yards per game). It has surrendered no -- zero -- touchdown passes. It's the only team in the nation with a clean sheet.

Seems like these no-names aren't half-bad, particularly the linebackers.

"You can't say enough good things about their defense," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "And they're losing all those -- everyone's, 'Oh, they're losing all these guys to the NFL from last year!' and it doesn't seem like they've missed a beat."

Weis has reason for concern as he prepares for a visit from the sixth-ranked Trojans on Saturday. Sure, his offense averages 33 points a game and ranks 10th in the nation with 470 yards per contest, but the Fighting Irish have scored three points against USC in their past two meetings and haven't faced a defense that even approaches the Trojans' depth and talent level.

And this USC defense, as shocking as it might be to say about a unit that replaced eight starters, including four linebackers who were NFL draft picks, might be just as good as -- or at least comparable to -- last year's unit, which was widely regarded as one of the best in college football history.

It starts at linebacker, where Chris Galippo, a sophomore in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith, juniors on the outside, are nearly matching the production of Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.

It's a different style, of course, starting with the fact the Trojans are back to their standard 4-3 look after in large part playing a 3-4 last year. The Trojans' linebacker-heavy front in 2008 was more physically intimidating but not as fast and not always as sound as this year's crew.

"Our guys now are very disciplined, very strict about everything they are doing -- probably more accurately fitting in runs than the other guys had done in the past when they'd kind of clutter their way through," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who calls the defensive plays.

Morgan leads the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles for a loss. Smith has played well, but has struggled with a sprained ankle, though he should be full-go this weekend.

The revelation has been Galippo. He leads the team with 32 tackles -- five for a loss -- with an interception and four pass breakups. A good but not great athlete -- unlike nearly everyone else who starts for USC -- he's showcased uncanny instincts that often guide him toward big plays, most notably his first-quarter interception and 51-yard return at Ohio State that set up the Trojans' first touchdown in an 18-15 victory.

"Galippo's speed on the field is because of his reading ability and his instincts -- he plays fast on the football field," Carroll said.

Galippo, a sophomore, also seems to get motivated by perceived slights. Early in the season, he talked about how no one knew who he or his fellow linebackers were. This week, he recalled a recruiting visit to Notre Dame when he felt Weis ignored him in order to focus on quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

"They were trying to get Jimmy to commit," Galippo said. "It was no big deal. I came home and committed to USC about three days later."

Of course, Galippo knows the deal. Standouts at USC don't get ignored very long. They start to make all-conference and All-American lists and then NFL draft gurus start ranking them.

Galippo, though outgoing and articulate, notes that he, Smith and Morgan aren't the "big personality" guys of the past. He emphasizes staying humble as the talk of rebuilding ends and the discussion transitions toward celebrating the next great Trojans defense.

"The better we play and the more games we win, and the more big-time offenses we shut down, the notoriety is going to go up," he said. "People will start noticing us. But we've got to keep the mentality of going out every day and working hard and continuing to try to earn our spot. As soon as we start thinking you're big time and start taking things for granted, you don't play as well."

Poor ole USC?

Correction: That's poor young USC. Galippo, Smith and Morgan all are expected to return in 2010.

Pac-10 Q&A: USC LB Chris Galippo

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
11:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Chris Galippo is eager to show what he can do in the middle of USC's defense.

Chris Galippo has suffered through two back surgeries and waited patiently to take his spot in the middle of the USC defense.

He's paid his dues. So, yes, he's eager to show he can be the Trojans next great linebacker.

Galippo, sophomore, is a tackling machine. He recorded 381 tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks. And he led the Trojans with nine tackles -- three for a loss -- in their season-opening 56-3 victory over San Jose State.

The former USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-American will step into the national spotlight for the first time Saturday at Ohio State. He will lead a defense that is replacing eight starters, including all of the members of perhaps the best crew of linebackers in college football history.

But before he does that, we wanted to check in and get his measure before he steps onto the field at the Horseshoe.

From the film of the San Jose State game, what were some things you weren't happy with?

CG: Tackling. Tackling personally and as a unit is something we have to emphasize this week. Not only because the opponent requires it. It was the the first game and it was the first time we were full-speed against a real opponent. But there were times when guys weren't bringing their feet, running through tackles and were slipping off stuff. But it's stuff that can be easily corrected if it's emphasized and pushed -- and I know it will be because Coach [Pete] Carroll told us it will be.

Your thing is you make a lot of tackles -- you're always around the ball. Against San Jose State, you also made a lot of tackles for a loss. Do you feel like you have a sixth sense -- something beyond reading your keys -- that you can anticipate what's about to happen with an offense?

CG: It's an instinct -- I don't know if you'd call it a sixth sense or anything like that. I think it comes from preparation and from seeing things over and over again. The more you see things, the more you're around things, you can kind of anticipate things. The more you're around your brothers and sisters you can anticipate how they will react. It's the same thing in football. The more you see the more you can anticipate. Watching film yesterday, we saw that San Jose State kept running that sweep with their receivers. They ran it twice but on the third time in the film -- and I didn't remember that I did this -- but in the film when the receiver starting coming, I just started walking up and they snapped and we made the play in the backfield. It's just about catching on and being smart enough to figure out what the offense is trying to tell you. The offense speaks a language to you, it's your job to interpret that language.

Road games are hard on offenses, but what does it mean for a defense to walk out in front of 100,000 people who don't like you?

Chris Galippo: It's a little different. When their offense is on the field, they won't be as loud -- at least until they get a first down or something like that, then the crowd erupts. So you have to get used to the rhythm of the crowd and use it to your advantage. You've got to thrive on turning the volume down instead of turning it up like when you're playing at home. But defense, to me, is so much different than offense. It's not so much assignments -- you go out there, you light your head on fire and you knock somebody out. I feel like it's a little more free.

Does this team thrive on hostile environments? Some of these guys talk like they enjoy being on the road more -- like, 'We're USC. We're the big show. We're taking over your stadium.'

CG: It's my first year starting but I love traveling. I love getting on the plane with the team, being on the plane for five or six hours, going across the country, being in a hostile environment, being in a hotel with people kind of looking at you funny. It's different. Then going out onto the field, 55 players and the coaching staff. It's like, that's it, those are our guys, all these other -- 100,000 or whatever -- that's all them. It's a cool feeling.

Give me your impressions of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

CG: He's a big guy. Anytime you've got a big guy like that with the speed he has it's going to be a tackle-emphasis week. Our tackling has to be spot on. He's not a guy you can just arm tackle. He sheds tackles and he can throw on the run. He's very dynamic in what he can bring to a football game. You've really got to be on your toes. He's the kind of guy that you stop an offense on first and second down and it's third and 15 and you drop back in coverage and all of the sudden he breaks for a first down. You've got to be ready for the those situations. And ready after those situations to go, 'OK, let's go another three.'

How much of a mentor was Rey Maualuga for you?

CG: Rey's a little more quiet. A little more to himself. As much as he's so crazy and out there on the field I think he's a little more to himself off the field. But there is so much from his game that I can take from him and add to mine. In the linebacker room, looking at guys like [Brian Cushing] and Rey and Kaluka Maiava, they were guys who did things well but did things differently from each other -- everyone's got something that you can take and add to your game. Even with Coach Norton as a player. You can watch the way he prepared and his intensity on the field, the way that he carries himself -- everyone around you has something to can take from them and use and bring to your own game. So physically standing behind Rey in practice and watching him make plays -- there were so many things that he does that make him who he is.

Have you seen the movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise? Would you say you're more Ice Man and Rey's more Maverick? [Galippo says, "Yeah," but his expression seems to say, "That movie came out before I was born."]

You seem like a more cerebral player, a guy who's not going to go nuts for the kill shot -- and maybe leave his gap to do so.

CG: Yeah. Yeah. I consider my strengths to be my discipline, my preparation because I'm not the most athletic guy. I'm not the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, but I'm going to be the toughest and take care of things I can control. You can't control the body you were born into, the shell you carry around. You can prepare in the off-season but I've been injured and had things I can't control. But I can control how tough I am and my technique. And in football, it doesn't matter how big you are, as long as you've got the attitude, you can knock anybody out.

Do you think it might help this defense that you don't come into the season with all the magazine covers?

CG: Yeah, there's a humbleness. Besides [two-time All-American safety Taylor Mays], there's no one on our defense who is Mr. Football or a Butkus candidate -- any of that. Which is a little different from the past. When we were walking down the Trojan Walk last Saturday, it was like me, Malcolm Smith, Will Harris, Jurrell Casey and Matt Barkley was behind us. We were walking and no one even noticed us. They were all yelling at Matt. It's humbling because it's like, "I'm a starter, too!" But you've got to earn it. If anything, it helps us because it keeps us grounded and give us motivation -- something to work for.

Give me a scouting report on the linebackers you play with: Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.

CG: Malcolm is a little bit of me and a little bit of Mike. Mike is legitimate 4.3. That's unheard of as a linebacker. He's got long strides. Taylor is the fastest guy on the team but Mike could race all our running backs and probably beat them. Malcolm is very heady. He's got a nose for the ball. But he's got his brother in him [former USC and current NY Giants receiver Steve Smith] -- he's got receiver-like feet. And he's fast. He runs a 4.4. He's smart and has moxie and is poised, but he also packs a punch. The guy can hit. Those two guys flanking me make me so much faster. I'm like Mr. 4.8, but I've got it up here [Galippo taps his head]. We help each other out a lot.

So you Smith and Morgan: Let's come up with a nickname. You're not just the no-name guys, right?

CG: We can let other people come up with that. We've got such great coaches that we'd be crazy not to do what they say. As long as we do what they say, we're good enough athletes that, if we stick with the game plan, we can shut anybody down.

That's not very catchy.

CG: [Laughs]

Out of nowhere: No-names who made a name this spring

May, 20, 2009
5/20/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Not to brag, but I know everybody.

Yes, I'm so cool that I can practically recite every Pac-10 team's starting lineup. Practically. At least by September.

[I see all of you mustering Chevy Chase's perfectly mocking, "God, I admire you," from Fletch at this moment.]

That's why Rory Cavaille caused me travail. When he appeared on Oregon's post-spring depth chart with the No. 1 offense, I, well, had no freaking idea who he was.

Ergo, today's topic: Out of nowhere.

Rory Cavaille, WR, Oregon: Cavaille moved up the pecking order when Aaron Pflugrad decided to transfer. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound senior and former walk-on has caught just six career passes. But he's smart -- he was honorable mention Pac-10 All-Academic last year -- and he has good hands. The Ducks get an influx of talent at receiver from their 2008 recruiting class, but Cavaille apparently has played his way into the mix.

D.J. Shoemate, FB, USC: Pete Carroll loves fullbacks -- just ask him about Stanley Havili sometime (if you have an extra half hour) -- and Carroll loved Shoemate, a sophomore, after spring practices, telling the Orange County Register that he was the spring's most-improved player. Shoemate isn't a complete mystery, of course. He was a marquee recruit and he started the Rose Bowl when Havili was academically ineligible, but he has moved around a bit, seeing action before at receiver and tailback.

Kai Maiava, C, UCLA: The Bruins' offensive line is loaded with questions, but Maiava is a firm answer. Barring injury, he will start at center. He sat out last season after transferring from Colorado and missed half of spring ball with an ankle injury, but he's shown enough already to solidify his standing. As for his football bloodlines, yes, he's former USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava's brother and his uncle is pro wrestler/actor "The Rock" (Dwayne Johnson).

David Pa'aluhi, LB, Oregon State: Pa'aluhi wasn't a complete unknown -- the sophomore was impressive enough to top the depth chart entering spring -- but my guess is that, outside of folks who follow the Beavers, he's going to draw a "Who?" at least until the games start. First thing to know: Don't pick a fight with him. He's a mixed martial arts guy. Second, he's fast, reportedly running the 40 under 4.5. And he's got upside, considering he started playing football his senior year of high school.

Alex Debniak, RB-LB, Stanford: Coach Jim Harbaugh gushed about Debniak this spring as a guy who could see significant action at strongside linebacker and running back. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore appeared in eight games as a true freshman and finished with four total tackles. He and Will Powers were practically an either-or at linebacker this spring.

Big East nips Pac-10 for draft lead

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

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the complete list

Arizona

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

Arizona State

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

California

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

Oregon

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

Oregon State

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

Stanford

NONE

UCLA

NONE

USC

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

Washington

NONE

Washington State

Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth

UCLA's Carter ready for his close-up

April, 7, 2009
4/07/09
5:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter likes being in the middle of the action. Not only because it allows him to make more plays. It also gives him an opportunity to provide his own special brand of play-by-play narration.

Yes, Carter likes to chat with opponents, and he appreciates guys who enjoy going back and forth with the ripostes unique to a football game.

 
  Cary Edmondson/US PRESSWIRE
  UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter backs up his talk on the field.
"I'm always talking -- offensive line, running backs, whoever is out there, I'm trying to have a conversation," he said. "After the play, during the play, before the play. I'm pretty active with my mouth. The referees have to tell us to be quiet at times. It's all fun and games. We talk trash during the game and give each other a hug after the game."

Sometimes the opponent doesn't cooperate. Carter said former Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart was a bit too quiet for his tastes. But he's big fans of Oregon State's Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz and James.

"We're were going at it a lot last year," Carter said. "We were talking back and forth. It was fun. Both of them. They're not big but they've got big hearts."

Carter's in-game libretto, however, didn't help get the word out on one of the West Coast's most underrated players.

Despite nagging injuries, Carter has started 32 games over the past three seasons at both inside and outside linebacker. He was a freshman All-American in 2006 and second-team All-Pac-10 last season, but he's busted noggins and ranted and raved mostly in anonymity.

Two reasons for that: 1. UCLA has mostly wallowed in mediocrity during his career; 2. That other LA program has sorta cornered the market on All-American linebackers.

Yet with Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava shipping out from USC to the NFL, and California's Zack Follett joining them, it's wide open this spring as to who is the Pac-10's best linebacker.

And just because Carter likes to trash talk on the field doesn't mean he's boastful off it.

"I know I'm not the greatest player in the world but I respect the game, I study it and I think I play it fairly well," he said.

When asked about his favorite player, Ray Lewis, he twice emphasized he's not comparing himself to the future pro football Hall of Famer.

"He's my guy -- I love his intensity," Carter said. "He has a great passion and love for the game. He shows it when he plays. He's very emotional. I'm not comparing myself to him -- I'm not as good as him -- but when I play football I get pretty emotional. Sometimes before a game I'm almost crying because I love the game and enjoy doing it so much."

Carter hit the weight room hard after dropping to as low as 215 pounds after the 2008 season. He's at 235 pounds now and ready to take the lead on what may be one of the Pac-10's better defenses.

That leadership started this spring when Carter and other seniors explained that "Over the Wall," the Bruins tradition of bailing out of one spring practice a year, has been suspended.

Some griped when told of the new order.

"They said it was tradition," Carter said. "And I said it was a tradition that started when UCLA was winning. We were 4-8 last year. We don't deserve to do anything that they did in the past because in the past they were winning. We need to take advantage of all 15 [practices] to get better."

And if some folks rebel and jump the wall at Spaulding Field?

"We'll squash that real fast," Carter said. "If anybody tries to leave, we'll go in the locker room and get them and they'll finish practice with us."

It's just a hunch, but here's a guess Carter can be fairly convincing.

Carter and the rest of the seven returning starters on defense know their unit is in transition. Respected coordinator DeWayne Walker was hired as New Mexico State's head coach in the offseason, and Chuck Bullough was promoted from linebackers coach to fill the void.

Not too much will change in terms of scheme -- some reads and calls might be simplified -- but it was a significant loss for other reasons.

"It hurt me personally because [Walker] and I had a close relationship, almost father-son. We talked all the time, even if it wasn't about football," Carter said. "As a football player, I'm hurt, but as a family member, I'm also kind of happy. He's living his dream. I wish him the best."

It's particularly poignant when Carter speaks of a "father-son" relationship. His father, Reginald Carter, Sr., was shot and killed by his sister's boyfriend. Reggie Carter was only 2-years-old.

"I think about it a little bit from time to time, wondering what it would be like to have a father, for him to see me graduate from high school and play football in college and all those different things," Carter said. "But I have a lot of uncles who got me involved in sports. I also think, if my father was here, would I have been involved in sports and would have my uncles been so involved in my life that they got me to playing football in college?

Carter has another source of inspiration. Before games, he listens to Tupac Shakur's song, "Dear Momma." It reminds him of his mother, Selena Adway.

"My mother is pretty much my motivation before every game," he said. "She gets joy from watching me play and I like to do that for her."

If things fall into place this year, Carter will continue to chatter and makes plays and give his mother joy well into the future. Only he'll be suiting up on Sundays.

Galippo the new man in the middle of USC's defense

February, 27, 2009
2/27/09
3:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Chris Galippo confesses that he might not consistently blow up opposing ball carriers with the single-minded zeal of Rey Maualuga, the beast of a linebacker he's expected to replace in the middle of the USC defense this spring, but he's quick to point out that the Trojans aren't exactly replacing prime rib with chopped liver.

"I think we both have a good knack for finding the football," he said. "We both can make a play anywhere on the field, whether it's dropping back into our Tampa-2 look in the middle third, or whether it's making plays in the backfield. We're both sideline-to-sideline players." 

Galippo, who ran a 4.72 40-yard dash this week at 240 pounds, seems completely at ease ascending to the spot that has produced NFL All-Pro Lofa Tatupu and Maualuga, a certain first-round draft pick this spring, over the past five seasons.

His pedigree is certainly the equal of Maualuga. Both were USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-Americans. Both were generally considered the premier inside linebacker in their recruiting classes.

Galippo, some might remember, made 11 tackles in the 2006 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio and became the first defensive player to earn game MVP honors as the West held the East to just 57 yards.

He recorded 381 career tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks.

Want some more numbers? Against one team, he recorded 15 tackles, four sacks and blocked two field goal attempts while producing 143 all-purpose yards as a receiver, running back and tight end. 

So, no, chopped liver Galippo is not.

Of course, there is that pesky back.

Galippo immediately saw action as a true freshman in 2007, but his season ended with a herniated disk, which required surgery. Fortunately for him, he was allowed to reclaim a redshirt because he'd only played in the first three games.

But back injuries are tricky. His was still bothering Galippo well into the 2008 season, though he did end up with 12 tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception.

Here's an early guess on what might become the affable Galippo's least favorite subject.

"I don't think it's an issue," he said. "I guess it is for the media. It's kind of the only thing that's hovering over my head right now. I know with the coaches that's their main concern -- can I stay healthy? I know that's a lot of people's concern. But I've never been healthier."

Galippo won't be the only new guy in the Trojans front seven when spring practices kick off on March 28. In fact, the only returning starter is nose tackle Christian Tupou.

Toss in Rocky Seto ascending to defensive coordinator after Nick Holt bolted for Washington, and this appears to be a spring of transition for the Trojans (though, notably, head coach Pete Carroll will continue to call the defensive plays).

On Galippo's linebacker flanks, juniors Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith will try to step in for All-American Brian Cushing and Rose Bowl MVP Kaluka Maiava.

"We've got a bunch of guys who are hungry and want to make a name for themselves," Galippo said. "It hasn't been like that at USC for a while. We've had a lot of superstars here over the last four or five years."

Then he adds, "I really don't see there being much of a drop off."

Really? Galippo is talking about replacing six players who all will be drafted, with Maualuga, Cushing, end Clay Matthews and tackle Fili Moala likely to go on the first day.

Lest you think, however, that Galippo is counting his sacks before they're made, know that he is completely aware of the USC system, which features constant competition for playing time.

Galippo's pedigree and potential don't matter any more. Now it's all about production.

"All it takes is a mistackle here or a missed assignment there, and someone else is getting subbed in," he said. "The coaches do a really good job of keeping the competition level high. We joke around sometimes that when you play ball at 'SC, you never really think you're a good football player until after the season. The coaches are so intense and are so good at holding such a high standard that you never really feel like you are producing enough until you look back after the season."

The good news for USC fans is Galippo seems perfectly comfortable that the standard he faces is Tatupu and Maualuga.

Pac-10 lunch links: Pac-10 at the NFL combine

February, 23, 2009
2/23/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We're throwing at the NFL combine.

  • Former Arizona receiver Mike Thomas continues to be short, but Money Mike also continues to do things that figure to make him a lot of coin when the NFL draft rolls around. Like run faster than Percy Harvin. (And note that former UA OT Eben Britton's 40 time probably won't hurt him either).
  • And... not to let that combine list linger or anything... but who would have thought that USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava would do just as many reps with 225 pounds -- 30 -- as Brian Cushing, and both would leave sure-fire top-10 LB pick Aaron Curry in their dust (25)?
  • Speaking of Cushing... he tries to respond to rumors of steroid use.
  • Speaking of draft prospects, whatever happened to Rudy Carpenter's? He needs to convince scouts that a big arm isn't the only thing that matters.
  • Andy Levitre, late of Oregon State, talks... you guessed it! -- NFL combine.
  • Lots of Pac-10 names -- Patrick Chung, Rulon Davis, Keenan Lewis -- in this combine story.
  • Tim Hundley will leave SMU to become UCLA's new secondary coach. Hundley was Rick Neuheisel's defensive coordinator at Colorado and Washington.
  • It looks like Washington will have an easier time funding new uniforms than funding a massive renovation of Husky Stadium.

Pac-10 players of the week

December, 1, 2008
12/01/08
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Oregon tailback Jeremiah Johnson, Arizona State safety Troy Nolan and USC kicker David Buehler are the Pac-10 Players of the Week.

Johnson, a senior from Los Angeles, Calif., rushed 17 times for a career-high 219 yards (12.9-yard average) in the Ducks' 65-38 Civil War victory. Included were an 83-yard touchdown and a 79-yard run to set up another TD. The 219 yards rushing is a Civil War record.

Nolan, a senior from Los Angeles, Calif., had eight tackles -- seven solo -- and intercepted a
pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

Buehler, a senior from Anaheim, Calif., connected from 35 yards on his only field-goal attempt, was 5-for-5 on PATs and had four touchbacks on seven kickoffs in USC's 38-3 win against Notre Dame.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week was USC tailback Joe McKnight. Also nominated on defense were linebackers Kaluka Maiava of USC and Spencer Paysinger of Oregon and UCLA cornerback Michael Norris. UCLA kicker Kai Forbath was nominated for special teams.

What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 8

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

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USC-Ohio State: LB matchup is scary-good

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
 Rey Maualuga had 10.5 tackles for a loss last year.

LOS ANGELES -- The term comes up more than a few times during this highly charged week: "scary."

Such as, "Coach Tressel, is Rey Maualuga scary?"

Jim Tressel, Ohio State's coach, doesn't want to bite on the loaded word, not completely anyway. "I don't look at it as scary because I don't have the ball."

USC defensive end Kyle Moore almost seems bothered that folks refer to his good friend, his soft-spoken friend, his newly svelte friend (down 26 pounds from his Rose Bowl MVP weight to 247), Rey Maualuga, as "scary."

"Rey's not scary," Moore said. "It's just the way he plays on the field that gets him perceived as scary."

Well, yeah.

Now, Moore adds, Brian Cushing. He's scary. That's a notion seconded by defensive tackle Fili Moala.

"We're all kind of fiery at times but Cush is nonstop, no holds barred, all out -- that, 'I'm going to give it to you before you give it to me,'" he said. What puts Cushing over the top, though, is this: He's from Jersey.

Cue the music from the "Psycho" shower scene.

"He's got that little accent," Moala says with a grin that suggests that, oh, just maybe that characteristic comes up every once in a while during locker room jesting.

In a week of hot topics -- hey, did you know No. 5 Ohio State is visiting No. 1 USC on Saturday? -- the comparison of the linebacking corps has been scorching.

The Buckeyes boast James Laurinaitis, whose trophy case features the 2007 Butkus and 2006 Nagurski awards, and Marcus Freeman, who was second-team All-Big Ten. The Trojans counter with Maualuga and Cushing, both preseason All-Americans.

All four are going to make a lot of money playing on Sundays, but first they have to endure endless questions about the opposing unit and how they match up.

"It doesn't match up at all because we're not going to be on the field at the same time," Maualuga reasonably points out.

Still, this exciting, Rose Bowl-like showdown features an extraordinary amount of talent, especially at linebacker.

"It's a really cool opportunity for people to watch these guys on both sides of the ball," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "It's rare that you would have this many guys who would have big futures, big upsides as you see in this game."

Cushing, Maualuga and Laurinaitis got acquainted this summer at the festivities surrounding their selection as Playboy All-Americans. Photos that circulated on the Internet suggested they all got along famously.

"Besides being a great linebacker, [Laurinaitis is] a great person, he's got a great personality," Maualuga said. "You'd think a guy with that stature, who's gotten all the accolades and awards he's got, he'd be a different type of person. But he's down-to-earth, unselfish. A complete, great person."

Added Cushing, "He's a good kid."

Cushing has battled injuries throughout his career, but became a national figure when he won the 2007 Rose Bowl MVP after recording 2.5 sacks in the victory over Michigan. He's 6-foot-3, 255 pounds and carries as much body fat as a petrified tree.

Maualuga, whose combination of size and speed and Samoan heritage makes it impossible to not introduce Junior Seau comparisons, was the Trojans leading tackler a year ago and earned All-Pac-10 honors for a second-consecutive year. He had 10.5 tackles for a loss and became a YouTube sensation for his numerous blowup hits.

"[Maualuga] brings a presence," Laurinaitis said. "He's a tremendous blitzer. Quarterbacks know they better watch out where 58 is. He does a great job running to the ball. If you're a ball carrier, you know where he is, because if you don't and he catches you off guard, you're going to be on ESPN."

Carroll sees differences in the tandems. He describes the Trojans "classic" linebackers as physical, tough and capable in space and tight areas.

The Buckeyes unit is a smaller and, Carroll intimated, perhaps quicker. It's also clear that Laurinaitis is a player Carroll can't help but appreciate.

"Laurinaitis can do everything; he's an extraordinary player," Carroll said.

There's an oh-by-the-way here, too. As Tressel pointed out: "Don't discount 43 either -- he gets after it."

No. 43 would be USC's third linebacker, senior Kaluka Maiava, who led the Trojans with six tackles at Virginia from his weakside spot. Also, Clay Matthews, listed as a defensive end, plays a hybrid position -- the "elephant" -- that's closer to a linebacker than a pure, hand-on-the-ground end.

For Ohio State, the weakside 'backer is Ross Homan, whose 10 tackles in the Buckeyes first two games is not far behind the pace of Laurinaitis (14) and Freeman (12).

Both groups of linebackers have spent the week discounting Saturday as a showdown of the nation's top two units on its top two defenses. It's all about team, they say.

But it doesn't take too much prodding for them to admit there's a little bit of extra juice to the matchup.

"Seeing [Laurinaitis] across the field and knowing who we are playing is going to bring a little more out of me," said Cushing, who's not allowing hip and wrist injuries to keep him off the field.

If it brings a little more out of the crews on both teams, it could make it a long afternoon for both offenses.

Pac-10 morning: An injured USC LB and a healing Husky

July, 10, 2008
7/10/08
3:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Read and reflect...

  • Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News reports that USC's backup linebacker Chris Galippo needs back surgery (again), which will knock him out the first part of the season. Sure, the Trojans are deep at linebacker, but Galippo is a real talent who would have been in the regular playing rotation. Here's Wolf's follow-up.
  • SI.com's Stewart Mandel thinks Arizona State under Dennis Erickson is the most likely candidate to provide an annual foil for USC. And, by the way, Mandel takes on sleepy Pac-10 fans who don't write him enough.
  • Fellow college football blogger Graham Watson thought this highly amusing. But for us on the West Coast, it just looks like Pete Carroll is looking to improve his ground game by going to sea. Some teams seek firepower. Only Carroll goes nuclear.
  • Not to get too USC here (someone already told me I was being "too Oregon"), but here's a nice story in the Honolulu Advertiser on USC's "other" linebacker, Kaluka Maiava. He's pretty clear about his expectations for the season:

"The past three years we should have been national champs. We've tasted it, but it's been a real slap in the face," Maiava said, referring to losses to Stanford and Oregon last year. "We can go all the way; nothing should stop us. The only team that can beat us is us."

  • Good news for Washington fans: center Juan Garcia told the Seattle Times that he's growing more confident that he will be able to play in 2008 after suffering a severe foot injury during spring practices. I wrote this story about Garcia this spring. He's a true college football success story, a guy who came from a tough background and made something of himself. He also is a nasty dude on the field, which I'm sure we all appreciate.
  • Speaking of the Huskies, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer colleague Jim Moore (the King Coug of Seattle) often does so with a biting wit. The Northwest's favorite gadfly caught up with former UW QB Chris Chandler, and Chandler had some interesting things to say about the direction of the program.
  • Ah, my pet cause: non-conference scheduling. Wizard of Odds breaks down the conferences, from the cowards to the brave (credit and kudos goes to the study's originator at The National Championship Issue.)

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