Pac-12: Keenan Lewis
The Beavers entered the 2008 Civil War ranked 13th in the nation in total defense (290 yards per game). In the spring, five players from that unit would be drafted by NFL teams.
For the Beavers, it was a nightmare in Reser Stadium. It cost them the Rose Bowl. For the Ducks, it was inspiring.
"John Wooden said that competitive greatness is when you play your best against the best," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "That's what our players did. Our players just made plays. It wasn't a scheme deal. It wasn't like we exploited anything. It had less to do with coaching than any game I was involved with last year."
Oregon can probably identify with how a defense can have a horrible day. It's played good defense all season, but Stanford somehow rolled up 505 yards in a 51-42 win on Nov. 7.
If defense, indeed, wins championships, then it's hard to imagine that defense won't be where the 113th Civil War on Thursday turns. After all, it's all about a championship, considering the winner goes to the Rose Bowl.
It will be strength-on-strength battle.
Oregon has the No. 1 rushing offense in the Pac-10. Oregon State has the No. 1 rushing defense.
Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense in the conference. Oregon has the No. 2 passing defense.
Both teams rebuilt their defenses this offseason. The Ducks lost six starters -- four were NFL draft choices -- while the Beavers lost eight, including their entire secondary and three-fourths of the defensive line.
Kelly said repeatedly before the season began he wasn't worried about his defense. He loved the across-the-board speed, particularly at linebacker. His secondary ranked among the nation's best.
Even when two cornerbacks -- starter Walter Thurmond III and his backup, Willie Glasper -- went down early with season-ending knee injuries, the Ducks continued to play well.
"[There's] a lot of athleticism and speed," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "One of the best Oregon defenses I've seen."
The Ducks perhaps revealed some vulnerability to a power-rushing attack -- Stanford piled up 254 yards on the ground -- but that's not the Beavers thing on offense.
The first order for the Ducks is disrupting Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield, whose quick release has made him the conference's top-rated quarterback.
Oregon State, which starts two sophomores and a true freshman on its offensive line, surrendered 15 sacks in the first four games. But it gave up just 12 in the past seven, in large part because Canfield is distributing the ball quickly to the Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, who are one-two in the conference in receptions per game, and letting them do their thing.
The Ducks rank third in the conference in sacks with 30, but will they be able to get to Canfield? And if not, will they tackle well in space?
As for Oregon State's defense, Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker talked candidly about their concerns in the preseason. The Beavers gap-cancellation scheme counts on getting pressure on the quarterback because the secondary is often in press-man coverage. In 2008, ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris dominated with their edge rush, and cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes could handle most receivers one-on-one.
That didn't matter much, of course, when the Ducks rushed for 385 yards last year.
That's why many of the Beavers defenders are as interested in redemption as they are in the Rose Bowl.
"That obviously wasn't the Oregon State team we had last year playing out there on that field, that's for sure," said linebacker Keaton Kristick, one of three starters returning from that 2008 crew.
The Beavers defense was mediocre early in the season. It recorded just two sacks in the first four games and couldn't get off the field on third down. But it's picked up the pace considerably, recording 13 sacks over the last seven games and improving its performance on third down by eight percent.
"I think [Banker] has done maybe his best coaching job ever with this group, considering who we lost," Riley said.
Still, the Beavers looked stout on D before they played host to the Ducks last year. This time, they won't have a home crowd making things difficult for quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The first key is fairly simple: Do your job -- don't freelance.
"When you're playing a team that has variety like that you can't do your job and somebody else's," Riley said.
Then second and third keys also are simple: Get off blocks. Tackle. If the Beavers run defense holds up, it's got a much better chance containing with the Ducks passing game.
It should help that powerhouse defensive tackle Stephen Paea is healthy. A knee injury slowed him considerably in last year's game, though it's not encouraging that the guy who starts next to him, Brennan Olander, is decidedly questionable with his own knee issue.
So which team will be grinning after the Civil War for the Roses?
As they say: Defense wins championships.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The fifth of 10 quick updates on offseason Pac-10 goings on.
Oregon State in a sentence
- After finishing the past three seasons ranked in the nation's Top 25, the Beavers have earned the benefit of the doubt, even with only 11 returning starters: this team will finish in the top half of the conference.
The big issue
- Only three starters return from a crew that ranked second in the conference in total defense last fall, but the biggest challenge for the Beavers' high-pressure scheme is replacing cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, who were both NFL draft choices.
Quick hit news
- Quarterback Lyle Moevao, running back Jacquizz Rodgers and receiver James Rodgers each had offseason shoulder surgery. They are expected to be ready to go when camp begins, but each figures to be protected to some extent by cautious coach Mike Riley.
- Offensive tackle Timi Oshinowo is out and running back Ryan McCants doubtful for preseason camp because they are still recovering from knee injuries. Oshinowo was the projected starter at right tackle, while McCants is Jacquizz Rodgers' top backup.
- Offensive lineman Mike Remmers and punter Johnny Hekker, who are both likely to start this season, are no longer walk-ons, as both were recently awarded scholarships.
- Former linebackers coach Robin Ross returns to Corvallis as an offensive graduate assistant. Ross had been the head coach at Western Washington, which dropped football.
- Bruce Read returns for his third tour as the special teams coach. His previous stays included the 1997-98 and 2004-06 seasons. Read has coached special teams in the NFL for three teams, including last year with the Dallas Cowboys.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions get answered. Other times they don't.
Arizona: The Wildcats didn't walk away from spring practices worried about their quarterback spot -- Matt Scott and Nick Foles acquitted themselves fairly well. But if you look up and down the depth chart, quarterback is where you eyes linger. Yes, Willie Tuitama's shoes are big.
Arizona State: You, of course, know what's coming. Sorry to be a broken record: offensive line. Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink and Adam Tello have to get healthy and the entire unit needs to get good or the Sun Devils won't bounce back.
California: It's as simple as this: If the Bears get solid -- not spectacular, solid -- play at quarterback, this is a top-10 team. And quarterbacks can do a lot in the offseason to firm up their foundation on the team (hint, hint).
Oregon: The Ducks lost three multi-year starters from the offensive line to the NFL. Projected starters Bo Thran and C.E. Kaiser sat out spring practices. In their absence, the O-line mostly got stuffed. If Steve Greatwood works his magic again, the offense again hits ludicrous speed. If not...
Oregon State: The Beavers lost two multi-year starters at cornerback to the NFL. The secondary got burned throughout spring, though there was some redemption in the spring a game. The general feeling is there's plenty of athleticism here, but recall that it took a while for Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes to become Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes.
Stanford: Let's just go ahead and say that Andrew Luck is going to be an outstanding quarterback. So who's going to catch the ball? There's plenty of experience at receiver and there some athleticism, but you ain't it until you do it.
UCLA: Much like Arizona State, this one is embarrassingly predictable, but Bruins fans are well-aware that their season hangs on getting at least adequate play on the offensive line. Injuries clouded the issue during the spring, so the hope is a clean bill of help will bring significant improvement.
USC: The Trojans need a kicker, but we're going to go with quarterback. While it's easy to be impressed by the talent and spring performances of Aaron Corp and Matt Barkley, they still haven't done squat when the lights are on.
Washington: An 0-12 team has a lot of need areas, but the Huskies must replace both specialists. As any coach will tell you, special teams are critical, and here's a guess that at least a couple of games will swing one way or the other for the Huskies, depending on how good their answers are at kicker and punter.
Washington State: Only one starter, tackle Toby Turpin, returns on the defensive line, a position that was a decided weakness in 2008 in any event. After spring practice, redshirt freshman end Cory Mackay, who'd played well during spring practices, suffered a serious back injury in an automobile accident. Young and unproven players will need to step up. And the Cougs are due for some good fortune.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There is no offseason for any team. No Pac-10 team left spring football feeling like a finished product.
Of course, a few have more work ahead than others.
These teams have the most work ahead to reach their 2009 expectations.
- Oregon: Why Oregon, a team that figures to be ranked in the preseason top-15 or even top-10? Because the Ducks are on standing on the line where another top-12 finish -- potentially the Ducks' fifth since 2000 -- would push the program from "good" to "national power," which would be a great place for the Chip Kelly Era to begin. Of course, the Ducks approach this transition with questions on both lines, which tend to be a bad places to have concerns. So those wide-bodies need to hit the weight room -- and the track -- hard, making sure their lack of experience is offset by outstanding conditioning.
- UCLA/Arizona State: These two teams face similar issues: good defenses paired with huge questions on offense, particularly on the line and at quarterback. And both don't know what they have on the O-line because injuries were big problems this spring up front. There are differences. The Bruins are handing the keys to redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, who was good in practice and bad in scrimmages this spring. He and his receivers need to get connected this summer. The Sun Devils offense probably will belong to senior Danny Sullivan, who needs to use the summer to continue to win over his teammates who figure to be hearing from fans who aren't sure about Sullivan, who was Rudy Carpenter's backup for three years. But, really, it won't matter who plays quarterback for either if there isn't dramatic improvement up front, which means getting healthy and getting fit.
- Oregon State: The Beavers enter the offseason with significant questions on both lines, at receiver and the complicated situation at quarterback will provide plenty of opportunities for summer debate. But, as Beavers fans will tell you -- golly will they tell you! -- those are areas where reloading might be at hand, not rebuilding. They get a little quieter, however, about the issues in the secondary, mostly because that's where coach Mike Riley also seems to most wring his hands. Oregon State lost all four starters, but the most important voids are at cornerback, where Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, both off to the NFL, started since 2005. And both, by the way, were frequently lousy in 2005, due to the pressure the Beavers scheme puts on corners. The hopefuls in the secondary need to take their summer break very seriously because a fourth consecutive finish in the top-25 might hang on their performance in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon State's defense, after getting rolled in two previous scrimmages, controlled the Beavers spring game on Saturday, but the real story is composed of two huge questions that will linger into the fall.
Who's the starting quarterback? And can the Beavers get healthy?
As for the spring game -- a glorified scrimmage due to a lengthy injury list -- the defense piled up five interceptions, two forced fumbles and was all over whoever was playing quarterback.
What to take from that? Well, the unit, which is replacing eight starters from 2008, probably started to catch its rhythm late, particularly a promising but completely rebuilt secondary that got abused in the early going.
As for quarterback, it might further spice things up that Sean Canfield threw three interceptions after having an exceptional spring. Some might have been forgetting how well Lyle Moevao played in 2008 before trying to play through the shoulder injury that kept him on the sidelines this spring.
That competition between two experienced seniors -- Canfield vs. Moevao III -- might be the most interesting battle in the Pac-10 next preseason.
Further concerns will be fortifying the offensive line and finding the right combination at cornerback.
Remember that the last time the Beavers defense was bad -- anyone recall 31 touchdown passes surrendered in 2005? -- inexperience at cornerback was a problem. Of course, everyone knew then that Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes would never amount to anything.
Injuries are an issue. Moevao, running back Jacquizz Rodgers and receiver-brother James Rodgers all sat out with shoulder injuries. While the expectations are that all three will be fine by the fall, shoulder injuries can be tricky.
Further, No. 1 offensive tackle Timi Oshinowo hurt his knee during the scrimmage. Backup tailback Ryan McCants and backup middle linebacker Tony Wilson will need offseason knee surgeries, while cornerback Brandon Hardin will require wrist surgery.
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
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
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
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
Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If we are to believe the Pac-10 will continue to be a high-flying passing conference -- last year's downturn was clearly just an anomaly, right? -- teams will continue to need outstanding cornerbacks to slow down the track meet.
So where do things stand as we enter spring practices?
- California: The Bears are the only Pac-10 team that has two accomplished, full-time starting cornerbacks from 2008 -- senior Syd'Quan Thompson (first-team All-Pac-10) and junior Darian Hagan -- returning from a statistically impressive pass defense (24 Ints vs. 12 TD passes).
- USC: While the Trojans defense lost starting cornerback Cary Harris, three players with starting experience at the position return, including, Shareece Wright, who was the best of the lot before he got hurt and sat out the season. Oh, and the Trojans had the best pass defense in the nation in 2008, see just six TD passes surrendered. [Ed. note: As folks pointed out below, I screwed up and forgot that Josh Pinkard was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. My bad.]
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils just make the cut here. They not only welcome back three corners with starting experience, they get all six players back from their season-ending three-deep depth chart. And ASU ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense. That said, Omar Bolden didn't play up to expectations last year, and this figures to be a competitive spot during spring.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are nearly in "great shape." They lose starter Marquis Hundley -- recall his endzone INT that iced the Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU -- but sophomore Robert Golden is a star talent who should start opposite Devin Ross, who was second-team All-Pac-10. The Wildcats ranked third in the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2008.
- UCLA: Second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Alterraun Verner is back, but Michael Norris is gone. Redshirt freshman Aaron Hester is the favorite to start, but the competition for the vacancy figures to endure into the fall when a number of touted athletes arrive.
- Oregon: Jairus Byrd, first-team All-Pac-10, opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, but Walter Thurmond III is back and backups Willie Glasper, a senior, and junior Talmadge Jackson III saw significant action in 2008. A curiosity: The Ducks had a lot of talent in the secondary last year but gave up 270 yards passing per game and 25 total TD passes, both numbers being worst in the conference.
- Washington State: This may seem charitable because the Cougars ranked ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense last year, but both starters -- junior Romeo Pellum and sophomore Tyrone Justin -- are back, and California transfer Brandon Jones should challenge one or the other for a starting spot.
- Oregon State: The Beavers lose both starters, Brandon Hughes (second-team All-Pac-10) and Keenan Lewis (honorable mention), but they aren't desperate. Senior Tim Clark has started six games in his career, and junior James Dockery, who missed last season with a knee injury, figure to step in, though some young players, such as redshirt freshman Keynan Parker, might make a move.
- Stanford: Wopamo Osaisai is gone, while Kris Evans returns, but competition is wide open, with Michael Thomas, Mark Mueller, Corey Gatewood and Quinn Evans each trying to earn a starting spot. The Cardinal needs to get more athletic in the back-half after intercepting just seven passes a year ago.
- Washington: Both starters are back, but Washington ranked 115th in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2008. Opponents completed 67 percent of their passes and threw 24 touchdown passes. The Huskies only grabbed seven interceptions. Of course, with little pass rush up front, corners Matt Mosely and Quinton Richardson often found themselves in coverage a long, long time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Senior Bowl, the nation's premier college all-star game, has added USC receiver Patrick Turner and Oregon safety Patrick Chung to its list of invitees.
The game, whose selections are mostly dictated by the NFL, now will feature 14 Pac-10 players, including six from USC.
That means Trojans will have the largest contingent of players from any school for the second consecutive year. Nine Trojans were invited last year.
Kickoff for the January 24th game is set for 6 p.m. (CT) and the game will be televised by the NFL Network.
The Pac-10 Senior Bowl invitees:
California: Center Alex Mack and linebacker Zack Follett
Oregon: Center Max Unger, safety Patrick Chung, running back Jeremiah Johnson
Oregon State: Offensive lineman Andy Levitre and cornerback Keenan Lewis
USC: Linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews and defensive linemen Fili Moala and Kyle Moore and receiver Patrick Turner
Washington State: Receiver Brandon Gibson
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is the premier postseason college all-star game. Everyone invited to the game has significant NFL prospects.
And just about every NFL coach and personnel guy will be on hand. Watching. Closely.
So the 12 Pac-10 players invited should feel honored. And a bit nervous.
Here's the list:
- California: Center Alex Mack and linebacker Zach Follett
- Oregon: Center Max Unger and running back Jeremiah Johnson
- Oregon State: Offensive lineman Andy Levitre cornerback Keenan Lewis
- USC: Linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews and defensive linemen Fili Moala and Kyle Moore.
- Washington State: Receiver Brandon Gibson
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- A six-point lead is supposed to be a precarious thing, but Oregon State's defense made that margin look and feel like 60 against California.
The Beavers held California to 232 total yards, 65 of which came on one play.
The Beavers sacked Cal quarterback Kevin Riley five times. When they didn't sack him, they made him look like he expected to be hit at any moment. See his numbers: 11 of 25 for 117 yards.
His lone interception was returned 25 yards for a touchdown by Keenan Lewis, which put an exclamation point on the 34-21 victory.
"I think we kind of got in his head a little bit and got him frustrated," Beavers defensive end Slade Norris said.
Cal didn't convert a third down play after halftime and finished 2 of 13.
When the screws tightened in the fourth quarter -- that six point lead hanging there, vulnerable -- the Bears managed to gain just 1 yard on 12 plays.
We could go on.
"When it got to crunch time, we really were relentless defensively," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Said Cal coach Jeff Tedford: "I don't think they did anything scheme-wise. They just played better than we did."
The Beavers had 10 tackles for a loss, with nine different players forcing the Bears to go negative.
It's sort of annoying when players and coaches rattle on about a "total-team effort," but it actually describes the performance, though tackle Stephen Pea (six tackles, two for a loss) and end Victor Butler (seven tackles, 1.5 sacks) deserve special note.
"At the end of the game, they looked a little tired and beat down," Butler said of Cal.
A year ago, the Beavers led the nation in rushing defense and ranked fourth in sacks. They ranked eighth overall.
They began the year with an entirely new starting front seven. That's why some silly folks thought the Beavers defense would struggle.
And they mostly did in losses to Stanford and Penn State.
The Beavers now rank 17th in the nation in total defense. And rising.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.
1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.
2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.
3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?
4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.
5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.
6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.
7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.
8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.
9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.
10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
This week on Worlds Most Dangerous Jobs... Pac-10 quarterback!
- UCLA released this to the media about wide receiver Terrence Austin, who was injured in the fourth quarter at Oregon.
"[Austin] was fitted for a neck collar, placed on a board and transported from the field to RiverBend Hospital. While on the field, he was conscious and able to move his arms and legs.
Tests at the hospital were negative. He was diagnosed with a neck strain and a mild concussion and released from the hospital in time to fly home to Los Angeles with the UCLA football team late Saturday night.
- Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter appears to have been playing on a broken ankle against USC, according to the East Valley Tribune. The Sun Devils have a bye before Oregon comes to town. Wonder if Carpenter can make consecutive start No. 38?
- Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard suffered a concussion against Arizona and is questionable for the for Saturday's game at UCLA. If he can't go, his likely replacement is Alex Loukas, who led the game-winning drive vs. the Wildcats.
- Washington State fans.... all I can say is at some point you guys are due some serious luck. No. 3 quarterback Marshall Lobbestael is apparently out two to four weeks with a knee sprain. There is good news, though. It appears that No. 2 Kevin Lopina will be ready to play at USC on Saturday. Sure, Lopina can't wait to face the USC defense with his patchwork offensive line.
- I agree with this column: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez looks far from 100 percent to me, too.
- Moving from quarterback, here's an injury note on Oregon State's beaten up secondary, courtesy of The Oregonian: "OSU played without safety Al Afalava (groin injury) and cornerback Brandon Hughes (hamstring). ... When cornerback Keenan Lewis went out with a turf toe in the second half, the Beavers were missing three-fourths of their starting secondary." The good news is those injuries won't likely matter at Washington, and after that the Beavers have a bye.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Might the pass-happy Pac-10 become pass-unhappy in 2008?
Here are two interwoven issues that could restrain the typically spectacular passing numbers this fall:
- Only three teams welcome back sure-things with experience at quarterback (Arizona, Arizona State and Washington).
- Every conference team welcomes back at least two starters in the secondary other than UCLA (one). Six have three starters back.
And three teams enter the season with outstanding tandems at cornerback: Oregon, Oregon State and USC.
Those tandems account for six spots in our top-10 at the position.
- Jairus Byrd, Jr., Oregon: A two-year starter, he led the Pac-10 with seven INTs a year ago (12 for his career) and was third in pass break-ups (15). Also, recorded 64 tackles -- four coming for losses-- and recovered three fumbles.
- Brandon Hughes, Sr., Oregon State: He's started 31 games and was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago. Seven tackles for a loss among his 57 total tackles, he also intercepted three passes and broke up 12 others.
Alterraun Verner, Jr., UCLA: Finished fourth on the Bruins with 75 tackles, he also had 15 pass breakups and four interceptions, returning one for a TD. A good student, he earned first-team Pac-10 All-Academic honors.
- Omar Bolden, So., Arizona State: Touted recruit broke into the starting lineup by the season's fifth game and showcased elite skills that should make him an All-American candidate sooner rather than later. Had 33 tackles with six pass breakup and one interception, which he returned for a TD.
Walter Thurmond III, Jr., Oregon: He's broken 27 passes in 25 career starts over the past two season. Good tackler and Ducks' second-fastest player. Tallied 103 tackles -- eight for a loss -- with five interceptions and 18 pass breakups in 2007.
Cary Harris, Sr., USC: Starting for his third season, Harris recorded 48 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception last year. Doesn't have elite speed -- and surgery this spring on both ankles may not help -- but he's a reliable player.
Keenan Lewis, Sr., Oregon State: A physical player who leads the Beavers with 34 career starts, he might end up a better NFL prospect than teammate Hughes. Led the Beavers with three interceptions in 2007. He's been Pac-10 First-Team All-Academic for three consecutive years.
Syd'Quan Thompson, Jr., California: He's started every game of his career. Had 78 tackles -- six for a loss -- with an interception and 10 passes defended in 2007. Fell a little short of high expectations after earning accolades as a true freshman.
Shareece Wright, Jr., USC: The Trojans' nickel back a year ago, Wright is an outstanding athlete who has a chance to break out in 2008. Had 29 tackles, 3.5 for losses, with four pass breakups last fall.
Wopamo Osaisai, Sr., Stanford: Who? Let's just say NFL scouts can pronounce the name of the Pac-10's 100-meters champion. Named the Cardinal's most improved player during spring practices, he started seven games last year and recorded 45 tackles with an interception in 2007.
3:00 PM ET Colorado Massachusetts 3:00 PM ET Fresno State Utah 3:00 PM ET Sacramento State California 3:05 PM ET Eastern Washington 25 Washington 3:30 PM ET 15 USC 11 Stanford 6:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 3 Oregon 7:00 PM ET 19 Arizona State New Mexico 10:00 PM ET Memphis 7 UCLA 10:30 PM ET Oregon State Hawaii