Pac-12: Shaun DeWitty
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.
1. California's offensive line will struggle vs. USC's D-front: Every offensive line struggles with USC's defensive front. But consider that four players -- including guard Noris Malele, who is questionable -- from the Bears first unit during the preseason won't play Saturday. We harped on this before the Oregon game and the replacement line did fine. But Oregon's defense doesn't rate the same as the Trojans, unquestionably the nation's best crew.
2. Arizona is going to run. And run. And run. Washington State ranks 118th in the nation in run defense, yielding 275 yards per game. The Cougars have surrendered 323, 362 and 344 yards on the ground in their last three games, so things are actually trending downward. So Arizona tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin should have a lot of fun in Pullman.
3. UCLA jinx vs. UCLA jinxed: Oregon State coach Mike Riley has never beaten UCLA. He is 0-5 vs. UCLA as Oregon State's coach and was also 0-4 while offensive coordinator at USC (1993-96). He's beaten every other Pac-10 team at least twice, including USC. But injury-riddled, struggling UCLA just suspended three players for, according to multiple reports, failing a drug test. That's not good for team morale. So which bad juju is more powerful?
4. Stanford's Tavita Pritchard vs. Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli: These two quarterbacks rank eighth and ninth in the Pac-10 in passing. Pritchard has throw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8), while Masoli is barely completing 50 percent of his passes. It's possible that passing will be a non-factor in this matchup between two of the conference's best running offenses. But it's also possible that the quarterback who throws better -- or less worse -- will have a significant say in the final score.
5. Will Nate Longshore rise to the moment? It's still possible that Kevin Riley, who was sidelined in the Oregon game with a concussion, will start. But if Longshore gets the call, there's the potential for a storybook ending for his tumultuous career. Longshore as a sophomore looked like a future NFL draft pick. But his tendency to throw bad interceptions at inopportune times soured Bears fans on him. He played well in relief of Riley in the big win over the Ducks, but beating USC is a whole different cup of yogurt. If he leads Cal to the upset, he'll have his legacy win that enshrine him in Golden Bears lore.
6. Good Mark Sanchez vs. Bad Mark Sanchez: The truth is most teams would take any Sanchez. He leads the Pac-10 in passing yards per game, pass efficiency and touchdown passes. It's only that when you play quarterback at USC you're expected to be spectacular just about ALL THE TIME! With a college football nation seemingly salivating over the notion of eliminating USC from the national title hunt, it would be an auspicious time for Good Sanchez to help the Trojans make a dominant statement vs. Cal. The Bears, who lead the nation with 17 interceptions, are hoping for Bad Sanchez.
7. Arizona State's offense will break out at Washington: Washington has the worst pass defense in the country, so Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter should feast on the Huskies wide-eyed secondary. But coach Dennis Erickson probably would like to see more progress in the running game, seeing that running back Shaun DeWitty just last week gave the offense its first 100-yard rushing game. Don't worry: There's plenty Huskies defense to go around. So share the bounty.
8. Can Craft find consistency? UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft is two weeks removed from his worst all-around performance of the season -- a 17 for 35, four interception effort in the Bruins loss at California. He threw four interceptions earlier this season against Tennessee, but he also led the Bruins to a shocking comeback victory. The enduring image of the Cal game is UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel going haywire each time Craft slogged to the sidelines after a turnover. If the Bruins woeful offense is going to have any chance against Oregon State, Craft's going to have to be more careful with the football.
9. Field position is boring but so, so important: Cal coach Jeff Tedford noted this week how important field position will be against USC. He probably was thinking that after watching film of USC's tight 17-10 victory over Arizona. In that game, Wildcats punter Keenyn Crier averaged 50.3 yards on seven punts, four of which were downed inside the 20-yard line. Arizona made USC play on a long field, which prevented the Trojans from mounting one of those demoralizing, explosive scoring flurries -- the game is close; now it's not! -- that they've become accustomed to. Just so happens the Bears have a good punter, too: Bryan Anger, who averages 44 yards per boot.
10. Any road warriors out there?: Pac-10 teams have been mostly terrible on the road this year -- at least when they aren't playing Washington or Washington State. Visitors in conference games are 8-19, with five of those wins coming in Seattle or Pullman. Well, Arizona is playing for bowl eligibility in Pullman, while Arizona State is trying to end a six-game losing streak in Seattle. They should be plenty motivated to notch the easy win. But what about Cal at USC, trying keep alive its Rose Bowl hopes? Same goes for Oregon State at UCLA. And Stanford could earn bowl eligibility if it upsets Oregon. In other words, there's a lot at stake for road teams this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A loss is a loss, and Arizona State's seen six of them in a row, but there are two reasons for the Sun Devils to be optimistic this week.
For one, they're playing Washington. So they're going to end that six-game losing streak.
Second, their running game, among the nation's worst, showed a spark of life against Oregon State, with Shaun DeWitty rushing 16 times for 110 yards.
It was the first 100-yard performance by a Sun Devil back in 2008. And his 54-yard run was the offense's longest offensive play from scrimmage this season.
Despite the long run, the critical thing is DeWitty, at 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, gave the running game a physical presence.
"Shaun was able to break some tackles and run over some people for some extra yards -- that helps," coach Dennis Erickson said.
Of course, DeWitty's solid night didn't get the Sun Devils a win, and it didn't improve their woeful rushing statistics. After the beleaguered offensive line yielded five sacks for minus-45 yards, the final rushing total was 78 yards, which left them ranked 115th in the nation with 86 yards per game.
Still, DeWitty's performance suggests there's hope for the run game.
Oregon State's run defense ranks fifth in the conference. None of the Sun Devils' remaining four opponents rank that high. The next three opponents -- Washington, Washington State and UCLA -- give up 236, 266 and 189 rushing yards per game, respectively.
And DeWitty, a junior who's battled injuries through the years, might have broken through.
"I think he's good at what he did last week, which is pound the ball and get what he can," quarterback Rudy Carpenter said. "Then, he'll hit one every now and then. Obviously he's not going to be a speed guy, but I think Shaun is good for our offense that we have right now."
Erickson said DeWitty, who will start again at Washington, is also a good blocker, which obviously the Sun Devils need.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Revelations from the past weekend's action.
Sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong: California's offensive line was decimated by injuries and Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.5 sacks per game. Didn't matter. Oregon lives and plays in the sodden Pacific Northwest, so a deluge game would only make the Ducks more comfortable while limiting the home-field advantage as many Cal fans stayed home. Didn't matter. Oregon, having won three of four on the road -- the lone defeat coming at USC -- would be perfectly comfortable playing at Memorial Stadium. Didn't seem that way. Oregon's offense was coming into its own as quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's confidence grew. Didn't matter. It's clear that California can't win a big game with backup quarterback Nate Longshore because Longshore wilts when the pressure is on. Not this time. Cal's defense was exposed in the second half at Arizona. So what? Cal wins 26-16 and a week's worth of analysis goes poof.
We didn't think it could get any worse in the state of Washington. Then it did: The state of Washington was outscored 114 to zip this weekend by teams from Northern (Stanford) and Southern (USC) California. The state of Washington was outgained 941 yards to 409 this weekend. One word: Yuck. With North Texas' victory over Western Kentucky, the Huskies, who lost 56-0 to USC, became the only winless FBS team. And with Washington State losing 58-0 to Stanford, it appears that the Cougars might be even worse. Neither team showed fight or gave their fans reason for hope. It was particularly disappointing that the Huskies failed to make any positive statement on their feelings for outgoing coach Tyrone Willingham. Or is the talent he recruited just that, er, untalented? It appears that the Apple Cup on Nov. 22 will be the most pathetic rivalry game in the history of rivalry games.
Oregon State proved it's starting its annual late-season surge: Arizona State came to Corvallis looking like the desperate team it is, and the Sun Devils fought hard and didn't make things easy for Oregon State, which seemed primed for a let-up performance. The Beavers didn't play particularly well, and they lost starting quarterback Lyle Moevao to a shoulder injury of presently undisclosed severity in the middle of the second quarter. What's more, Sean Canfield gave the Sun Devils a 13-7 lead when safety Troy Nolan returned a third-quarter interception 41 yards for a touchdown. The lead changed hands five times. Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter had an opportunity to tie the game on a 2-point play. But the defense held and the Beavers survived a thriller. While other teams have imploded with QB issues, Canfield showed he can handle the offense, if needed. The Beavers now have won three in a row and five of six since an 0-2 start. Again: If they win out, they go to the Rose Bowl.
Up and running again, there's still hope for Arizona State: Sure, the Sun Devils lost their sixth game in a row, which the program hasn't done since 1929. But they fought hard at Oregon State, which supports optimism for a far more manageable schedule ahead. Even the running game showed signs of life in Corvallis, with Shaun DeWitty rushing for 110 yards on 16 carries, the highlight being a 54-yard run, the team's longest running play this season. ASU entered the game ranked 114th in the nation with just 87 yards rushing per game. DeWitty, at 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, gives the Sun Devils a power back who might be able to make his own yardage behind an often overmatched offensive line. And don't completely count the 2-6 Sun Devils out of the bowl picture. It's not inconceivable they could win each of their four remaining games: at Washington, Washington State, UCLA and at Arizona.
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez regained his rhythm: Washington's pass defense is the perfect antidote for quarterback inconsistency, and Sanchez took a full dose in the Trojans' 56-0 win. After struggling at Arizona a week ago, he completed 15 of 19 passes (79 percent) for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It seems like Sanchez plays better at home -- see big numbers vs. Ohio State, Oregon and Washington -- than on the road -- see poor numbers at Oregon State and Arizona. USC's toughest two remaining games -- California on Saturday and Notre Dame on Nov. 29 -- are at home. That bodes well for Sanchez and the Trojans as the nation's most-feared team tries to battle its way back into the national title hunt.
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