Take 2: Best Pac-12 trap game

May, 25, 2012
5/25/12
9:00
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Our Take Two topic this week: Which is the Pac-12's most dangerous trap game?

Kevin Gemmell: Since we're talking trap games this week -- and traps usually involve teams expected to do well -- I see a big one in Week 3 for the USC Trojans traveling north to Stanford.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck and David Shaw
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStar QB Andrew Luck is gone, but the offensive schemes of coach David Shaw should keep Stanford competitive against USC in Week 3.
This game has brought two of the Pac-12's most exciting matchups in consecutive years. There was the last-minute field goal in 2010 and the triple-overtime thriller at the Coliseum last season. No need to bring up the 55-21 game in 2009. It would be easy to assume that because Andrew Luck is gone, the Trojans will now roll over the Cardinal.

Maybe. USC, no doubt, will be highly ranked and heavily favored.

But the X-factor to this game is Stanford head coach David Shaw -- who is especially good at play calling against USC. You don't spend as much time on the offensive side of the ball in the NFL as Shaw did without learning a little something about the Tampa-2 defense, which USC is fond of running given that its defensive coordinator essentially invented it.

The Cardinal were the prickly splinter in USC's side during the Luck era. Luck was able to absorb Shaw's knowledge of USC's defense and they were able to go blow-for-blow with the Trojans. Shaw knows how to scheme against this team and Luck knew how to make that scheme a reality on the field. Although, who throws the Venus on Spider-3, Y-banana? Seriously.

But that era is over. And the Cardinal are going to make their living with a tough ground attack and a vicious front seven. I don't doubt USC's ability to move the ball. And if I'm a Stanford fan, I'm concerned about this becoming a high-scoring affair because the Cardinal have a young secondary and they don't have the horses to match the Trojans drive for drive.

I expect USC to be highly motivated for this game. Not only because of the past, but because of the future. The Stanford game marks the first of four straight tough games for the Trojans -- which is followed by Cal, Utah and Washington. Stubbing their toe early will certainly have ramifications for the rest of the season -- and the rest of the conference.

I don't think anyone will question that position-for-position, USC has more athletes than Stanford. But this will be the Trojans' first real mental test of the season. They'll be coming off an East Coast road trip and then have to go on the road again. Stanford Stadium isn't exactly the toughest venue in the conference, but it's not Disneyland, either. There will be a strong fan presence.

This season is going to be mentally taxing for the Trojans. A win at Stanford will be the first step over the psychological hump.

Ted Miller: One word: Arrrrrghhh!

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
AP Photo/Nati HarnikWashington State coach Mike Leach should have a few tricks in store for Oregon when they meet in late September.
Everyone knows Oregon's visit to USC on Nov. 3 could be epic. And I've already written about a potential trap game for the Ducks being their visit to California on Nov. 10, the weekend after The Weekend.

Ah, but here's a thought: Oregon has yet to face plant against an inferior team under Chip Kelly. The closest thing to that was a loss at Stanford in 2009, but that was a good Cardinal team.

And so we have the Ducks, almost certainly unbeaten and untested at 4-0, driving up to Seattle to take on Washington State in CenturyLink Field on Sept. 29. The Cougars also could be 4-0. And dangerous.

Fear the Pirate, Oregon. This game smacks of a "I'm baaaaack" opportunity for Mike Leach.

This will be the first road game for whomever wins the Ducks quarterback job. While it doesn't truly qualify as a home game for the Cougars, they should have a crowd advantage. More important, they will have a major experience advantage at QB with Jeff Tuel. Further, you might recall that Washington State played a competitive game in Autzen Stadium last year. The Cougars trailed only 15-10 at the half and actually outgained Oregon 463 yards to 456. It was 29-20 Ducks with four minutes left in the third before De'Anthony Thomas did his thing on a 93-yard kickoff return for a TD.

What happens if Leach's spread passing attack marries perfectly with Tuel and a deep crew of receivers against a Ducks secondary that is talented but still fairly young, particularly at cornerback? What happens if the Ducks offense, gulp, sputters with a young QB on the road?

A long shot, yes. Kelly's Ducks have been notably impressive with their ability to maintain focus each week the past three years. You know: A nameless faceless opponent each Saturday.

Only Leach isn't a nameless, faceless opponent. Everyone knows who he is. And he's tricky. And he's one coach who won't be outsmarted by Kelly.

At the very least, this one should be an interesting test for both teams. And the Cougs have a puncher's -- passer's? -- shot at pulling a shocker.

Ted Miller | email

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30