Pac-10 Weekend Preview: Week 8

Who would've thought that on USC/Notre Dame weekend, the least talked about game in the conference would be the Trojans versus the Irish? With USC's recent struggles and Notre Dame's meteor-like decent, Cal and UCLA take center stage in the early game while the border rivalry between the Ducks and Huskies promises to be a good one late.



October 20, 2007

12:30 PM PST

Television:  ABC (Regional Coverage)


(5-1, 2-1 Pac-10)

(4-2, 3-0 Pac-10)

This is a huge Pac-10 game this week.  A win by Cal and the idle Sun Devils will move into first place as the lone team without a conference loss.  A win by UCLA and the Bruins will move into a tie with ASU as both teams will then have matching 4-0 conference records.  The home team has won the last seven games in this series, a streak that dates back to 1999.  Last year, UCLA amassed a season high 516 yards of total offense.  They were led by QB Cowan's 329 yards in the air.  This year, season starter Olson is out which again paves the way for Cowan to lead the Bruins.  The only problem is Cowan is banged up as well and whether or not he is effective due to limited reps in practice could be a major factor in the game.  Cal is in a similar situation as their QB status remains a game day decision.  If Longshore can't go, the Bears will lose some experience at the position but not necessarily talent.  Backup Riley completed 20 of 34 passes for 294 yards last weekend against a strong Oregon State defense.  In the closing seconds though Riley made a critical mental mistake which resulted in the clock running out before Cal could attempt a short, game-tying field goal.  Saturday's game is filled with a ton of questions, which should make it entertaining to watch.  How will UCLA respond after suffering their second embarrassing non-conference loss of the season?  How will Cal, and more importantly Riley (if he plays) perform after the shocking end to their game against the Beavers?  Will UCLA's 2006 defense finally show up in 2007?  How many different ways will Cal get the ball into the hands of Mr. Everything, Jackson?  Will the road team finally win in this series?


In the end, this game will come down to which secondary plays better.  Both have been hit hard by opposing offenses.  Both teams run the ball effectively, but have not put up the most impressive numbers in the air.  The team that can connect on some big pass plays to open up the field and keep the safeties honest and out of the box should win the time of possession and the game.  I'm leaning toward Cal to get the victory but one thing I've learned in watching UCLA is that when Cowan is at the helm his team plays like winners.


Rose Bowl – 91,500

Natural Grass 




October 20, 2007

12:30 PM PST

Television:  NBC 


(5-1, 3-1 Pac-10)

(1-6, 0-3 Home)

USC has won five straight in the series and despite their rash of injuries, there's no reason to think that Notre Dame can in anyway duplicate their efforts from two weeks ago when they went on the road and upset UCLA.  There's too much familiarity between USC and Notre Dame for either team to be intimidated by the other or more importantly, have the gall to underestimate the potential of the other.  That said, USC is the better team, this is the kind of game Pete Carroll lives for, and there's no doubt he'll have his Trojans focused on the task at hand.  As for coach Charlie Weiss, the signs are there that he just might be in over his head.  Rushing true freshman QB Clausen into the starting line up after the season-opening loss was the move of a desperate coach and when I think of desperate coaches at Notre Dame I think of only one man, Gerry Foust.  His continuous rotation of starting QB's since then also seems desperate to me.  Weiss is hiding behind statements like, "he's a bit banged up and not as healthy as we'd like him to be," for reasons why Clausen in not starting this week but the truth is the frosh hasn't played well and he's just not ready.  So, ND starts their third different QB this weekend which is never good for any team let alone a team that is 1-6.


As trendy as the pick might be to go with the Irish here as 18-point dogs, I'm just not feeling it.  USC's invincibility has taken a serious hit in the last 12 months and a tight game in South Bend will really send Trojans' fans into a panic.  The good news for the Trojans is it does look like RB Johnson will play this weekend which gives USC three very capable running backs (Washington and McKnight) to help take pressure off an injured Booty at QB or the young and inexperienced Sanchez.  The match up to watch is USC's TE Davis go up against ND's Zbikowski.  Davis has torched opponents this season with several game changing plays.  I expect Big Z to use Davis as his key throughout the game.  If Z can read Davis right, perhaps he can neutralize what's been USC's most effective offensive weapon. 


Last season, Notre Dame held the Trojans to a respectable 139 yards on the ground.  Expect that number to go up drastically on Saturday as USC is currently averaging 198 yards on the ground and have done this against defenses that at least on paper are better than the Irish.  Add to this the fact that the Irish are currently ranked 120th in the nation in rushing offense (32.1 YPG) and therein lies the disparity between these teams.  This looks to be a game where Notre Dame should cover the large spread, but I'm guessing they don't.  Will the final score by 44-24 like it was last year?  I doubt it, but I could easily see it being 31-10.  Of course, stranger things have happened in this series where records and the opinions of analysts have been rendered meaningless on more than one occasion. 

Notre Dame Stadium – 80,795

  Natural Grass




October 20, 2007

4:00 PM PST

Television:  FSN & FSA (DirectTV-652 & 649) 


(2-4, 1-3 Pac-10)

(2-5, 1-3 Pac-10)

Stanford has won four of the last six games in this series, including a 20-16 win in Tucson in 2005.  Arizona defeated Stanford in Palo Alto last season which extended a trend in recent years where the road team has won six of the last seven in this series.  Both teams find themselves tied for eighth in the conference standings heading into Saturday and both teams are coming off disappointing losses last weekend. 


Okay, enough of the blah, blah, blah.  Here's the deal.  With five games remaining in the season, it's now or never for the Wildcats.  At a minimum they need to win four games to become bowl eligible but five is more likely with the unusually high number of teams across the country that should have seven wins by season's end.  While going to a bowl would be great, I could care less right now.  What I want to see is a motivated team play to their potential for once.  If Arizona can achieve that I can live with the results.  I say that because if they do the results more often than not will be victories.  I also want to see Stoops & Co. use the remainder of the season to build for the future.  Our upperclassmen have paid their dues and have earned their way onto the field but the reality is that for all they've accomplished in four years, this team still plays very much the same as they did back in 2004.  With a ton of new blood on the roster and a host of talented underclassmen, I want to see the two Terrell's, Dean, Gronk, Grigsby and Elmore get as much playing time as possible from here on out.


I was pleased by our defenses overall performance against USC last weekend.  Sure, they couldn't stop the Trojans 93-yard drive that ate up the entire clock at the end of the game but that's what a Stoops led offense will do to a defense over time.  The conservative play calling and continuous three and outs by the O leaves the D on the field for too long and eventually they break down, which is exactly what happened in the Coliseum.  Hopefully, Stoops lets Dykes call an entire game so we can get a second glimpse of the offense that put 48 points on the board against Wazzu.  Saturday's contest is all about which team wants it more, which scares me.  The good news for Arizona fans is this team seems to have the same mental makeup of last year's squad that won three of four to close out the 2006 season.  The bad news is Stanford is the kind of team that Arizona has loved to overlook under Stoops and one thing is for certain, head coach Harbaugh will have the Cardinal ready to go in Tucson.


Arizona needs to get off to a fast start to keep their fans interested and in the stands.  The day game should help the student section avoid the typical second half mass "bar rush" exodus out of the stadium so if the ‘Cats play well, they should have a packed stadium at game's end to celebrate with.  Expect a big performance out of QB Tuitama but don't expect a blowout unless Grigsby or Jennings gains at least a 100 yards on the ground. 


Arizona Stadium – 56,002

  Natural Grass




October 20, 2007

4:30 PM PST

Television:  Fox Sports Northwest (Direct TV – 651)


(5-1, 2-1 Pac-10)

(2-4, 0-3 Pac-10)

Boy oh Boy how things can change over the course of a season.  A month ago UW was the talk of the conference after wins over Syracuse and Boise State and a valiant losing effort against Ohio State.  Since then, the Huskies have lost all three Pac-10 games and have somewhat fallen off the radar.  Despite their four-game skid the Huskies are a battle-tested team that should be feared.  QB Locker remains a duel threat and the team's overall speed enables them to compete with anybody.  For the most part, they remained competitive through the 3rd Quarter only to tire or breakdown in the final 15 minutes of all four losses.


In this series, the Ducks have won three straight despite trailing UW 58-36-5 all-time.  This border rivalry is as intense as it gets in the Pac-10.  So, don't be surprised if this game is decided late.  Oregon has yet to face a QB with the unique talents of Locker and that may prove to be a challenge early.  However, their defense does have the luxury of seeing their own duel threat QB Dixon every day in practice and once they figure out Locker's game-decision tendencies, they should be able to make some adjustments and force him into only being a passer.  I expect Oregon to eventually take away the Washington running game, which means UW's receivers will need to step up and make plays for their QB.


For Oregon, the Ducks have suffered some devastating season-ending injuries to their Receiving Corps.  Still, the Ducks have been able to reload at the position.  Dixon will be a nightmare to contain for a Washington defense that hasn't stopped anyone since September.  Look for Oregon to pound the ball with Stewart early to set up their passing game before opening things up in the second quarter.  This game should be filled with plenty of fireworks on offense and if the weather permits, a lot of scoring.  In the end, though, it'll be turnovers that decide it and unfortunately for Washington, I'm guessing they'll be the team who has the worst turnover margin.  If Oregon can capitalize on Huskies' mistakes then scoring in the high 30's should be good enough for a 14-point win.  


Husky Stadium – 72,500

Field Turf 


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