Last week was a rough one for the Pac-10. The Beavers and the Ducks are now the only teams with undefeated records. The rest of the Pac-10 has fallen. After a week in which the Pac-10 turned heads with road wins over two Big 12 teams and a Big 10 team, the conference took a step back with disappointing losses to Air Force, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Kansas State. But it is still the most competitive and entertaining conference in college football. This week has two key conference matchups, Cal hosting Washington State and USC hosting Oregon State.
A Look Back
The notable headline from last week's WSU-Montana State game was the injury bug hitting the Cougar quarterbacks. Jason Gesser and Matt Kegel both got hurt, but are expected to play this weekend, although it is possible Mike Price will give the start to freshman Chris Hurd, who was 5 of 6 for 44 yards in limited action last week. The Cougars won big, but a couple of former Oregon State players played big roles for the Bobcats. QB Tyler Thomas completed 26 of 45 passes for 290 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception. His favorite target was his former OSU teammate, Junior Adams, who caught 11 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona got clobbered by Wisconsin. It wasn't pretty. Jason Johnson threw to Bobby Wade every chance he got. He was usually successful. But the Badgers wised up and locked on him. If Arizona is going to be competitive in Pac-10 play, they need another receiver to step up. Wade will catch everything thrown his way, but the rest of the receivers were struggling with inconsistency and dropping key passes.
Cal had the chance to run its record to 4-0, but met up with an Air Force team that has been impressive early. It was competitive game all the way through, but the Falcons executed the triple option nearly perfectly and Cal couldn't get the key stops when necessary. It came down to a failed two-point conversion attempt.
UCLA put together an awful effort Saturday. They aren't supposed to choke like this until October. The new Mr. September (Bob Toledo) usually prepares his team better for these early season games. The Bruins were dominated up front on both sides of the ball. Colorado rushed for 325 yards when the Bruins knew all the Buffaloes were going to do was run the ball. Maybe October 5th is the day Steven Jackson goes over 1000 yards on the season. The Bruins rush offense was also pathetic. Their offensive line was supposed to the class of the Pac-10. Apparently 2.2 yards per carry is all it takes these days to get respect when you play football in Westwood.
Kansas State has a pretty good football team, but USC kicker David Davis just has some serious problems against those Wildcats. Last year, he missed a field goal and an extra point in a four-point home loss to KSU. This year, he had an extra point blocked that was taken the length of the field by Kansas State for a three-point swing. He also missed a 30-yard field goal attempt. USC's holes in the secondary are beginning to show, but they are still a very good defensive team and they played very well in this contest. Carson Palmer's inability to make a play on USC's final drive was the difference in the game. The Trojans were driving, but Palmer badly missed his receiver on 4th down to end the game. Joey Harrington, he is not.
Revenge is sweet, isn't it? Seeing Fresno State get pounded last week brought a sense of peace over my soul. I, unlike many fans in Reser Stadium, was not happy to see Aric Williams take out Adam Jennings on the punt coverage. I would have like to have seen the Beavers get their revenge solely on the field. There's nothing that hurts more than 59-19. Except maybe 80-19, which it very well could have been if Dennis Erickson hadn't called off the dogs midway through the third quarter.
The Fresno State fans I talked to were very friendly and just hoping for a good game. Thanks to all the Bulldogs who made the trip and were very friendly before and after the game.
The Huskies still have some issues to work out. The early reports are saying that the pass defense is improved and that they can run the ball. But the pass defense will struggle once it sees some tougher schemes in Pac-10 play. And if the Huskies can only run for 113 yards against Wyoming, who has lost 12 games in a row, they will be hard pressed to run against defensive lines with guys like Terrell Suggs, Shaun Cody, and Eric Manning.
The Pac-10 hasn't had a Heisman since 1981 when Marcus Allen won the prestigious award. This streak will probably continue through this year. The Pac-10's best shots are Jason Gesser and Onterrio Smith. For either to have a shot, their respective teams must win. Washington State would probably have to win the rest of their games. Gesser had a great shot in their game against Ohio State. He came out and threw the ball well early, but struggled as the game went on. Smith has a shot if the Ducks win 11 games. The Ducks are clearly pushing his candidacy. They kept giving him the ball against Portland State, even with the game securely in hand and a slight limp from #2. So he's rushed for 100 yards in all four Duck victories. Steven Jackson has clearly been the best back in the Pac-10 thus far, but because he is a newcomer, he won't get much publicity until later in the year.
The bottom line, Washington State is going to struggle. They will lose two Pac-10 games before the year is over. I don't see the Ducks winning ten games either. The formula for winning the Heisman these days is to be in the hunt for a National Title while running up stats against opposition. It's brutally tough to do either of those in this conference.
Beavers Still Holding Their Cards
The early season defensive success of Oregon State (holding teams to just over 12 points per game) is impressive. But a closer look reveals that the fashion in which they've done it is even more impressive. The first team defense has really only given up an average of 5.5 points per game. Eastern Kentucky scored all ten points off Beaver turnovers (one was a fumble return for a TD and the other a field goal immediately following a fumble). UNLV scored its last ten points off the OSU reserves, as was the case for Fresno State's last seven.
Another impressive factor is that they have been able to shut down the opposition without revealing much of their blitzing packages. They have been relying on the ability of their defensive line to get pressure on the quarterbacks. This has allowed their linebackers to drop back into coverage. It offers a healthy explanation as to why the Beavers are second in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The Beavers brought a little more pressure against the Bulldogs this week. But expect to see them bring it up a few notches for Pac-10 play. Being afforded the opportunity to keep its defensive attack under wraps will be a great asset in a tough road game.
Statistics and Notes
· Derek Anderson is 6th on the all-time OSU touchdown passing list with 16.
· OSU is 2nd in the nation in total offense.
· OSU is 3rd nationally in pass efficiency, 2nd in pass efficiency defense.
· Nick Barnett still leads Pac-10 in tackles per game.
· Steven Jackson leads the Pac-10 in rushing and is seventh in the nation at 134 yards per game.
· Derek Anderson is highest rated passer in the Pac-10.
· Derek Anderson has almost twice as many touchdown passes (15) as Jason Fife and Kyle Boller do (8), who are currently tied for second in the conference. Anderson leads the nation as well.
· OSU leads the Pac-10 in scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing offense, total offense, pass efficiency, pass defense efficiency, first downs, and kickoff coverage.
· Stanford, after leading the Pac-10 last year with fewest penalty yards per game, is now closing in on Oregon State for the most in the conference. The Beavers average 119.5 yards per game in penalties, while the Cardinal is averaging 94.5 penalty yards per game. Stanford actually averages more penalties per game at 22, barely edging Oregon State at 21.5 per game.
· Carl Tobey is a respectable 4th in the Pac-10 in punt average at 42.1 yards per kick. He has shown strong improvement from last year.
The Toe's Power Poll
1) Oregon State
3) Washington State
9) Arizona State
This Week's Focus
Washington State is traveling to take on Cal this weekend. Outside of OSU-USC, it is the premier game in the Pac-10. Both teams have questions to be answered and will learn a bit about themselves after this game. Cal comes back to earth after losing to Air Force. Washington State will possibly be without Jason Gesser. This game will be competitive. One guy who is playing very well for the Bears is defensive end Tully Banta-Cain. He will provide the Cougar offensive line with their biggest challenge. That line has had some issues the past few weeks between minor injuries and suspensions. They must play well and give Jonathon Smith and John Tippins room to run. The running game will be key. Cal's offense struggled against Air Force, getting their only touchdown in the last minute of the game. Kicker Mark Jensen kicked five field goals in the close loss. Kyle Boller has been solid, yet not spectacular all year long. New coach Jeff Tedford has taken the pressure off and it has resulted in success.
The Cougars seem to be caught in some adversity. They need a big win on the road to get back on track. I'm guessing the Gesser will play, although he could easily struggle playing through pain. The key will be establishing the run early. If the Cougars can run the ball, they should roll. But if the Cougs let Cal stick around, the Bears will probably pull it out. Washington State 34, Cal 20.
UCLA 27, San Diego State 17. San Diego State is 0-4 with tough losses to Fresno State (had a game winning field goal blocked) and Arizona State (led by 22 before losing 39-28). They've also lost to Colorado and Idaho. The Bruins should win big here, but they also should have won big last week. You never know which Bruins are going to come out to play. The one thing I do know is that the Bob Toledo farewell tour is already in full swing. This year will be the last straw.
Washington 34, Idaho 7. If it seems like the Pac-10 plays the same crummy non-conference teams every week, it's because they do. Idaho got a Pac-10 break last week, but after playing Washington State and Oregon already, they'll get their shot at the Huskies now. The Huskies have been a disappointment to me so far. They have not been dominant and that loss to Michigan looks worse and worse every week.
Arizona State 34, Stanford 31. I think we'll see a great game between these two. Andrew Walter will get his first start for the Sun Devils and I expect to see great things from him. He throws a pretty ball. Chris Lewis is trying to do it all himself and he may be able to pull off a few of those type of wins this year, but I like the Sun Devils in Tempe.
Arizona 34, North Texas 10. The Wildcats are looking for redemption after getting pummeled last week. The one positive on the loss was that Nic Costa got some playing time. Costa made a couple of nice plays and a couple of tough mistakes. Expect to see him getting some time almost every week as Coach John Mackovic tries to ease the transition from this year to next when Costa will likely be the starter.
Oregon State 31, USC 23. It's Derek Anderson's first big road test. It's the opening of Pac-10 play. It will be hotly contested. Oregon State hasn't opened a season 5-0 in almost 60 years and they haven't won at the Coliseum in over 40 years. But all that doesn't matter. It's history.
USC has a great defense. But I think they will struggle against Oregon State. Kansas State has a tremendous offense, but they aren't as balanced as the Beavers. Oregon State can do it both ways. In the first three games of the season, the Beavers' opponents tried to shut down Steven Jackson. They held him to around 100 yards per game, but Derek Anderson threw all over the field and the OSU offense scored at will. Fresno State was the first team to realize that Anderson had to be addressed. They addressed Anderson and Jackson ran for 227 yards. USC is going to have to drop linebackers into coverage to stop the OSU passing game. This will open things up for Jackson.
USC struggled with their tackling against Kansas State. They must wrap up Jackson, or he will burn them. Another factor for the USC defense is losing Ronald Nunn. They had already lost Kevin Arbett for the season. Nunn was the fill-in for Arbett and now the start will go to either William Buchanon or Justin Wyatt, both freshman.
The way USC can change the game is by forcing a key turnover or two, early in the contest. Jackson and Anderson have lots of talent, but they don't have a whole bunch of experience. If USC can make a couple of big plays early and force OSU to play catchup, they will likely win.
Either way this game will be highly entertaining and a great early season indicator of the state of the Pac-10.
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