Around the Pac-10

The Pac-12? Oregon State vs. Bye? The Toe gives us his thoughts on the Pac-10 matchups this weekend, as well as a few other random topics.

After another disappointing loss, Oregon State heads into its bye week.  It's a chance to relax, get healthy, and focus on getting things heading in the right direction.  The week off will provide a chance to heal all the nagging injuries that occur after grueling weeks of practices and games.  Hopefully, this bye will provide a week of healing for Derek Anderson. 


Anderson has proven that he has the skill to be successful at this level.  He is going to be an outstanding Pac-10 quarterback.  It is just going to take some time.  Will it happen this year?  Maybe.  Does he need to prove all his critics wrong against Cal?  No.  My expectations for the Beavers coming into this year was to have an outstanding defense that made every game competitive, and an offense that would be explosive at times and stagnant at others.  Inconsistency would be prevalent while players matured.  While my thoughts began to change after the thumping of non-conference opponents, they have returned to the forefront. 


It just takes time.


Should Anderson have been held back another year, and groomed for the starter with a little more experience under his belt?  In a perfect world, yes.  But that luxury could not be found with the lack of depth at quarterback.  There is no one on the roster at quarterback with more than one varsity letter.  Shayne House and Seth Trimmer, two upperclassmen, were recruited to play quarterback in Corvallis, but Trimmer was moved to receiver and House hasn't been healthy since he's been in Corvallis, having to end his football career earlier this season after numerous shoulder problems.  Tyler Thomas, now a senior at Montana State, transferred after the 2000 season.  And finally Jared Jones, a highly touted QB transferred from Florida State to Oregon State last year, but quit the team in the spring to pursue his baseball career.  All other options were exhausted and Anderson was forced to be the man now.


The good news about the offense is that it is young.  If any improvement is seen throughout the rest of the year, it can be ridden through the off-season until next year, when 10 of 11 current starters will return.  The bottom line is that patience is important.  Oregon State will win games.  They will pull out a few more wins and go to a bowl.  It's not time to get down on the team.  Every year, this team has improved significantly in the second half of the season under Dennis Erickson. 



Some Observations on an Ugly Game


While it went down to the wire, the Arizona State-Oregon State matchup last weekend was not an enjoyable one to watch from a Beaver fan's perspective.  Here are some of my thoughts while watching and cringing:


  • Jonathon Pollard is going to be a great player.  Two starters wll grauate among the linbackers his year.  Having Pollard, Seth Lacey, and Trent Bray around convinces me that this group of linebackers will survive the loss of Nick Barnett, who is currently leading the Pac-10 in tackles, and Erik Tuma.  Pollard and Lacey are just sophomores, while Bray is a redshirt freshman. 


  • More balls need to be thrown at Tim Euhus.  Every time he touches the ball, it seems he picks up a first down.  He is averaging 14.8 yards per catch, and almost always seems to hold onto the ball.


  • Calvin Carlyle is playing his heart out in place of Mitch Meeuwsen.  He had a terrific game and looked like he was just having fun playing football.  It's great to see. 


  • The OSU defense finally blitzed linebackers to get increased pressure on the quarterback.  It resulted in holding ASU to 13 points.  The only touchdown came off a screen pass that was designed to play against the blitz.


  • The reason OSU has been ineffective in running screen passes is not because opposing defenses are ready for them.  Quite simply, the OSU offensive line is not properly setting it up.  Both Arizona State and UCLA did it perfectly, by hanging in long enough to draw the defenders in.  The Beavers seem to get happy feet and let the defenders right through.  This only lets the defense know what's coming and sniff out the play.  More patience needs to be employed here.


  • Arizona State has an incredible offensive line.  Even though they were ravaged by the loss of players to the NFL, the Sun Devils line play was outstanding.  They did a great job of picking up the blitz and often gave Andrew Walter much more time than expected to throw. 


  • One thing that many people don't understand, but ought to, is the difference between a reverse and an end around.  Anytime the wide receiver touches the ball on a run play, the inclination is to call it a reverse.  A reverse is a run play that starts with an offensive player running in one direction and reverses to another direction with a hand off to a different offensive player.  If a quarterback simply drops back to hand off to a receiver that is coming around, it is called an end around. 


  • The Beavers need to run the ball more to be successful.  The numbers back this one up.  In the four OSU victories, Steven Jackson averaged 22 carries per game.  In the three losses, he averaged just fewer than 15 carries per game.  The main reason for this statistic is that Oregon State has not had the ball enough the past three games.  Time of possession in the first four games averaged 30:35, while T.O.P. in the last three averaged 23:47.  In order to get the running game going, the Beavers must get more sustained drives and get more opportunity to run plays.  The bottom line is that the spread offense needs to pass to open up the run.  The pass and run are reliant on each other to get the whole offense moving to its potential.



Tough Break For Trojans


After getting a great break last Saturday when Pac-10 referees gave USC a touchdown that probably shouldn't have counted in a narrow come from behind win over Cal, the Trojans caught a tough break when learning defensive tackle Shaun Cody will be out for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL.  Cody earned the starting job four games into last season as a true freshman.  He went on to be named to the All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention after a great season.  He was commanding attention this year and was one of the main reasons USC's defensive line was tops in the conference.  As was the case for Clarence Farmer, Cody played in too many games to be eligible for a medical redshirt year. 



Also on the Injury Front


Arizona State will come to Autzen this week at close to full strength.  It is expected that Riccardo Stewart, a safety who did not play against Oregon State, will see action against the Ducks.  It seems Oregon has been on the fortunate side this year, catching opponents beat up with injuries or suspensions.  Mississippi State, Fresno State, Arizona, and UCLA were all missing key components when playing the Ducks. 


Are the Ducks overrated?  Maybe.  Do they deserve to be sixth in the nation?  Probably.  They've been fortunate and caught some breaks, but that's what it takes to be ranked in the top 10.  Miami caught a break of its own Saturday when Florida State missed a game-winning field goal (this time to the left).  When the discussion of Oregon being overrated comes up, what is left out is that all these early breaks lead to a very confident team. 





The merits of adding two teams to the Pac-10 have been thrown around quite a bit lately.  Most of these thoughts come from looking at the SEC and the Big 12 and their success with having two additional teams to beat up on every year.  Not only would it increase everyone's (with the exception of the two new punching bags) win-loss record, but it would also bring a money making championship game to the table.


This sounds great, but the primary reason I enjoy Pac-10 football is its competitiveness.  Every year there is a sense of intrigue and mystery, waiting to see who will rise up from the lower depths to compete for the title.  Last year it was Washington State.  This year, it is Cal.  All Pac-10 teams have been competitive in football at some point in the past ten years.  Adding two more punching bags will lead to more predictability and more mediocrity. 


Another question is what schools would be added?  Fresno State, Boise State, San Diego State, Utah, BYU, Colorado, and Colorado State have all been tossed around as potential candidates to join the conference.  The Pac-10 is very stringent in its academic standards for member institutions and prides itself on being comprised of research universities.  This would probably eliminate a few of these schools.  But also of note is that the Pac-10's unique setup in which they are the only conference to have all teams play their biggest rival on the last weekend of conference play.  Only BYU and Utah are each other's biggest rivals among the teams I listed.


I think the Pac-10 will remain as it currently stands for the time being.  The only people really pushing for expansion, are those that are not currently in the conference. 



This Week's Focus


Troubled times are hitting Seattle.  The football team has been struggling, looking unimpressive in non-conference play and opening Pac-10 play with a 1-1 record, with a loss at home to Cal and a come-from-behind win against an Arizona team that is hard hit by injuries.  Add to that the concern about the NCAA sanctions against Rick Neuheisel affecting recruiting.  The Huskies can't run the ball, and their defense has been sub-par.  Going into Los Angeles to play USC will not be easy. 


USC has seen a few challenges this year.  Losing at Kansas State and Washington State have built character.  Even though they trailed Cal 21-3, they were able to rally to beat the Bears 30-28.  Sultan McCullough rushed for 176 yards on 39 carries.  Justin Fargas has been getting less and less playing time every week.  Malaefou MacKenzie has been starting at fullback and can catch the ball out of the backfield.


Washington has the second-ranked passing offense in the country.  They throw the ball.  Cody Pickett is having a great year, already surpassing his 10 touchdown passes from last year to go along with just four interceptions.  He's also completing 67% of his passes.  But he needs some help.  Reggie Williams is there to make some big catches, but Washington must get a running game going if they want to get back into the Pac-10 race.  They always seem to have a mental edge over the Cougars, but this year could be different, as the Huskies have to come to Pullman.


The Trojans should dominate time of possession in this one.  A key for the game will be turnovers.  If Pickett throws one or two early on, it could be a blowout.  USC has been playing well and should continue that trend against Washington.  The Huskies are looking for any sort of momentum to get going.  A win here could put them on the right path for the year, but I wouldn't count on it.


USC 37, Washington 24.



Oregon 34, Arizona State 30.  This should be a return to the high-flying offensive attack Arizona State has been employing.  The Sun Devils should make this game close.  Terrell Suggs is a menace.  His impact was neutralized against the Beavers by Mike Kuykendall's terrific performance.  Oregon will also be keying on him.  The Sun Devil defense will give Jason Fife his biggest problems of the year.  The unconventional style will force turnovers and sacks, but will also give up the big play.  Look for Onterrio Smith to rush for another 100 yards.  He has done so in all six Oregon games this year.


Arizona 49, Stanford 42.  Whoever has the ball last will probably win this one.  It presents Stanford's best chance so far at a Pac-10 victory.  The Cardinal has been struggling, even so much as to replace Chris Lewis with Kyle Matter.  Lewis has thrown 9 interceptions already and is completing just 48% of his passes.  Matter has thrown for almost as many yards on half as many attempts.  He is completing 60% of his passes and has a much higher QB rating.  Both will see time this weekend.  Arizona is still hurting with injuries, but Jason Johnson is surely healthy after throwing for 443 yards against Washington last week.  It's his second 400+ yard performance.  After chiding Arizona for not having any receiver other than Bobby Wade, Andre Thurman has stepped up and made some plays.


Cal 38, UCLA 20.  The Bears are coming off another tough loss in which they led early, but gave up the lead late (ala versus Washington State).  Though they play well in the first half, they have to learn how to finish a game.  The Bruins should give them another opportunity this weekend.  UCLA got edged at home by Oregon last week and is probably now at the annual point in their season when they give up.  The next Kyle Boller touchdown pass will give him the all-time record at Cal.


Bye 3, Oregon State 0.  Okay, so the Beavers probably won't give up a field goal this weekend, but they definitely have some things to work on this week.  Hopefully they'll iron out their issues while taking a week off.


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