Arizona has been a bit lucky, but it has also been good, and coach Mike Stoops sees those things as being related in the Wildcats' 4-0 start.
"I think we're fortunate, but the better you get the luckier you get," Stoops said after the Wildcats pulled out a 10-9 victory over Cal on Sept. 25. "And the harder you play, the more good things happen to you."
The good: Arizona's defense made a stand to force Cal, leading 9-3, into a 40-yard field goal attempt with 2:37 left. The lucky: Giorgio Tavecchio, who early banged a field goal attempt off the left upright, missed again.
The Wildcats drove 77 yards for a touchdown and a 10-9 lead. Good. Cal, with ample time left, was intercepted on its final drive when a pass deflected off the hands of receiver Marvin Jones. Lucky for Arizona.
"Sometimes you catch a break," Stoops said. "Sometimes you don't."
That victory allowed the 14th-ranked Wildcats to better enjoy their first bye week, a break that Stoops said definitely came at a good time because he said his team was "spent." They'll recharge this week in advance of an Oct. 9 home game against Oregon State.
With the likely exception of the game at Washington State, Stoops said he realizes that any or all of the remaining Pac-10 games could be just like the one against Cal.
"I don't think there is a big, huge disparity talent," he said, talking about the teams in the Pac-10. "It's not going to be easy for anybody. I think we have as good a chance as anybody. We say, 'Why not us?' We're a good football team. We know that."
--One of the things for coach Mike Stoops to work on during the bye week is penalties. The Wildcats have drawn 22 flags for 202 yards in the past two games, including four for personal fouls and one for unsportsmanlike conduct. "Some of them are very selfish," Stoops said of the penalties.
This hasn't been a typical problem for the Wildcats under Stoops. In his first six seasons at Arizona, the Cats were the least penalized team in the league in that span, averaging 5.5 penalties and 45.6 penalty yards per game from 2004 through 2009.
--After four weeks, Arizona ranked first nationally in kick returns, averaging 33.5 yards per attempt. That figure was boosted by Travis Cobb's 100-yard return vs. Iowa.
--Arizona is 4-0 for the first time since 1998, when the Wildcats began 5-0 before falling at home at UCLA.
SEASON SUMMARY: As coach Mike Stoops says, it's the team that best strengthens its weaknesses that is going to have success. The most promising aspect of Arizona's 4-0 start -- which includes a win over No. 9 Iowa, a win over Cal and a victory at Toledo (which later defeated Purdue) -- has been a rebuilt defense. That unit looks fast and formidable. On offense, Nick Foles looks like the difference-maker at quarterback, something Arizona has rarely had in its Pac-10 existence.
LOOKING AHEAD: Arizona is a multiple threat on offense, able to spread defenses out but also able to line up in power sets and run downhill. It's the second part of the equation that has been slow to come around. The Wildcats have a veteran line and capable runners in Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko, but one of the unheralded keys is fullback Taimi Tutogi, who has been banged up much of the season. Arizona needs him healthy in order to find the balance in its offense it will need through the Pac-10 schedule.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's gutsy. He is going to grind it out." -- Co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, on QB Nick Foles, who directed late game-winning touchdown drives against Iowa and Cal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Arizona is averaging 34.25 points per game, but was stuck on three points against Cal for about 59 minutes. Key to the offense is the health of WR Juron Criner, who was less than 100 percent against the Bears because of a turf toe injury but made two key catches on the final drive. Arizona has a capable receiving corps, but nobody else like Criner on the outside. Coaches want to see a more physical running game, which entered the week 90th in the country with 120.25 yards per game. Nick Foles is one of best quarterbacks in the West. He does rely on quick throws and screens, which partially explains his high completion rate (102 of 137, 74.5 percent), but he has the arm to make all the tight throws through traffic and the deep throws down field.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The play of an all-new linebacker corps has been the team's biggest relief. Even late in camp, coaches were expressing concern, but then the light came on for junior college transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, and sophomore Jake Fischer. The other concern was defensive tackle, where the Wildcats had to replace NFLer Earl Mitchell. No problem there, either, as redshirt freshman Justin Washington has been a revelation. He's quick inside, making four sacks through four games. The Wildcats tend to play fast and like their nickel and dime packages, in which a trio of true freshmen -- Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight -- have played in the secondary.
--FB Taimi Tutogi (sprained left knee) did not play against Cal. He figures to have a chance to play Oct. 9 vs. Oregon State.
--WR/KR Travis Cobb was out against Cal because of a foot injury. Bug Wright took over his duties as kick returner.
--OG Vaughn Dotsy (back) left the Cal game in the second half. He missed most of fall camp while recovering from back surgery.
--Backup DT Willie Mobley (knee) has missed the past two games.
Arizona State has lost its last eight games against FBS opponents, but at least the Sun Devils have been close.
ASU certainly played well enough in the past two weeks to win at No. 11 Wisconsin and beat No. 5 Oregon, but turnovers, penalties and other self-inflicted mistakes have been the team's undoing. The Devils lost 20-19 to the Badgers 20-19 and lost 42-31 to the Ducks despite putting up 31 first downs and 597 yards against what had been the nation's top-ranked defense.
In all, ASU has lost by a touchdown or less in four of its last eight losses.
The Sun Devils (2-2), with both victories over lower-division competition, faces Oregon State (1-2) on Saturday.
"Eventually, we've got to find a way to win a game," Erickson said. "That's the bottom line. Once you start winning games, it becomes contagious."
There's still a chance for the young Sun Devils -- they started only one senior on offense and one on defense last week -- to get on a roll and erase the frustration of the past two games.
"We're playing pretty decent and I am happy with where we are at, except not winning these last two football games," Erickson said. "I like their attitude and mindset."
The signs have been encouraging for Arizona State and Erickson, who began the season on something of a hot seat after back-to-back losing seasons. An infusion of junior college talent has helped, as has the offensive makeover to a no-huddle, spread offense led by Michigan transfer Steven Threet.
"I think we are a very talented offense, with a lot of skill players," Threet said. "The offensive line is doing a good job, but we have to bring it all together. We have to execute consistently and we will do that."
--In a scheduling quirk, this Saturday's game at Oregon State is the first of three consecutive games for the Sun Devils away from home. With a bye week mixed in, ASU won't play in Sun Devil Stadium again until Oct. 30. "We just have to be road warriors for the next month," coach Dennis Erickson said.
--Senior P Trevor Hankins leads the nation with an average of 51.1 yards per attempt.
--Arizona State is 2-7 in conference road games in the past two seasons. This is its first Pac-10 road game this season.
SERIES HISTORY: Arizona State leads Oregon State 24-11-1 (last meeting, 2009, 28-17 Oregon State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense has to feel good about what it did last week against Oregon (597 yards), but major areas of improvement are turnovers and red-zone efficiency. ASU's red-zone conversion rate of 70 percent (16 of 23) is tied for 106th nationally. ASU's new hurry-up spread features a lot of quick lateral-like passes to the sideline; one of those backward passes was dropped last week and the Sun Devils gave up on the play, thinking it was an incomplete pass. It was actually a fumble, which Oregon scooped up and returned for a touchdown. If the Sun Devils can stop shooting themselves in the foot, they now appear to have the firepower to win Pac-10 games.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Last week, Oregon RB LaMichael James said the ASU defense was the best he had even seen. OK, he's only a sophomore, but that still said something about an ASU defense that is fast and physical. After mostly doing a nice job on James last week, the Sun Devils' No. 1 job this week is stopping Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers and forcing first-year starting quarterback Ryan Katz, a sophomore, to beat them. ASU has only four sacks through four games. On the more positive side, ASU has not allowed a point in the fourth quarter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It seems like they've been there 100 years. When are they going to graduate?" -- ASU coach Dennis Erickson, on Oregon State senior WR James Rodgers and his brother, OSU junior RB Jacquizz Rodgers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Arizona State at Oregon State, Oct. 2 -- The Sun Devils have two victories over lower-division opponents -- only one of which counts toward bowl eligibility -- so ASU needs to start collecting victories now or else it will face a nearly impossible climb later in the season. The Beavers have started 1-2, with losses coming against TCU in Dallas and at Boise State, both top 10 foes. This is the time of year when Oregon State in recent seasons has really turned it on.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Don't make killer mistakes. Arizona State showed it can stay with a big, physical team (No. 11 Wisconsin) and a smaller, ultra-quick team (No. 5 Oregon). The Sun Devils might have defeated both teams if not for an avalanche of physical and mental mistakes. They were undone by seven turnovers last week against the Ducks. Just keeping the turnover margin equal would give ASU a great chance to get a key Pac-10 road victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Deantre Lewis -- The speedy true freshman has posted consecutive 100-yard rushing games, giving the ground attack the kind of big-play burst it was missing in recent seasons. Coach Dennis Erickson said Monday that it was possible Lewis could get his first career start Saturday at Oregon State, replacing Cameron Marshall. "If you get the ball in his hands, he can do a lot of damage in space," said QB Steven Threet.
QB Steven Threet -- Threet will try to bounce back from a game in which he passed for 387 yards but also threw four interceptions. He probably forced the issue late in the game against Oregon, which led to two of the interceptions. "I don't have any loss in confidence in Steven Threet at all. He made some mental mistakes. That comes with that position," coach Dennis Erickson said.
LB Vontaze Burfict -- He has been a bit banged up physically, but Erickson said his sophomore star is fine to play Saturday against Oregon State. ASU needs him in the middle to find OSU RB Jacquizz Rodgers on all those runs between the tackles. Burfict has 33 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, both team-leading marks.
--LT Dan Knapp suffered a knee injury last week and is questionable for this week's game at Oregon State. Coach Dennis Erickson said he could shuffle the line, with RG Evan Finkenberg moving to left tackle, and Andrew Sampson moving in at guard.
--LB Oliver Aaron made his first career start last Saturday against Oregon. He made three tackles, including one for loss.
--Senior OL Jon Hargis, who tore an ACL in the spring, is trying to get back late in the season.
Cal finds itself in a situation similar to last season as it heads into its bye week before the Bears' Oct. 9 home game against UCLA.
Last season the Bears performed poorly in consecutive disheartening and lopsided losses to Oregon and USC before rebounding with three straight Pac-10 wins.
The Bears must bounce back from two straight losses again this season, albeit from a different set of circumstances. The Sept. 17 loss Nevada was disappointing because the Bears simply could not slow down the Wolf Pack option offense. But the 10-9 loss at Arizona on Sept. 25 was frustrating because the Bears defense played so well and Cal came so close to pulling off an upset that could have changed its season.
But instead of being in the thick of the Pac-10 race and riding high, the Bears are left to regroup after losing a game in the final two minutes.
The Cal defense has been outstanding in three of the four games, but was terrible in the game against Nevada, which runs the same pistol offense UCLA runs. The secondary is much improved over last season.
The Bears offense has been great at times and mediocre at others, following the inconsistent pattern of its quarterback Kevin Riley, who has had some good moments, but has made critical mistakes at pivotal moments as well. TB Shane Vereen has provided the Bears with a strong running game, rushing for 300 yards in the past two games against Nevada and Arizona. He and WR Marvin Jones have been the Bears top two offensive players.
Freshman WR Keenan Allen, who was so impressive in his debut against UC Davis, has been a relative non-factor in the games against Nevada and Arizona, possibly because of a nagging ankle injury.
--LB Mike Mohamed played against Arizona despite a toe injury, but he played sparingly. As a result of Mohamed's limited availability, the Bears used a nickel package most of the game. Typically, Mohamed is part of the nickel package, but he was not part of it against Arizona.
--TB Shane Vereen caught two passes against Arizona. Vereen he has caught at least one pass in all 30 college games in which he has played through Sept. 25.
--During a bye week, Cal coach Jeff Tedford usually does not devote much practice time to preparing for the next opponent. That will change this week, and the Bears will devote their Wednesday (Sept. 29) and Thursday (Sept. 30) practices to preparing for the Oct. 9 UCLA game. That's because UCLA runs a pistol offense, and Cal did a poor job of defending the pistol attack run by Nevada on Sept. 17. "We proved we didn't play it very well in Reno," Tedford said.
SEASON SUMMARY: Cal looked impressive in its first two wins against UC Davis and Colorado, especially on the defensive side. After a poor showing against Nevada, in which the Cal defense could not handle QB Colin Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack running game, the Bears' defense had one of its best games in years against Arizona in a 10-9 loss. At 2-2, including 0-1 in the conference, Cal has shown the ability to compete favorably in the Pac-10, but it has also displayed a vulnerability that could drop it down toward the bottom of the standings.
LOOKING AHEAD: If Cal's defense can play as well as it did against Arizona on the road, the Bears should be able to stay with any team in the conference and finish high in the standings. If it plays as poorly as it did against Nevada, the Bears are headed for a second-division finish. Cal's running game seems strong enough to compete favorably in the Pac-10, but QB Kevin Riley has not shown enough consistency to rate the Bears as a title contender. The next game at home against an improving UCLA team on Oct. 9 should indicate which way the Bears' season is heading, and whether the Nevada game or the Arizona game was the aberration for its defense. The week after that, Cal plays at USC on Oct. 16, and the Bears' season could spiral out of control if it loses its next two games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a very emotional game where it was right there for the taking and we let it get away. In a game like that you lay awake at night thinking what-ifs. We have to get away from the what-ifs." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, two days after the 10-9 loss to Arizona on Sept. 25.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The running game has been effective because of the presence of TB Shane Vereen, who is playing as well as any back in the conference. The offensive line is opening holes for Vereen, but he is making a lot of yardage on his own. QB Kevin Riley seems to have enough weapons among his receivers, particularly in reliable Marvin Jones, but Riley still makes too many mistakes. He has had periods of impressive play, but he also has had moments of erratic play, which has been his trademark throughout his career. When opponents apply any kind of pressure on him, Riley's accuracy and decision-making are affected dramatically. Cal coach Jeff Tedford described his offense this season as "spotty."
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense has shown marked improvement against the pass, which was the major shortcoming of last season's team. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has found ways to apply more pressure to the quarterback, which has paid dividends. DE Cameron Jordan and OLB Mychal Kendricks have played well, and cornerbacks Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony have been solid. Cornerback play was the team's biggest weakness a year ago. However, the Bears still show defensive vulnerability against dual-threat quarterbacks and option offenses. Two of the teams left on the schedule -- Washington and Oregon -- offer dual-threat quarterbacks, and UCLA has the same kind of offense that gave the Bears so much trouble at Nevada.
--OG Matt Summers-Gavin sustained an ankle injury in the game against Arizona, but X-rays revealed no structural damage and he is expected to play in the Oct. 9 game against UCLA.
--Freshman WR Keenan Allen has been slowed by a sprained ankle in the past two games against Arizona and Nevada, which may be why he caught just one pass in each game. With the additional rest he will get during the bye week, Allen should be at close to 100 percent for the Oct. 9 game against UCLA.
--LB Mike Mohamed played sparingly against Arizona because of the lingering effects of a toe injury. With the bye, Cal is hoping he will be fully recovered for the Oct. 9 game against UCLA.
In one of the marquee matchups of the college football weekend, the Oregon defense will have to be a lot better against Stanford than it was last week against Arizona State.
The Ducks rescued themselves by coming up with seven turnovers and making some red-zone stops, but they did allow 597 yards and 31 first downs against a spread offense that tested Oregon from sideline to sideline.
Now comes the Cardinal. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh likes to play what he calls "strong-man" football. Stanford, even without Toby Gerhart, will play power football and run right at Oregon.
The result of that matchup will have a big say in what happens when the No. 4 Ducks takes on the No. 9 Cardinal.
But what makes the Stanford offense so dangerous is that it can do more than just pound the ball downhill. Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck is one of the top NFL prospects in the nation -- a passing threat with the wheels to make something happen when the play breaks down.
"They're a run-first operation, but you can't just gang up on the run because they have an outstanding quarterback," coach Chip Kelly told reporters Monday. "They have a great play-action game. I think Andrew's one of the best quarterbacks in this country."
Kelly didn't want to call it a contrast of styles, but another thing that makes the Oregon-Stanford matchup so intriguing is the Ducks' running game, Namely, Oregon's speed from its read-option offense vs. Stanford's supposed lack of speed.
It looks like a power running team vs. a speed running team. Each team is effective. Neither defense has seen an offense this season that presents anything like what it will see Saturday.
That makes the matchup all the more unpredictable.
"It will be a great football game," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose team was shut out 35-0 by Stanford in the second week of the season. "You have two juggernaut offenses that are on all cylinders right now. The question will be, who rises up and plays defense?"
--After more than a year of on and off negotiations, which stayed alive during the team's change in athletic directors, coach Chip Kelly signed a six-year, $20.5 million contract extension through 2015.
Kelly, 46, took Oregon to the Rose Bowl in his first season as head coach in 2009. He has the Ducks in the national title hunt this season at 4-0 heading into Saturday's Pac-10 Conference tug of war with Stanford.
The first year of the deal guarantees at least $2.4 million in addition to incentives that boost that figure based on the Ducks' academic achievement, conference standings placement and national rankings.
Following the 2011 season, Kelly can attain multiple incentives that boost the value of the contract, but the majority of the money becomes guaranteed in base salary.
The contract officially took effect June 15, 2010 and expires June 14, 2016. Negotiations on the deal began with former athletic director Mike Bellotti almost 15 months ago.
--When No. 4 Oregon plays host to No. 9 Stanford, it will mark the 12th meeting of top 10 teams in a Pac-10 game since 1986. The Ducks have been involved in the three most recent games, winning all of them: In 2007 vs. USC, in 2007 vs. ASU and against USC last season.
--Oregon, which prides itself on being a well-conditioned team, has allowed only seven points in the second half of four games this season.
--Sophomore RB LaMichael James, who has played in 16 career games, already has gone over the 2,000-yard rushing mark. He has 2,021 rushing yards heading into Saturday's showdown against Stanford.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford leads Oregon 44-28-1 (last meeting, 2009, 51-42 Stanford).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Sophomore QB Darron Thomas, in his first season as the starter, hasn't been used much in the running game yet, which is surprising because he was considered the "athletic" option in the competition with senior Nate Costa, who was pegged as the "savvy" quarterback who wouldn't make mistakes. Thomas has only 19 carries in four games, but is earning rave reviews for his poise and efficient passing. Coach Chip Kelly said there was no panic from his young quarterback when the team fell behind by 10 at Tennessee and by 10 at Arizona State. "I think Darron is managing the game very well," Kelly said. "He has been smart with what he's doing, not forcing the issue. He has stood in there and taken some hits while throwing the football." Thomas is providing nice balance in the tricky read-option offense, which leans on speedy running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. The Ducks are third nationally with 321.75 rushing yards per game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: One of the concerns about Oregon's defense has been that it is light up front, which only makes for an even greater challenge against Stanford's power sets. The Cardinal will line up with two tight ends and a fullback and try to play big-boy football against a defensive line whose heaviest member is 270-some pounds. Coach Chip Kelly's emphasis has been on tackling this week. Of course, the Ducks speed could be troublesome for Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck. Oregon already has forced 18 turnovers, and the Ducks lead the nation with a turnover margin of plus-2.75.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you don't stay in your rush lanes and don't contain him, he can pull the ball down and run. He doesn't really want to run, but he can run. And it's not that he doesn't want to run because he isn't tough; he is a tough sucker. He just doesn't want to run because he can throw the ball down the field." -- Oregon coach Chip Kelly, in the Eugene Register-Guard, on Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Stanford at Oregon, Oct. 2 -- It seems fair to call this one speed vs. power, with the Ducks' hoping their big-play ability wins the day. The Cardinal won the game last season, when Stanford caught the Ducks coming off the high of their big win over USC. The Cardinal had 505 yards total offense in a 51-42 victory, while Oregon had 570. Expect plenty of offense again in what should be one of the best, and most important, games of the week.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Keep on scoring. Last week, the Ducks hit some big plays against Arizona State -- that is what the Ducks do -- but they also had to punt 11 times. Stanford's defense doesn't offer nearly the same amount of speed that ASU does, so Oregon should be able to move the ball more efficiently with the run and the pass game. If Oregon can create space in its read-option attack, RB LaMichael James and friends will outrun the Stanford secondary.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB LaMichael James -- The sophomore has 10 consecutive 100-yard rushing games in the regular season and 12 overall in his short career. His speed will be tough for Stanford to handle. He had 125 yards rushing and 89 receiving vs. the Cardinal last season.
CB Cliff Harris -- He has been a big-play machine this season on special teams and in the secondary, where he has two interceptions. Harris and a deep Oregon secondary will have a tough matchup against Stanford WR Chris Owusu, who had four catches for 111 yards and a touchdown in last year's meeting.
LB Casey Matthews -- Heady linebacker will have to be in the right spots and then be able to wrap up against Stanford's running backs. He has 16 tackles this season and is often in the right spot, recovering three fumbles.
--TE Brandon Williams (hand) has missed the past two games but he did participate in Tuesday's practice, which was an encouraging sign. He still had some padding on the hand Tuesday.
--OT Bo Thran (hip), WR D.J. Davis (leg), LB Bryson Littlejohn (leg) were considered day-to-day early in the week, and coach Chip Kelly is usually tight-lipped about the status of injured players.
It's October, and way beyond wearing the orange and black colors of the 10th month, Oregon State should be welcoming the turn of the calendar.
The Beavers went 1-2 in September, which makes it the seventh consecutive season they've entered October with less than a winning record. But this has been the comeback month for OSU, which is 11-3 in October over the past four seasons.
Yes, OSU seems to have figured out in the past how to get going after slow starts. What about this version of the Beavers?
"Knowledge-wise and understanding-wise, it should help," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "Performance-wise, it has to be proved. There are no givens. No team can assume that's going to happen.
"Those (past four) teams did it because they persevered and improved. We've got to show those signs ... of improvement."
The Beavers open the Pac-10 season at home against Arizona State (2-2), and as aggressive as the Sun Devils are defensively, as balanced as they've shown offensively, can the challenge presented for OSU be anything greater than what they faced in their two defeats to top 10 teams TCU and Boise State?
"The competition was good for our team. It sure exposed some things that we need to work on," Riley said. "The competition itself prepared us for the kind of competition we're going to see for the rest of the year. There are areas we didn't perform very well in and (those opponents) exposed those things. We definitely have to get better."
It's October, and doesn't that always mean the Beavers do that?
--An increased emphasis on marketing and promotion seems to have been worth it for OSU. After setting an attendance record for non-conference games at Reser Stadium by drawing 45,379 to the home opener against Louisville, the Beavers have sold all of their tickets available to the general public for the Pac-10 opener against Arizona State. The remaining tickets are for seats that can only be purchased by donors, and there are only a limited number of those left for sale.
--The Beavers are definitely welcoming punts from opposing teams. As a unit, OSU's punt return group ranks third in the nation, averaging 20.3 yards on returns. James Rodgers ranks fifth as an individual, averaging 22 yards per return.
--At halftime of Saturday's game against ASU, there will be a ceremony honoring the 2000 Beavers who shared the Pac-10 title and routed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The coach of that OSU team of 10 years ago will be on hand, but not likely to participate. That's because it's ASU coach Dennis Erickson, who will be busy with his team at halftime. He won't be alone in missing the ceremony as his assistants include Craig Bray and Gregg Smith, who were on that Erickson staff at OSU. Also missing will be two current OSU assistants, assistant coach Greg Newhouse, also an assistant in 2000, and Keith Heyward, a starting cornerback 10 years ago.
SERIES HISTORY: Arizona State leads Oregon State 24-11-1 (last meeting, 2009, 28-17 Oregon State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Beavers simply haven't gotten anything going consistently, which leaves them last in the Pac-10 in total offense and 110th nationally at 270.3 yards. A good reason for that is failures to convert on third downs, which has translated into OSU averaging 57 plays, or more than 20 fewer than an average game. OSU has to do better than its 26 percent conversion rate on third downs to run more plays and produce more yards.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: What comes first, more pressure on the opposing quarterback or better coverage by the secondary? "It does have to work together," OSU coach Mike Riley said. "We're not in sync." And not being very successful. The Beavers have only two sacks through three games, which is giving quarterbacks enough time to complete 64 percent of their passes against the OSU defense. Better coverage might allow more time for rushers to sack a quarterback, and a better rush might rush quarterbacks into errant throws.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's the Pac-10 opener, we need to get a win, we need to play better -- all of the above is the best way to sum it up." -- OSU coach Mike Riley, on the importance of the game against Arizona State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Arizona State at Oregon State, Oct. 2 -- The Beavers (1-2) open their Pac-10 schedule against the Sun Devils (2-2, 0-1) with both teams probably needing the win for bowl eligibility. Because ASU can count only one of its wins over lower-division opponents toward bowl eligibility, both teams need to go 5-4 in Pac-10 games to reach the six wins needed for bowl eligibility. Can either get there without this win?
KEYS TO THE GAME: Oregon State has to get more heat on the quarterback, and, in turn, the secondary must play better as a whole. The Beavers have two sacks in three games. Meanwhile, the offense is ranked 110th in the nation. Without big plays from the defense, considering the inefficiency on offense, the Beavers won't stand a chance.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
CB Jordan Poyer -- He'll not only remain in the three-player rotation as one of the two cornerbacks, but the sophomore could have more of a role returning kickoffs and punts with the questionable status of James Rodgers (concussion). Poyer doesn't have a punt return, though he has fair caught kicks in relief of Rodgers or alongside him in a double-return alignment. Poyer has also been next to Rodgers on kickoff returns, and is averaging 24.3 yards on six returns, one of them for 40 yards.
K Justin Kahut -- He obviously needs to improve on his field goal rate, with one successful kick in three attempts this season. But if the Beavers are scoring against ASU, it will be his kickoffs that become that much more important. The Sun Devils are averaging 32.5 yards on returns, with one for a touchdown and another that ended at the opponents' 1-yard line.
C Alex Linnenkohl -- The only senior starter on the offensive line definitely needs to set a solid example against the aggressive Sun Devils. In addition to handling his own blocking assignments, his calls for the other linemen will be especially critical against this aggressive of a defense, where the linebackers are such a factor against the run or in blitz situations on passes.
--With senior Dwight Roberson out for this game due to a strained ligament in his right knee, the Beavers will replace him "by committee," OSU coach Mike Riley said. But against the spread offense of the Sun Devils, with so many short passes to the outside, might the best option be Cameron Collins, the converted safety? Collins is a good tackler who has experience defending receivers, and the linebackers will have to be involved, particularly against the "bubble" screens that are a staple of the ASU defense.
--Defensive end Taylor Henry couldn't finish the loss at Boise State due to a bruised back but is expected to be able to play against ASU. The Beavers are also optimistic that leading receiver and kick returner James Rodgers will be sufficiently recovered from a concussion to play.
USC coach Lane Kiffin, who was deliberately loud and bombastic in his one season at Tennessee last year, now is enjoying the relative quiet of being under the radar.
For sure, it's hard for a program as visible as USC's to go about its business without making a lot of noise, but that's what the Trojans have done. Kiffin -- who last year thought any and all attention was good for the Vols -- has toned down his act. His team has started 4-0, 1-0 in the Pac-10, without having flashy scores and jaw-dropping highlights.
"We have gotten plenty of attention in the offseason," said Kiffin, "so we're fine with not getting much attention and just trying to get better week to week."
But the Trojans can't hide from the spotlight forever, and the lights begin to shine brighter this week with a visit from the Washington Huskies, who enter at 1-2 with disappointing losses at BYU and vs. Nebraska.
USC's game against Washington last year -- which the Huskies won 16-13 in Seattle in the third week of the season -- seemed to mark the end of the Trojans' era of dominance in the Pac-10. USC went on to finish just 5-4 in the conference and was relegated to the Emerald Bowl after a record seven consecutive Pac-10 championships.
"There was a lot of conversation about that game in the offseason with the players," Kiffin said.
"But the teams are very different," the coach added, noting that quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Ronald Johnson didn't play against Washington last season because of injuries. "We have a ton of new players. This is a much different game."
--USC coach Lane Kiffin's strong friendship with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is one of the sidebars to this week's matchup at the Coliseum. Kiffin said Tuesday that he had sent a couple of text messages to Sarkisian early in the week, but that the Huskies coach had not responded. "So, I don't know what trick he is up to," Kiffin said. "He is probably trying to show how busy he is." Sarkisian was asked on the Pac-10 coaches teleconference about not replying to Kiffin. "Well, that's not true," he said.
--USC has a 32-game winning streak in home night games, although that streak was officially reduced to 16 because of vacated wins due to NCAA sanctions.
--Kiffin is trying to become the third coach in USC history to start his career 5-0. The others were Harvey Jones (1904) and Jess Hill (1951).
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Washington 49-27-4 (last meeting, 2009, 16-13 Washington).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: USC's strength so far has been its running attack that features a number of tailbacks, including Allen Bradford, Dillon Baxter and Marc Tyler and fullback Stanley Havili, who is plenty dangerous as a single back. The Trojans are averaging 218.5 yards per game, 21st in the nation, and will take aim at a Washington unit that is among the worst against the run, yielding 213.67 yards per game. QB Matt Barkley hasn't been prolific, but he has been proficient and he has the tools and the surrounding cast to bust out for a 300-yard game if opponents overplay the run.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Coach Lane Kiffin said he has seen gradual improvement on the field after a near-debacle in the opener at Hawaii, and he added that the unit is getting healthier, too. The Trojans don't have the depth they used to have, but their front-line athletes are still pretty good and they have gotten good play from true freshman CB Nickell Robey. USC has allowed only 970 yards in the past three games against Virginia, Minnesota and Washington State. None of those teams is an offensive juggernaut, but this week's opponent, Washington, hasn't exactly been clicking behind senior QB Jake Locker, either.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is going to talk up there about how deep we are, which is a trick I think he learned from Lou Holtz or someone. People who follow us know we're not very deep." -- USC coach Lane Kiffin, on Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who this week called the Trojans the most talented team in the Pac-10.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington at USC, Oct. 2 -- The Huskies were about a three-touchdown underdog last season when they won 16-13 on Erik Folk's 22-yard field goal with three seconds left. That snapped a 12-game winning streak for USC, which wasn't quite the same after that. Now, the Trojans are trying to turn the tables and use a feel-good victory over the Huskies to go 5-0 and launch themselves into the meat of their schedule.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Washington has had two weeks to prepare for USC after suffering a 56-21 loss to Nebraska. USC doesn't have a secondary like the Corhhuskers have, but the Trojans will be looking to change up their looks and confuse QB Jake Locker as much as possible; he's still prone to poor judgment on some of his throws. He's also capable of winning the game with his arm and his legs, so USC has to try to rattle him early.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Matt Barkley -- He has appeared to be in much more command as a sophomore, ranking 14th nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 166.65. He has completed 71 of 109 passes for 941 yards, with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.
CB Shareece Wright -- The senior hasn't been challenged all that much because a true freshman, Nickell Robey, is on the other side. But he'll have to be ready, because Washington has a big-play threat in Jermaine Kearse, who has five touchdown receptions in three games.
FB Stanley Havili -- An always underrated threat, Havili got notice last week for his 59-yard touchdown run against Washington State. He excels in all areas -- blocking, running and catching the ball. "He is unique because he can do everything," coach Lane Kiffin said.
--DT Armond Armstead (sprained shoulder) did not play last week against Washington State, when he really wasn't needed. He'll be ready for Washington this Saturday.
--DE Wes Horton (back) left the Washington State game. His status was undetermined as of early in the week.
Stanford's first four games merely set the stage for its Oct. 2 game at Oregon, which will tell us if the Cardinal is really as good as people suspect.
If the Cardinal beats Oregon, it becomes the Pac-10 favorite heading into an Oct. 9 home game against USC, and not only would a Rose Bowl berth be on the Cardinal's mind but national championship talk would begin. Stanford's ranking would rise again, perhaps into the top five.
The Cardinal dominated each of its first four opponents, sky-rocketing the Cardinal from being unranked in preseason to its current spot in the Associated Press top 10. The offense, behind standout quarterback Andrew Luck, has been consistently effective, and it even has produced a running game despite the absence of Toby Gerhart.
It's not a complete surprise that the Cardinal was able to score points, though. The surprise is the Cardinal's defense, which was one of the worst in the country last season but looks like one of the nation's best heading into the game against Oregon.
Powerful, aggressive and physical, Stanford's defense has dominated each of its first three opponents. As impressive as Stanford's defensive statistics are, as of Oct. 1, the numbers would be even better if Stanford had not given up a bunch of points and yards late in games when the outcome was decided and Stanford's defensive reserves were in the game.
In the first four games, the Cardinal yielded just one touchdown when its starting defense was on the field.
But the Cardinal has not faced an offense nearly as explosive as the one it will face on Oct. 2 in Eugene, Ore. The Ducks will be the first ranked team Stanford has faced this season, and Oregon stands at No. 4 in the Associated Press rankings entering the game.
The Ducks lead the nation in scoring, and they are third in total offense, rolling up 560 yards a game. They have weapons and speed everywhere, including quarterback, where Darron Thomas has performed pretty well despite being a first-time starter. And no quarterback Stanford has faced offers the kind of mobility and running threat that Thomas does.
Stanford's pass rush has been its most effective defensive weapon, but Thomas' mobility and Oregon's running game will make it difficult to apply the same kind of pressure. The Ducks' strength is their ground game out of their spread option, and the Cardinal must focus its defensive efforts on that rather than pressuring the quarterback.
Plus, Oregon's offense is more effective at home, where the loud crowd and the artificial turf seem to make the speedy Ducks even faster and more dynamic. Oregon has scored more than 30 points in each of its last 17 home games, so the Cardinal is going to have to score some points to win.
Luck must have an outstanding game, better than the one he had against Notre Dame, when he made some questionable decisions and threw two interceptions. The Ducks rank second in the country in pass efficiency defense, and again their defensive speed is aided by playing at home on the artificial turf.
Luck had a good game against Oregon last season, going 12-for-20 for 251 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cardinal went up and down the field in a 51-42 victory. But that was at Stanford, seven days after the Ducks had pulled off the emotional win over USC and when Stanford still had Gerhart, who rushed for 223 yards against the Ducks.
This time Stanford is playing at Oregon without Gerhart and with the Ducks focused entirely on the Stanford game.
Luck has shown an ability to stay poised in any environment and perform well, and he must do it again against Oregon for the Cardinal to have a chance.
Ultimately, the Oct. 2 game will be one pitting Stanford's physical style against the Ducks' speed and finesse.
--Stanford is 4-0 for the first time since 1986, and a victory over Oregon would make Stanford 5-0 for the first time since 1951, when the Cardinal started 9-0 and went to the Rose Bowl.
--Stanford has won its past three games on its opponent's home field, all by convincing scores: 55-21 over USC last season and 35-0 over UCLA and 37-14 over Notre Dame this season.
--The Cardinal's No. 9 ranking in the AP poll heading into the Oregon game is Stanford's highest ranking since 1992. Stanford has not played a game in which both teams were ranked in the top nine since the Rose Bowl following the 1951 season. Stanford has lost its last four games when ranked in the top 10 -- in four different seasons: 1970, '71, '92 and 2001.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford leads Oregon 44-28-1 (last meeting 2009, 51-42 Stanford).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Stanford's offense has been impressive the first four weeks. The effectiveness of QB Andrew Luck, who leads the Pac-10 in pass efficiency, is not a surprise, but the Cardinal's ability to run the ball is. The Cardinal ranks second in the Pac-10 in rushing, behind only Oregon, and TB Stepfan Taylor has established himself as the Cardinal's No. 1 running threat, averaging 83 yards rushing in the last three games, including 108 yards Sept. 25 against Notre Dame. The injury to WR Ryan Whalen robs the Cardinal of its most reliable receiver, but the presence of WRs Chris Owusu and Doug Baldwin and a bunch of talented tight ends give the Cardinal more than enough passing weapons. And the strength of the offense is its talented offensive line.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: No opponent through the first four games moved the ball consistently against Stanford's starting defense. The first unit shut out UCLA, yielded just one touchdown to Wake Forest and no touchdowns against Notre Dame. ILB Shayne Skov and OLBs Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas have given the Cardinal a strong pass rush from the new 3-4 alignment installed by new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The secondary, which was a major weakness, has been solid, aided by the pass rush. The pass defense, which was a major weakness last season, has been a strength this season. The one concern is the health of S Michael Thomas. He has been the defense's top playmaker, but his status is uncertain for the Oregon game because of an ankle injury.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Oregon is fast fast. They're the fastest team we've seen, including our own." -- Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Stanford at Oregon, Oct. 2 -- This is Stanford's biggest game in years. In fact, it is the first time since the 1951 season that the Cardinal has played in a game in which both teams were ranked among the top nine in the Associated Press poll. In many ways it is a contrast of styles, between Stanford's physical approach and Oregon's speed and finesse. Stanford has lost four road games in a row against Oregon; the last time the Cardinal won in Eugene was 2001, when the Cardinal pulled out a 49-42 victory during Stanford's 9-3 season. Oregon has won 12 straight home games and has not lost a conference game at home since 2007. Oregon has the nation's highest scoring offense, averaging 57.75 points, and TB LaMichael James is second nationally in rushing, at 158.3 yards a game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Stanford's defense must limit the number of big plays from Oregon's explosive offense, which means controlling TB LaMichael James. If the Cardinal can slow Oregon's running game a little and force Darron Thomas to throw, the Cardinal may intercept a pass or two, which can turn the game in Stanford's favor. Stanford should be able to score points, so it does not need to shut out Oregon. It's a matter of the Cardinal defense and special teams preventing the Ducks from coming up with big plays on offense or on punt or kick returns. Oregon relies on big plays. In short, it's a matter of Stanford handling the Ducks' speed, which is increased on the Ducks' home field.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Andrew Luck -- Luck needs to be at his best because the Cardinal will need to score a lot of points. The performance he had against Notre Dame -- in which he threw two interceptions and made a few uncharacteristically poor decisions -- would not be good enough against Oregon. However, Luck is very capable of having an outstanding game, even at a venue as difficult as Oregon's stadium. Poise under pressure is one of Luck's biggest assets.
CBs Richard Sherman and Johnson Bademosi -- They have improved dramatically from last season, perhaps because of the increased pressure applied to the opposing quarterback. But they will be under increased pressure against Oregon, which has outstanding receivers. More defensive attention must be placed on Oregon's option running game, which leaves the corners with less support. Also, Oregon QB Darron Thomas is elusive, which means he may have more time to throw than previous quarterbacks Stanford faced.
LB Shayne Skov -- He had two sacks against Notre Dame and is capable of making a game-changing play. He is a key component in controlling Oregon's option attack in general and LaMichael James in particular. Skov has great mobility and instincts and seems to be finding his rhythm after missing the first two games of the season with a knee infection.
--S Michael Thomas injured his ankle against Notre Dame, and he is questionable for the Oregon game Oct. 2. He has been the Cardinal's best defensive back, and if he cannot play, it will hurt the Cardinal's defense significantly.
--WR Ryan Whalen hyperextended his left elbow against Wake Forest, and although Jim Harbaugh is not disclosing his status, it seems unlikely Whalen will play against Oregon and could be out for a while. He was Stanford's leading receiver last year.
--TB Jeremy Stewart (ankle) has missed the last two games since he was injured in the opener, and it's questionable whether he will play against Oregon.
--PK Nate Whitaker is 8-for-8 on field goal attempts, with his longest being 41 yards.
UCLA is hot again. Suddenly, the Pistol offense is the best thing in Westwood since powder blue.
The Bruins have overcome a shaky start by winning two in a row -- including a resounding 34-12 victory at Texas -- and the offseason decision to switch to the Pistol is getting a lot of the credit.
Coach Rick Neuheisel said the coaching staff simply had to look itself in the mirror in the offseason and do something about UCLA's poor rushing game in his first two seasons. "It just wasn't working," he said. "We had to accept that. We had to find out if there was another way to do that."
He and venerable offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a noted quarterback guru, went back to school, so to speak, after last season. They visited and studied under Nevada coach Chris Ault, who has used the Pistol to get the Wolf Pack into the Top 25 this season.
"Chris Ault was unbelievably generous," Neuheisel said, "and we are forever grateful."
The Pistol features the quarterback in a short shotgun snap, with the tailback behind him. That allows for different running angles and more of a downhill approach, as opposed to the regular shotgun formation, where the tailback is to the side of the quarterback.
And with the quarterback involved in the running game, there is some misdirection involved in the offense, as well.
"Schematically, there is nothing really complex, but keeping track of the ball handling and who's got the potato, so to speak, is a little more difficult maybe to get ready for," Neuheisel said.
UCLA (2-2, 0-1 Pac-10) is averaging 218.75 rushing yards per game, 20th in the nation.
"There is still a lot to be done, but the signs are positive," Neuheisel said.
--By virtue of its 34-12 victory at Texas, UCLA was selected the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week.
--LB Sean Westgate was selected the Pac-10 defensive player of the week after making 11 tackles and forcing a fumble on a punt that set up the Bruins' first touchdown. In a rarity, C Ryan Taylor was chosen the Pac-10 offensive player of the week for the way he led a dominating ground attack vs. Texas. He left the game in the third quarter to receive an IV, but returned early in the fourth quarter after his replacement, redshirt freshman Greg Capella, misfired on a snap. Taylor was the first offensive line to win the award since Oregon's Adam Snyder on Sept. 20, 2003.
--Washington State had won three consecutive games in the Rose Bowl (in 2002, 2004 and 2006) before the Bruins snapped that streak with a 28-3 victory in 2008.
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads Washington State 37-18-1 (last meeting, 2009, 43-7 UCLA).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel calls his starting offensive line the "Filthy Five." He added, "And we apologized to their mothers." It's an unlikely group, put together after injuries and academic problems and the absence of LT Xavier Su'a-Filo, who left after last season for a Mormon mission. But the Bruins have held up surprisingly well up front, opening holes for a running game led by sophomore Johnathan Franklin. In the transition to the Pistol offense, the passing game has suffered, with UCLA ranking third-to-last nationally with a mere 81.75 yards per game through the air. That shouldn't matter much against this week's foe, Washington State, which brings up the rear in the Pac-10.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Bruins have a young, athletic defense led by a pair of potential All-Americans in junior LB Akeem Ayers and junior FS Rahim Moore. There were some growing pains in the first two weeks, but UCLA has been much better since then, giving up 13 points to Houston and just 12 to Texas. The front seven was the big question, but Ayers, sophomore middle linebacker Patrick Larimore and junior weak-side linebacker Sean Westgate have formed one of the most productive linebacker corps in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We would be the dumbest people in America if we overlook anybody." -- UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, on this week's game against Washington State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington State at UCLA, Oct. 2 -- This is no time to regress for UCLA after the big win at Texas. Washington State is the only expected breather on the Pac-10 slate, and the Bruins will want to leave this game feeling good about their chances the rest of the way.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Show improvement in the passing game. Last week's 27 passing yards against Texas was UCLA's lowest total through the air since having none in a 1978 game against Oregon State. This game could be a confidence-booster for QB Kevin Prince.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Johnathan Franklin -- Coach Rick Neuheisel said the Pistol offense is a good fit for Franklin because he has good vision, which allows him to find the cracks in the zone-blocking scheme. He has become the team's lead runner this season, with back-to-back 100-yard efforts.
WR Josh Smith -- The Colorado transfer, as expected, has helped boost the Bruins' kick return game. He is third in the league with a 25.5-yard average, which includes a 45-yard effort against Texas last week.
MLB Patrick Larimore -- He has stepped up nicely this season after making two tackles last season as a redshirt freshman. Larimore has 26 stops, including five for loss.
--Backup DE Iuta Tepa suffered a torn pectoral muscle against Houston on Sept. 18 and is out for the season.
--RB Derrick Coleman (concussion, neck strain) was out for the Sept. 18 game against Houston but was back against Texas. He rushed 16 times for 94 yards and a touchdown.
--DE Datone Jones, the team's only returning starter on the defensive line, suffered a broken foot in fall camp. He is on target to have his cast removed in mid- to late October.
--Junior C Kai Maiava, a projected starter, suffered a fractured ankle in fall camp and could be out at least until late October.
There are lots of themes that could play into this game -- a reunion of former USC assistant coaches Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin as head coaches; Sarkisian's return to USC, where he made his name in coaching; USC wanting revenge for Washington's upset win in Seattle last season.
Sarkisian, though, cares mostly about another one -- getting a much-needed win for the Huskies to kick off Pac-10 play.
UW was off last weekend, watching everybody else in the Pac-10 play, still smarting from a 56-21 loss to Nebraska the week before.
"I know they're chomping at the bit to get back out to show what they're capable of doing," Sarkisian said of his players. "There's nothing like Pac-10 play to get into this race, to get into this thing."
Washington (1-2) has set a theme of having a fresh start now that Pac-10 play is beginning. The Huskies will have to go 5-4 in the conference just to finish .500 and have a chance at a bowl game, the team's stated goal.
The Huskies used the bye week to go back to work on some fundamental issues that plagued them against the Cornhuskers, notably tackling.
Sarkisian said he thinks the bye week fixed many of those issues.
"I think our tackling will be much better this weekend," he said. "It was a huge focus for us -- we did tacking drills every day last week and another one today and I think the tackling will show up, not only on defense but on special teams as well."
That will be a real key against a USC offense that is averaging 6.0 yards per rushing attempt, second in the conference behind Oregon and an improvement from last season -- USC hasn't averaged 6 yards per carry since 2005.
Just as important will be getting quarterback Jake Locker righted. Locker struggled mightily two weeks ago against Nebraska, a disastrous 4-for-20 passing day that essentially ended his Heisman Trophy hopes.
But Sarkisian said Locker worked during the bye week to get his feet settled better when he throws. Asked how he expects Locker to play this week, Sarkisian said "really well. ... I think we've addressed the issues that needed to be addressed and have put together a game plan conducive to him playing well."
--Senior LB Mason Foster leads the Pac-10 and is third in the nation in tackles with 12.67 per game.
--Washington has not won a regular-season game in Los Angeles since 1996, a victory over USC in the Coliseum. UW did win the 2001 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, beating Purdue.
--UW has been shut out in two of its last three trips to USC -- 38-0 in 2004 and 56-0 in 2008. Those are the only two times UW has been shut out since 1981.
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Washington 49-27-4 (last meeting, 2009, 16-13 Washington).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: In no game yet will Washington probably hue closest to its general philosophy of using the run to set up the play-action pass -- specifically deep passes. USC's secondary is vulnerable and UW should finally have its full complement of receivers with James Johnson returning to health. That will require a bounce-back game from QB Jake Locker, who was just 4 of 20 against Nebraska. Figure UW to also throw a number of possession-type passes early in the game to try to get Locker some confidence early. But eventually, it makes sense that the Huskies will try to hit some deep shots and get some quick scores on the Trojans. However, the Huskies will have to get some consistent running going to make it work. Look for liberal doses of Chris Polk and Jesse Callier -- and maybe even a little more running from Locker.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Washington's defense is coming off the worst game of the Sarkisian era when it allowed 56 points and 533 yards against Nebraska. UW coaches hope improved tackling will help -- and that will be put to the test against a USC team that is averaging 281 yards rushing per game. USC is sure to try to establish dominance in its running game and use that to set up Matt Barkley's throws -- a familiar strategy to its own given the fact that Sarkisian and USC coach Lane Kiffin have similar philosophies. UW may try to make a few changes up front to combat USC's powerful line. The biggest matchup, though, could be USC's fleet receivers against UW's secondary. The Trojans were at far from full strength in the passing game when the Huskies beat them in Seattle last year (Barkley was out, with Aaron Corp getting the only start of his USC career). Figure USC to try to take advantage of a UW secondary that has yet this season to face a QB-WR combo the quality of USC's.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've been proud of our players. They want to be 3-0, trust me, right now. And unfortunately we're not. We're a 1-2 football team. We've got Pac-10 play starting off. And we're hungry, excited and want to play well, which I think is the most important thing. These guys really want to play well. It's not about dwelling on all the mistakes we made. It's about learning from those mistakes, how are we going to fix them, how are we going to get better, so we can go out and play to the best of our abilities." -- Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on how his team rebounded mentally from the Nebraska loss.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington at USC, Oct. 2 -- A winnable game for the Huskies, and one that looks critical to at least show life after the blowout against Nebraska.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Tackle better. The Huskies missed numerous tackles in the loss to Nebraska and now face a power running team in USC. The Huskies aren't likely to be able to completely contain USC's running game, but have to at least not let short gains become long runs -- the biggest problem against the Cornhuskers. Convert in the passing game. USC's biggest weakness is its pass defense, specifically a young secondary with four new starters from a year ago. UW is almost certain to have some open receivers. So the Huskies have to convert, which means Jake Locker being accurate with his throws, and the line giving him enough time to get them off. Play better on special teams. This has been a season-long bugaboo for the Huskies, especially kickoff coverage. The Huskies hope that younger players maturing will make the difference, but also think the work on tackling during the bye week will pay off in improved play here, as well.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jake Locker -- All eyes again will be on Locker, though this time for a different reason. He's no longer a Heisman favorite with fans now wondering how he will respond to the worst game of his college career, a 4-for-20 outing against Nebraska. UW coach Steve Sarkisian has said he'll try to get Locker some rhythm going early in the game with some high-percentage throws.
WR Jermaine Kearse -- Kearse was being touted as one of the top receivers in the country before being held to two catches by Nebraska's secondary, which pressed him at the line of scrimmage and took him out with physical play. He'll be more in his element again against a shaky USC secondary, however, and could have a big day.
MLB Cort Dennison -- The junior returns after missing the Nebraska game with a concussion. Husky coaches feel he is one of the smartest players on the team and settles down the defense. He'll be a key figure in stopping USC's power running game and will need to be a sure tackler.
SS Nate Williams -- The senior will be a key in defending the run but also will need to serve as a last line of defense when USC tries to go vertical, which it is sure to do against a UW secondary allowing teams to complete 56.8 percent of their passes.
--MLB Cort Dennison, who sat out the Nebraska game with a concussion, should be ready to return to the starting lineup against Trojans.
--True freshman Erik Kohler appears to have won a permanent spot in the starting lineup at left guard. He stepped in for senior Greg Christine for the Nebraska game and UW coaches felt he added a physical presence much needed in the run game.
--WR James Johnson, a sophomore, should be pretty close to 100 percent after sitting out all but a few plays of the first three games with a sprained ankle. He was the team's third-leading receiver last year with 39 catches and had seven in the win over USC.
--SLB Victor Aiyewa should be fine after suffering a concussion against Nebraska and sitting out a few days of practice early in the bye week.
A game that a few weeks ago looked like a chance for Wasington State to show how much it has improved in the third year of the Paul Wulff regime suddenly appears much more ominous.
The Cougars play Saturday in Pasadena against a UCLA team coming off two straight impressive wins against Houston and Texas.
The Cougars, meanwhile, are coming off a 50-16 home loss to USC that may not have been that close, a defeat raising even more questions about the direction of the program under Wulff.
UCLA is as much as a 28-point favorite, and its powerful running game could have a field day against a WSU defense that is allowing 6 yards per carry.
"They are very effective running the ball right now," Wulff said. "If we don't come out and play really physically and play football like it has to be played it will create problems for us. More than what they do, it's more what we need to do for ourselves right now and how we have to play the game. It's really more on us than what UCLA is going to do, to be quite honest."
If WSU can't at least slow UCLA's Pistol offense, however, it figures to be a long day for the Cougars.
WSU's offense showed some minor signs of life against USC, moving 80 yards the first time it had the ball to score.
But the Cougars still can't run, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry -- almost a yard less than any other team in the conference.
"There's some progress that was made, but it's still not good enough,'' Wulff said. "We've got to keep getting better and improve the execution for a full drive."
WSU is already 1-3, and with Oregon looming next week followed by Arizona and Stanford, the Cougars could be headed for another losing season by the end of October.
That figures to make things dicey for Wulff, now 4-25 at WSU, with two wins coming against Portland State and Montana State.
Wulff again this week pointed to the team's youth and that as many as seven freshmen were on the field on defense last week. But some wonder why that would be the case three years in.
"We can only put guys in position, and ultimately the players on the field have to make those plays," he said. "We were in position (against USC), we just didn't make the plays."
--QB Jeff Tuel has thrown for 200 yards or more in each of Washington State's four games this season. Of the other Pac-10 quarterbacks, only Arizona's Nick Foles and Arizona State's Steven Threet have thrown for at least 200 yards in each game this season.
--Junior WR Jared Karstetter was on the receiving end of a pair of touchdown passes against USC. He has now caught at least one pass in 19 straight games.
--Senior PK Nico Grasu connected on a 44-yard field goal attempt versus USC. For his career, Grasu has hit six of nine from beyond 40 yards, including a career-best 56-yarder he hit against Oklahoma State earlier this season.
SERIES HISTORY: UCLA leads Washington 37-18-1 (last meeting, 2009, 43-7 UCLA).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Simply put, the Cougars can't run the ball consistently, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry in four games, including a couple of games against teams that aren't that stout on defense. WSU's offensive line isn't blowing open holes consistently, and Cougar coach Paul Wulff lamented this week that when there are holes, the backs don't find them often enough. Without the ability to run, opponents are able to focus more energy on WSU's passing attack. The Cougars have some legit weapons there, especially WRs Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson. But QB Jeff Tuel isn't getting enough time to throw. Tuel has also been a little careless, throwing four interceptions. Look for WSU to maybe try some different running back combos this week in an effort to get more run going. Also, WSU used its own version of the Pistol last week and could increase that, as well.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense remains pretty much an equal opportunity offender as the Cougars are ninth against the run and last against the pass in the Pac-10. Whatever teams try to do against the Cougars, they usually end up doing successfully. Wulff thought the play of the linebackers was particularly weak last week as there were numerous missed tackles and blown assignments, allowing for big holes for USC's RBs. It will be critical to clean that up this week against a suddenly resurgent UCLA running game. Expect UCLA to run, run and run some more on the Cougars.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're only four games into this thing, so there's a lot of room for improvement." -- WSU coach Paul Wulff, again making a plea for patience.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington State at UCLA, Oct. 2 -- Not much rest for the weary Cougs as they now head to L.A. to take on suddenly hot UCLA.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop the run. UCLA is emerging as one of the best power running teams in the conference out of its Pistol offense. WSU has to at least contain the run to have any chance to keep this one close. No turnovers. The Cougars actually had some momentum last week before an interception returned for a TD gave USC the lead for good. WSU has to hang onto the ball to have a chance. Stay close early. WSU again appears to be a really fragile team, collapsing once things get tough. Staying mentally strong will be a challenge on the road this week.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jeff Tuel -- Tuel and the passing game are about all WSU really has going for it on offense right now as the Cougs rank fourth in the Pac-10 in passing at 239 yards per game. Tuel, however, has been prone to critical interceptions and needs to avoid those this week.
WR Jared Karstetter -- The junior remains maybe WSU's most consistent player and is tied for seventh in the conference in receptions with 18; he also has four touchdowns.
WR Marquess Wilson -- The true frosh is fourth in the Pac-10 in receiving yards, averaging 85 per game, and is WSU's best deep threat.
S Tyree Toomer -- The sophomore leads WSU in tackles with 20 and will have to be a sure tackler against UCLA to prevent small gains from becoming big ones.
--In the best news from last week, WSU did not have any significant injuries against USC and will be as healthy as it has been all season going into the UCLA game.
--S Chima Nwachukwu returned last week from a neck injury but then was replaced early by true freshman Deone Bucannon, who ended up leading the team in tackles with eight. Look for Bucannon to again play a lot.
--With some of the other RBs struggling, senior Chantz Staden could get a significant chance this week.
Pac-10 Preview: Week 5
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