Oregon not just one-team state
Notebook: Several teams looking for consistent QB play
Nobody can beat the state of Oregon. So far this season, Oregon and Oregon State are a combind 10-0. The two schools separated by just an hour’s drive play styles that could not be more unalike and yet both are unpredictable.
Still, the dominance was expected from Oregon. The Ducks began the year ranked fifth in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll. The Beavers, on the other hand, were coming off a three-win season. Expectations weren’t exactly astronomical.
And what better way to begin the 2012 season than with a likely victory against Nicholls State? Hurricane Isaac had other plans, scattering the Colonels, based in Thibodaux, La., across the region and postponing the Week 1 contest.
The Beavers instead plunged face-first into Week 2’s matchup with then-No. 13 Wisconsin, creaking their way to a 10-7 victory. After another bye week, Oregon State edged out No. 19 UCLA and broke Arizona’s heart late in the game a week later.
A Week 6 victory against Washington State has the Beavers at 4-0, climbing to No. 10 in the rankings, leapfrogging preseason No. 1 Southern Cal. The jump is surprising considering the Beavers’ narrow margins of victory.
“Our record says we are perfect right now,” wide receiver Markus Wheaton said. “So I can’t argue with that, but we do have a lot to work on.”
Oregon State drew a good schedule, avoiding USC and saving Oregon for its final regular-season game. The Beavers rescheduled Nicholls State for Dec. 1, but OSU will cancel should it be in Pac-12 title contention, which will be a task itself with Oregon and Stanford in the North division.
Regardless, Oregon State put itself in prime position for the remainder of the season, knocking off its toughest nonconference foe and surpassing its win total from 2011. With a strong offense consisting of quarterback Sean Mannion, running back Storm Woods and Wheaton and receiving mate xxx, the Beavers can score with other potent offenses. Proof can be found in the Arizona box score.
The defense is stout too, holding Wisconsin running back and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball under 100 yards in Week 2. Jordan Poyer’s three interceptions against Washington State helped the Beavers hold the Cougars’ high-flying offense to just six points.
If the offense and defense put the talents together, the No. 10 ranking will seem to fit more properly.
“We have so much potential to win every game on our schedule,” said defensive end Scott Crichton, who had three sacks against Washington State. “We haven’t played as a whole team yet because either the offense or defense carries us in each game. Once we finally play as a team, [the fans] are in for something great.”
Arizona (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12)
• The Wildcats – Matt Scott and Ka’Deem Carey in particular – proved their offensive prowess Saturday against Stanford. The two accounted for more than 600 yards of total offense. Arizona ranks fourth in the FBS in passing and averages 37 points per game.
• Meanwhile, the Arizona defense proved its deficiency. The Wildcats’ average margin of victory is barely more than four points. Although they can punish teams with scoring, opponents can easily hang around. A prime example is Stanford. The Cardinal previously scored more than 21 points in only one game this season and yet Arizona did little to stop them. “We fought all game, but didn’t do enough and there’s stuff we need to work on,” corner Tra’Mayne Bondurant said.
• A bye week for Arizona is in the immediate future. The rest will be much appreciated as the Cats enter a tough stretch against Washington, Southern Cal and UCLA the following three weeks.
Next Game: vs. Washington Oct. 20
Arizona State (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12)
• Coming out of an idle week, the Sun Devils take on Colorado on Thursday. This week is yet another opportunity for Arizona State to show a national television audience its clout as a 4-1 squad on the outside looking into the AP Top 25 Poll.
• The Sun Devils need to get the offense rolling Thursday in preparation for Oregon in Week 8. The only way to keep up with the Ducks is to score on their level. Coach Todd Graham may want to try to score as much as possible on the Buffs Thursday to find out what works for his offense and build confidence.
Next Game: at Colorado Oct. 11
California (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12)
• The California locker room looked like the pit at a Foo Fighters concert after the Golden Bears defeated UCLA Saturday. There is no doubt a convincing victory against a ranked opponent was uplifting for what was a reeling Bears squad.
• Zach Maynard finally had the freedom to run wild. He was only sacked four times, which is a big deal with Cal’s protection woes. Maynard showcased his ability completing 83 percent of his passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. Washington State linebacker Travis Long specializes in bringing down quarterbacks with 7.5 sacks this season. Cal’s line needs to protect Maynard in its Week 7 matchup with Washington State as it did against UCLA. Riding the high of two consecutive wins would do wonders for Cal against Stanford Oct. 20.
• A third running back entered the fold for Cal Saturday as senior C.J. Anderson picked up 151 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. The week before, it was Isi Sofele with 105 yards and a touchdown. Against Ohio State, it was Brendan Bigelow with 160 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears have a deep backfield and face a Washington State team giving up more than 150 rushing yards per game. That spells “big opportunity” for Cal as it crawls back toward .500 in the standings.
Next Game: at Washington State Oct. 13
Colorado (1-4, 1-1 Pac-12)
• Colorado won four of five Big 12 North division titles from 2001 to 2005. Where the Buffs are now is a far cry from where they were just a few short years ago. Of 22 starters, Colorado features just three seniors. Development could take a while for the Buffaloes.
• Don’t bury the Buffs just yet as it is only the halfway mark of the season, but the future schedule does not look easy. Colorado’s next six games are Arizona State, Southern Cal, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and Washington, all teams in or hovering near the top 25.
Next Game: vs. Arizona State Oct. 11
No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon is in control of its game. It’s found an identity that is reflected in head coach Chip Kelly. “We pride ourselves on our preparation,” Kelly said. “The three things we control is our preparation, our effort and our attitude.” The effectiveness of all three factors is off the charts. The preparation comes in practice while the effort and attitude help execute the game plan. Oregon is simply clicking.
• Kelly’s players echo his sentiments. In the postgame press conference, Marcus Mariota sounded as professional as they come and yet he’s just a freshman. One would not recognize Mariota as one of the most lethal quarterbacks in college football by the image of a skinny kid in an oversized T-shirt bubbling with gasps of nervous laughter at reporters’ praise. Still, Mariota is a cool hand discussing with reporters his intentions to get better in practice despite being a perfect 6-0 heading into a bye week. “We’re gonna take this bye week and just improve,” Mariota said. “We could always get better at everything.”
Next Game: at Arizona State Oct. 18
Oregon State (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon State stumbled on offense at the right time as its defense shut down an injured yet potent Washington State offense Saturday. Cornerback Jordan Poyer intercepted three passes, earning him Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors.
• The Beavers face a nonconference test in Brigham Young swimming in the middle of their conference schedule. The Cougars, previously ranked in the AP poll, will be good preparation for Oregon State heading into the meat of its schedule. The BYU defense is third in the FBS in points allowed, giving up just 8.8 per game. For a Beavers offense that struggled against Wazzou, this will be a valuable chance for improvement.
Next Game: at BYU Oct. 13
No. 13 Southern Cal (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12)
• The Trojans’ 4-1 record does not speak to how they have played this season. Nothing has been all too impressive from USC, especially in comparison to preseason predictions. And yet, the Trojans continue to win. The stat lines for Matt Barkley and Marquise Lee paint a pretty picture, but their win against Utah Thursday was far from picturesque. The Trojans had to fight back from a two-touchdown deficit in the first quarter.
• With LSU, Florida State and Georgia all taking a fall from grace in Week 6, the Trojans should now reenter the BCS conversation. However, only convincing wins – especially one against Oregon in Week 10 -- will prove Southern Cal worthy of national championship recognition. Head coach Lane Kiffin is not agitated with his team’s performance. “Much like last year, after our first bad road trip we started playing a lot better,” Kiffin said. “So hopefully that’s the case.”
Next Game: at Washington Oct. 13
No. 8 Stanford (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12)
• Josh Nunes showed the toughness Cardinal fans were looking for, albeit against a poor Arizona defense. But good quarterbacks are able to take advantage of such opportunities as Nunes did, finishing with 360 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Stanford needed to prove itself able to score with offenses like the Wildcats’. “I definitely have confidence now,” Nunes said. “I definitely used last week [against Washington] as a stepping stone forward and learned a lot of things to work on.”
• Running back Stepfan Taylor got things going too. Washington sucked the life out of Stanford’s offense, holding it to 13 points and no offensive touchdowns. Taylor cranked out 142 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in Saturday’s recovery against Arizona.
• Stanford plays Notre Dame next. The Irish are having their best season in recent memory, taking down solid Michigan and Michigan State teams. Notre Dame’s play and Southern Cal’s lackluster performance in recent weeks mark the Irish as arguably the Cardinal’s toughest opponent to date. The Irish allow the second fewest points in the league at fewer than eight per game. Letting the offense loose Saturday could have done some good to prepare Stanford to score against the stout Notre Dame defense.
Next Game: at Notre Dame Oct. 13
UCLA (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12)
• The loss to Cal is a major hiccup for the Bruins who had such a promising start to the season. Suddenly, a minor stumble at home against Oregon State plus this loss puts UCLA at a turning point. The Bruins could be a loss away from removing themselves from major bowl contention. With two losses, the BCS remains in sight, especially because USC has already lost with the two teams yet to play. If the Bruins were to win their games up to Week 12, they would take their destiny into their own hands when they battle the Trojans. That game could be the deciding factor for the Pac-12 South title.
• In order to win, Brett Hundley must play better. The freshman quarterback tossed four picks Saturday. Utah, the Bruins’ next opponent, has a mean pass rush featuring Star Lotulelei. The Utes will look to force Hundley into mistakes and it will be his job to remain poised and make smart throws unlike his performance against the Golden Bears.
Next Game: vs. Utah Oct. 13
Utah (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12)
• Utah can take pride it how it performed against Southern Cal. The Utes had the Trojans scrambling after going up by two scores less than three minutes into the game. “No matter what the offense does,” defensive end Nate Fakahafua said, “we just have to battle and capitalize on every opportunity we have.” Utah should consider the youth of UCLA’s Brett Hundley as its opportunity to capitalize on defense.
• John White III must run well for Utah to generate offense. The Utes have had complications at the quarterback position with Jordan Wynn hanging up his cleats and Jon Hays and Taylor Wilson sharing time. White, after rushing for more than 1,500 yards last season, has gone dormant in 2012, although he should be the steady veteran Utah should be able to count on. UCLA allows 160 yards rushing per game, meaning White has an opportunity to produce this week.
Next Game: at UCLA Oct. 13
Washington (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12)
• The Huskies were sufficiently subdued by Oregon, but can take solace in that they scored 21 points against one of the nation’s best defenses – 18 points better than they did against LSU. Schedulers gave Washington no breaks with Southern Cal up next.
• The Huskies turned the ball over five times against the Ducks. USC has a plus-five turnover differential including a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns. Quarterback Keith Price has only four interceptions for Washington, but a completion percentage just less than 60 percent could give the Trojan defense more chances at interceptions.
• Bishop Sankey could be the Huskies’ bread and butter. Sankey has had 100 or more rushing yards in the past three games and will go against a Trojan defense allowing 112 yards per game.
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal Oct. 13
Washington State (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12)
• Mike Leach’s offensive plans were squelched Saturday as his Cougars were held to just six points for the second time this season. Quarterback Connor Halliday’s injury (along with his three interceptions) forced him from the game after the first half. Jeff Tuel replaced Halliday in the second half, but didn’t provide much more to the stalling offense. “The Oregon State front was beating us because they were more physical,” Leach said.
• In this performance lies the problem for Washington State. If the Cougars can’t count on their offensive production, they don’t have much to count on. Stalls on offense allowed Eastern Washington, UNLV and Colorado back into games and kept the Cougars from sticking around Oregon and BYU. Oregon State’s offense struggled mightily Saturday and yet Washington State still couldn’t hang. The Cougars need some sort of inspiration to get back on the right track. Cal is riding the momentum from its win against UCLA and won’t be an easy game for Washington State, but there is a chance against a Golden Bears team allowing 2.5 passing touchdowns per game. The air is Wazzou’s offense and they have a chance to again capitalize against Cal.
Next Game: vs. California Oct. 13