Wildcats, Huskies in similar situations
Notebook: Oregon D shines; USC looking for more from offense
The phrase “close, but no cigar” carries a negative connotation. No one wants to hear it. The phrase is said to originate from a classic carnival game using a sledgehammer to ring a bell with a cigar being the prize. Failure to ring the bell would elicit that statement.
That’s where teams like Washington and Arizona can be found. Close. On the fringe.
Although a sometimes-favorable position for a golfer, football teams rarely want to be on the outside looking in.
“We’ve won a close one or two and we’ve lost a couple close ones,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately, the last two have been close losses that, had we made a play at the end, we would have won.”
Arizona and Washington are in similar predicaments. Both are 3-3. Each has had an idle week. Each is 1-3 against teams in the AP Top 25.
Both have versatile young quarterbacks who can punish defenses by land and by air. Both have sophomore running backs well on their way to 1,000 yards on the ground. Both have been ranked in the top 25 at some point this season.
But however similar the situations, the Wildcats and Huskies differ most in playing style.
Washington ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense. Arizona ranks first. Washington ranks fourth in total defense. Arizona is 11th.
“We’ve got a challenge that lies ahead,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “With all of the adversity I’m proud of the guys for their effort and preparation that they have given us. I would’ve liked to be 4-2 instead of 3-3 after the first six, but there are a lot of opportunities that lie ahead of us.”
The immediate opportunity for both Washington and Arizona comes Saturday when the two face off. Both teams are at the turning point in their respective seasons.
Four losses is the point where questions raise about a team’s bowl worthiness, so Week 8 could be make or break for both teams.
Washington and Arizona are good teams on the cusp of something special, just a few signature wins or a handful of top recruits away from powerhouse status.
They’re both close, but no cigar. Yet.
Arizona (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12)
• Arizona has a difficult task ahead in Washington. The Wildcats’ high-powered offense meets a Husky defense of equal magnitude, making for what could be a classic Pac-12 matchup.
• Matt Scott must be on top of his game. Washington allows just a 54 percent completion percentage, the second-lowest mark in the Pac-12. Scott is far and away the leader in pass attempts in the conference, so the two teams provide an interesting contrast, which could end up being the difference in the game.
Next Game: vs. Washington Oct. 20
Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12)
• The Sun Devils are creeping close to national attention, a signature win away from being in serious BCS bowl conversation. And yet they are a signature loss away from being sent back to the pack. Next up: No. 2 Oregon comes to Tempe, Ariz., in Week 8, but the Sun Devils claim they will be ready.
“For the last week and a half I’ve been watching Oregon every day,” head coach Todd Graham said. “It’s hard not to do that when everyone keeps asking you about it.”
• Piling it on as they did against Colorado was what the Sun Devils needed in anticipation of a high-caliber opponent like Oregon. Arizona State took risks to find what works for its offense in a game against an inexperienced Buffaloes defense. Had they played it safe, the Sun Devils could have found themselves trying to work kinks out against one of the nation’s best defenses in the Ducks.
• Will Sutton is one to watch against Oregon. The Ducks are the fourth-best rushing team in the FBS with 302.3 yards per game. Quarterback Marcus Mariota doesn't make many mistakes but can when put under duress. Sutton is arguably the best defensive tackle in the Pac-12 and is the Sun Devils’ beef in the middle. He plays tackle but gets to the quarterback like an end. Arizona State will need a full-fledged assault by Sutton and Co. to shut down the Ducks’ rushing attack and fluster Mariota.
Next Game: at Oregon Oct. 18
California (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12)
• Cal touts a potent rushing attack going against Stanford in Week 8, although the Cardinal are allowing 89.3 yards per game. Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson both have more than 300 yards rushing this season with Brendan Bigelow just 33 yards off the same mark. Combining the three, the Golden Bears have a 1,000-yard rushing attack after just seven games.
“We have one of the best running back groups in the country no matter who’s out there,” Anderson said. But Cal’s three-headed monster will have its work cut out for it against ball-hawking linebackers like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Chase Thomas.
• Defensive talents like Gardner and Thomas could cause the Bears fits. Pass protection has been the biggest problem for Cal all season. If Stanford’s tough defense neutralizes the Bears’ rushing attack, they’ll be forced to go to the air where they are the most vulnerable. The Cardinal may spell trouble for Cal in its attempt to return to the bowl conversation.
Next Game: at vs. Stanford Oct. 20
Colorado (1-5, 1-2 Pac-12)
• The Buffaloes may have found a talent in defensive lineman-turned-tight end Nick Kasa. A 6-foot-6-inch, 260-pound senior, Kasa had just one career catch before this season, in which he has 11. Against Arizona State he had a breakout game of sorts, finishing with four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. A pass-catcher of his size is hard to come by and he could easily become a weapon for Colorado to utilize the remainder of the season.
• Frustration has been building in Boulder, and not just by the fans. “I’m not happy with where we are offensively,” head coach John Embree said. “There are some things we would like to do, and there are some guys we have recruited that will come in and help some of it. But I’m not happy at all with what we have done offensively.”
The Buffs rank 105th in points scored in the FBS at just 20.8 per game.
• Colorado doesn't get any breaks in the weeks to come. The Buffs play, in order, Southern Cal, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and Washington, with three of those five games on the road. It could be a long journey for Colorado, but the Buffs can find solace in those small successes like Kasa. Southern Cal allows 220 passing yards per game and let Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – 6 feet 6 inches, 266 pounds, virtually the same size as Kasa – have a field day with five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. There’s potential for Kasa to have the same success against the Trojans if quarterback Jordan Webb can deliver the ball.
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal Oct. 20
No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon faces a slightly tougher test in Arizona State in Week 8. The Sun Devils bring a talented pass rush and run defense. Arizona State averages almost 4.5 sacks as a part of their nearly 10 tackles for loss per game. Few would doubt that Oregon is the better team, but beating Arizona State will not be an easy task.
• Oregon won't look ahead and it may not need to as it probably feels it can get the offense moving against Colorado’s inexperienced defense in Week 9. The Ducks will need an offensive refresher before the highly anticipated matchup with Southern Cal Week 9.
Next Game: at Arizona State Oct. 18
No. 8 Oregon State (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon State is for real. The Beavers have an all-around attack that gives opponents fits. Against a formidable four-win Brigham Young team which had previously not surrendered a game at home, Oregon State marched in and punished the Cougars late. The Beavers scored three times through the air, twice on the ground and once by way of an interception.
• The Beavers’ opportunistic secondary will be trouble for future opponents. Jordan Poyer, following a three-interception performance in Week 6, intercepted another pass last week, returning it 49 yards for a touchdown. Rashaad Reynolds and Rueben Robinson also recorded interceptions against BYU. The secondary will have more opportunities in Week 8 against Utah, especially if head coach Kyle Whittingham chooses to start freshman Travis Wilson -- who threw another pick against UCLA -- again.
• Running back Storm Woods exited Saturday’s game late with a knee injury. Despite wanting to reenter, trainers told him otherwise. Being without their leading rusher for too long could be problematic for the Beavers down the road.
• Quarterback Cody Vaz played well against BYU in his first action since 2010 as starter Sean Mannion recovers from injury. Vaz completed 62 percent of his passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. It’s comforting to head coach Mike Riley to have a talented backup incase of emergency.
“I don’t think anybody in our locker room was surprised Cody played well,” Riley said. “I think they’ve had faith in him as a teammate for a long time.”
Next Game: at Utah Oct. 20
No. 11 Southern Cal (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12)
• Another week, another underwhelming victory for the Trojans in a 24-14 win against Washington. Southern Cal wins, but has done nothing to set itself apart from a a muddled top 10. The BCS picture became all the more confusing with two more top 10 teams losing, and four winning by just one score. Southern Cal needs to make itself memorable. Ten-point wins against weaker opponents (see: Utah and Washington) do not scream “BCS championship game.”
• USC needs more from quarterback Matt Barkely. Against Washington, he completed just 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards, only one touchdown and an interception. The Trojans have faced only one opponent ranked in the top 25 this season -- Stanford. In that game, Barkley completed less than 50 percent of his passes, threw no touchdowns and two interceptions in the Trojans’ only loss.
• The slate coming up: Colorado followed by Arizona. The Buffs are a team Southern Cal can easily score against, but the Wildcats may require high scoring to be defeated. The Trojans rank 49th in points per game in the FBS at 32.3. That number must increase in the next two weeks as Oregon lurks just around the corner.
• Head coach Lane Kiffin says the Trojans are “playing to win” when it sometimes looks more like they are setting the cruise control rather than keeping the foot on the gas.
“I wanted to sit here in this press conference 5-1 not 4-2 and we did that,” said Kiffin. Running back Silas Redd offers a different opinion. “We are not satisfied,” Redd said, “but we are in a nice position right now. There is always room for improvement, but we just need to take it one game at a time.”
Next Game: at Colorado Oct. 20
No. 22 Stanford (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12)
• Is there anything else anyone will be talking about in Stanford’s overtime loss to Notre Dame than the last call? Replay officials’ ruling of no touchdown was the only one that mattered though. As the season plays on and bowl bids are handed out, it’ll be difficult not to look back on this game from both points of view.
• Stanford played a solid game, mustering 13 points against arguably the most talented defense in the FBS. Stepfan Taylor rushed for 102 yards against linebacker Manti Te’o and Co., which is the Irish's defensive stronghold. The Cardinal need Taylor to be its rock down the stretch to complement quarterback Josh Nunes, who has been inconsistent.
• The immediate road ahead will be good for Stanford before the schedule takes a turn for the Pac-12’s toughest. The Cardinal drew Cal, Washington State and Colorado before games with Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA to finish the regular season. “It’s tough, but I know we have a real resilient group and a good group of guys, leaders and seniors. We’ll bounce back from it,” Nunes said after the loss to Notre Dame said.
Next Game: at California Oct. 20
UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12)
• Brett Hundley is fighting hard for the league's freshman-of-the-year honor. The Bruins’ quarterback showed his versatility against Utah. Hundley completed 71 percent of his passes for 183 yards and a touchdown and also racked up 68 yards on the ground with a score. Hundley hasn’t seen his completion percentage fall below 63 percent and hasn’t gone a single game without a touchdown. “[Saturday] he took a major step, in my mind, in terms of demonstrating his mobility as a quarterback,” head coach Jim Mora said. Hundley along with running back Johnathan Franklin and receiver Shaq Evans create a surging crop of offensive firepower.
• UCLA did not make easy work of what has become a scrappy Utah team, nearly allowing a late Utes' comeback. Despite the win, the Bruins have struggled to rediscover the team they were prior to the loss to Oregon State in Week 4. With just two losses, the Bruins still have a shot at claiming the Pac-12 South title if they can gather themselves to end the year strong. UCLA still has games with division leaders Southern Cal and Arizona State on the horizon.
Next Game: vs.Arizona State Oct. 27
Utah (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12)
• The Utes have impressed the past two weeks, pestering the likes of Southern Cal and UCLA, keeping the margin of defeat to fewer than 10 points. However, low margins of defeat are no substitute for victories. “The guys played hard again and this team has no shortage of effort or toughness,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. Despite that, Whittingham said his team lacks execution.
• Whittingham gave freshman quarterback Travis Wilson a bid of confidence in his postgame remarks. “I thought he grew in this game and showed some progress,” he said. “He’s a confident kid. There was no deer in the headlights look at any point in the game with him.”
That could suggest a new direction for the Utes under Wilson’s leadership. Week 8 features an Oregon State secondary with seven interceptions in the past two games, four of which belong to Jordan Poyer. Wilson must be cautious and avoid having his inexperience exploited.
Next Game: at Oregon State Oct. 20
Washington (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12)
• Washington brings a good group of offensive talent. Keith Price is a versatile quarterback. Bishop Sankey ranks sixth in the Pac-12 with 81 rushing yards per game behind runners like Kenjon Barner and Silas Redd. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams form one of the best pass-catching tandems in the conference, both in the top 12 in the conference in receptions per game. The Huskies will need their contributions against Arizona and the third-best scoring offense in the Pac-12.
• Washington is 1-3 against top-25 competition, which does not help its bowl prospects. However, the good news for the Huskies is that they only have one top-25 opponent left on their schedule, giving them potential for a strong record to end the year.
Next Game: vs. Arizona Oct. 20
Washington State (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12)
• Washington State is in dire need of an idle week, a chance to regroup before the homestretch of the season. Four consecutive losses have the Cougars reeling and in search for an identity. The Washington State offense caught fire in Week 2 and stayed red hot for four weeks, but the Cougars’ drop-off in the past two games left the offense dormant. In Weeks 2-4 – in which Washington State earned its only two wins – the offense averaged almost 27 points per game. The past two weeks have featured the Cougars averaging fewer than 12 points per game.
• A sign of Washington State’s struggles can be seen in the quarterback battle. Jeff Tuel earned the team’s first win against Eastern Washington, but an injury left the door open for Connor Halliday, who orchestrated a win against UNLV. Three losses and an injured leg later, the Cougars have returned to Tuel who played well against Cal last week. The two-quarterback system always garners critics. Head coach Mike Leach says the effort is there, but he wants results. “I was proud of how excited we were to be out there on the field and battle,” Leach said. “But we don’t need to be satisfied with coming close.”
Next Game: vs. Stanford Oct. 27