Ground game key in Pac-12
Notebook: UO's Barner, UCLA's Franklin grab big yardage
Oregon’s Kenjon Barner and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin are the type of runners who need nothing more than a half-step to burn an entire defense and completely change the course of a game.
Commentators made plenty of mention of the fact that Oregon’s win against Southern Cal Saturday was the first time the nation got to see Barner play an entire game. Usually, Oregon is ahead by so many points, the starters have no need to stick around for all four quarters.
One full game equaled a mind-blowing 321 yards and five touchdowns on the ground for Barner. Most quarterbacks are usually lucky to do the same through the air.
Barner has 1,295 yards rushing and an astronomical 19 touchdowns on the season with three games left to play. Saturday was his first full game of the season. Imagine if he’d played all four quarters for all nine of the Ducks’ games this season. A 3,000-yard season wouldn’t be too farfetched.
Then there’s Franklin, who has more of an element of surprise. Somewhat out of the national spotlight at UCLA as strange as that sounds, he is chugging along. Still, Franklin passed Gaston Green III Saturday to become UCLA’s all-time leading rusher with 3,873 yards on his career.
“It’s a great feeling,” Franklin said. “All praises to my teammates. They have pushed me every day.”
Franklin currently ranks second in the Pac-12 behind Barner with 1,204 rushing yards. He also has eight touchdowns.
But the rushing attack in the Pac-12 doesn’t end with Barner and Franklin. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey has 1,015 yards as a sophomore. Washington’s Bishop Sankey and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor average more than 90 yards per game. California features a three-headed monster of C.J. Anderson, Isi Sofele and Brendan Bigelow with nearly 2,000 yards combined.
The running game is of utmost importance in a conference like the Pac-12 as evidenced by Washington State and Colorado, the conference’s two worst rushing teams. Each has just one win on the season. Then there are the two top rushing teams, Oregon and UCLA. Each sits atop its respective division as the Pac-12 championship game inches closer.
It’s no mystery that the run game will be key in the last three weeks of the season. As the postseason picture shakes out, Franklin and Barner are shimmying and shaking their way into that very portrait.
Arizona (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12)
• Arizona is seemingly allergic to the AP Top 25. Both times the Wildcats have made appearances among the nation’s top teams, they’ve been thoroughly pounded in the following weeks. After starting 3-0 and moving up the ranks to No. 22, the Wildcats were shut out by Oregon. Now, after taking Stanford to overtime, winning the battle on the fringe against Washington and shocking Southern Cal, Arizona was manhandled by UCLA as it only mustered enough offense for 10 points.
“I told the players we shouldn’t have this game to define who we are, because even in our other losses I at least thought we were competitive and did some good things,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. He called the Wildcats’ performance against UCLA “embarrassing.”
• Although a Pac-12 South title is close to out of the question for Arizona at this point, with a couple more wins the Cats could still find themselves in a quality bowl game. That end result would be nice cap to the first season under a new head coach.
Next Game: vs. Colorado Nov. 10
Arizona State (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12)
• Arizona State has taken a turn for the worst after a 5-1 start to the season. The Sun Devils have lost three consecutive games and are now an entire game behind UCLA. The Pac-12 South title isn’t out of the question for Arizona State though. The Sun Devils need to win their games, obviously, and will need some help from UCLA’s opponents. A win against Southern Cal this week will certainly do a great deal of good in their effort to reach the Pac-12 championship game.
Next Game: vs Southern Cal Nov. 10
California (3-7, 2-5 Pac-12)
• Looking at the schedule, California, in all likelihood, will not have a happy end to the season. After officially earning a losing record with last Friday’s loss to Washington, the Golden Bears will finish the season with Oregon and Oregon State. Ending the year on a high note doesn’t look promising.
• Cal is bowl ineligible. From 2003 to 2011, the Golden Bears missed out on the postseason just once, that coming in 2010. “The bowl game situation is obviously disappointing,” head coach Jeff Tedford said. “It is not something we are used to. You work very hard; the players and staff invest a lot of time and energy, so it is always disappointing not to be able to play in the postseason.”
Next Game: vs. Oregon Nov. 10
Colorado (1-8, 1-5 Pac-12)
• Colorado needs to find the small victories in defeat. Not much success has come for the Buffaloes this season, and not much is likely on its way. It’s hard to find anything to be happy with in Saturday’s 48-0 loss to Stanford at home. Only 76 yards of offense won’t exactly leave a team beaming.
• Head coach Jon Embree remains focused on improving the young team. He implemented the spread offense to try to catch up with the rest of the Pac-12, he used live tackling drills to improve his defense and he’s working hard to recruit. Embree is doing what he can, but the execution is lacking. It could be a long rebuilding effort in Boulder.
Next Game: vs. Arizona Nov. 10
No. 2 Oregon (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12)
• Southern Cal tested Oregon big time. Prior to Saturday, Oregon hadn’t seen an opponent with as much firepower. As the Ducks dropped spots in the polls while winning games, critics demanded a signature win. Saturday’s 11-point victory against the Trojans may do the trick to put the Ducks back within reach of No. 1 Alabama.
• The Pac-12 North’s top three teams all face each other in the final three weeks of the season. As it is now, Oregon is in control, but Stanford and Oregon State are both just one game back. The Ducks face the Cardinal in Week 12 and the Beavers in Week 13, making for an exciting race for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.
• Oregon gets Cal this week, another game in which it must go in, handle business and keep players healthy. Stanford, Oregon State, a possible Pac-12 championship game and, finally, a likely BCS game await the Ducks. It’s paramount they keep their guys at peak performance.
Next Game: vs.California Nov. 10
No. 8 Oregon State (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12)
• The Beavers recovered nicely after being upset last week by Washington. Oregon State did have a tough task playing without running back Storm Woods, who has six touchdowns on the season, and cornerback Jordan Poyer, who leads the NCAA in interceptions per game with five picks in just seven games. Head coach Mike Riley has confidence in his team’s depth.
“If someone is hurt, then somebody steps in and makes the big plays like [running back Terron Ward] did today,” he said. “I am not really surprised because they have all done good stuff and when they get their opportunity, they take advantage of it.”
• The road ahead is fairly difficult for the Beavers, but nothing a 7-1 team cannot handle. Oregon State faces Stanford this week, which has the best run defense in the nation allowing just 58 yards per game. Riley must be certain his pass offense is ship-shape, in the likely case that the run game is stuffed.
Next Game: vs. Stanford Nov. 10
No. 11 Southern Cal (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12)
• Trojan fans have to wonder where the type of offensive production seen against Oregon has been all season. Matt Barkley threw for 484 yards and five touchdowns. Silas Redd racked up 92 yards and a pair of scores as well, contributing to Southern Cal’s season-high 51 points. On the other hand, fans could do without that type of defensive performance as USC gave up another an all-time program high 62 points to the Ducks.
• Now with three losses, the Trojans aren’t even the winningest team in southern California this season. UCLA walloped Arizona to take a half-game lead in the Pac-12 South. Southern Cal plays the Bruins in Week 12, the result perhaps deciding who plays in the Pac-12 championship game.
• The Trojans could easily end the season a .500 team if they aren’t careful. Arizona State, despite losing three consecutive games, is a tough opponent that gave Oregon State a run for its money Saturday. UCLA is in control of the division and then unbeaten Notre Dame also looms large in Southern Cal’s season finale.
Next Game: vs. Arizona State Nov. 10
No. 22 Stanford (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12)
• Coach David Shaw has perhaps created a tough decision for himself in the weeks to come. Quarterback Josh Nunes took a backseat after two series to watch backup Kevin Hogan successfully lead the Cardinal to a 48-0 shutout of Colorado. Nunes’ two series both ended in punts. Hogan led six scoring drives. With Oregon State and Oregon as Stanford’s next two opponents, does Shaw stick with 6-2 Nunes or 1-0 Hogan? The question looms heavy with the Cardinal well within reach of a Pac-12 North title.
• Stanford has the Pac-12’s top run defense and if Storm Woods doesn’t return for Oregon State next week, it will render the Beavers virtually one-dimensional. The Cardinal will then need to focus on tightening up pass coverage. Their pass defense ranks 10th in the conference. Oregon State’s offense features receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks and could cause problems for Stanford’s secondary.
Next Game: vs. Oregon State Nov. 10
UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12)
• The Bruins moved into first place in the Pac-12 South with Saturday’s win against Arizona. UCLA now controls its own destiny heading into the final three weeks of the regular season. Washington State in Week 11 should be an easy victory, but then Southern Cal and Stanford come to Los Angeles to complete the schedule. If UCLA does its job and wins, it has a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.
“We understand the position we have put ourselves in,” head coach Jim Mora said. “Our leadership has to step up and keep guys focused. If we keep working, things should fall into place.”
• UCLA’s defensive effort against one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses is worthy of praise and will be vital down the homestretch. Southern Cal proved it could put up the points against Oregon, so the Bruins must hold strong when the Trojans come to town.
Next Game: vs. Washington State Nov. 10
Utah (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12)
• Utah won back-to-back games for the first time this season, scoring 49 points in both contests. “We’re starting to figure things out,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’ve gotten better each of the last four weeks. There are still things to get better at, obviously, but we’re starting to play better as a football team.”
• Continuing with the “repeat” trend, John White III ran for 100 yards for the consecutive game. When White runs well, Utah plays better.
• Finally, Reggie Dunn had his third 100-yard kickoff return in two weeks. “I thank God for giving me this opportunity to play college football, and the coaching staff for allowing me to be here and the kickoff return team [that] blocked so well. It’s not just me,” Dunn said.
Next Game: vs.Washington Nov. 10
Washington (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12)
• Saturday’s 21-13 win against Cal was Washington’s first road victory in more than a year. Winning on the road isn’t easy for any team, but that long a drought is cause for concern. The Huskies hit the road for two of their last three games. At 5-4, Washington can still snatch a bowl game, so the final three games are of utmost importance.
• Washington allowed 249 rushing yards to Cal’s jam-packed backfield. The Huskies have Utah in Week 11, and Utes’ running back John White III ran for 100 yards in back-to-back games in Weeks 9 and 10.
• Quarterback Keith Price is taking steps to get better, particularly in the area of trust. He says he’s beginning to trust the weapons he has on offense and enjoys “not feeling as if I had to win the games myself.”
Next Game: vs. California Nov. 2
Washington State (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12)
• The Cougars sealed their losing record for the 2012 campaign and the frustration finally came to a head for head coach Mike Leach. He was furious after the loss. “I can’t fathom, on any level,” Leach said, “how you work at anything and then just come out and not try. It doesn’t matter what physical condition a person is in, how old, how young, anybody is capable of great effort.”
• The Cougars’ offensive line was Leach’s biggest target of criticism. Quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked six times and Washington State finished with negative-four rushing yards. “Our five [offensive linemen] couldn’t whip their two [defensive linemen], which means if five of our guys went in an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s just ridiculously inexcusable. It was one of the most heartless efforts up front I’ve seen,” Leach said.
Next Game: vs. UCLA Nov. 10