Friday, October 17, 2008

Pac-10 Preview - Week Eight


#6 USC @ Washington State

When USC dropped their game to Oregon State, it was the sort of loss that has plagued the Trojans over the last few years. After the loss, Pete Carroll and his team vowed to remain focused and not get caught in another trap game.

As bad as Washington State has played, the Trojans cannot afford to take them for granted, although it’s hard to imagine a scenario where USC loses to the woeful Cougars. Wazzu has lost their starting quarterback, Marshall Lobbestael, to a knee injury, which will sideline him the rest of the season and their offense has been barely able to move the ball with Lobbestael in, so one wonders how poorly the passing game will be now.

However USC has its own problems, namely a lingering injury to quarterback Mark Sanchez. Last weekend, he not only battled a bone bruise in his left knee, but had problems protecting the ball, throwing three interceptions.

If Sanchez can cut down on the mistakes and USC’s defense can continue its sharp play, this game should be an lay-up for the Trojans.

Then again, that’s what some said about the trip Corvallis.

#25 California @ Arizona

The Golden Bears have finally returned to the top 25, over a month after their September 13 loss to Maryland knocked them from the rankings. The Bears now head to Arizona to meet a Wildcats team, which couldn’t keep its unbeaten Pac-10 streak intact last weekend against Stanford. This match-up has vital implications for the Pac-10 conference championship as Cal is still undefeated in conference play and Arizona needs to win to get back up on top. Neither team can afford to let USC creep up on them if the Trojans continue to win within the conference after rebounding from their own loss to Oregon State.

The Wildcats were the highest scoring Pac-10 team until last week, when they struggled to complete drives, especially late in the game. The question about Arizona was how they would hold up against better competition. The answer was certainly not to their liking and quarterback Willie Tuitama will have to get that offense back on track against a much more potent defense than they have seen to date.

The Golden Bears hope to have stud running back Jahvid Best back from a dislocated elbow. Best has a national best average of 215 all-purpose yards per game and is ranked second in the Pac-10 with 105 yards per game on the ground. If Best is back, he will add to an offense which is also returns senior QB Nate Longshore. Cal’s offense is just getting healthy and the defense is coming off of its best game all year, a game against ASU where the Golden Bears stifled Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter and forced three turnovers.

Arizona has a very tough challenge ahead this week, their greatest test yet. The Golden Bears are peaking just in time for the trip to Arizona Stadium.

Stanford @ UCLA

Stanford comes into the Rose Bowl hot off its win against the Arizona Wildcats. However, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the Cardinal as they lost their starting quarterback in the process and the key to this week’s game may be whether Tavita Pritchard can return from his injury. The junior signal caller had his bell rung hard at the end of the first half against Arizona and was replaced by Jason Forcier, who didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard.

While Pritchard has struggled at times, he is a more consistent option than the other two choices; the ineffective Forcier and junior Alex Loukas, who was more effective with his feet than his passes.

The Bruins are a slowly developing team, making fewer mistakes and improving each week under coach Rick Neuheisel. Quarterback Kevin Craft is taking good care of the ball and limiting his mistakes, while the defense seems to be forming into a reliable – if not intimidating – unit.

Stanford has the weapons to win this game, with a solid but unspectacular running game and the ability to move the ball through the air. But without Pritchard, UCLA may be able to sell out to stop the run and make one of the less able backups beat them through the air.

And that may be a game the Bruins can win.

Oregon State @ Washington

As bad as Washington State is, they can probably take solace in the fact that they are not the worst team in Washington, much less the Pac-10. I mean, at least they have a win, even if it was Portland State.

The Washington Huskies don’t even have that going for them and it won’t get any better over the next three weeks as they play Oregon State, Notre Dame and USC.

The ugly starts this weekend with the visiting Beavers who have played some tough competition to get to 3-3. Of their six games so far, three of their opponents were ranked and the Beavers beat the best of them (then #1 ranked USC) and nearly beat #15 Utah. While the men from Corvallis have struggled at times, they have proven they can play hard.

Nobody brings more to the table than phenomenal freshman Jacquizz Rodgers. It is hard to imagine the ineffective Husky run defense finding a way to slow, much less stop, someone who much better ranked teams have failed to stop. Rodgers is so good he makes you forget that the team can pass, but junior quarterback Lyle Moevao has been moving the ball pretty consistently and has compiled more than 1,500 yards so far this season. He is prone to streaks of bad mistakes, even against bad teams – for example, his four interceptions against the previously mentioned Washington State defense. Still, Moevao usually takes good care of it and Oregon State can move the ball.

Washington is reeling and it may be all coach Tyrone Willingham can do to keep his job, much less eek out a win against one of the more prolific offenses in the Pac-10.