By ANDREW GARDA - PAC-10 INSIDER
#5 USC @ Arizona
A huge game for all involved, as this game features one team still shooting for the National Championship while the other would be more than happy to make it to the Rose Bowl.
USC is rolling, as they come off an incredible 69-0 shellacking of woeful Washington State. Mark Sanchez got back on track with an outstanding performance (253 yards and five touchdowns) and the run game also got moving again. If they aren’t smothering the opposition with their tough defense, the Trojans will blow them out with the eighth best scoring offense in the nation.
The Wildcats are not too shabby offensively themselves. Turns out they put together the ninth ranked scoring offense and despite USC’s tough defense, the Men of Troy could have some issues containing the excellent Willie Tuitama (1,691, 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions). One of the keys for Arizona will be whether sophomore Nic Grigsby can hang onto the ball and get his groove back. While freshman running back Keola Antolin had an outstanding game last week, he’s fairly unproven and if things get tough, Arizona might need Grigsby to step up and be a veteran presence at the tailback position this weekend.
Both teams need this game badly – the key could be who can adjust to the flow of the game more. Will Pete Carroll keep his guys moving forward or will Mike Stoops be able to motivate his team enough to put the nail in the coffin of USC’s National Title hopes?
UCLA @ CALIFORNIA
The Golden Bears have to be wondering just what happened last week when Arizona likely delivered the fatal blow to California’s Rose Bowl hopes. One would think that the visiting Bruins would be a lay-up for the home team, however that’s when teams need to be most careful. Coach Jeff Tedford must keep his guys focused, or rather re-focused, in order to avoid another loss, which would end California’s major bowl hopes altogether.
Senior Nate Longshore played well last week, though not quite well enough to pull the win out. Still he should have good day against a UCLA secondary that, while improved, still has a long way to go. Sophomore running back Jahvid Best returned from injury last week and performed well and should be able to keep it up this weekend as well.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft has slowly been improving week to week, but is still plagued by inconsistency. What is truly befuddling about Craft is his ability to play well when time is short. When there are mere minutes left, Craft can thread a needle and make a big play. When Craft is in the middle of a quarter and has plenty of time on the clock? He bounces passes, throws interceptions and has mental letdowns.
The Golden Bears should be able to overcome Neuheisel’s Bruins, but as Tennessee and Stanford can tell you, you can’t take them for granted.
Notre Dame @ Washington
Could Notre Dame get Ty Willingham fired twice? By the end of Saturday, we may see an answer to that as the winless Huskies welcome the Fighting Irish into their house of pain this weekend.
Unfortunately it’s only a house of pain for Washington and will continue to be so after Notre Dame leaves.
Coming off a disappointing loss to #22 North Carolina, Notre Dame will be looking to rebound and the Huskies will be just what the leprechaun ordered.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen started the season unable to protect the ball. But against the struggling Washington secondary, he should be able to get his rhythm back.
It’s going to be incredibly tough for Washington to make any headway against a relatively solid Notre Dame defensive unit. Whether it’s Ronnie Fouch, Jake Locker or a guy from the student section, the quarterback position has not been able to consistently move the ball, never mind get it into the end zone. The run game has also struggled quite often, although on occasion that is more because the Huskies are so far behind and they are forced to pass.
Oregon @ Arizona State
What happened to the Sun Devil season? At the start of the season, they were considered contenders for the Pac-10 title and maybe more.
But a loss to Georgia, an injury to quarterback Rudy Carpenter and the same shaky offensive line issues that have plagued them for some time have sent Arizona State into a tailspin that has been nearly impossible to pull out of.
Carpenter will play again this week and for an Oregon secondary and defense that has struggled a little, that may be the cure for what ails. Carpenter is a good quarterback when he has time, but he seems to lack some of the fire he had in the past and it certainly does not help that he gets hit as much as he does. At one point earlier in the season, it seemed as if the ASU offensive line had picked up its play. But by the time #3 Georgia came calling, it was beginning to look like it had been all smoke and mirrors. If the Sun Devils want to win, they need to keep Carpenter upright and allow him to get his rhythm back. Carpenter is the engine for this team and they haven’t been taking care of it, so it’s not running smoothly.
It doesn’t help that the run game is not effective. Opposing defenses need not fret about the run, so they are able to blanket the Sun Devil wide receivers and send their defensive line through the gaps in ASU’s line.
This is not to say Oregon is without flaw. If ASU can give Carpenter time to toss the ball downfield, he can make the Ducks pay. Carpenter is dangerous with the long ball and Oregon will need to keep him pressured and force him to go to his short routes.
Oregon can also help its own cause by continuing to run the ball effectively. The tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson keep the ball moving down the field and grind up the clock. Like Carpenter does for ASU, the Ducks pair is what makes this offense goes. The pass game works best when it works as a compliment to an effective run attack, rather than as the focus of the offensive game plan. In short, they are better when they pass because they want to, rather than because they have to.
If Arizona State can get out to an early lead and force the Ducks to the air, it’s conceivable that they can send Oregon home with a loss.
Photo Credit: Collegiate Images
Friday, October 24, 2008
By ANDREW GARDA - PAC-10 INSIDER