Ducks have won 19 straight league games by an average of 20.6 points
By Mitch Light
At the risk of stating the obvious: Oregon is on quite a tear in the Pac-10-turned-12. The Ducks just won their 19th straight league game — and did so in impressive fashion — and they have won 27 of their last 28 conference games dating back to the 2008 season.
The most impressive stat during their winning streak: The Ducks have won those 19 straight by an average of 20.6 points.
How does this compare with USC’s run of dominance in the Pac-10 in the mid-2000s? I’m glad I asked. From late in the 2003 season through the midpoint of the ’06 season, the Trojans won 27 straight league games by an average of 24.7 points.
So Oregon, while clearly dominant, hasn’t quite reached the standard set by Pete Carroll’s teams. And, most important, USC won two national titles during that stretch.
Oregon was close last year, and might very well be ranked No. 2 in the BCS had it not opened the season against LSU in Dallas. There were concerns heading into the season — Oregon lost key parts on both lines of scrimmage — but the Ducks are still an elite team with one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Oregon leads the Pac-12 (and ranks second in the nation) with 22 plays of 40 yards or more. Next on the list is Washington with 12.
The Ducks have also proven they can play a little defense. Two weeks ago, they held Washington to a season-low 17 points and only 278 yards of offense. Then, in the big win at Stanford last Saturday night, Oregon held the Cardinal to a season-low 30 points and a Pac-12-season-low 385 total yards.
Oregon, No. 4 in the latest BCS rankings, closes the season with home games against USC and Oregon State. The Ducks have to win one game to secure a spot in the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game, which will be played at Autzen Stadium. Win that, and it’s back to the Rose Bowl for the second time in three years … unless, of course, things break just right and Oregon grabs the No. 2 spot in the BCS and finds itself back in the national title game.
Stranger things have happened. Just ask Les Miles.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Keith Price’s efficiency has taken a hit as Washington’s schedule has toughened up. Through the first six games, the Huskies’ sophomore quarterback threw 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In the last four games — at Stanford, vs. Arizona, vs. Oregon, at USC — he has thrown four touchdowns and six interceptions.
• Utah has averaged 33.2 points in its six wins and 13.0 points in its three losses.
• The Utes are one of only two teams in the nation that has not allowed a play from scrimmage of at least 50 yards. Michigan is the other.
• Oregon has four of the top seven rushers in the league, as ranked by yards per carry — D’Anthony Thomas (7.96), LaMichael James (7.89), Kenjon Barner (6.63) and Tra Carson (5.74).
• Stanford is the only team in the country that is perfect in the Red Zone — 57 scores in 57 trips, with 45 touchdowns and 12 field goals.
• Oregon State has scored a total of 27 points in its last three games. It’s the worst three-game stretch for the Beavers since 1997, when they scored a total of 21 points in losses to Cal (14), Arizona (7) and USC (0).
• Cal has allowed a total of 23 points in its last three Pac-12 wins.
Andrew Luck has led the Cardinal to the top of the Pac-12
By Mitch Light
Stanford lost its final three games of the 2008 season. Needing only one win to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001, the Cardinal lost consecutive games to Oregon, USC and Cal by an average of 16.7 points.
Standing on the sideline that season was a true freshman by the name of Andrew Luck. A 5-star recruit from Houston, Luck chose the Cardinal over Northwestern, Rice and Purdue. “Stanford has great tradition,” Luck told the Houston Chronicle at the time of his commitment. “I hope to help them get back to the top of the Pac-10, where they belong.”
Well, I think it’s safe to say that Luck has succeeded on that front. Stanford, which hosts Oregon this Saturday in the West Coast version of the Game of the Century, is sitting at the top of the Pac-12. Since Luck was inserted into the starting lineup — in Week 1 of the ’09 season — Stanford is an amazing 29–6 overall and 21–4 in league play. With Luck leading the way, the SU offense has scored 30 points or more in 29 of its last 35 games.
This season, the Cardinal’s numbers are simply astounding:
• They are outgaining their opponents by an average of 181.8 yards per game. In league play, that number jumps to 190.1.
• They lead the Pac-12 in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
• They are one of only three teams in the nation that is averaging over 220 yards passing and 220 yards rushing. (Wisconsin and Missouri are the other two).
• They are 5–0 on the road and have won those five games by an average of 24 points.
• They have given up more than 19 points only one time.
• They have allowed only eight plays of 30 yards or more.
• They are completing 53.4 percent on third down, tied for fourth-best in the nation.
• They have scored on all 52 trips inside the Red Zone and are the only team in the country with a 100 percent success rate.
Okay, you get it: Stanford is pretty good.
The one knock on the Cardinal has been the strength of schedule. Only one of their nine wins has come against a team currently ranked in the AP top 25 (USC) and only two other teams on their schedule (UCLA and Washington) have winning records.
That’s what makes this week’s showdown with Oregon so interesting. There are those (i.e. SEC fans) who still question whether Stanford has the talent and athleticism to beat one of the nation’s truly elite teams. Last year, the Cardinal jumped out to a 21–3 lead over the Ducks in Eugene but were overwhelmed by Oregon’s speed and were outscored 48–10 in the final three quarters.
Now, the Cardinal has another shot at the mighty Ducks, this time in Palo Alto, where they haven’t lost in nearly two calendar years. And this edition of the Oregon Ducks, while still strong, isn’t quite as strong as the team that played in the national title game a year ago. The offensive numbers for Chip Kelly’s club are similar to last season, but the Ducks aren’t quite as formidable on defense in 2011, especially against the run.
Stanford will be on a national stage on Saturday night. This team is still very much alive in national title chase. Luck and the Cardinal offense should be able to score plenty of points. It will be up to the defense, which gave up 626 total yards in this game last year, to slow down the Oregon attack.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Utah has won two straight in league play after opening its first season in the Pac-12 with an 0–4 record. And with a relatively soft remaining schedule — UCLA, at Washington State, Colorado — don’t be surprised if the Utes end their inaugural Pac-12 campaign with a winning conference record.
• Oregon State is 3–8 in its last 11 Pac-12 games dating back to last season.
• The top three runners in the league, on a yards-per-carry basis, all play for Oregon — De’Anthony Thomas (8.5), LaMichael James (8.0) and Kenjon Barner (6.75).
• Washington State sophomore Marquess Wilson is closing in on his second straight 1,000-yard season. He had 1,006 on 55 catches as a freshman and currently has 974 on 59 catches with three games remaining.
• Washington quarterback Keith Price was held to 143 yards passing despite throwing the ball 35 times in the Huskies’ 34–17 loss to Oregon. Price’s previous low in Pac-12 play was 226 yards in a win at Utah.
• Just under 40 percent of Keenen Allen’s 1,074 receiving yards have come on third down. The sophomore from Cal has converted 19 of his 22 catches on third down into a first down.
• Colorado has given up 42 points or more in all but one Pac-12 game.
A win at Oregon Saturday could have Sun Devils thinking BCS
By Mitch Light
If it were a political race, the networks would already have declared Arizona State the winner of the Pac-12 South. Yes, we are barely into October, but it’s quite clear that the Sun Devils will be playing in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 2 — likely in Palo Alto or Eugene.
The Ducks, Cardinal and Huskies have all been impressive early.
Oregon seemed to be the frontrunner in the preseason to host the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game, but suspensions and a double-digit loss to SEC-power LSU in the opener raised questions. However, Chip Kelly’s Ducks have bounced back with three blowout wins in which they scored at least 56 points in each game.
QB play still a strength for Huskies without Locker
By Mitch Light
He was one of the most decorated players in school history. The face of Washington football for four seasons, Jake Locker became the first quarterback from the UW ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Locker’s gone, yet quarterback is still a position of strength for the Huskies. The man to thank for that is Keith Price, a sophomore from Compton, Calif. In his first season as the starter, Price has guided the Huskies to a 3–1 start, with the only loss coming in a 51–38 decision at Nebraska in a game in which he threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Price has completed 75-of-112 passes (67.0 percent) for 983 yards with 14 touchdowns (the most in the nation) and only three interceptions. Those numbers are good enough to rank him No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 9 in the nation with a passing efficiency rating of 176.58.
Price was at his best in last Saturday’s win over California in the Pac-12 opener, completing 19-of-25 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has completed at least 57 percent of his attempts in each game and has thrown at least three touchdowns in each game.
Last season, Locker completed only 55 percent of his passes and threw for at least three touchdowns only twice.
This isn’t to say that Price is a better player than Locker — though surely some Washington fans are making that argument — but it’s clear that the Huskies are getting more production from the quarterback position with Price running the show.
“He’s playing phenomenal football for us right now,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Nebraska game. “He’s been lights-out. He’s got an innate ability to extend plays and keep his vision and find open receivers downfield.”
Price is thriving despite playing on two injured knees. He sprained his right knee in the second quarter of a Week 1 win against Eastern Washington and sprained the left knee against Nebraska. It hasn’t hindered him in the passing game too much, but he hasn’t been able to use his legs as much as planned.
In four games, Price has netted only 12 yards rushing.
“The only thing mechanically is just not being able to really run,” Sarkisian said last week. “He’s still quick and elusive. We see that in the pocket. We see it in some suddenness on the about 6-, and 7-yard runs. He just hasn’t been able to open up and go like the way he can.”
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Oregon State is 0–3 for the first time since 1996. The Beavers were 0–3 12 times from 1972 through 1990.
• UCLA completed only seven passes in its 22–19 win over Oregon State. It is the fifth time since the start of last season that the Bruins have completed fewer than 10 passes. They are 3–2 in those games, with wins over Houston, Texas and Oregon State and losses to Kansas State and Washington.
• USC is last in the Pac-12 and 113th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.5 per game). The Trojans have forced three turnovers — only seven teams have forced fewer.
• When not playing LSU, Oregon is averaging 600 yards per game and 9.0 yards per play. The Ducks averaged 4.1 yards per play against LSU.
• Arizona has allowed teams to score on 20 of 22 trips inside the red zone, with 16 touchdowns and four field goals.
• Colorado ranks 118th in the nation with 9.5 penalties per game.
• Despite playing only three games, the Stanford defense leads the nation in yardage lost on sacks. The Cardinal have recorded 14.0 sacks for a combined 114 yards lost.
• Washington ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing defense by more than 60 yards per game. The Huskies are giving up 327.5 yards per game; Stanford is next at 265.7 per game.
We knew what Oregon State was missing. We were aware that the Beavers would be without arguably the most exciting offensive player in school history (Jacquizz Rodgers) and without a player considered by many to be the top defensive lineman in the Pac-10 in 2010 (Stephen Paea). And we understood that James Rodgers, one of the most versatile playmakers in college football over the past few years, would be out indefinitely while recovering from a knee injury.
Still, we expected Oregon State to be good. Not great. But pretty good — as in fourth in the very tough Pac-12 North, with a predicted conference record of 4–5 and an overall mark of 6–6.
Why the optimism? Mike Riley. The Beavers’ veteran head coach always seems to do more with less, somehow getting his team to remain a factor in the league race.
So when it was time to make our predictions, we simply gave Riley and the Beavers the benefit of the doubt, assuming they would find a way to thrive despite the loss of some great players.
Well, look who’s 0–2. It’s still early, but the signs aren’t good for Oregon State, which opened the season with a stunning loss to FCS foe Sacramento State (which lost the following week to Southern Utah) and a 35–0 defeat at Wisconsin.
It might not be time to panic in Corvallis — after all, the 2008 Beavers recovered from an 0–2 start to finish 9–4 — but it’s hard to find many expected wins when you take a look at the final 10 games on the Beavers’ slate.
So what’s the problem? Well, the offense has struggled to get going, even with the emergence of true freshman Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for 223 yards against Sacramento State before missing the Wisconsin game with a hamstring injury. And the quarterback situation is a mess. Strong-armed Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, was pulled in favor of Sean Mannion during the Wisconsin game. On Tuesday afternoon, Riley announced that Mannion will start against UCLA, but both quarterbacks will likely play.
The numbers aren’t horrible defensively, but the Badgers did give up 29 points to an FCS school and have really struggled against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are 40-of-57 for 485 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers have resulted in a national ranking of 116th in passing efficiency defense. It hasn’t helped that senior cornerback Brandon Hardin, one of only three returning starters on defense, has yet to play due to a shoulder injury.
Riley, to his credit, isn’t panicking. He, better than most, understands that there is plenty of time to get his team turned in the right direction. Oregon State has had a winning record in six of eight seasons since Riley returned to Corvallis despite having a combined record of 15–17 in the month of September. Clearly, his teams have a knack for improving as the season progresses.
“I really have hopes for this team,” the coach said after his team was shut out by Wisconsin. “I think there was a lot of stuff today, particularly defensively that was better. So we can build on that. Offensively, I know we can do better.”
They better do better, or Oregon State could be headed for back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Washington State is 2–0 for the first time since 2005 after rolling to wins of 64–21 over Idaho State and 59–7 over UNLV. The level of competition has been very poor, but it’s clear that Paul Wulff’s program is making some progress. The Cougars went 2–10 last season, but ended the year with a shocking 31–14 win at Oregon State and a competitive 35–28 loss to rival Washington in the Apple Cup. The win over UNLV was especially noteworthy because Washington State had to play without quarterback Jeff Tuel, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken collarbone. Senior Marshall Lobbestael, who had three starts as a redshirt freshman and three as a sophomore, stepped in and completed 24-of-32 for 361 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
• Colorado has already given up 13 plays of 20-plus yards, the most in the Pac-12.
• Washington’s Keith Price has attempted 25 passes in each of his first two games. He completed 17 for 102 yards against Eastern Washington and 18 for 315 yards against Hawaii. His yards per attempt jumped from 4.1 to 12.6 in one week.
• Not much went well for Arizona in last Thursday’s trip to Oklahoma State, but the Wildcats, who played without Juron Criner, did get some production from junior Dan Buckner. A transfer from Texas and former big-time recruit, Buckner caught 10 passes for 142 yards and scored a touchdown.
• Stanford has given up one offensive touchdown in two games, and it came in the final minute of a 44–14 win at Duke. The Cardinal’s opponents have converted only 6-of-30 third down attempts.