The people associated with the Washington State football program will tell you that they saw this coming — that the Cougars had become increasingly competitive and were bound to break through for a Pac-10 victory.
And while it was true that Washington State had become slightly more competent this season, it was hard to realistically pencil in a win for any game on its schedule. Yes, the Cougars played Cal tight in a 20–13 loss last week, but the Bears were playing their first game without injured starting quarterback Kevin Riley.
That’s what makes Washington State’s 31–14 win at Oregon State all the more stunning. The Cougars, losers of 16 Pac-10 games in a row and the victim of many blowouts over the past three seasons, dominated the Beavers on the road. Washington State ran roughshod against Oregon State’s defense, rushing for 221 yards. They came in averaging just 76.1 rushing yards per game, last in the Pac-10. Meanwhile, the Cougars’ defense that entered the game ranked last nationally in total yards allowed held Oregon State star running back Jacquizz Rodgers to just 93 yards rushing. The Beavers only amassed 261 yards of offense and trailed 21–0 in the third quarter.
“It just feels excellent,” Washington State linebacker C.J. Mizell told the Seattle Times. “It’s awesome. It’s like you’re on top of the world.”
The Cougars’ last Pac-10 win came at the end of the 2008 season, when they beat rival Washington in overtime. They had no wins over BCS conference opponents during that span, and their only previous victory this season was by one point over Montana State, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
But Washington State did indeed start making strides this season. The Cougars led at UCLA in the third quarter and had it tied in the fourth quarter before ultimately losing by a couple of touchdowns. Washington State was competitive with Arizona, one of the top teams in the conference. The Cougars lost that game, 24–7. And Washington State had a flurry of late scoring to make its game with Stanford respectable, losing 38–28.
Then came last week, when Washington State was in it the whole time but couldn’t come up with a late scoring drive and fell to the Bears.
There was never any doubt Saturday. The Cougars dominated the Beavers from start to finish. “It’s so nice to finally be successful, with your family and your teammates,” Washington State wide receiver Jared Karstetter told the Times. “It’s just a real emotional win for us.”
Meanwhile, the Beavers are reeling. It looks as though the season-ending knee injury to wide receiver James Rodgers is affecting them even more than they anticipated. Oregon State has lost three of four since then, and not to particularly good teams. This was supposed to be the soft part of the Beavers’ schedule, but they now have losses to Washington, UCLA and Washington State
It’s rare to see Oregon St. so uncompetitive. The Beavers have been a model of consistency in recent years, consistently exceeding outsiders’ expectations and contending in the Pac-10. Oregon State has been in the Rose Bowl race up until the very end in each of the past two seasons. Now, the Beavers are going to be hard-pressed to qualify for a bowl game.
Simply put, the Washington State game was one Oregon State needed badly. That’s because the Beavers have to win two more games to become bowl-eligible and their final three contests are against No. 20 USC, at No. 7 Stanford and against No. 1 Oregon in the Civil War.
“Man, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to cry after a football game,” Jacquizz Rodgers told the Oregonian. “It’s been since high school, man. … I love to win. I wish everybody felt that way at times. You’ve got to put your heart into this. If you sign up for this, you’ve got to give it your all every time you step out there.”
Washington State 31, Oregon State 14
Stanford 17, Arizona State 13
Oregon 15, California 13
USC 24, Arizona 21
FINDING A WAY
Championship football teams usually win a game or two that doesn’t follow the blueprint. That’s what happened to Oregon in its 15–13 win over Cal.
The Ducks were held 40 points under their scoring average and 250 yards under their average for total offense, yet still left Berkeley undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings.
The performance put the spotlight on Oregon’s underrated defense, which had to come through on a night when the offense was stymied by the Bears. The Ducks’ defense held Cal to 193 yards of offense, a season-low for the Bears.
Oregon, Stanford and Arizona are the only Pac-10 teams that have become bowl-eligible, and it’s possible that as few as those three will make the postseason from the conference.
Cal needs one more win to get there, but hosts Stanford this weekend. But the Bears should be favored in their finale against Washington.
After that, it gets pretty dicey. Oregon State needs two more wins against a brutal schedule. Arizona State probably has the best chance — it needs to win its final two games against UCLA and at Arizona. The Bruins need their final two wins as well, at the Sun Devils and against USC. And Washington would have to win all three of its remaining games — against UCLA, at Cal and at Washington State.
Washington State (1-9, 0-7) at Oregon State (4-4, 3-2), Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
The Beavers are expected to win, and had better win, if they entertain thoughts of going to a bowl game. After Saturday, Oregon State closes the season against USC, at Stanford and against Oregon. Those arguably are the three best teams in the Pac-10. The Beavers are 4–4, meaning they need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. They should have no problem at home against the Cougars, although Washington State had its most competitive Pac-10 game of the season in a 20–13 loss to Cal last weekend. The Cougars led at halftime for the first time since early in the 2008 season. Even without star wide receiver James Rodgers, Oregon State’s offense should be much too much for the Cougars’ lowly defense. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers needs 194 yards to break into the top-10 on the all-time Pac-10 career rushing list.
Oregon (9-0, 6-0) at California (5-4, 3-3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
The Ducks’ quest for a national championship has hit the home stretch. Oregon has three games left. Win them all and it surely will be playing in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. Two of the three are on the road, where the Ducks haven’t been quite as dominant this season. But Oregon has still won all of its road games handily and is a heavy favorite to do so again against the Bears, who had trouble putting away Washington State last week. That being said, Cal has been dominant at home this season, going 4–0 and outscoring opponents 189–34. The Bears’ defense ranks 12th nationally (299.56 yards allowed per game) and has given up just two touchdowns at home this season. But Cal also hasn’t played an offense that plays anywhere near the level of the Ducks, who lead the nation in points per game (54.67) and yards per game (567.22)
Stanford (8-1, 5-1) at Arizona State (4-5, 2-4), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has been picking up steam in the Heisman Trophy conversation and has an opportunity to produce against a pretty good defense. Luck ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency (163.37). He also plays behind a physical and effective offensive line, which should have success slowing down the Sun Devils’ impressive defensive front. The Cardinal are ranked sixth in the latest BCS standings. They can go to the Rose Bowl if Oregon plays in the national title game against a team from a non-BCS conference. If a team like TCU is shut out of the BCS championship game, it will go to the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils had yet another competitive loss last week, losing on a late field goal to USC, 34–33. Three of ASU’s five losses this season have come by three points or less.
USC (6-3, 3-3) at Arizona (7-2, 4-2), Saturday, 5:00 p.m.
The Wildcats’ loss to Stanford last week effectively knocked them out of the Pac-10 race. Now, Arizona simply wants to get to the best bowl game possible. That will be a challenge with its final three games against USC, Oregon and Arizona State. Arizona was dominated by the Cardinal last week and will be eager to bounce back against the Trojans. Arizona managed just 17 points in the return of quarterback Nick Foles from a dislocated kneecap. Foles threw for 248 yards and a touchdown on 28-of-48 passing. The Wildcats hope to improve those offensive numbers against a USC team that continues to play stunningly ineffective defense. USC edged Arizona State last week simply because it had the ball last with a reasonable amount of time left. The Trojans are seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (28.4 points per game), eighth in total defense (423.8 yards allowed per game) and dead last in pass defense (276.4 yards allowed per game).
Washington’s chances of winning this game are about 1 in 100. That is, Oregon has the No. 1 offense in the country while the Huskies have the No. 100 defense. Plus, the Ducks are at home. The only thing that may stop Oregon in this game is the clock. The only question is whether the first number of the Ducks’ score will begin with a 5, 6 or 7. Any hopes the Huskies had of trying to keep pace offensively with Oregon were effectively erased when the team announced quarterback Jake Locker would have to sit out with a cracked rib. Washington’s free-fall from bowl eligibility looks to be accelerating.
California at Washington State, Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
The Bears are heavy favorites, but don’t be shocked if this game is competitive. The Cougars are still bad, but they clearly are improving from where they were two seasons ago. They have some talent now on offense and have demonstrated they can move the ball. The Bears are reeling. They lost starting quarterback Kevin Riley last week to a season-ending knee injury and haven’t proven they can win on the road. Cal is 0–4 away from home, getting outscored 145–61 in the process. Junior Brock Mansion will make his first career start for the Bears, who need to win two of their final four games to become bowl-eligible.
Oregon State at UCLA, Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
Despite the loss of All-America candidate James Rodgers at wide receiver, the Beavers are still in the Pac-10 race, although Oregon looks unbeatable at this point. Oregon State is 3–1 in conference play after last week’s impressive win over Cal, and is oh-so-close to being 4–0 were it not for a missed two-point conversion in double overtime against Washington. The Beavers are 1½ games behind the Ducks in the Pac-10 race, and the teams will meet in the Civil War to close out the season. The Bruins, meanwhile, have lost three in a row since their supposed upset of Texas, although that’s not looking like such a big deal anymore. UCLA is looking like the eighth-place team it was picked to be before the season.
Arizona at Stanford, Saturday, 5 p.m.
The implications of this game are clear: The winner keeps alive its slim hopes of catching Oregon in the Pac-10 race, while the loser redefines its goals and simply starts playing for the best bowl berth possible. For the second straight week, Stanford’s Andrew Luck gets to go head-to-head with one of the other top quarterbacks in the conference, Arizona’s Nick Foles. Foles missed the past two games with a dislocated kneecap but is fully healed and expected to start. That being said, the Wildcats still may find a way to get backup Matt Scott some playing time. Scott excelled filling in for Foles, averaging 276 yards passing while throwing three touchdown passes with one interception. Luck easily outplayed Washington’s Jake Locker in last week’s showdown of top Pac-10 quarterbacks.
Arizona State at USC, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
The Trojans were humbled by Oregon at home last week. Now, USC, with no bowl game to play for, simply looks to finish as high up in the conference standings as possible. The Trojans are tied for fifth place with three other teams entering the weekend. This may be the most winnable game left on USC’s conference schedule — the Trojans still have to play at Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA. Arizona State is a hard team to figure out. The Sun Devils have been competitive against good teams like Wisconsin and Oregon State but were blown out by Cal, also an up and down team. The Sun Devils are coming off a thorough pasting of Washington State last week.
If USC supposedly was the toughest test remaining on Oregon’s schedule, the road to the Ducks’ second straight Pac-10 title could become downright silly. Oregon broke open a close game early in the third quarter and cruised to a 53–32 victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday. Although the game was competitive for over two quarters, there was a sense by the time the game ended that the Trojans were outclassed.
Granted, USC doesn’t have the same brand of depth it’s had in years past because of player defections following last summer’s NCAA sanctions, but even a full complement of players may not have prevented the Ducks from wearing down the Trojans in the second half. Oregon proved it could score quickly or with sustained drives, and the Ducks had a couple of methodical drives in the second half to pull away. USC’s defense had no answer for Oregon’s machine-like offense, which ended up with 599 total yards.
The Trojans have the best offense the Ducks will face this season, other than maybe Stanford. And although USC was able to put up some yards and points against Oregon, the Ducks’ underrated defense came up with enough stops to allow their offense to pull away.
While Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was padding his Heisman Trophy stat sheet by throwing in a receiving touchdown against Ole Miss, Oregon running back LaMichael James kept pace with a dominant 239-yard, three-touchdown performance. Oregon moved up to No. 1 in this week’s Bowl Championship Series standings. The Ducks have four more games — two at home and two on the road. That includes a showdown in their second-to-last game of the season against Arizona, which is tied for second in the Pac-10 standings, one game behind Oregon.
The Ducks close out the season with their annual Civil War battle with Oregon State.
Oregon’s next two games are at home against Washington and then at Cal, teams that look to be headed for the lower half of the conference standings. The Huskies allowed 42 points to Stanford on Saturday. The Autzen Stadium scoreboard operator could have his hands full when the Huskies visit this weekend.
Arizona 29, UCLA 21
Oregon State 35, California 7
Arizona State 42, Washington State 0
Stanford 41, Washington 0
Oregon 53, USC 32
Cal coach Jeff Tedford was already searching for an answer to his team’s troubling split personality. Now, he’s got a bigger problem on his hands.
The Bears continue to play two seasons in one. When they are home, they dispatch opponents easily. When they are on the road, the same thing happens to them. The trend kept up Saturday when Cal was thoroughly taken apart by Oregon State in a 35–7 loss. But the defeat was overshadowed by what appears to be a season-ending knee injury to starting quarterback Kevin Riley, who went down during Cal’s second possession of the game.
The Bears have been to bowl games seven years in a row, but that streak could be in trouble. Cal has to win two of its final four games to become bowl-eligible, and the Bears still have to play Oregon and Stanford. Cal should be decided underdogs in both of those games, meaning it would be a good idea to beat Washington State and Washington.
Most teams don’t have a problem with Washington State, but the Bears must visit the Cougars this weekend with a quarterback making his first career start. Junior Brock Mansion replaced Riley against Oregon St. in the first meaningful action of his career. He had only seen limited time during blowouts previously.
The Cougars are improving and Cal’s playbook may be shrunk with the inexperienced Mansion running the show. That means the Bears may need their defense to carry the day in Pullman. Cal’s defense, like the rest of the team, has been much more effective at home than on the road this season.
Luck Wins Draft Showdown
The showdown of potential top-10 draft picks never really materialized Saturday in Seattle. A huge contingent of NFL scouts was on hand at Husky Stadium as Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck went head-to-head against Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Both are considered high NFL draft picks, with Luck possibly going No. 1 overall.
But this one was all about Luck. He threw for only 192 yards and a touchdown, but he was extremely efficient and added a 51-yard touchdown run. Locker, meanwhile, had one of the worst games of his career, although part of his woes were due to poor pass protection. Locker, who hasn’t turned in the huge season many expected, completed just 7-of-14 passes for 64 yards.
Some believed Locker could have been the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, but he decided to return to Washington for his senior season. Now, Locker’s stock appears to be falling.
UCLA’s season is teetering on desperation. It wasn’t long ago the Bruins were the talk of the Pac-10 after their road upset of Texas. But they are now coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Cal and Oregon and have lost starting quarterback Kevin Prince for the season. UCLA has also suspended four starters for games during the past two weeks. Other than that, things are peachy in Westwood. The Wildcats are coming off an impressive blowout of Washington, despite playing without starting quarterback Nick Foles, who sat out with a dislocated kneecap. Foles may be available Saturday, but with the way backup Matt Scott played against the Huskies (18-for-22, 233 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), he probably won’t be needed.
California at Oregon State, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
This will be a head-to-head battle for All-Pac-10 running back honors. Oregon’s LaMichael James has probably wrapped up one of the tailback spots. This game features the two leading candidates for the other spot — Cal’s Shane Vereen and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers is third in the Pac-10 in rushing, tied for second in touchdowns and fourth in all-purpose yards. Vereen is fourth in rushing, first in touchdowns and third in all-purpose yards. The Beavers lost their first game without star receiver James Rodgers, and their offense is still adjusting. The Bears, meanwhile, must prove they can win on the road. They are 4–0 at home this season but 0–3 away from Memorial Stadium. A win could go a long way in solidifying Cal’s bowl hopes this year.
Washington State at Arizona State, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. PT
The Sun Devils were feeling pretty good about themselves until Cal sliced them up last week. Now, Arizona State must recover against an improving Cougars team. Washington State still is clearly the worst team in the Pac-10, but they also clearly are much more competitive than they have been in each of the past two seasons. They lost by just 10 last week on the road at Stanford, although made it closer with a flurry of late scoring. Still, ASU is reeling after last week and must be careful not to let the Cougars stay close late in the game. Freshman wide receiver Marquess Wilson has been a revelation for WSU. He leads the Pac-10 in receiving yards per game (99.5).
Stanford at Washington, Saturday, 4:00 PT
Call it the Top-10 Draft Pick Bowl. Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Washington’s Jake Locker, considered possibly the top two quarterback prospects in the country, will play on the same field at Husky Stadium. But Locker might not be at his best. He’s played the last two weeks with thigh and hip injuries and isn’t 100 percent. Still, he’s been good enough to play, and has still played well at times. But overall, Locker’s passing efficiency rating of 131.4 is good for just ninth in the Pac-10. Luck, meanwhile, keeps rolling along with the kind of productive season most expected. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes with five interceptions and is second to USC’s Matt Barkley in passing efficiency in the Pac-10.
Oregon at USC, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. PT
Is this the Ducks’ toughest remaining obstacle in the way of an undefeated season? Many observers think so. The Trojans haven’t been playing at a Pete Carroll-esque level for most of this season, but they are coming off an eye-poppingly thorough 48–14 dismantling of Cal. USC is 5–2 with both losses coming on field goals as time expired. Still, the Trojans generally haven’t played the brand of defense that had become familiar during the past decade, and they will need to be at their very best against Oregon’s offensive machine. After Saturday, Oregon has two remaining road games — at Cal and at Oregon State. The Beavers aren’t the same team without star receiver James Rodgers, so this is likely the toughest test remaining on the Ducks’ schedule.
And now for something out of the “Be careful what you wish for” department.
Cal and Stanford didn’t want to be aligned in the North Division of the new Pac-12 unless they could be guaranteed to play UCLA and USC every year. They got their wish. Now, here’s the bad news: They have to play UCLA and USC every year.
Preserving the rivalries the Bay Area schools have with the Los Angeles schools, as well as maintaining recruiting advantages, made Cal and Stanford happy that they were assured yearly games with their Southern California foes. But the down side is while other teams may miss having to play the Trojans in certain years, the Bears and Cardinal will always have them on their schedule.
Couple that with the fact that the conference balance of power in recent years seems to be swinging to the Pacific Northwest, and the Bay Area schools appear to be in for a challenging schedule every season.
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott announced the details of the new Pac-12 last week. When Colorado and Utah join the conference in July, the new Pac-12 will be split into two divisions. Cal and Stanford will join Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State to form the North Division, while UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will make up the South Division.
Each team will play every opponent in its division every year, and four of the six in the other division to make up a nine-game conference schedule. But part of Scott’s announcement was that the conference representatives agreed to allow the Bay Area schools and Los Angeles schools to play each other every year, even though they are in different divisions.
While Cal and Stanford have their own rivalry, as do UCLA and USC, there also is a strong rivalry between Northern California and Southern California. Scott said preserving rivalries was one of the conference’s main criteria in determining realignment, and that’s why a special provision was made for the Bay Area and Los Angeles schools to play each other every season.
Every program in the conference would have liked to have been put in the same division as UCLA and USC. Southern California is the biggest recruiting base for every conference team, and coaches want to be able to tell a recruit’s parents that their son will be coming home to play at least once per season.
Part of Scott’s announcement also was that the Pac-12 would hold a conference championship game each season, pairing the winners of each division. The division winner with the best conference record will host the game.
Scott said the conference entertained the idea of playing the game at a neutral site, but it wanted to reward the team that had the best regular season. The conference also wanted to preserve a college atmosphere at the championship game and assure that it would sell out every year.
Oregon 60, UCLA 13
California 50, Arizona State 17
Stanford 38, Washington State 28
Arizona 44, Washington 14
The Duck Machine
After having a week off following a scattered 20-point win over Washington State, Oregon was back in machine mode during a nationally televised rout of UCLA. The Ducks showed why they may not lose again, putting all of their breathtaking offensive weapons on display and using their underrated defense to absolutely dismantle the Bruins, 60–13.
Quarterback Darron Thomas, showing no ill effects of a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the win over Wazzou, completed 22-of-31 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. For all the Heisman Trophy attention that Oregon tailback LaMichael James is receiving, Thomas may be just as worthy a candidate.
The Ducks are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press top 25 and No. 2 in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings. Can they remain there? Oregon looks pretty much unbeatable at this point. The biggest obstacle might come this weekend when the Ducks travel to USC. For most of this season, the Trojans haven’t appeared to be what they once were. But they did appear to be that in their last game, a thorough 48–14 whipping of Cal.
Besides that, Oregon’s two remaining road games are at Cal and Oregon State.
Narrowing the Gap
It wasn’t as close as the score indicates, but just being able to make a game appear close is a victory these days for Washington State. In the past few weeks, the Cougars have quietly become more competitive. Granted, they have a lot of ground to make up after being woefully non-competitive so many times during the past 2½ years, but things are incrementally looking up in the Palouse.
Washington State lost to Stanford on Saturday 38–28. The Cougars trailed 31–7 and scored a flurry of late points to make the score appear more respectable. But WSU is slowly becoming more competent, which is at least making the Cougars more than just an afterthought for Pac-10 opponents.
The Ducks will take the field for the first time in school history as the No. 1 team in the nation. Oregon moved into the top spot of the Associated Press top 25 this week without even playing — the Ducks had a bye while former No. 1 Ohio State went down to Wisconsin. The week off allowed Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas to get healthy. He went out of the Ducks’ last game at Washington State with a shoulder injury but has returned to full participation in practice and will start against the Bruins. UCLA also is coming off a bye. The Bruins have had some extra time to figure out how they could beat Texas on the road but get completely dominated by Cal two weeks later. UCLA may once again be without starting quarterback Kevin Prince, whose balky right knee has forced him to miss practice time this week.
Arizona State at Cal, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
Just when it looked as though the Bears might be able to contend in the Pac-10 this season, they appeared completely overmatched against a USC team that isn’t what it once was. Gone was the generally suffocating defense that Cal has featured this season. Stopped was Shane Vereen and the potent running game. The Bears will have to lick their wounds quickly, because the Sun Devils are fresh off a bye week and feeling good after their win over Washington in their last game. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley, who threw two first-half interceptions against USC, had one of his better games at ASU last season, throwing for 351 yards and two touchdowns and engineering a drive in the final minutes that led to a game-winning field goal.
Washington State at Stanford, Saturday, 2:00 p.m. PT
Dare it be said that the Cougars are becoming more competitive? Two weeks ago, they actually slowed Oregon down just a bit in a 43–23 loss. Then last week, it was a normal-looking 24–7 loss to Arizona. Granted, the Wildcats lost starting quarterback Nick Foles in the game, but Washington State continues to do some things better than in recent years. Most notably, there have been improvements in the passing game, where quarterback Jeff Tuel is one of only two Pac-10 quarterbacks to throw for at least 200 yards in every game this season. All that being said, the Cardinal at home should be substantially too tough for the Cougars. Plus, Stanford is coming off a bye and should be well rested.
Washington at Arizona, Saturday, 7:15 p.m. PT
Arizona will try to keep pace with the Pac-10 leaders with a new quarterback. Matt Scott is now the Wildcats’ man behind center for at least a couple weeks after starter Nick Foles went down with a knee injury last week. Scott took over in the second quarter of last week’s game at Washington State and helped the Wildcats to a 24–7 victory. The Huskies, meanwhile, are coming off a pulsating double-overtime win over Oregon State, resuscitating their bowl hopes and, for the time being, putting them in the thick of the conference race. Washington enters the weekend one of four teams at 2–1 in Pac-10 play, one game behind Oregon. The Huskies’ potentially explosive offense got going against the Beavers’ solid defense, amassing 475 yards of offense. Washington quarterback Jake Locker appeared to be recovered from the flu, throwing five touchdown passes and accounting for 346 yards of total offense.
For one cloudy afternoon in Los Angeles, this was the familiar USC, the one that steamrolled opponents for the better part of a decade and left observers shaking their heads in wonderment. The Trojans, reeling after back-to-back losses on the final play of the game, not to mention an uncharacteristically porous defense, dominated Cal in every way imaginable during a 48–14 victory.
If it’s possible to say that a result was even worse than a 34-point win indicates, this was the time.
The biggest improvement for USC came on defense. While the Trojans certainly had their share of explosive offensive players during their unprecedented run of success under Pete Carroll, it was their defense that truly was the elitist of the elite. USC sent scores of dominant defensive players to the NFL, and there didn’t appear to be more than a couple with that kind of future so far this season.
That is, until Saturday. USC entered the game ranked 100th nationally in total defense, but the Trojans limited the Bears to a season-low 245 yards, and a lot of that came in the second half when the end result had long been decided.
USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, decided to go with a more aggressive scheme against Cal, and the Bears were ill-prepared for it. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley was under immense pressure all afternoon, and he threw two costly interceptions in the first half. Both picks led to scores, but then again, so did almost every Cal punt. The Trojans scored touchdowns on six of their seven first-half possessions to lead 42–0, tying the worst halftime deficit in Cal history.
On the flip side, there was supposed to be a good matchup between USC’s potent offense and the Bears’ stingy defense. Cal had held four of its previous five opponents to one touchdown or less and entered the game with the country’s eighth-ranked defense.
But the Bears were thoroughly outplayed and outschemed on defense. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the beneficiary of excellent pass protection, performed surgery on the Bears’ secondary, consistently finding open receivers and marching down field time and time again. Barkley threw five touchdown passes — all in the first half. He was resting on the sideline by late in the third quarter, his team comfortably in front.
The question in the Southland now is whether the Trojans can build off Saturday’s performance and start playing more like their pre-2009 days. They will need to in their next game. After a bye week, USC hosts Oregon, the new No. 1 team in the country.
USC 48, California 14
Arizona 24, Washington State 7
Washington 35, Oregon State 34 (ot)
The Great Divide
Pac-10 chancellors are scheduled to meet Thursday to finalize divisional alignment for the new Pac-12, which begins next season. Conference athletic directors have already voted 7-5 in favor of a geographic split, which would put the Washington and Oregon schools in the same division as Cal and Stanford. That would leave the Los Angeles schools and Arizona schools in the other division with newcomers Colorado and Utah.
Assuming the chancellors approve the arrangement as well, Cal and Stanford appear to be the big losers in realignment. The Bay Area schools wanted, like most conference members, to be in the same division as the L.A. schools for recruiting advantages. Cal also likes its rivalry with UCLA, its University of California brother.
But details still need to be worked out. It’s not out of the question that Cal and Stanford could still play the L.A. schools every year. Teams will play every team in their own division and four of the six in the other division. There could be guarantees made that the Bay Area schools will regularly have one of the L.A. schools on their schedule each year.
Foles Goes Down
The Pac-10 saw its second potentially conference-changing injury when Arizona quarterback Nick Foles suffered a sprained knee against Washington State. Foles, who was leading the conference in passing yards, is expected to be out 2-3 weeks.
The injury may not have quite the same ripple effects as Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers’ season-ending torn ACL, but it certainly could have an effect on the Pac-10 race. The Wildcats are right in the thick of it at 2–1 — Matt Scott took over for Foles and helped Arizona to a 24–7 victory.
The Wildcats must be hoping Foles’ recovery time will be closer to two weeks. In three weeks, they must travel to Stanford for a game that could have major conference title implications.
Going For It
Oregon State lost 35–34 to Washington when the Beavers failed on a two-point conversion attempt in double overtime.
The Beavers almost escaped with a huge win in their first game without Rodgers, a win that would have made them 3–0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1968.
The Beavers suffered a blow with the injury to James Rodgers.
On a night when Stanford remained in the Pac-10 hunt with a last-second win over USC and Washington continued to prove it’s not quite ready for the big time, the news that most shook up the conference race took place on one play in Arizona Stadium.
That’s where Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers, one of the nation’s most underrated players who sometimes appears to be unguardable, was hauled down awkwardly by Arizona safety Adam Hall as he caught an apparent 56-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The score was nullified by a penalty, and Rodgers was helped off the field with a serious injury to his left knee.
The actual severity of the injury wasn’t immediately confirmed, but Oregon State coach Mike Riley acknowledged it was serious. Rodgers may have torn his anterior cruciate ligament, which would sideline him for the season.
Although the Beavers are just 3–2 overall, they are off to a 2–0 start in Pac-10 play. With Rodgers and little brother Jacquizz leading the way at tailback, Oregon State is one of the frontrunners to compete with Oregon for the conference crown. Throw in an always-solid defense sparked by talented defensive tackle Stephen Paea, and Oregon State is much better than its record indicates.
The Beavers’ two losses are at Boise State and at TCU, currently ranked third and fourth respectively in the Associated Press top 25. They are in perfect position to contend for the Pac-10 championship. But if James Rodgers is indeed lost for the season, it will significantly alter the shape of the Pac-10 race.
That’s not to say it would put the Beavers out of it. Sophomore Markus Wheaton is emerging at wide receiver. He had seven catches for 113 yards against Arizona and could help ease the potential loss of Rodgers. But clearly a season-ending injury to Rodgers would not make the Beavers as good a team as expected.
California 35, UCLA 7
Oregon 32, Washington State 23
Oregon State 29, Arizona 27
Stanford 37, USC 35
Arizona State 24, Washington 14
Another week, another opposing kicker getting mobbed by his teammates as time expires. For the second straight game, USC could only watch as an opponent made a field goal to secure a win as the clock was extinguished. This time, it was Stanford’s Nate Whitaker easily nailing a 30-yarder for a 37–35 win.
Last week, Washington’s Erik Folk made a 32-yarder as the clock hit 0:00 for a 32–31 victory over USC.
The Trojans really had nobody to blame but themselves for this one. Their offense, especially quarterback Matt Barkley and true freshman receiver Robert Woods, were dynamite all night and helped establish a 35–34 lead with 1:08 remaining after Allen Bradford’s 3-yard touchdown run. Woods caught 12 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Barkley threw for 390 yards and the three scores to Woods.
But USC’s defense, continuing its troubling season-long ineffectiveness, was hurt further by an ill-advised late hit penalty on linebacker Chris Galippo. Galippo said he never heard a whistle, but he still put both hands to the face of Baldwin.
That helped Stanford quickly storm into field goal range, where Whitaker coolly nailed the game-winner.
The Trojans started the season 4–0 but are now 1–2 in Pac-10 play. They’ve also lost consecutive games for the first time since 2001, Pete Carroll’s first year at USC.
UP AND DOWN
One week after giving their fans hope, the Washington Huskies once again proved they were probably overvalued in the offseason.
Washington is now 2–3 after a disappointing home loss to Arizona State. A team that some had in the preseason top 25 now looks like it may be up against it in its quest for a bowl berth.
The Huskies eased the sting of earlier losses to BYU and Nebraska a bit by taking out USC on the road the week before. But Washington’s next four games are against arguably the top four teams in the Pac-10 — Oregon State, at Arizona, Stanford and at Oregon. If it hasn’t already, that stretch should say a lot about where the program stands in coach Steve Sarkisian’s second season.
Three weeks after getting obliterated by Nevada’s pistol offense, Cal made all the right adjustments to shut down UCLA.
The Bruins implemented the pistol offense this season, studying Nevada’s scheme to try to emulate the explosive results the Wolf Pack typically get. But UCLA obviously isn’t at the level of Nevada yet, and the Bears obviously learned from their mistakes.
Cal allowed 497 yards of offense in a 52–31 loss at Nevada on Sept. 17. Saturday, UCLA had just 144 total yards. The Bruins rushing attack, which entered the game ranked 10th nationally (262.4 yards per game), was held to just 26 yards.
Strong defensive efforts are becoming the norm at Cal under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. In four of the Bears’ five games, they’ve allowed one touchdown or less.