Oregon's LaMichael James is an emerging Heisman candidate.
Stanford is considered the up-and-coming program of the Pac-10 Conference. Saturday’s game in Eugene proved just that — the Cardinal are coming, but they’re not there yet.
After shocking Oregon early by racing out to a 21–3 lead, Stanford simply didn’t have enough defense to ultimately stop the Ducks’ scoring machine. Behind 355 total yards from quarterback Darron Thomas and a career-best 257 yards rushing by tailback LaMichael James, Oregon sent a message that the conference crown still goes through the Pacific Northwest with a 52–31 victory.
The Cardinal dominated their first four opponents on both sides of the ball, and while they had quality road wins over UCLA and Notre Dame, Oregon provided a whole new challenge, unlike anything Stanford had seen so far. Stanford’s offense was still able to keep rolling, at least in the first half (the Cardinal were held scoreless in the second half). It just couldn’t keep up with the Ducks’ seemingly unstoppable attack.
The Cardinal had moved into the top 10 in the national rankings, and some were even beginning to mention Stanford as a possible national title contender. After the first quarter Saturday, that notion didn’t seem so far-fetched. But ultimately, the better team won.
It will now be interesting to see just where Stanford falls in the Pac-10 pecking order. If the Cardinal truly consider themselves one of the conference’s elite teams, they need to beat USC at home this Saturday.
As for the Ducks, not only are they solidly in the national championship race, but they may also have a situation on their hands similar to USC’s in 2005. Both Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart were in the thick of the Heisman Trophy race all season, with Bush ultimately winning and Leinart finishing fifth in the voting (as we all know now, Bush no longer has the Heisman).
They haven’t got a ton of attention so far, but it may not be long before Thomas and James move up the Heisman watch lists and earn the attention of voters across the country. Both are vital to making Oregon’s machine go, and the Ducks’ on-field success should keep both heavily in the mix.
Thomas added the running threat to his arsenal against the Cardinal, while James simply may be the best running back in the country this side of Tuscaloosa. James is second nationally in rushing at 178 yards per game.
UCLA 42, Washington State 28
Oregon State 31, Arizona State 28
Washington 32, USC 31
Oregon 52, Stanford 31
One week, UCLA goes on the road and cruises to a benchmark win against one of the top programs in the country. The next week, the Bruins stay home and have trouble putting away one of the worst teams in the country.
Call it a letdown or inconsistency, but UCLA’s 42–28 win over Washington State was both alarming and puzzling.
Sure, the Bruins win at Texas the previous week was partly a result of the Longhorns’ own follies. But the bottom line is UCLA capitalized on Texas’ mistakes, and its defense was sharp.
Just being competitive has been a struggle for the Cougars since the start of the 2008 season. And although Washington State has been making incremental improvements, it was stunning to see it lead 28–20 in the third quarter against the Bruins.
UCLA ultimately made the comeback to pull out the win — it needed a goal-line stand on 4th-and-1 from the 1 to prevent the Cougars from taking the lead once again early in the fourth quarter — but the game must have left Bruins fans wondering if their team was more like the one that was dominated by Stanford earlier in the season or the one that had its successful trip to Austin.
UCLA should have a good measuring stick game this week at Cal. Both teams were picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference but each has shown signs it could be better than that.
As USC was winning its first four games of the season, there was a sense that it wasn’t necessarily playing like an undefeated team. That sense was confirmed Saturday when Washington came into the L.A. Coliseum and left with a 32–31 victory.
Once again, the Trojans served a reminder that their defense isn’t what it once was. USC was sliced apart by Washington quarterback Jake Locker, who had a nightmare of a game the previous week against Nebraska. Locker threw for 310 yards and rushed for another 110, while also leading the Huskies on a final drive that culminated in a 32-yard field goal by Erik Folk as time expired.
It was the second year in a row Folk beat USC with a last-second field goal. The difference this year was that it just didn’t feel that surprising when it happened.
This will be a measuring stick game for both teams. Are the Sun Devils really the competitive team that gave both Wisconsin and Oregon a run for their money? How good (or bad) are the Beavers? They are 1–2 but both of their losses have come to top-10 teams (TCU and Boise State). There are a couple important things to note with OSU. Most important is the condition of explosive wide receiver James Rodgers, who was knocked out of the Boise St. loss last week with a concussion. His status for the game is up in the air. Also, can tailback Jacquizz Rodgers return to form? After averaging 1,347 yards over his first two college seasons, the junior has amassed just 253 in the first three games of 2010. He will be tested again against the Sun Devils’ stout run defense.
Stanford at Oregon
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. PT
This suddenly is one of the games of the year in college football, so much so that ABC moved the game to prime time. It was originally scheduled to begin at 11:15 p.m. EDT. The Ducks remember last year’s loss at Stanford well. Oregon was coming off a stunningly easy 47–20 rout of USC the week before but was rolled by the Cardinal, 51–42. The Ducks would like to atone for that loss, which at the same time would give them the upper hand in the conference race. Both teams are coming off strong road wins, although the Cardinal looked a lot more efficient in dispatching Notre Dame than Oregon did against Arizona St. The Ducks needed the benefit of seven turnovers to notch a nine-point win over the Sun Devils.
Washington State at UCLA
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
While the Oregon machine kept pumping and Stanford abused Notre Dame on the road, it was still UCLA that was the talk of the conference after last weekend. Left for dead two weeks earlier, the Bruins stunned the college football universe by stomping No. 7 Texas on the road, 34–12. UCLA’s defense, which features a high level of talent, has finally played to its potential the past two weeks. Meanwhile, UCLA’s pistol offense is slowly coming around, especially the running game. Running back Johnathan Franklin had 116 yards rushing against the Longhorns, who entered the game with the top-ranked run defense in the country. Backup Derrick Coleman added another 94 yards on the ground. The Cougars? Well, they continue to be the Cougars. They lost at home last week to USC, 50–16.
Washington at USC
Saturday, 5 p.m. PT
This will be a good test to see where these teams stand. The Huskies, considered by many to be one of the sleeper teams in the country, are 1–2 after getting embarrassed at home by Nebraska two weeks ago. The Trojans, meanwhile, are 4–0 but still haven’t won too many converts. Washington quarterback Jake Locker, coming off a horrible 4-for-20 performance for 70 yards and two interceptions against Nebraska, needs a bounce-back game badly, not only for the team’s sake but also for his NFL draft stock. The Trojans simply displayed too many flaws in their first three victories against Hawaii, Virginia and Minnesota. And it’s always hard to evaluate any team against Washington State. A quality win over Washington might start finally winning some critics over.