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Blog Entry

What I Learned from the Pac-10 (Oct. 30)

Posted on: October 31, 2010 2:28 am
 
Posted by Jerry Hinnen

1. Oregon is much more likely to make it to Glendale than not. The Ducks aren't home free just yet; that season-ending trip to Corvallis to face Mike Riley 's Oregon State team won't be easy, and God only knows what kind of Cal squad Oregon will face when they travel to Berkeley Nov. 13. But after the Ducks dismantled USC 53-32 in Los Angeles Saturday night, neither of those hypothetical stumbling blocks (to say nothing of, say, Arizona 's chances to win at Autzen Stadium) look nearly imposing enough to expect Oregon's season to end anywhere but the BCS national championship game.

The Trojans had a ton of factors working in their favor: a bye week to prepare, a red-hot quarterback, an unusually-lively Coliseum, and most of all the desperation that comes with knowing that this was their best shot at being a team that mattered this season. They called it their bowl game for a reason. And it was enough to propel them to a 32-29 lead after two shirt-field touchdowns early in the third quarter, just as Stanford had used an early burst to lead in Autzen. But just as Ducks had done against the Cardinal, the array of weapons at Chip Kelly 's disposal -- LaMichael James in the running game, Jeff Maehl and Lavasier Tuinei in the passing game, Darron Thomas in both -- simply overwhelmed their ever-weakening opposition as the second half progressed. Oregon scored the final 24 points of the game and finished with 597 total yards.

They are relentless, they are operating on all their proverbial cylinders, and even their allegedly soft defense -- always worse for the statistical wear thanks to the offense's hyperdrive tempo -- held the previously scorching Matt Barkley to a mediocre 5 yards per pass attempt and USC under 400 total yards for the game. Unless they badly underperform the same night the Golden Bears or Beavers stupendously overperform, they will become the first Pac-10 team other than their Saturday victims to play for a crystal football.

2. USC isn't going to be anything more than a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 team until they learn how to stop the run. The charge frequently leveled at Monte Kiffin as his defenses first at Tennessee and now Southern Cal have struggled is that the 70-year-old defensive coordinator isn't sharp enough any more to adjust to the modern spread offense.

There might be something to that, given the 588 yards given up to Hawaii in USC's season opener and the 597 yielded to the Ducks. But the Trojans' biggest problem is a lot simpler: they're getting crushed up front. LaMichael James went for 239 rushing yards and the Ducks for 311 as a team. Stanford ? 193 yards, 5.4 a carry. Washington ? 225 yards, 6.6 a carry. That's not a matter of Kiffin's schemes or a misunderstanding of the spread; that's a matter of the Trojan defensive front just getting shoved around. Until they mature and start clogging up lanes in the middle of the field, USC's defense is going to continue to flail no matter what Kiffin does.

3. Cal isn't the only Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit in this conference. Speaking of Washington, the last time we saw them at home they were edging a good Oregon State team in overtime. While not many people were expecting them to upset Stanford, to get throttled 41-0 in Husky Stadium is an embarrassment ... and baffling considering how well they played just two weeks ago. With road trips to Oregon and Cal still to come and the Huskies wallowing at 3-5 overall, it doesn't look like this is the year just yet for Steve Sarkisian to break his team's eight-year bowl drought.

Arizona State , meanwhile, rebounded from losing to 33 points at Cal to shut out previously-improving Washington State 42-0 .

4. But Cal is still the original and most committed Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit. The Golden Bears trailed by 28 at halftime and lost 35-7 at Oregon State, as Kevin Riley had to be helped off the field in the first quarter. One of Cal's eight games have been decided by fewer than 21 points.

5. UCLA is as much a mess as ever. The Bruins looked to have their ship righted when they went on the road to upset Texas , but it turns out going on the road to upset Texas isn't that big a deal. And in the meantime, they've been humilated by Cal and Oregon and could have been by Matt Scott (319 yards, 71 rushing) and Arizona. A series of Wildcat failures in the red zone kept UCLA close, but getting outgained by 284 total yards and rushing for just 2.5 yards a carry at home is a sign that goes well beyond worrying. Another home loss this coming weekend, to Oregon State, and Rick Neuheisel will be staring a four- or even three-win season in the face.



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