Posted on: November 28, 2010 1:57 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. The Ducks are who we thought they were. It's just not accurate to say we learned anything new about Oregon in their 48-29 Friday night win over Arizona . We knew already they were as dominant a second-half team as any in the country (save maybe their likely BCS title game foils at Auburn ), and that's how they played. We knew already with weapons like LaMichael James, Darron Thomas and even the ever-more-terrifying Josh Huff , the Ducks could put up nearly 50 points without even being particularly sharp in the first half, and that's what they did. We knew that playing in the comfort zone of Autzen Stadium, they were going to win and win comfortably when all was said and done, and in the end the Wildcats feel by nearly three touchdowns. (We also knew their defense could have the occasional
In short, we knew that Oregon was the 2010 Pac-10 champion and almost certainly on their way to the BCS championship game, and that's what we still know. If there was anything surprising about their dismantling of the Wildcats, it was the realization that by this point of the season, Oregon's championship-caliber excellence isn't even surprising any more.
2. And yeah, you can forget about them choking away that title berth in the Civil War. Mike Riley will almost certainly have his Oregon State team ready to play a competitive game against their archrivals at home in Corvallis, but it's hard to imagine that he has the horses to actually finish off the hypothetical shocker of the season, not when two of the Beavers' previous three results are a home loss to Washington State and today's hideous 38-0 whitewashing at the hands of Stanford . The Cardinal are legitimately playing as well as any team in the country right now, but still; fewer than 300 total yards an zero points doesn't exactly portend the kind of offensive explosion that will be necessary to stay with the Ducks.
3. USC is ready for its season to be over. The Oregon State result sandwiched between the aforementioned losses to Wazzu and Stanford? An inexplicable-looking 36-7 demolition of the Trojans that this space immediately chalked up to USC's longtime tendency to break into football hives upon crossing the Oregon border. But after watching USC's listless, often yawn-inducing performance in a 20-16 loss to a Notre Dame team that at times seemed determined to give the game away -- Irish quarterback Tommy Rees threw three interceptions, more than one of the highly charitable variety -- it may be time to wonder if Lane Kiffin is still able to get through to a team with nothing to play for other than pride.
Now, true, the Trojans still would have pulled out the victory if Ronald Johnson hadn't dropped a certain game-winning reception late, and the absence of Matt Barkley (coupled with a shaky-looking first start from Mitch Mustain , who averaged less than 5 yards an attempt and failed to throw a touchdown pass) no doubt didn't help USC's cause in the least, either. But for a team playing its oldest and arguably biggest rival, the spark needed to really get the Trojan blood pumping (and the crowd involved) seemed curiously absent. Maybe it was the rain. But maybe it's just Week 12 of a season whose self-described bowl game took place a month ago.
4. The end to one team's bowl streak is just the start of someone else's. Or so it would appear after Washington edged Cal 16-13 to pull within a game of bowl eligibility at 5-6, with only the feeble specter of Washington State (surely not due for two major upsets this season) standing in the way of the Huskies' first postseason appearance since 2002. Steve Sarkisian 's second season in charge hasn't always lived up to the outsized expectations of the preseason, but at least he can point towards some concrete progress.
Unfortunately for Jeff Tedford , unless you count the upcoming long-since-overdue renovations to the Bears' Memorial Stadium, "concrete progress" seems further away than ever. Kevin Riley 's career-ending injury a few weeks back appears to have been a fatal dagger for Cal's bowl hopes, which finally dissolved in the loss and resulting final record of 5-7. The record is the worst of Tedford's nine-year Cal tenure, with the Bears missing the postseason for the first time since -- whaddya know -- 2002. Tedford's not in any kind of trouble just yet (don't forget that Cal was hands-down the worst program in the Pac-10 when he took over), but the heady mid-aughts days when the Bears were serious Rose Bowl and BCS contenders have never seemed further away than they did on Saturday.
5. Rick Neuheisel had better have something more up his sleeve this offseason than just canning Norm Chow. Because when you give up 55 points to Arizona State 's backup quarterback , your offensive coordinator is pretty obviously not the only thing wrong with your football team.
Posted on: November 21, 2010 12:26 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Only three games in the Pac-10 this week, but we still learned a few things:
1. Stanford deserves a BCS bowl berth. The Cardinal caught a break in catching Cal in the "horrific" week of their solid/horrific yo-yo-routine; after the Bears put together such an impressive performance against Oregon last week, the proper bet regarding their performance this week was the house, on collapse .
But that still shouldn't take anything away from the kind of dominance Jim Harbaugh 's team has shown the past few weeks. The Cardinal simply annihilated Cal from the opening gun, watching Andrew Luck hit 16-of-20 without an interception and even embarrassing a Bear defender on a long run just for kicks ... holding the Bears scoreless through the first three quarters ... scoring on their first eight possessions, every one Luck directed ... leading 45-0. It was the sort of display usually reserved for beatdowns of bottom-rung FCS teams, and it all came in "The Game," Cal's biggest rivalry game of the year, on the road in Berkeley.
Between this performance, the thumping of Arizona two weeks ago, and the 41-0 road whitewashing of Washington three weeks back, it's safe to rank Stanford alongside the likes of Auburn and Boise State as one of the hottest teams in the country and the hottest in the Pac-10 . Assuming they wrap up the season at 11-1, they'll deserve to have a shot at playing in one of the big-money BCS games rather than having to slink off the Holiday Bowl . That may or may not happen -- it'll be helpful if Auburn loses and opens up a slot in the BCS title game for a non-AQ team that will otherwise hog a spot in the Rose Bowl -- but there shouldn't be any "may or may not," not the way the Cardinal are playing.
2. Corvallis is USC's own personal house of horrors. You can't really argue that Oregon State 's Reser Stadium is a "tough place to play," not this year, not after the Beavers got trounced at home by Washington State last week. (Yes, that Washington State. Yes, that actually happened.) But apparently it doesn't matter how welcoming a host OSU might be for anyone else; they are always going to be at maximum hostility for USC .
In 2006, the Trojans were third-ranked and favored to return to the BCS title game for the third time in three years when they went to Corvallis; they turned the ball over four times and lost 33-31, snapping their 27-game Pac-10 winning streak. In 2008, USC had just defeated No. 5 Ohio State 35-3 and were the No. 1 team in the country; Jacquizz Rodgers exploded for 186 yards against one of the best defenses of college football's past decade and the Beavers won 27-21. Obviously the 2010 Trojans can't measure up to the '06 or '08 versions (who finished with a combined record of 23-2), but they had won three of their last four and beaten a good Arizona team on the road just last week. And, you know, Washington State.
No matter. Matt Barkley had his ankle bent into all kinds of incorrect directions ; Mitch Mustain went only 8-of-17 in relief; Rodgers went off for another 128 yards and a score; Beaver QB Ryan Katz recovered from a terrible week against Wazzu to hit 17-of-24 with two touchdowns and no picks; the Trojans lost the turnover battle 0-2 and only gained 255 total yards; and in the end, the Beavers crushed the Trojans 36-7 .
Corvallis: home sweet home to Wazzu, the worst place imaginable for the Trojans. Go figure.
3. UCLA's offense is ... well ... you know. We know the Bruins are struggling with quarterback issues and with a scheme conversion to the pistol that has been, to put it as politely as we possibly can, a work in progress.
But there's a point at which politeness isn't really appropriate anymore, and once you've scored zero points over the final three quarters and netted all of 163 yards (over 61 plays, an unbelievably terrible average gain of 2.67 yards per-play) against a team that entered the game ranked 109th in the FBS in total defense, that point has long since past. We've posted this portrait of UCLA's offense before, and after the stinkbomb the Bruins laid up in Seattle last Thursday, we feel we have no choice but to post it again:
It's a shame, because the Bruin defense -- which hounded Jake Locker into another "that guy is a first-rounder?!?" performance (10/21, 68 yards, 0 TD 1 INT) -- isn't great but is good enough to get UCLA to the postseason they desperately want . The offense, however, will be lucky to drag UCLA past their current four wins.
Posted on: November 17, 2010 9:15 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
After yet another day passed without any word on Jake Locker's status, Washington fans were beginning to fear that the star quarterback may not get to see the field in his final home game against the Bruins on Thursday night. Locker, still recovering from a broken rib, did practice with the team on Tuesday but head coach Steve Sarkisian informed the media he had yet to be cleared to play by team doctors. Sarkisian not only wants Locker to play for the betterment of the Huskies, but also knows that the former Pac-10 Freshman of the Year would like to close out his career under center in Husky Stadium. When doctors finally cleared Locker late Tuesday, Sark was not about to wait for any press release to be written - he took the good news straight to Twitter.
Posted on: November 16, 2010 12:18 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The nice thing about being a head football coach in the SEC is that if you succeed, you're a god. The bad thing is that if you don't, the minute you're out the door (or well before, of course), you're everything that is wrong with modern society. Also, an absolutely terrible football coach.
The league gave us not one but two examples of this phenomenon yesterday, the first (not surprisingly) where the success of previously-ignored running back Tauren Poole gave the current Volunteers the chance to shovel some more dirt on the grave of Lane Kiffin 's Tennessee tenure :
The vocal show of support for Poole from his teammate came after he had point-blank refused to enter a blowout against Memphis in the game's dying minutes, even under Kiffin's orders. Quite the tight ship Kiffin was running in Knoxville, huh?
But at least that ship didn't run aground on the shoals of a winless SEC season, as did the final team under Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss . Houston Nutt was all too happy to remind Rebel fans of that fact in his deliciously entertaining press conference/one-man pep rally/big tent revival sermon yesterday:
Again, I don’t want to, let’s make sure we clear up, I’m not blaming anything on the previous staff, because I appreciate the players that I inherited. Even though they didn’t win a conference game, the players that I inherited, that Ed Orgeron recruited, were very, very good players, now. I want to make it real clear. They did a good job of getting a Peria Jerry, Jerrell Powe, and all these young men in here, man. I mean, Michael Wallace. Shay Hodge. All those guys. Awesome. But the bottom line is, they didn’t know how to win and they were used to losing and they accepted it. I don’t want to get to that point. I don’t ever want to go back. Again, I’m just harping on, don’t ever get used to losing. Don’t ever get to where it’s a little bit easier to let go of the rope.Let's shorten this a bit: "I’m not blaming anything on the previous staff ... Even though they didn’t win a conference game ... [and] the bottom line is, they didn’t know how to win and they were used to losing and they accepted it." Got it, coach. (The College Football Blog nonetheless heartily recommends reading the entire transcript of the press conference linked above.)
Seeing reactions like these and knowing how much scorn he took after moving on from jobs at Notre Dame and Washington , it's probably for the best that Ty Willingham never got an SEC job. Someone would have taken to a mic yesterday to blame him for, say, Steve Addazio . And botulism.
Posted on: November 15, 2010 12:57 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Every December, the same complaint is brought up by pundit after pundit pining for ye olden golden days of yore when men were men, women made sandwiches, and fewer than a dozen college football teams were rewarded with bowl invitations: There's too many bowl games .
Putting aside the discussion of whether more college football is ever a bad thing, this argument ignores the reason (or one of the major ones, anyway) why bowl games sprang into existence in the first place: to reward college fotball players for their effort and success. And believe it or not, those players appreciate -- really appreciate -- the chance to play in even the most low-rent of those bowl games. Just ask UCLA and sophomore free safety Rahim Moore :
"If we didn't make a bowl game, I would probably cry the whole off-season ... Freshman year, I watched every bowl game and it was the worst feeling ever. For us not to finish strong and get to a bowl game, I would probably quit football. That's how bad it would feel."Note that Moore isn't going to either cry all off-season or quit football if the Bruins don't qualify for a good bowl; they're merely aiming for a 6-6 record (sitting at 4-5, they'll need to take two of three from Washington , Arizona State , and USC ) and somewhere to go for the postseason. (Our CBSSports.com bowl projections do have the Bruins slotted for a respectable trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl , thanks in part to the Pac-10 earning a second BCS berth with Stanford ).
It's more than a little doubtful, of course, that Moore would seriously consider abandoning his football career if the Bruins don't earn a berth to Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl . But nonetheless, the sentiment expressed by Moore (and his UCLA teammates) makes clear how badly the players on even middle-of-the-road teams want the carrot of a bowl game. It's fine to argue there's too many bowl games on the annual docket, but it has to be remembered that for each fewer bowl game, that's two more teams of Moores who have spent the weekly hourly equivalent of a full-time job during the season and gotten as a bonus the chance to spend their December watching their opponents on TV.
Posted on: November 15, 2010 10:07 am
Edited on: November 15, 2010 10:21 am
Posted by Chip Patterson
Washington quarterback Jake Locker was back on the practice field taking snaps with his teammates this weekend for the first time since October 30, but there are still no promises for his return to the starting lineup. Locker is recovering from a broken rib suffered against Stanford two weeks ago, and has utilized the Huskies' off-week to get back to playing shape. Locker split reps with backup Keith Price during Washington's weekend practices, working on a short week in preparation for Thursday's conference battle with UCLA. As for Locker's status against the Bruins? Head coach Steve Sarkisian did sound incredibly optimistic, but did not give any official status update in his statements after Saturday's practice.
"I thought he moved around okay,'' Sarkisian said to reporters after practice. "We will just have to take it day-by-day to assess how he responds from one day to the next. I'm not going to make any grand statements as far as 'is he playing, is he not.' We just need to assess it here for a couple days.''
Todd Milles, of the Tacoma News Tribune, writes that Sarkisian may not make a decision on Locker until Wednesday. Doctors are very encouraged with how quickly he has recovered from the injury, but it is unlikely that he will be 100 percent before Saturday's game. Price, a redshirt freshman, was issued a tall order for his first career start against Oregon in Autzen Stadium. He completed 14 of 28 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. If given the chance to start again his task will be much easier against the Bruins defense, which has given up 33.5 points per game in conference play.
Posted on: November 14, 2010 1:36 am
Edited on: November 14, 2010 1:37 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. Oregon can win ugly, too. To be fair to the Ducks, they weren't exactly dominated in their 15-13 win in Berkeley; they outgained Cal by more than 100 yards, held the Bears to 193 yards total and a miserable 2.5 yards per-pass, and only gave up a second touchdown on a Darron Thomas fumble in the end zone.
But they also scored their only first-half touchdown on a Cliff Harris punt return, averaged a stunningly weak 2.9 yards per-carry, eked out the final two-point margin by virtue of their made two-point try and Cal's failed attempt, and could have easily lost if not for Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio short-circuiting his own 24-yard field goal with a stutter-step procedure penalty and missing the subsequent 29-yard try. Every national title contender has to win games when they're not at their best, but Oregon was so far away from their best Saturday night they'd have to send it a postcard.
In the end, it didn't matter, as behind Thomas and a hobbled LaMichael James the Ducks changed philosophies on the fly to a clock-churning, yards-chewing ground-exclusive outfit that ate up the game's final 9:25 on one drive . That kind of versatility could prove to be the difference between a national champion and a slip-up before Glendale ... even if the Ducks would prefer not to have to put it to use again until there's a crystal football awarded to the victor.
2. Washington State should keep Paul Wulff. Let's be fair: the Cougars' rehabilitation, even after their 31-14 upset-of-the-Pac-10's year against Oregon State today, is progressing verrrrry ... sloooooooowly. One FBS win in 2008, that one over winless Washington. One in 2009, over SMU in overtime. Until today, none in 2010.
But that hasn't meant it hasn't been progressing at all . After getting totally obliterated on a weekly basis two years ago, the Cougars have been substantially more competitive this season: 42-28 vs. UCLA , 43-23 vs. Oregon, 38-28 vs. Stanford , 20-13 vs. Cal. You could see the game coming where the Cougars put everything together and took down some unsuspecting favorite. And that game came today: quarterback Jeff Tuel had the game of his career, hitting 10-of-15 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown while adding 79 yards in the ground; the rest of a surprisingly productive run game chipped in 142 yards and three touchdowns; and the much-maligned Cougar defense forced three turnovers, hounded Beaver quarterback Ryan Katz into a quiet 12-for-21 performance, and held the Beavers to 261 yards overall. Unexpected as Wazzu's triumph might have been, especially coming in Corvallis, it was no fluke.
So maybe progress has been slow. But it's there. Wulff has Wazzu pointed in the right direction, and after today he deserves at least one more season to see how far in that direction he can go.
(As for the Beavers, well, TCU and Boise would like a refund, please.)
3. Arizona State is the Pac-10's hard-luck team. The Sun Devils have had a couple of games in which they outgained their opponent by wide margins and lost, but today wasn't one of them; visiting Stanford enjoyed a 420-268 yardage advantage. But this is still a team that lost at Wisconsin on a late missed extra point; gave away an excellent shot at a huge upset of Oregon with a flood of turnovers; lost to Oregon State when a late drive ended in an interception; to USC on a late missed field goal. You'd think that eventually Dennis Erickson 's team could buy a break, and when the Devils went up 13-10 late in the third quarter on a Steven Threet touchdown pass, it looked like that break might finally be coming.
But it wasn't: the Cardinal took over on their 15 and went 85 yards to score an Owen Marecic touchdown with just over five minutes remaining. ASU's following drive went nowhere, and Stanford picked up three first downs to ice the game. The Sun Devils have now played the BCS's Nos. 1, 6, and 7 teams and lost by a total of 16 points. But they'll still have to sweep their final two games vs. UCLA and at Arizona just to make a bowl game.
4. This isn't Mike Stoops' breakthrough season, either. Arizona has famously never been to the Rose Bowl, but even if Oregon made clear the Wildcats aren't getting there this year relatively early, Stoops could have still hoped for his first 10-win season and top-20 final ranking -- goals his team looked well on their way to fulfilling after their early-season win over Iowa .
Since then, though, the Wildcats have gone a ho-hum 4-3 with two of those wins over the Washington schools and the latest result a dispiriting 24-21 home loss to USC. The Trojans aren't a bad team by any means, but if the Wildcats want to be taken seriously as Pac-10 contenders, winning home games against their fellow upper-end-of-the-pack rivals (not to mention avoiding getting outrushed 205-51) is a step they'll have to take. Unless Arizona pulls a shocker in Eugene next weekend, eight regular season wins will be the ceiling.
Posted on: November 8, 2010 3:41 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The way Oregon has a cut a swath of destruction through the Pac-10 thus far this season as athletic dual-threat quarterback Darron Thomas has operated Chip Kelly 's lethal spread-option offense to perfection, you might think the Ducks were invulnerable. But you don't have to go any further back than 2007 remember another season when an apparently-invulnerable Oregon was cutting a swath of destruction through the Pac-10 as athletic dual-threat quarterback Dennis Dixon was operating Chip Kelly's lethal spread-option offense to perfection, and that season ended with an unfortunate ACL injury to Dixon derailing what could have been a national championship campaign.
Until last Saturday, the Ducks appeared impervious to even that nightmare scenario, as senior backup Nate Costa , with several years of experience in Kelly's system under his belt, appeared to be a 100 percent sound backup plan in the event of Thomas's departure. (Costa deputized against Washington State earlier this year and hit a brisk 13-of-15 while rushing for 84 yards.) But that was before Costa "appeared to suffer a serious injury to his right knee" while trying to salvage a botched field goal hold against Washington this past weekend.
A final evaluation of Costa's status is still forthcoming , but Kelly seemed resigned to not having the senior available for this week's tricky visit to Cal , at the minimum. That leaves Kelly with two less-than-appetizing options if he has to turn to someone other than Thomas: true freshman Bryan Bennett , who earned the No. 3 job in the offseason but is a true freshman and who Kelly wants to redshirt, or redshirt sophomore Daryle Hawkins , who has spent the season working at running back and receiver.
As long as Thomas stays healthy, it won't matter who the backup is. But before Costa's injury, it had become nearly impossible to lay out a blueprint for a Ducks loss; now, an early knock to Thomas that could thrust Bennett or Hawkins into the fray on the road against an athletic, disruptive Bears defense could turn things awfully dicey for the Ducks in a big hurry. Even if Thomas remains intact, Kelly may feel forced to alter his play-calling to prevent him from taking as many hits; against the Bears, on the road, it's conceivable could this lead to the first real offensive hiccups of the season for the Duck offense.
At least the Ducks won't be alone in wondering what might happen if their starter goes down; Arizona will be without rejuvenated backup Matt Scott for their trip to USC as he recovers from a wrist injury. Scott led the Wildcats to a pair of wins in starter Nick Foles 's recent injury absence and might have spelled Foles Saturday against Stanford if healthy. Instead, the 'Cats will go with junior Bryson Beirne (and his five career pass attempts) in the event Foles is forced ot the bench.