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September 23, 2010
Week 4 preview in the Pac-10
Colorado isn't all that the Pac-10 is taking away from the Big 12. It's also taking the distinction as the most offensive-minded conference in the nation.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Pac-10 has five teams -- Oregon, Stanford, California, Arizona and Arizona State --ranked among the nation's top 21 in scoring offense. Four average more than 40 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 has just three among the top 20.
Oregon leads the nation in scoring at 63.0 points per game. And while it's true the Ducks have gotten an assist from special teams (three touchdowns) and defense (an interception return) and that they've faced lightweights New Mexico and Portland State, there is no denying their offense is among the nation's most electrifying.
They also rolled up 477 yards of offense and scored 48 points on the road against the SEC's Tennessee. The Ducks lead the nation in total offense at 611.0 yards per game.
"Offensively, it's hard to gain that many yards. I don't care who you're playing. They're just explosive," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, whose Sun Devils play host to Oregon on Saturday. "Their running backs, LaMichael James and [Kenjon] Barner, are guys that can quick-strike on you all the time. I've never seen a team offensively that gets more big plays in the running game than the University of Oregon this year, and a year ago."
As impressive as Oregon is, Stanford isn't far behind.
Coming off a 68-24 blowout of Wake Forest, Stanford is third in the nation with a 51.67 scoring average. Its lowest output thus far is 35 points against UCLA, which last week held high-scoring Houston (seventh nationally in scoring offense) to a mere 13 points.
"That Stanford team is very special," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "They give you problems offensively. They have such a strong running game and a special quarterback who makes all the throws."
Stanford sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck is off to an outstanding start. He's thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions, and he is third in the country in passing efficiency.
But he's hardly alone. Three other Pac-10 quarterbacks -- Cal's Kevin Riley (13th), Arizona's Nick Foles (14th) and USC's Matt Barkley (16th) -- also are among the country's top 20 in passing efficiency.
Oregon, Cal, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State have scored at least 50 points in a game this season, and Oregon, Stanford and Cal have done it twice.
One of the teams Cal did it against was Colorado. That's what the Buffaloes get to look forward to when they join the Pac-10.
Best matchup: Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Boise State's front seven. The Beavers are 13-2 in games in which Rodgers has rushed for 100 yards. Not so coincidentally, the Beavers have lost their past three games in which Rodgers failed to reach triple digits, including the season opener against TCU, when he was held to 78. On the other side of the coin, Boise State's run defense has been a major factor in the Broncos' past two victories over Big Six teams. The Broncos limited Virginia Tech to 128 rushing yards and RB Ryan Williams to just 44 in the season opener. And last season, Boise State held Oregon to 31 rushing yards. Boise State is ranked second nationally in rushing defense this season.
Player on the spot: Cal QB Kevin Riley. Riley has had good times and bad times as Cal's starter. He's trying to overcome another one of the bad times. Riley, a senior, threw three interceptions in last week's 52-31 loss to Nevada, including one in the third quarter when the Bears were driving for a possible go-ahead score. Riley has struggled in Cal's six losses over the past two seasons. In those games, he's completed just 48.8 percent of his attempts with seven interceptions and four touchdowns. This week, he's facing Arizona, which is ranked 14th in the nation in pass defense and has 11 sacks. If Riley struggles again, how long will it be until coach Jeff Tedford decides to start working on the future and gives sophomore backup Beau Sweeney a shot?
Numbers game: Oregon RB LaMichael James' rushing total of 361 yards is the 15th-highest in the nation, but he's not listed among the NCAA leaders. That's because the NCAA requires individual participation in 75 percent of a team's games to be included in national rankings. James, who was suspended for the Ducks' opener, has played in only two of three games (67 percent). He'll break into the rankings next week. By the way, he's accumulated those 361 yards on just 30 carries, for a 12.0 average. He has three touchdowns, on runs of 72 yards against Tennessee and 66 and 35 against Portland State.
What they're saying
"I could have played, but I would have risked making it worse. They basically said sit out this game and I should be all right for the rest of the season. It was more of a big-picture thing." -- Cal LB Mike Mohamed, who sat out last week's loss at Nevada because of a sprained big toe. He may miss this week's game with Arizona, too
"The reality is there are not a lot of people that want to come to Autzen Stadium." -- Oregon coach Chip Kelly, to the Eugene Register Guard, explaining the Ducks' lackluster non-conference schedule of home games against New Mexico and Portland State.
"I thought our guys did a great job of tackling in space, knocking people back, being in the right gaps and getting turnovers again. This is a defense that's really coming together." -- Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, after a 68-24 win over Wake Forest
Etc.: Arizona junior CB Trevin Wade recorded the 10th interception of his career against Iowa. He returned it 85 yards for the second touchdown of his career. His other "pick six" was against the Hawkeyes last season. Arizona has won 14 of its past 17 home games. The Wildcats have averaged a 23.3-point margin of victory in the 14 wins. Arizona State has not allowed a first-quarter touchdown, but keeping that streak intact won't be easy against fast-starting Oregon, which has scored 52 points in the first quarter. Lane Kiffin is hoping to become the first USC coach to win his first four games since Jess Hill in 1951. Arizona State freshman RB Deantre Lewis had 122 rushing yards last week against Wisconsin and 100 receiving yards in the season opener against Portland State. He's the first Arizona State player to rush and receive for 100 yards in the same season since 1993. Cal is the least-penalized team in the Pac-10 at 41.3 yards per game. The Bears also have the Pac-10 leader in receiving (Marvin Jones with 21 catches for 328 yards), and the second-leading rushing (Shane Vereen with 324 yards). Oregon State junior RB Jacquizz Rodgers has nine multiple-touchdown games in his career. His brother, James, leads the nation in all-purpose yards at 226.5 yards per game via rushing, receiving and returns. Stanford's 68-point outburst against Wake Forest was the most for the program since scoring 68 against San Jose State in 1968. USC DE Armond Armstead sprained a shoulder in last week's win over Minnesota, but there is no indication that he won't play on Saturday against Washington State. UCLA sophomore RB Johnathan Franklin had 158 rushing yards last week against Houston. It was the Bruins' highest individual rushing total in three seasons. Washington WR Jermaine Kearse has had a touchdown catch in each of the past seven games. Washington State freshman WR Marquess Wilson has posted two 100-yard receiving games. He's only the second Cougars freshman to do that. Stanford is 14th in the nation in rushing offense, but no Cardinal player has rushed for more than 157 yards. The carries have been spread around. Five players have gotten at least 15 carries and none has more than 31. Cardinal WR Ryan Whalen apparently has an injured arm, and his availability for this week's game against Notre Dame is unknown. Harbaugh has declined to give information on injuries. Arizona has won 14 of its past 17 home games. The Wildcats have averaged a 23.3-point margin of victory in the 14 wins. Senior T Micah Hannam has made 40 consecutive starts, which is the longest by a Washington State offensive lineman since Michael Utley started 42 straight from 1985-88. Washington LB Mason Foster leads the Pac-10 with an average of 12.7 tackles per game. Oregon State painted one of its practice field blue in preparation for facing Boise State. An anonymous donor picked up the cost of the paint.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.