Inside the Pac-10: We Have Our Top Dogs


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via www.cnnsi.com

We have two clear contenders for the crown, plus one dark horse now (more on them later). Everyone else clearly has deficiencies that can't be covered up, as evidenced by their tough but decisive losses in conference play.

Despite my usual calm, unfazed demeanor, I get plenty annoyed with the way the Bears play, especially when things go to hell. Sometimes I think dark dark thoughts, especially when we can't anticipate a bubble screen, our quarterback is throwing into orbit, that our players can't be like USC's and have five star talent and make plays even when another guy screws up, etc. etc.

Oregon 52, Washington State 6

And then I remember I could be a Cougar fan.

The Washington State Cougars are a Horrible, Horrible Football Team

I generally like Washington State.  They have great fans.  I've always felt a certain kinship with them as Husky haters.  And I feel horrible for them.  My neighbor is a WSU alum, nicest guy in the world, and was just too embarassed to talk about the game much, just a bunch of stuff about how Doba ruined the program to the point of being maybe the worst Pac-10 team of all time.  And its hard for me to argue, because I've sat at Autzen for games against the like of Portland State, Montana, Idaho, Utah State, and Nevada and I can't recall any of them being anywhere near the same ballpark as this level of terrible.

Their lines fell over like a stack of cards.  Their running back was slow.  Their linebackers can't tackle.  And Marshall Lobbestael.............those were two of the worst interceptions I have ever seen.  I could have come down from my seat in row 81 and picked them off they were up in the air so long.  Only their punter was a Pac-10 level player, which is good as he gets more touches than anyone else on the team.

So, in playing a team with such an incredible level of suckitude, its tough to take a lot of meaningful thoughts from this game.  Here are a few things I can think of that have some meaning besides "we looked good because the other team sucked."

Yikes. I'm guessing not many Cal fans would like to switch shoes even if we stumbled and bumbled the rest of the season. Anything has to be better than hopeless gloom, right? 

Even the Wazzu fan at Gameday has decided to take the week off (HT Cougcenter):


 

Cougar fans might be the greatest on Earth to sit through this tripe, much less break it down on a day-to-day basis.

One can only watch their team get blown out so many times before they've had enough. Sometimes you wonder - as I am right now with the Seahawks getting blown out in Indianapolis - how all your favorite teams can go to crap at the same time. It's annoying; I used to remember the butterflies I got in my stomach before a big Cougar football game. I still have it for basketball, but hardly ever anymore for football. And while I like the "no pressure" aspect of it all, and the fact we really have nothing to lose, it is also tiring to see so much apathy. A half to three-fourths full Martin Stadium. A lack of any buzz whatsoever as we get close to game time.

We only have one game left that any of us are going to really care about: the Apple Cup. And, adding insult to injury, it's in Seattle. Against a revitalized Husky team under Steve Sarkisian. The spread for the game, at least based on what I've seen so far, will probably be somewhere in the two to three touchdown range. Yeah, I know, throw out the records, rivalries are different blah blah blah. Still, I have a feeling things aren't going to go well, although I have an urge to be there in person just to show the purple bandwagon that WSU has people that still care about their team even when the wins are few and far between.

Cal fans who remember the bad old days, can you think of any ways to console our wounded Cougar brethren?


Notre Dame 37, Washington 30

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via www.midwestsportsfans.com

Speaking of the purple bandwagon, the Huskies continue to loom as a potential upset threat to any team, and will definitely be a tough test if they hover at bowl eligibility in the last week of the season. UW Dawg Pound wasn't pleased with the goal-line coaching against the Irish, but for the most part liked what he saw.

I think the coaches made some questionable calls in the red zone. Sark doesn't seem to like spreading the field or trying to exploit Jake around the end when the middle is plugged up. I didn't like the decision that led to zero points in the third quarter when we were at the one yard line. If we took those points we win the game. That of course is all about hindsight. You convert the TD situation and Washington puts the game away. We can nitpick all we want but if you compare the coaching to last year it is night and day. Willingham walks in here with the same talent and loses by 30 points. You have to give Sark and his staff credit for getting us in th eposition to win games. You have to give them credit for going for the jugglar when it was exposed. Winners do that and we are just learning how to win.

What do you feel about Sarkisian's goal-line decision?

As the Irish go on their bye week to prepare for the make-or-break game for Charlie Weis, Notre Dame SBN blog Rakes of Mallow ponders the long two week stretch until the Trojans come to South Bend...

Beyond the dozens of obvious reasons, the Southern Cal game is so important because it will be the light in which we look at these first five games.  Was this a bad Notre Dame team getting lucky, or a very good Notre Dame surviving some youthful mistakes and finding their way in the world?  Beat the Trojans and this whole season becomes a great story you tell your grandkids about that time Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen stumbled their way to a great BCS bowl.   If they lose?  Then hold on, folks, because it's going to be a bumpy ride of calling for Weis' head and spilt tears and booze for the next month and a half.

This team has been both frustrating and a joy to watch, but not even the biggest Irish (or Weis) hater can say that they ever quit.  Not down eleven points in the fourth quarter on the road when every call and bounce had gone against them.  Not after their best player was lost with a snapped collarbone.  Not on fourth and goal with time dwindling in the lights of Ross-Ade.  Not on first and goal inside the one after you'd just stonewalled the man-beast of Jake Locker seven times already that game.  Maybe all of these efforts are just a comical warm-up to another skull-crushing by the Trojans, but maybe they're just a young defense learning how to complement a great offense in victory.  In eleven days, we'll find out.

I haven't paid much attention to the Irish. Are they a good team?

 

Oregon State 28, Arizona State 17

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via www.eastvalleytribune.com

Time to bust Arizona State's bubble too. They might have a rising defense (which did hold Jacquizz Rodgers in check), but their offense is too stagnant to do much of anything against the Beaver defense. According to House of Sparky, the failings are at quarterback.

Danny Sullivan had decent statistics throwing for over 300 yards and completing over 50% of his 58 passes thrown, however his performance looks better on paper than on the field.  Sullivan often missed his receivers badly with overthrows, underthrows, and "who knows where he was throwing it" throws.  Erickson is left with a difficult decision going into next weeks game against the Wazzu Cougars, to stick with his senior QB or switch to the freshman Brock Osweiler.

The Beavers have their own concerns; Building the Dam notes the defensive shuffles that could take place all season.

The Beaver defense also at least didn't stand pat, making three changes in the starting lineup. Brennan Olander replaced Latu Moala on the line, Cameron Collins continued to play in place of Suaesi Tuimaunei at safety, as he did in the latter portion of the Arizona game, and Brandon Hardin replaced Tim Clark at cornerback.

Hardin was the change that made the biggest impact, as Brandon had an interception, four tackles, and also broke up a pass. Clark still contributed five tackles for the Beavers in his modified role.

But even with the changes that did produce added pressure, only one sack of Sullivan resulted. And Sullivan threw for 338 yards, completing 32 of 58 passes, as the Sun Devils ran up total 406 yards. Arizona St. receiver Chris McGaha had 15 catches for 165 yards, both game high numbers. That kind of performance can't be repeated if Oregon State expects to make a run at another nine or ten win season.

Furd 24, UCLA 16

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via www.seattlepi.com

Here's your sleeper. The Trees can power run the ball behind the White Stallion, and they can play great defense, and that's really all you need to do to compete to win conference titles. We won't really know if they're a full-fledged contender until this two game road trip to Oregon state and Arizona, but right now it's hard to argue that Harbaugh has the Trees back on track.

Jon Wilner breaks down an intriguing possibility that does have a small, but not remote chance of occuring.

Where, and when, does Stanford's run end? There are two possible outcomes to the 2009 Pac-10 title chase:

1. USC shifts into a higher gear, runs the table and wins the league going away.

2. The Trojans never get their groove on, lose one or two more, and the race remains wide open into the middle of November.

That's essentially how things played out for Stanford a decade ago.

In a league lacking a dominant team — it was the only season since the mid-1990s that the Pac-10 failed to produce a 10-game winner — the Cardinal emerged from the masses and made a successful run for the roses.

Are the Furd a sleeper or a snoozer?

As for Bruins Nation, they're not happy with the quarterback situation.

First and foremost it starts with Craft/Brehaut situation. I understand and appreciate the argument on Craft's side. I also recognize how Craft yesterday perhaps played one of his best games (if not his best) as a UCLA QB. His numbers would have been better if Taylor Embree had made the trip to Palo Alto or Morrell Presley was not making freshman mistakes. Still, what is obvious to me that the offense is shackled with Craft at the helm. Coaches are not taking downfield shots with Craft because they just don't have the confidence in his ability to connect. If that is the case, then why didn't they try out Brehaut? Why didn't they try out Brehaut in late first quarter or during third quarter when they were dialing up one unimaginative running plays after another.

Also, on that note why UCLA offensive line had opened up some nice holes early on, it was clear Stanford made their in game adjustments and basically challenged Bruins to beat them with Kevin Craft's arm. Given the plays our coaches dialed up, it was evident they didn't have the confidence in Craft's arm, which in turn doesn't explain why they didn't try out Brehaut. BTW preserving Brehaut's redshirt season argument doesn't fly, given Neuehisel/Chow burned it in our first game.

Who do you think should start at QB for UCLA?

Quick hits: Minnesota fell to Wisconsin in a closely contested matchup--The Daily Gopher covered what went wrong...Maryland edged Clemson, but might've lost Da'Rel Scott for the season.

 

Finally, USC 30, California 3

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via calbearsonline.com

We've covered this enough, but we'll get some outside perspective from our fellow bloggers. First, the USC outlook from Conquest Chronicles.

That was pretty much Cal's offense for the night. After that they just disappeared. Yes, they got a FG in the forth quarter but every time they got close the SC defense shut them down.

Matt Barkley played pretty good tonight. He had some balls sail on him but outside of the one INT that he threw he made some nice throws to Damian Williams. USC had 8 or nine different receivers catch a pass tonight. Anthony McCoy is going to be a very effect TE in the NFL. He made some catches and he made some great blocks. Joe McKnight had a great game as well he had some nice runs in the first quarter. Allen Bradford was serviceable but we also saw why he is not an effective short yardage back.

SC did what they needed to do in containing Jahvid Best. He rushed for more yards than he did last year against USC but it really did not matter...SC had his number. Cal QB Kevin Riley never got into a groove after throwing that INT in the end zone. He made a few nice throws here and there but he really never really was a threat to SC. The defense pressured him all night.

Bears With Fangs and The Bear Will Not Quit both had nice writeups of the game. BWF discusses assumptions we had before the season

In defending the passing game, we all assumed that Cal’s highly touted secondary would somehow be able to match last year’s success in passing efficiency and interception totals (tied for 3rd). Yet the Bears’ secondary which returned all its starters, are sitting at just four, with two coming from linebacker Mike Mohammed. The Bears are also giving up 238 yards per game through the air, good for just 8th in the conference in this category.

Cal’s secondary, and its linebackers might I add, continue to struggle in zone coverage and are continually hurt by its tendency to leave the middle of the field open for athletic tight ends to really hurt the Bears. They give up way too much space to receivers and have been hurt continually by big yardage on third down passing situations, an area they excelled at last year.

The Bear Will Not Quit focuses on Riley's psyche.

I have no idea what goes through Riley's head, but twice now, we've seen Riley's quality of play drop off dramatically from where it has been at other times. In both instances, the drop off occurred after he struggled with wide open passes and pressure early in the game.

This tells me something: he has trouble shaking off mistakes. I am not criticizing him. It's hard enough to be a Pac 10 starting QB, but to have to suck up mistakes and frustration in the middle of a game against a defense like SC is just plain hard. Most people couldn't do it.

But that's the job of a college quarterback, and the fact is, Riley looks like he's struggling with it. He looks like a guy who gets into a funk and can't get himself out. I am very curious to see how he does against UCLA. If he rights the ship, and can keep his wits the rest of the season, this team can run the table the rest of the way (yes, I think they are a decent QB away on offense from doing that from here on out). If he continues to struggle mentally, I fear things could get ugly.

Do you fear Kevin Riley has a fragile psyche?

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