Inside the Pac-10: Where Many Things Remain Unanswered

Week 1 of the college football season is always a magical time. The waiting game is over. There's no filler to battle the endless stream of young hyped-up, irrationally exuberant young adults get sweaty and grimy and move for the prize. Just games games games!

However, as is always the case with a season barely days old, many things remain unanswered. This Pac-10 review (plus for this occasion, Minnesota) post tries to do its best to find the unanswered questions that linger from Week 1, starting with our Bears.

California 52, Maryland 13
I really can't add much outside of what CBKWit talked about his in victory post and what you guys talked about in the game threads and the upcoming report card writeup. You guys covered all bases on this game, good job readers!

Having to nitpick, there are three unanswered questions for me about what the Bears are capable of accomplishing this season.

Can the Bears offense get going without Jahvid Best? Not that I don't appreciate him. I always love to see the Jet flying. Still, you have to admit Cal didn't really do much in the first quarter outside of Best rolling and a nice fumble recovery. And by then the game was pretty much done, since Tedford doesn't blow double digit leads at home.

Maryland controlled the time of possession early and did have two nice drives that really gave you the feeling that the Terps could make a game of it, remarks Testudo Times in their recap post.  

It's clear to me that Maryland is better than the score indicated. The first few drives weren't major disasters, and actually gave me some hope. Then a 84 yard touchdown from Jahvid Best and a Torrey Smith fumble basically ended the game. Maryland lost all emotion, and it was clear they were just going through the motions, trying to get home as soon as possible. Of course, that just compounds upon itself and makes it worse. If Best is contained on that run, or Smith holds on to the ball, who knows what happens?

Down and distance-wise, the advantage was with the Terps, but Cal got the one big play and the one big turnover. That was all that was needed for the Bears to bust this one open.

So what happens when Jahvid isn't able to streak for the end zone? What will happen when Cal has to play a close game and Best is not asked to get the long gains but the short three-four yard carries that decide tense ballgames? What will happen when Kevin Riley is called on to lead the passing game

Still not sure if I have an answer for that. We can only find out the answers to these questions as we go along.

Is Cal's offense capable of grinding it out against tougher, multi-dimensional defenses? Given that Maryland had an inexperienced unit, we knew the Terps D-line would struggle. Cal's O-line, although not really known for being a veteran unit, was in total command. 6.6 rushing ypc and 8.5 yards per play overall is plenty good.

However, a lot of this could be Cal taking advantage of the blitzing schemes we said the Bears would see beforehand. Okanes has the scoop.

But although Cal wasn’t exactly sure what they were going to see in terms of specifics ("We need to know who to block," Tedford said during the week), the Bears knew they would see a lot of blitzing and pursuing up the field. That meant the Terps might be susceptible to the big play, and that’s exactly what they were.

Jahvid Best had a 73-yard touchdown run and a 40- yard run. Kevin Riley threw a 42-yard touchdown pass and a 39-yard touchdown pass, and added another 39-yard pass. That helped Cal rack up 542 yards of offense.

Cal’s receivers found themselves facing man coverage most of the night while Best didn’t have may defensive backs waiting for him when he burst past the line of scrimmage.

"When you live by the blitz, if you break it, you’re going to go a long way," Tedford said. "I thought our offensive line did a nice job and then our backs are pretty good at finding creases."

"They were really aggressive and athletic," wide receiver Marvin Jones said. "We were put into a situation where we could make plays."

Undoubtedly, Maryland took a calculated gamble to try and disrupt Riley's game from the get-go, believing that his team didn't have a chance to get it off. Didn't work so well.

What happens when one of our opponents plays us straight up or mixes in both concepts remains to be seen. Cal has plenty of teams and defensive coordinators they're facing this year that know the way they play pretty well.  We've got to see what they'll be able to cook up to challenge Best's ability to unleash, and subsequently Riley's ability to carry the load.

 

Will over-the-middle be the vulnerable spot of our pass coverage? Cal's pass defense seemed good to me except on two occasions: When we couldn't snuff out the screens in the middle of the game, and when we let Chris Turner find the soft spot of the zone yet again. Over. The. Middle. 

Keep in mind that when the outcome wasn't totally wrapped up, Maryland did have some success marching down the field. Whether Maryland's O-line strength eroded or Cal's defense became too strong from that point on is something I'm not totally sure of.

Thankfully, the Bears are facing a myriad of teams debuting new quarterbacks, and the new linebacking corps, while struggling in the pass game outside of Mohamed, quickly adapted to their surroundings. It's a promising sign that Cal might be able to shut down even that aspect of the defense, given enough time and ability.

Perhaps a little optimistic even with these unanswered questions, but what else can you say after a score like 52-13? In the end it was a good old-fashioned romp. 

Games I watched

Boise State 19, Oregon 8

I had a great recap post all written up for this particular story, then ragnarok had to go and ruin it by posting almost all the thoughts I had in the opening game thread. Not cool bro.

First of all, it’s pretty obvious that Oregon embarrassed themselves in pretty much every way it is possible for a football team to embarrass themselves on the field (and no, the all-white unis aren’t bad, the the wings really do look that stupid).

However, while it may be time to ratchet down expectations for the Ducks, I don’t see that it’s time for them to panic at all. Their offensive line had a terrible, terrible game, and it ruined Chip Kelly’s offense, but it’s not a dire, throw-out-the-playbook sort of situation. Masoli runs the spread very well (go back and watch the 2008 Holiday Bowl if you don’t believe me), though he’s still not much of a downfield passer, and Boise’s disruption up front lay waste to their offensive game plan before it ever really got started. I expect Oregon’s offense to get better as the line gets more experience, but that may not happen for a while.

The whole game itself was sloppy in the way that first-week games often are. Neither team looked great, although Boise at least acquitted itself fairly well, and I’ll take that into consideration when evaluating these teams. Boise will still make my Top 25, and Oregon will still go bowling this year, although I think any conference title talk is completely out the window until further notice. Maybe they figure a few things out and turn it around after a couple games, like Oregon State did last year, but I’m not holding my breath.

Missing Barry takes a harsher view, believing Oregon's about to go in the tank.

I’m pretty much in the opposite camp as you. I think Oregon got exposed yesterday. Boise didn’t beat them on flukes, trick plays, or by injuring all their QB’s – Boise beat them while playing a sloppy game themselves because they pushed Oregon around and dominated them on the line on both sides of the ball. They were simply the better team out there, and if it wasn’t for Moore just dropping the ball onto the field, or a few missed field goals, we’d have the perception that Boise smoked Oregon, instead of just beating them in a sloppy game.

Basically, Boise was simply the better team. They completely outmatched Oregon on the field, and I don’t think that bodes well for Oregon’s future. With a situation like @UT for Cal, I felt Cal got sucker punched by Syd getting beat (because Mixon was hurt) and just didn’t recover very well, but was capable of matching up with them most nights. Last night I saw a big gap between the two teams – Boise was clearly better – they slowly and methodically moved the ball for the entire first half, not on big plays, but by simply dominating Oregon on almost every play. Meanwhile the defense shut Oregon down completely. I really don’t think Oregon even showed the potential to be a very good team last night.

Of course, they’ll still probably play us tough in Autzen.

Addicted to Quack sums up the situation quite well:

But what's important here will be the response. This team could implode faster than the 2006 team, or, it could pull it together like Cal did in 2006. We just don't know. And so we'll get to stew with this terrible game until at least next weekend.

How do you guys feel Oregon will respond from this? Will they lay down or step up?

 

USC 56, San Jose State 3

I didn't try to analyze much of this, especially when the first real test for the Trojans comes next week. That being said, anyone thinking USC would miss a beat with Matt Barkley seems (at least through this weekend) mistaken. Conquest Chronicles notes that with so much talent at every other position on offense, the freshman quarterback won't have to be asked to do much.

Well, I think he had a decent game yesterday but I won't celebrate for a while..at least not until we get through the meat of the schedule. SJSU was a nice appetizer but lets concentrate on the steak and not the peas next weeks game in Columbus will give us some more infor on Barkley but it will it will be on the road against Cal and Oregon and at home against UW before I can make a solid opinion on the kid.

Barkley had a terrific supporting cast yesterday and that went along way to making his first start a little easier. There wasn't a running back on the sideline that didn't contribute and with the staff calling a very conservative game plan it was hard for Barkley to mess this one up.

How do you feel Matt Barkley will do in the Horseshoe Saturday night?

 

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via i79.photobucket.com

Minnesota 23, Syracuse 20 (OT): Not an impressive game for the Golden Gophers, as the Dukie whipping boy Greg Paulus did plenty of damage before reverting to his natural state of choking Blue Devil (author's note: I hate Duke). The Daily Gopher goes over the best and the worst of the game (the best is below).

  • DEFENSE.  The defense gave up a few big plays, but did a spectacular job of adjusting to the Syracuse offense as the game progressed.  Cosgrove and Lee got the job done.
  • KICKING.  Despite one bad field goal attempt, both the kicking and punting was strong for Minnesota.  This bodes well for future close games.  Eric Ellestad was cool under pressure with his last two field goals.
  • LEE CAMPBELL.  Campbell was dominant at linebacker, and appears to have improved greatly from a solid 2008 season.  Look for him to become the leader of the defensive squad on the field.
  • ERIC DECKER.  Minnesota would have lost without him.  He's back to his top form after finishing last season with some wear and tear.
  • TROY STOUDERMIRE.  Despite a bad decision late in the game on a punt return, Stoudermire appears to be a great kick returner and a solid option at receiver.

Which of these positives worry you the most about the Cal-Minnesota contest?

 

Brief looks at the rest.

#11 LSU 31, Washington 23

UW Dawg Pound is pleased with what Locker did against LSU.

Jake Locker put up some big numbers last night which was good to see. The interception that was returned for a TD in the first quarter was unfortunate because without that gift LSU might have been playing in catch-up mode for most of the game. Jake flashed his wheels when he had to especially in the second half but he was definitely in pass first run second mode all night. LSU's team speed negated Jake's ability to create a big play with his feet. He did however pick up some critical third down conversions. What we saw last night was a kid who is a future first round draft choice who finally is getting the type of coaching he needs. Look for Jake to continue to improve every game and when he isn't playing a team as fast as LSU he is just going to eat the opposition up.

Oregon State 34, Portland State 7

Building the Dam is quite happy with the offensive line play 

The offensive line was quite another matter. With zero starts on the left side, even the most zealous Beaver Believer had real questions about what would happen, especially against a veteran defensive line, albeit a Big Sky one.

The first test of fall term produced passing grades, however. Michael Philipp avoided what is often the downfall of otherwise solid linemen, something that showed so glaringly in Boise. When linemen are confused about assignments, and block no one because they aren't sure who to block, otherwise very good teams quickly look very bad, and it can be the whole program. Philipp turned in a solid job, and so did Grant Johnson at guard.

Leland Furd Junior 39, Washington State 13

Grady of Coug Center really likes the way James Montgomery is performing.

Let's talk about special teams first. The Cougars wasted a half's worth of kick returns by using Aire Justin in favor of James Montgomery. Let's not go crazy about Justin's horrible decision to start a return seven yards back in his own end zone; he knows that was a bad call and so do the coaches. What was a poor decision, however, was failing to put the better pure runner (Montgomery) out there in the first place. Justin is a defensive back who managed 16 yards per return. Montgomery is a running back who averaged 30 yards on three returns and gave the Cougars some hope in the field position game. Let's keep him there. (Side note: I'm growing to like Montgomery - especially the whole "I'm going to hit the other guy before he hits me" mentality")

UCLA 33, San Diego State 14

Nestor at Bruins Nation wasn't pleased with the slow start by the D, although believed they slowly got better as time went by.

Turning over to the defense, I am with 66 in the sense that I was disappointed by the slow start last night. The only explanation I have is that perhaps Coach Bullough was handicapped a bit because he didn't have any kind of game film to analyze. The pressure upfront towards the beginning of the game was non-existent. Seemed like Lindley had all day. However, we did seem to make decent adjustments after the first few series, and turned it on. Perhaps another reason we weren't getting to him faster was because he seemed to be taking 10-15 step drops to elude our pressure.

I like the fact that our defense seemed to be getting stronger as the game went on. Reggie Carter and Bosworth (although I am blanking out which one) had couple of vicious pops in the second half. However, I would like to see even more (controlled?) aggression in the first half, allowing the defense to make a statement. We are going to need that next week, if we want to stay in that game.

Arizona 19, Central Michigan 6

Arizona Desert Swarm is more than happy with how the Wildcats shut down CMU's stud senior quarterback.

What can you say about our defense? They were awesome. Dan Lefevour only had 108 passing. 108! This guys has set all kinds of records in the MAC and nationally.  We held him to 108 yards. VunaTuihalamaka intercepted Lefevour on CMU's first possession for his first of the year.  Tuihalamaka was absolutely everywhere last night.  We'll be back later in the day or tomorrow to grade the defense coaching plan for the CMU game.

Arizona State 50, Idaho State 3

House of Sparky talks about the athletes on ASU's team that could be the ones to look out for in the future, although there is one aspect of the Sun Devil performance that should give their fans cause for concern.

  • Mike Nixon looked incredible last night. His experience, wisdom and superior talent really shone through. We're going to need him to come up big all season if we want to achieve the goals we are capable of. 
  • Thomas Weber is looking pretty good, even if he missed one of his chip shots.
  • Danny Sullivan appears to be more comfortable than I've ever seen him before in a Sun Devil uniform, but Brock Osweiler looked poised in the pocket as well. Watch out, Danny.
  • Is anyone else concerned about the lack of a running game? In reality, we barely scratched the surface of what we should be doing on the ground.
  • I expect Gerell Robinson to be increasingly utilized over the course of the season. He's a quality player.
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