Who's your Pac-10 football MVP of 2009? Vote and discuss in the comments.
"If you’d like to know how Boise State was able to stymie Oregon’s fancy spread, the answer is simple: they whipped Oregon’s line, which was starting four new guys."
Oregon's offense rest of season: 2802 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per rush, 51 offensive touchdowns
For a new unit breaking into the deal, you can't get more impressive than that. They weren't great individually (I could tell you their names, ask you for them ten minutes later, and you'd stare back at me blankly), but as a team? Domination.
He unfortunately gets docked down for making two critical errors--opting to throw in the Washington game rather than running the ball and the clock (although that's more on Stoops and Dykes), and opting to throw twice against Cal. Take either of those away...well, I guess we can't talk like that. He's a freshman for a reason.
It's a great start for Foles, but next season will be tough--Arizona will only be returning 9 starters, TOTAL (http://www.uwdawgpound.com/2009/12/2/1179273/pac-10-holes-to-fill-in-2010). Good luck blonde Jonas Brother.
#8 Brian Price
Turns out UCLA is leading the country in stuffs against the run. No team recorded more per game, with North Carolina coming in a very close 2nd. UCLA Junior DT Brian Price (7 sacks, 14 stuffs) is just a wrecking ball of a lineman, and was recently named the Pac-10 Pat Tillman Player of the Year; can’t imagine this guy not turning pro given the season he had and the season UCLA had (6-6).
As it turns out, on average, UCLA and UNC turned 1 out of every 6 opponent rushes into negative yards. These are drive killers, just like sacks, but against a team’s run game. (At least with an offsides or holding you get to work the same down again.) How much more impressive is this statistic when we take into account that these stuffs are coming against (most frequently) attacking linemen; not only do UNC and UCLA hold the point of attack when attacked, but are actually beating opposing linemen at their own game.
I admittedly didn't watch much UCLA football, but the best defensive player I saw all year was Price. Cal rushed for nearly 300 yards against the Bruins and I STILL was terrified at the thought of facing him next season. Oh well. Hopefully he'll settle for being a 1st/2nd round NFL prospect and get out of Westwood.
T-#6: The Rodgers brothers.
If Oregon State's going to win a Rose Bowl (and the schedule's in their favor next year), they're going to have to rely heavily on them again next season. Yes, next season--James is still a junior, Quizz a sophomore. They just never go away...
#4 Toby Gerhart
#5 The Furd offensive line/fullback (Owen Maracic, Marinelli
These stats also mean a lot:
Gerhart's tremendous season reminded me a lot of JJ Arrington in 2004--Arrington had a superb season, but it was just as dependent on one of the most gifted offensive lines in the Tedford era blocking in front of him. Same thing here with the Cardinal--these guys might not be as physically gifted, but they have the right mentality to execute their schemes efficiently.
"They take pride in their work, they're physical, and they work well together," said Tim Drevno, who shared the offensive line coaching this year with staff newcomer Greg Roman. "They're tough guys who want to do it right."
The line includes junior center Chase Beeler and a pair of redshirt freshmen, left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, who have "played beyond their years," according to left guard Andrew Phillips.
"This year during camp we made it a priority that we were going to make the O-line a strong unit," Phillips said, "and erase all the bad memories of the past when the O-line was one of the weaker units."
It was a fine season for Gerhart, but he should've brought Maracic, Marinelli, and the rest of his linemen with him to New York--they deserve just as much credit as O'Callaghan, Phillip, Merz, Manderino and crew deserved for Arrington's season.
#3 LaMichael James
Individual ability: Quite a contrast between the two, huh? Gerhart is all old power, classic WASPish, "I'm going to run over you like a Hummer" mentality; James brings that avant-garde, quick speedy elusive back that's quickly becoming the wave of the futuer. I'm not saying Gerhart's going to be a bust, but I'll go ahead and say Toby needs a lot more from his offensive line than LaMichael needs from his. When defenses killed the Furd's O-line (see Oregon St, Arizona, Cal for most of the Big Game), they got to Gerhart quick and took him down with ease. When defenses killed Oregon's O-line and got to James, it took a lot more to bring the Energizer Duck down. Advantage: James.
Stats: Touchdowns: 26 for Gerhart, 14 for James. 144 rushing yards/game for Gerhart, 123 rushing yards/game for James. 5.6 yards per carry for Gerhart, 6.9 yards per carry for James. Edge: Gerhart
Take away Gerhart and James from their teams. Which team suffers more? This is where Gerhart picks up steam; that team revolved around him. If they had one of those frosh running behind there, do the Cardinal win four games? Five? Put Barner or Blount in instead of James, and Oregon probably has another eight win season--satisfactory for the Ducks, who weren't expecting much this season. Big Advantage: Gerhart
Clutch. Let's not forget Gerhart struggled against Oregon State (didn't get going until the second half), Arizona (that was mostly Luck playing balls-out) and Arizona State (again, Luck was the destroyer there). James just kept the feet chugging and didn't really let anyone stop him...he was like the football's version of the Energizer Bunny, and no Pac-10 defense (well, maybe Arizona, although that's debatable) could defend him properly (similar to Quizz last season). He managed 7.6 yards per carry against a UCLA defense keying in on HIM with Masoli out. His worst game was against Wazzu. He saved his best down the stretch, never averaging less than 6 yards a carry per game for each game, including a dominating performance against the Trojans (7.83 YPC???). Pretty awesome debut for a freshman who will be getting plenty of hype heading into next fall... Edge: James
Biggest moment. Has to be Toby shedding a hundred tackles on that final Big Game drive, right? That was the most terrifying moment of my Cal fandom--if Gerhart had pulled out the win with that play, he'd have won the Heisman, and the vitriol that would've been hurled at our team and Tedford would have been ugggly. But he didn't. (I should bump up Mohamed another ten spots.)
As for James, his 50 yard streak to daylight, go-ahead touchdown in the Civil War sent the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. Doesn't really get much bigger than that, does it? Edge: James
Tougher situation. Let's face it. Gerhart's situation was perfect. He had an offensive line that blocked great for him, he had a quarterback that threw well enough, and the most apathetic fanbase in college football that rallied behind him rather easily. (And he was a white running back, so the media loved him a little bit more. Whoops, did I say that?)
If Gerhart was strolling along in the sunshine of Palo Alto, then LaMichael ended up somewhere in a DMZ-like situation. The Ducks had only played one game and most college football fans were wondering if the program was on the verge of collapse after a nightmare experience in Boise.
Here's what I wrote a few hours after the Blount madness.
"That kid LaMichael James has spunk. Perfect for a spread offense. He could be scary if given the opportunity."Here's what I wrote the week before the Oregon game.
"I'm so annoyed at Blount's suspension...Because we could’ve handled him (he had -4 yards last year in our game). Instead we have to deal with Lamichael James, who looks like another typical spread 200 yarder."
People were kinda skeptical, and I was only being half-serious, but man, my half-serious side was soooo right. James stepped into a role that required him to be excellent for Oregon to do any damage, and he absolutely delivered, week after week after week. He pushed through the holes the O-line opened up for him, and when they weren't there, he kept his feet moving until he found daylight. Hell, his freshman campaign approached Jonathan Stewart in his SENIOR year.
Adding in all those factors, I gave the spot to James. By a smidgen.
#2 Sean Canfield
Here's what Hydrotech wrote after Cal's loss to Oregon State, after another virtuoso performance for the unheralded Beaver:
"I was directed to some video of Canfield's completions against USC's defense over at Trojanfootballanalysis.com. After seeing that film, I decided that blitzing Canfield was not really the correct strategy. Why? Canfield gets the ball out so quickly and efficiently. He hits his TEs and RBs on short check-downs to neutralize the blitz. When an offense's QB can get the ball out quickly against a blitzing defense, it just neutralizes the blitz and allows the offense to gain big yardage (see the final Cal drive of the 2009 Cal vs. Arizona State game for a pretty good Cal example of this). Blitzing against an offense that can get the ball out that quickly and efficiently is extremely risky, and has much less reward than normal blitzing strategies. Canfield was getting the ball out extremely quick - and against USC's very fast pass rush too! USC's pass rush is much faster than Cal's pass rush, yet Canfield neutralized them. It doesn't matter if Cal was sending five or six pass rushers per down to get a quicker pass rush, Canfield still probably would have been able to get the ball out. He did it against USC's faster defense and I have little doubt he would have done it to Cal's defense. "
That's truth speaking there. Throughout the Civil War, Oregon blitzed, Canfield burned. If Canfield played anywhere other than Corvallis (Baton Rouge, Lincoln, Happy Valley all come to mind), wouldn't his season get more pub than it actually got (which was NONE)?
#1 Jeremiah Masoli
Masoli shredded the Bears with an unprecedented (although easily replicated) 84% completion rate and 208 passer rating, and the Ducks offense was off. He wouldn't replicate those passing numbers again, but he more than replicated clutch. Oregon would score five touchdowns in every Pac-10 game he quarterbacked, and a lot of that had to do with Masoli's abilities and his teamwork with James, Barner, Crenshaw, Blount, and whoever else was lining up with him in shotgun.
More importantly than the stats (which don't look that great, at least passing-wise) was his ability to disguise the handoff in the zone read. A hundred times this year it fooled ESPN's cameras and we were all left jerking back and forth between running back and Masoli, wondering who exactly had the ball. That he was able to deceive opposing defenses was crucial to getting the avalanche rolling; added in with some other wrinkles (play-action, rollout, quick hits), everything to disguise his weak arm and maximize his athletic abilities, he was able to keep the Ducks moving inexorably toward the end zone.
And when the stage got bigger, Masoli didn't shrink. He carried the ball 13 times for 164 yards in the demolition of USC's defense. He was responsible for all of Oregon's six touchdowns against Arizona, including the game-tying, three minute, 80 yard drive at the end of regulation, capped off by the TD to Dickson with six seconds left. He made all the right decisions on the Rose Bowl-clinching drive of the Civil War, including a beastly run on 4th and short and making the option pitch to Barner on the second 4th and short.
Strong stats, solid leadership, big moments...Masoli sounds like your Pac-10 MVP, doesn't he? If not, who's yours?