Much bigger week for the Pac-10, with some of the best teams in the Pac-10 facing high quality OOC competition. We start off with the headliner.
#4 USC at #6 Ohio State, 8 PM EST, 5 PM PST, ESPN HD
This figures to be a much closer affair than the one last season, where one of the best college defenses ever suited up, took the Buckeyes behind the woodshed and drilled them to pieces. No, this figures to be a real test for a Trojan squad that has won their road OOC games by a combined score of 328-101 since 2004.
Trojan Football Analysis has a fantastic four part writeup (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) about the strategies he believes will be used by both sides. Here's the primary way he expects the Buckeyes to attack USC: "I suspect the staff will do a couple of things differently in the 2009 game versus USC. For starters the Trojans will face more two back power plays and I suspect that Ohio State will run some counter plays as they did versus Texas in the Fiesta Bowl with great success. Also I expect Ohio State simply to put the ball in Terrelle Pryor’s hands and have him run the Zone Option Read play more often. In 2008 this was arguably the most effective run play Ohio State ran at USC averaging 6.8 yards on five carries. Expect those rush attempt numbers to go up this Saturday…" I suggest reading all four parts, including a talk
Eleven Warriors has a similar Hydro-like breakdown of gamefilm: "The Buckeye secondary was torched in the Coliseum last season. Whether it be from a missed switch or assignment, a beautifully drawn-up h-back wheel route or a well-timed pick, it wasn’t pretty. The bad news is all three of the Trojans that caught Sanchez touchdowns are still on the team and while they’re extremely talented athletes, none of them pose a sever matchup problem on the face of it. The Trojan offensive line is probably the best unit on an obscenely talented squad and getting pressure won’t be easy, but if Barkley is given time to throw, we could very well be in for a similar result."
What it means for Cal: A Buckeye victory means the Trojans are likely vulnerable to the power run style that Cal is also fond of running (different schemes and styles, but the methodology is similar), and that the Bears might indeed try out Riley's ability as a mobile passer as well as runner. A Trojan victory most likely means the Bears could be facing as high as the #2 team in the country on October 3rd, and that Matt Barkley isn't intimidated by tough road crowds. Or it could mean Ohio State isn't very good.
Rest of the games to watch, starting with ours after the jump.
Eastern Washington at California 5:30 PM EST, 2:30 PM PST, CSN California
Hours and hours of scouring the Internet, and all I could find on the Eagles was a season preview from their website. Fantastic.
Eastern Washington is a very talented FCS team. They're returning 25 players with starting experience and only debuting seven new starters (albeit four on the offensive and defensive line, always critical losses). They lost to Colorado by 7 points. Starting quarterback Matt Nichols gave senior Graham Harrell and Texas Tech a decent passing battle for a half before finally getting routed last year. Because they're unlikely to be eligible for the FCS postseason, their matchup with Cal could be their biggest game of the season. This is a team that has shown it has the capability to play well against bowl-eligible FBS squads, so don't expect the Bears to just walk all over them.
Which is why it'll all come down to whether Cal doesn't turnover the ball, and whether they can run the ball with a ruthless efficiency. Both of these happening should result in a comfortable Golden Bear victory. Otherwise I'll be sick as hell pondering the upset potential for three hours.
What it means for Cal: If we lose this game, I'm covering the women's field hockey team the rest of the fall.
Games you should be able to watch
Stanford at Wake Forest, 12 PM EST, 9 AM PST, Raycom HD (should be available on ESPN360.com)
Jim Harbaugh could put the Cardinal in a very generous position with a win here. The Furd aren't world beaters by any means, but they do have a very favorable schedule, and considering the Demon Deacons are reeling from a shocking home loss to Baylor, it isn't out of the question that Gerhart and Luck can make some noise on the East Coast.
Ted Miller talks Furdball: "Harbaugh also was happy with redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck's debut. Luck completed 11 of 23 for 193 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. "Andrew played very well," Harbaugh said. "He did a great job running the offense. He did a great job with the audible package. Really good in the huddle, enunciating plays. He's got a megaphone at the line of scrimmage. Throwing the ball, the receivers didn't have to go searching for the ball. For the most part, he was very accurate."
If there is a concern for the Cardinal, the defense gave up 351 yards to the Cougars, who ran the ball well at times. Grobe's offense will be a significant step up in competition."
Blogger So Dear (Wake Forest's SBN blog) ponders what went wrong in last week's defeat, eventually pointing out a general inconsistency in style of play.
I know Wake has made its mark offensively off of trick plays and mixing up the looks, but who can get comfortable with a new formation every series and sometimes from play to play? In the first drive, the Deacs had a lot of success in a wishbone set, using Chris Givens and Y'lou, but they went away from that in favor of FB football later, then tradition I-formation, then shotgun.
Lobo tends to outthink himself--he comes up with good plays and schemes, but he has a real problem sticking with one formation or another and this has to hurt the flow of the offense. And to add insult to injury, Kevin Harris had just four carries on the day and Brandon Pendergrass and Josh Adams combined for 7 carries and 20 yards. This just is not going to get it done for a team that said they were going to smashmouth football this year.
If the Deacs go back to misdirection, pulling guards, opening holes in the middle and using end-arounds as well as getting Riley good looks in the flats, over the middle and down the sidelines, Wake will have more success. It will be interesting to see what Lobo goes with this week.
What it means for Cal: A win by the Furd puts them in great position (SJSU, UW, UCLA at home) to start the season 5-0. And one win away from bowl eligiblity. Blech.
UCLA at Tennessee, 4 PM EST, 1 PM PST, ESPN HD
Just like with the Furd, this is the first real look at what the Bruins will be capable of this season. A win here could vault them into the upper half of the conference.
I expect Tenn to lean on the run game. As documented, Tenn is missing experience at the WR position due to injuries. The left side of their OL (LT - Scott & LG - Richard) consits of 2 seniors with Scott being an All-Sec type of performer. Their backs (Hardesty & Brown) are on the bigger side weighing around 215 lbs. I'm not going to state the obvious (Price having a big game) but Datone will be critical in this game. He'll be matched up against Scott and if he can hold the edge, our LB's should be able to flow to the ball to limit their run game. Dye needs to take proper angles and be a sure tackler in this game because he'll need to support the front 7.
Crompton suffered the same fate like Drew by having multiple coordinators during his career but the kid has talent. Crompton is not very mobile and if we can get pressure on him, he'll make bad decisions. Tenn is playing 2 FR (Teague is starting) in their WR rotation. Every opponent will be picking on whomever is the CB opposite ATV. Viney must be ready for the challenge.
Kiffin maintained balance despite two factors that we thought would suggest otherwise: Jonathan Crompton and a non-competitive game. We thought coming in that Crompton's past and WKU's present would lead to a ton of rushing plays. Instead, Kiffin dialed up 43 runs but 33 pass calls in his UT debut. Along with all the points and yards, the Vols racked up 34 first downs and went 7 of 9 on 3rd down.
This was a gameplan that kept its foot on the gas and kept the opposition off balance: the Vols ran some on second and long and passed some on third and short, and I don't know about you, but I had a terrible time trying to figure out what was coming next.
And that's a very good thing.
Chow, on the other hand, has a more particular style. Especially when not blessed with USC-level playmakers at the skill positions, as he was in Nashville and is now at UCLA, Chow loves employing the tight end in the passing game. With the Titans, receptions were spread around while backs saw their yards per carry increase significantly. And under Chow Vince Young was at his best while he was there, which comes as no surprise given his long pedigree of QB development, which UCLA fans hope will soon include Kevin Prince.
Against San Diego State, Chow and the Bruins were balanced as well: 38 rushes, 31 passes. Along the way, the Bruins won time of possession by almost 12 minutes and picked up 359 yards. Most of the pieces of UCLA's offense will be different than the ones the Vols saw last year in Los Angeles, with a new quarterback, new backfield and a mostly new offensive line, so it's hard to pull a lot of relevant information from last year's game on this side of the ball. But don't expect the quarterback to throw four interceptions in the first half.
What it means for Cal: I really have no idea whether this win will tell us anything about how Cal matches up with the Bruins, since it's too early in the season to figure out how good either Tennessee or UCLA really are. To be continued.
Purdue at Oregon, 10:15 PM EST, 7:15 PM PST, FSN HD
Well now. What happened to the Ducks last week?
Addicted to Quack notes the Ducks will be very thin at running back: "First off, the running back situation has become very tenuous with Blount and Alston out. And in response, the Ducks are going small, with all backs in the rotation under 6 feet. The only player who had any reps that wasn't was Darron Thomas. That's right, our QB of the future may end up playing running back a little. If he takes a carry in the game, I think most Duck fans will just end up closing their eyes so they don't watch when he gets snapped in half. However, what the new group lacks in size and depth, they make up for in speed. James and Barner are two of the quickest players on the team, which could prove to be a huge value to the running game."
Purdue's SBN blog, Hammer and Rails, notes the importance of their offense being able to mix it up: "It will be important for us to continue being unpredictable on the offensive side of the ball. Lost in Saturday's game was the way Gary Nord mixed things up. We ran more formations than I can ever remember us running, and we were very successful in each set. Obviously, our offensive line and fullbacks did a great job in clearing holes for Jaycen Taylor and Ralph Bolden. The return of Frank Halliburton will only help an already very good situation. If our offensive line can continue to muscle Oregon's front seven around we will have a very successful day."
What it means for Cal: No Oregon run game means a much easier time for the Bears in Autzen in two weeks. Presence of a run game will mean we'd better be prepared to play well, or get burned.
Not going to be easy to find
Air Force at Minnesota, 7 PM EST, 4 PM PST, BTN HD
The Daily Gopher tries to get oriented with the triple option. Perhaps they could use Hydro's Armed Forces Bowl post on the subject! Anyone want to email them or leave them a comment with a link to it?
What it means for Cal: If Minnesota is able to slow down the Air Force running game, they could have the potential to slow down Best. I emphasize potential.
Idaho at Washington, 3:30 PM EST, 12:30 PM PST, Fox Sports Northwest/Fox College Sports Pacific
EDSBS: "We had no idea Ty Willingham was a class 1 narcotic. This is the only explanation for the passionate, intelligent, and capable play of Washington against LSU Saturday night. Washington outgained LSU 478-321, had 25 first downs to LSU’s 17, and came within a pair of turnovers from beating your 2007 BCS champions in their first game under Steve Sarkisian. Jake Locker played well, but you knew he was top-shelf liquor being thrown into cut-rate cocktails by Willingham and company. The pleasantly shocking bit was the impassioned play of the defense, who looked like different people than the morose crew who finished 2008 prone and staring at the ceiling weeping after a loss to Washington State. The whole effect of revival was made better by watching it on tv, where the cameras were shaking thanks to Husky Stadium’s suddenly vibrating crowd rocking the upper deck. Lane Kiffin had a solid performance, sure, but Sarkisian gets the early blue ribbon in Pete Carroll’s class of Young Coaching Achievers From Camp Win Forever."
What it means for Cal: Monitor these Huskies closely. This is not a team you want to play to end your season.
Hawaii at Washington State, 7 PM EST, 4 PM PST
Andy Mattingly, Louis Bland and Jason Stripling showed that, without question, they are one of two units on this team that are legitimately Pac-10 caliber. (Running back being the other.) In the face of what figures to be one of the better rushing attacks the team will face all year, the trio combined for 18 of the Cougs' 59 tackles.
That's what linebackers are supposed to do, and it's something that was missing all too often last season.
We've mentioned in the past that their effectiveness this season would likely be predicated on improved play by the line in front of them. While the defensive line didn't rack up a lot of tackles against Stanford, they did do their job most of the time against the run, occupying gaps and allowing the linebackers to slice in and make the play after only a few yards or less gained.
What it means for Cal: I dunno.
Northern Arizona at Arizona, 10 PM EST, 7 PM PST
Here's something from ABC15. If you're interested, which I'm sure you're not.
What it means for Cal: No one cares about this game. Took me thirty minutes to even find a preview for this game.
Oregon State at UNLV, 11 PM EST, 8 PM PST, CBS College TV
Building the Dam notes the unusual start time, but no one else seems to be too worried about the situation. They also discuss the UNLV spread offense, which gave the same BYU team that knocked off Oklahoma quite a bit of trouble last season.
What it means for Cal: Considering Oregon State's slow starts to the season, this is no gimmee for the Beavers. Ragnarok has already marked this as an early upset possibility. Ultimately it means nothing to us, since Oregon State will play us tight in November anyway, but it could show how capable the Rodgers brothers are of lifting their team on tough road occasions.