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This Week In The Pac: Conference Play Is The Great Equalizer

Two top-15 ranked Pac-10 favorites played two teams generally regarded to be destined for the bottom half of the conference standings.  Both ranked favorites won.  But Oregon and Arizona's victories along with UCLA's shock upset of Texas all demonstrated that the Pac-10 may be deeper than any year in recent memory.

Oregon 42, Arizona St. 31

Arizona St. threw for 387 yards, Oregon for just 260.  Arizona St. ran for 210 yards, Oregon just 145.  Arizona State’s offense scored 31 points, Oregon’s just 28.  The ASU defense forced eight 3-and-outs.  And yet it is the Ducks who march forward with their conference championship and national title hopes intact, while the team picked to finish 9th in the conference is left to ponder how close they came to two straight top 15 ranked upsets.  But did ASU give the Pac-10 a template for slowing down Oregon's offense in 2010?

But the big disappointment of the evening was the offense. The last time we saw a performance this bad by the offensive line was the BSU game last year, though to find such thorough domination you may have to go back to the USC game of 2008. Oregon was simply pushed around all night long. While many fans were screaming for Thomas to take the ball, he was making the right reads most of the night as ASU was having men spy on Thomas, which forced him to hand the ball off over and over again.

And while it was frustrating to see James run into the line over and over again (we'll get to playcalling in a minute), this is simply one of the disadvantages of having Darron Thomas at QB. Jeremiah Masoli likely would have taken some of those reads, as he had a belief that he could have beaten that linebacker, and would have adjusted his read after watching James fail a few times. Thomas, obviously, does not have that belief. If he sees a man guarding him on the read, he will be handing it off. He doesn't have the speed or strength to beat linebackers (especially ASU's linebackers) one-on-one.

Meanwhile, House of Sparky sees the bright side despite suffering another horrible defeat:

No one expected this season to yield much in the way of positive results for Arizona State. Two consecutive games against highly-ranked opponents have given fans of the maroon and gold a lot to be enthusiastic about for 2011.

Threet will learn from his mistakes, and the careless interceptions he threw tonight will become less frequent as he gets more experience against the speedy Pac-10 defenses.

Sure, you threw for 387 yards and three touchdowns. It's the four picks I'm concerned about, and it's the turnovers that put games into the loss column. The stadium was buzzing at halftime, and all eyes were on Threet and Deantre Lewis. Can the Devils become a second-half team?

Credit of course must go to the Oregon defense, who collectively made up for their inability to stop Steven Threet and Dion Lewis from pilling up yardage by forcing turnover after turnover and scoring 14 points themselves on interception and fumble returns.  But if one half of football in Tennessee didn’t convince you, this game is solid evidence that the Ducks can be beaten and that every single game in the Pac-10 this season not involving Washington St. can and will be utterly unpredictable.

So we'll steal our question from House of Sparky:  Can the Devils become a second half team?

And from the Oregon side of things: Andrew Luck threw two interceptions against Notre Dame, while Oregon intercepted Steven Threet four times.  How many picks will Jim Harbaugh's golden child throw in Eugene next week?

UCLA 34, Texas 12

Before we all totally freak out and expect the worst in two weeks, please consider the following stats that came out of UCLA’s shocking upset in Austin:

-Total yards:  Texas – 349, UCLA – 291
-Yards per play:  Texas – 5.13, UCLA – 4.47
-UCLA touchdown drives that started in UCLA territory: 1
-Kevin Prince: 5 of 8 for 27 yards passing

Bruins Nation is understandably elated, but also restrained:

Saturday's win over Texas, while not a conference victory, does a lot for the UCLA program, though. Featured on the home page, a first-segment spot on SportsCenter and features in every sporting website, UCLA's footprint extended well beyond Westwood and Austin on Saturday. Wins like Saturday's are a boost for recruiting and help set the bar for what this team can be now and what the program can be in the future. Any dreams of a nine win season are preposterous, but this is a team that can win five more games and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Likewise, this is a program that with continued progress can beat a team like Texas in the future without the words shock or upset in the headline. A realistic bar has been set so let's go chasing.

I’m not going to offer any kind of guarantees – there is absolutely the possibility that Cal will lose to UCLA in two weeks.  But let’s be clear:  UCLA won this game because Texas was totally and completely unable to take care of the football, not because they outplayed Texas on a play-by-play basis.  Four lost fumbles is hard to pull off and even the best of teams will lose 99% of the games when they give up 5 turnovers.  UCLA’s offense has one ability:  Running the football at an average clip (4.7 yards per carry against Texas, 5.16 on the season). Stop the run and you stop the Bruins.

Do you trust Cal's defense to slow down the UCLA running game?

Stanford 37, Notre Dame 14

This game probably went about how everybody expected it to go.  Notre Dame has some decent success throwing the ball against a suspect Cardinal secondary but Stanford’s overall advantage in pretty much every other aspect of the game allows them to gradually pull away.  Stanford didn’t do anything spectacularly, but their offensive line didn’t allow a single sack and Notre Dame’s complete inability to run the ball prevented an imbalance Irish offense from ever keeping the game close.  Rule of Tree is pleased to have finally broken a string of painful defeats in South Bend:

The final score might not show it, but the Stanford defense keyed today's 37-14 win, which snapped a 7-game losing streak in South Bend. The Stanford defense and Nate Whitaker's right leg, to be more precise. Whitaker, a former Notre Dame walk-on, booted a career-high five field goals on five attempts.

Andrew Luck had a shaky (by his standards) afternoon. The junior redshirt sophomore threw his first two interceptions of the season--both on tipped passes--after a hot start, but the Cardinal defense kept the Fighting Irish out of the end zone until the game was well in hand.

Is Stanford's defense good enough to win the Pac-10 this year?

Boise St. 37, Oregon St. 24

This game wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated as Boise St. extended their dominance at home and their dominance of the state of Oregon.  17 of Oregon St.’s 24 points were set up by special teams or turnovers, and Boise St. dominated on offense.  With a narrow home win over 1-2 Louisville as their only success on the season thus far, the Beavers appear to have dug themselves a deeper hole than usual in the non-conference.  Building The Dam isn't sure what to make of it:

Yet another game, and loss, against a top five team and yet so far away from knowing what this Oregon State football team is made of.  For a team that only had 233 yards on offense and allowed the other team 474 yards I found it amazing that the Beavs could grind it out and actually make this much more a game than it looked at halftime.

The defense still looked porous, but at the same time I thought they looked faster and more aggressive.  In general the defense still did not get enough pressure on the QB and that gave Kellen Moore way too much time to get his passes in there at times on some fairly good coverage.

Are OSU's struggles caused by their own lack of talent/experience or a function of such a difficult schedule?

USC 50, Washington St. 16

The Trojan offense rolled, Jeff Tuel was picked off three times, and player-of-the-day Mitch Mustain heroically converted a critical two point conversion that allowed USC to stretch its lead from 20 to 22 points and most importantly, allowed them to reach an even 50 before the game ended.  Conquest Chronicles is suitably pleased:

That was better. It wasn't perfect. It certainly wasn't a 2008 drubbing of Washington State. But everything considered, USC built upon its previous September performances and took advantage of an inferior Cougar team, winning by a score of 50-16. In turn, there are many reasons to be satisfied, mainly this: Lane Kiffin's bunch is 4-0. Undefeated after an offseason in which Heritage Hall embodied Murphy's Law. For the first time since 2007, they won a Pac-10 opener. So yes, I'll drink to that.

Meanwhile, Cougcenter keeps on keeping on:

Again, I know we're all tired of getting whipped. But there were some seriously positive things in here. This team is getting closer. I know this is something that will get me mocked by some, but I don't care: Our first teamers were fine against their second teamers. Why does that matter? First of all, that didn't happen the last two years. And second, most of our guys -- with their youth -- would be second teamers on most other Pac-10 squads.


Cal, Arizona:  Much deserved byes after staging one of the more brutal, entertaining defensive struggles the Pac-10 has seen in recent memory.

Washington St. @ UCLA, 12:30 pm
Arizona St. @ Oregon St. 3:30 pm
Washington @ USC, 5:00 pm
Stanford @ Oregon, 5:00 pm

Stanford and Oregon is the obvious marquee game and it’s being treated as such by ABC and ESPN.  But Arizona St. and Oregon St. is an interesting, early season gauge for two teams that clearly have some talent but desperately need a win to turn their seasons around.  Meanwhile, UW might be the best team USC has played all season long despite the Huskies’ faceplant against Nebraska.  Make your picks!