October 22, 2009

Weekend breakdown of the Pac-10

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Oregon at Washington, 3:30 p.m.
Washington State at California, 4:30 p.m.
UCLA at Arizona, 6:30 p.m.
Oregon State at USC, 8 p.m.
Arizona State at Stanford, 10:15 p.m.
Usually, upset conditions would be favorable.

A week after a close-call win over rival Notre Dame and a week before a showdown with Oregon that could determine the Pac-10 championship, USC could be less-than-focused on the task at hand.

But this season, this week, don't count on USC falling into another trap.

Last season, then-No. 1 USC was upset 27-21 by Oregon State. It was the Trojans' only loss, and it was enough to keep them out of the BCS national championship game.

With the Beavers coming into the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday, the Trojans won't be looking backward or ahead.

"I do think they clearly have our attention and all that. There will be no question," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "The game that Jacquizz Rodgers had last year ... he did something nobody else did to us, so our guys are tuned in."

Rodgers, who rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns against USC last season, and his brother James Rodgers present major challenges. Jacquizz is second in the Pac-10 in rushing yards and receptions per yards and third in all-purpose yards. James leads the Pac-10 in receiving yards, receptions per game and all-purpose yards.

"Not only do they have that ability, but Coach [Mike] Riley knows how to utilize them," Carroll said. "We have to try to find a way to line up properly and always be in the right place, play a disciplined game.

"Jacquizz has a great knack, like great zone runners do, of breaking your heart if you get out of your gap control."

The Rodgers brothers have combined for eight touchdowns in the past two games, victories over Arizona State and Stanford. The Beavers are riding the momentum of those two wins and coming off a bye week.

"I think we have played with more confidence, faster and more decisively on offense and our run defense has improved," Riley said. "We've played good football overall."

Good enough to beat USC? Again? That's unlikely, particularly in the Coliseum, where USC has won 46 of its past 47 games. Although Oregon State has beaten the Trojans twice in the past three seasons, the Beavers haven't won in L.A. since1960.

Furthermore, the Trojans have allowed just 28 points in their last eight home games. They rank among the nation's top 10 in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense.

The Beavers won't be intimidated, though.

"We have the same game plan this time," Jacquizz Rodgers said. "Just go straight at them. We just have to execute and make plays. It's a big game. I'm ready to step up to the challenge."

No doubt he is. But be assured the Trojans will be focused on every step he takes.

KEY MATCHUP: Arizona QB Nick Foles vs. UCLA's pass defense. Foles didn't move into Arizona's starting lineup until the fourth game, but he has made up for lost time. In three games as the Wildcats' starter, Foles has passed for 1,053 yards with seven touchdowns. The Wildcats are 2-1 in that span, with a fluke kick-and-catch pick-six against Washington causing the only loss. This week, he faces the strongest defense he has seen. UCLA is ranked 20th in the nation in pass defense and has allowed just six touchdown passes while grabbing nine interceptions.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Stanford RB Toby Gerhart. Stanford is 4-1 when Gerhart has rushed for 100 yards and 0-2 when he hasn't. His production obviously is vital. Saturday, he faces an Arizona State unit that leads the Pac-10 in rushing defense and hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher. The Sun Devils also lead the Pac-10 in interceptions and have 18 sacks, so a solid game from Gerhart is needed to take pressure off redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck. The Cardinal as a team are on the spot, too. Their bowl hopes are fading after back-to-back losses and with Oregon, USC, California and Notre Dame looming in November.

NUMBERS GAME: It's impressive enough that Oregon ranks 16th in the nation in rushing offense. That's even more impressive considering how the Ducks started. Six weeks ago, Oregon ranked 105th after rushing for a mere 31 yards in a season-opening loss to Boise State. Since then, the Ducks have averaged 237.0 rushing yards per game, which would rank eighth in the country. Led by redshirt freshman LaMichael James' 581 yards, Oregon next faces Washington, which ranks 86th in rush defense.


"He's terrific. Wish I didn't have to use him so much." - UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, on K Kai Forbath, who has converted 30 of 31 field-goal attempts dating to last season

"I'm sure someone will say, 'Oh, it's only one game,' but in my mind, the monkey's off my back and I've just got to carry it into the next game." - Much-maligned Arizona State QB Danny Sullivan, on his game-winning touchdown pass with five seconds left against Washington

"I'm gong to prepare like I'm the starter. I feel like that's what gives our team the best chance to win, so that's what I'm going to do." - Oregon QB Nate Costa, who started against UCLA on Oct. 10 but figures to return to backup status with Jeremiah Masoli's injured knee improving

Etc.: Arizona State leads the Pac-10 in total defense and has allowed only four rushing touchdowns. Sun Devils coaches are preaching to talented freshman LB Vontaze Burfict the need to play smarter after he picked up three personal foul penalties last week. ... Cal P Bryan Anger is coming off an amazing game last week. He had four punts that covered more than 50 yards, including a 72-yarder. Cal is unsure if K Vince D'Amato will be available Saturday because of a sprained shoulder. ... Washington State guards B.J. Guerra and Zack Williams could be back in the lineup for Saturday's game against California. But redshirt freshman CB Daniel Simmons is out with a broken leg, the third player in the Cougars' secondary to have a season-ending injury. ... Oregon has limited each of its past three opponents to 10 or fewer points. ... UCLA DT Brian Price has 10.5 tackles for loss. ... Cal has allowed just one fourth-quarter touchdown and is outscoring opponents 52-10 in the final quarter. Conversely, Oregon State has outscored opponents 55-10 in the first quarter. ... Oregon State hasn't lost a fumble this season and has committed the fewest turnovers (four) in the Pac-10. ... USC leads the nation with 26 sacks in six games and leads the Pac-10 in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 11.7 points per game. ... Trojans FB Stanley Havili's status is uncertain because of a dislocated shoulder. Sophomore D.J. Shoemate would start if Havili cannot play. ... Washington QB Jake Locker has been intercepted six times in seven games. He leads the Pac-10 in total offense at 275.0 yards per game and is second in passing with 243.1 yards.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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