October 27, 2011

Week 9 preview in the Pac-12

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In early September, it seemed a modest goal. In late October, it may appear an unrealistic ambition.

Still, despite a disastrous start to the season, rejuvenated Arizona still has a chance to achieve something never before accomplished in school history. They're looking to go four for four.

THE SCHEDULE
Washington State at Oregon, 3:30 p.m.
Colorado at Arizona State, 6:30 p.m.
California at UCLA, 7 p.m.
Oregon State at Utah, 8 p.m.
Stanford at USC, 8 p.m.
Arizona at Washington, 10:30 p.m.
COMING FRIDAY
Stanford at USC is our game of the week, and we'll have a more in-depth look at that game Friday.
Arizona has been playing football for more than a century, but never has played in a bowl in four consecutive seasons. They could do it this season, but it will require winning four of their last five games.

That may seem impossible - or at least highly improbable - for a team that is just 2-5 heading into the final weekend of October. But after a coaching change, a dominant victory over UCLA and with a much-less demanding remaining schedule, that goal suddenly seems attainable.

"I've definitely realized that there is a lot of fight in this team," senior wide receiver Gino Crump said after the Wildcats pummeled UCLA 48-12 last week. "I always knew it was there."

The Wildcats definitely have a chance. Their remaining opponents include struggling Utah and Colorado and Sun Belt member Louisiana-Lafayette.

If the Wildcats can win those games and also pull off an upset over Washington on Saturday or against archrival Arizona State on Nov. 19, they will be bowl-eligible.

Arizona and its bowl hopes were left for dead after a five-game losing streak that included defeats at the hands of four currently ranked opponents - Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC.

Those losses were predictable. A 37-27 loss to foundering Oregon State was not. Afterward, Mike Stoops was fired after 7 1/2 years on the job and it appeared the Wildcats would just start looking ahead to next season.

Then they blasted UCLA. Suddenly, a team that had averaged just 71.8 rushing yards in the first six games rolled up 254 yards on the ground. Suddenly, a team that could not put any pressure on opposing passers recorded two sacks. Suddenly, a team that even sweated out extra points had no issues in the kicking game.

Just like that, a team that seemed miserable was having fun.

"What was most important to me was for these kids to have fun with football again," said defensive coordinator Tim Kish, who was named interim coach. "That was our mantra going to the game."

The offensive line includes two freshmen and a sophomore as starters. It couldn't get a push all season long, but against UCLA was blasting open gaping holes.

"We told them they're veterans. They're not rookies anymore," Kish said. "We were really pleased with their effort."

But can they duplicate that effort the rest of the season? Can the running game continue to be productive? Can the defense continue to pressure quarterbacks? Can the kicking game remain reliable? Can the Wildcats keep winning, beat the odds and reach a fourth consecutive bowl game?

It should be fun finding out.

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BEST MATCHUP: Stanford's offensive line vs. USC's defensive front. The Cardinal's offensive line has allowed just two sacks and has paved the way for a rushing attack that averages more than 219 yards per game. Meanwhile, USC is 11th in the country in run defense. The Trojans cannot allow Stanford to dominate the line of scrimmage.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Washington QB Keith Price. Price, a sophomore, is having an excellent season. He's sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, having completed 68.5 percent of his attempts for 1,713 yards and 22 touchdowns. He figures to have a big game against Arizona, which is ranked 114th in the country in pass defense, has allowed five opposing quarterbacks to pass for at least 267 yards and has four defensive backs - including a starter and the top nickelback - suspended for at least part of the game.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: UCLA WR Nelson Rosario. Suspensions have left the Bruins with just two wide receivers with game experience, and Rosario is the only one with more than six catches. He leads UCLA with 30 catches, but also has a tendency to drop passes. The Bruins need him at his best against Cal, which is ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. Running on Cal won't be easy, but it will be even more difficult if the Bears can concentrate solely on stopping UCLA's ground game. Rosario must make the Bears at least respect the threat of the pass.

NUMBERS GAME: Oregon State has accumulated more penalty yardage than any team in the nation. The Beavers are flagged for an average of 77.9 penalty yards per game (57 penalties for 545 yards). They were penalized 14 times for 120 yards in last week's 44-21 victory over Washington State.

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"I thought it was awesome. You don't need that, but it made for great entertainment." - Arizona QB coach Frank Scelfo, to TucsonCitizen.com about the streaker than ran on the field during the game against UCLA.

"The fire in me has not burned out at all. Regardless of our record, I'm still a competitor and I'm very optimistic. I know if we were to finish the rest of the season 5-and-0 we would be 6-and-7 and playing for the Pac-12 [championship]." - Colorado WR Paul Richardson, to the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera

"It's a precarious situation, true. We'll use personnel groupings with only two wide receivers. We feel there is some stuff we can do with our run game." - UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, on the Bruins having only two experienced receivers this week because of suspensions

POLL WATCH: Stanford (sixth), Oregon (seventh) and Arizona State (21st) are in the BCS standings. USC is ineligible for the BCS standings and coaches' poll, but is ranked 20th by the AP. Stanford's strength of schedule will get a boost by playing the Trojans on Saturday. Meanwhile, Oregon and Arizona State face opponents with losing records.

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ETC.: Arizona has four defensive backs suspended for at least part of Saturday's game stemming from their parts in a brawl against UCLA. Starting CB Shaquille Richardson and starting nickelback Jourdon Grandon are suspended for the entire game. ... UCLA will be without WRs Randall Carroll, Taylor Embree, Shaquelle Evans and Ricky Marvray, who are serving one-game suspensions for their parts in the brawl with Arizona. DT Cassius Marsh will sit out a two-game suspension. ... Washington State QB Jeff Tuel could miss the rest of the season. He re-aggravated the injury to his left clavicle, which was broken earlier in the season and forced him to miss six games. He also had sustained an injury to his calf. Marshall Lobbestael again takes over as starting quarterback. ... Arizona State DE Junior Onyeali, who has been out of action since injuring a knee on Sept. 17, is expected to play on Saturday. TE Trevor Kohl (shoulder) is questionable. OT Evan Finkenburg (knee) is doubtful, though he's likely to play on Nov. 5 against UCLA. RB Cameron Marshall (sprained ankle) has made progress and, though not 100 percent, is moving better. ... Oregon CB Cliff Harris is indefinitely suspended after his second traffic-related incident this year. ... USC has removed RB Dillon Baxter from the team. ... Oregon State has averaged 36.3 points over the past three games. ... USC's defense has allowed 17 or fewer points in five of the Trojans' seven games. Alas, it has allowed more than 40 in the other two. ... The difficult part of Arizona State's schedule is behind the Sun Devils. Their first six FBS opponents are a combined 26-17. Their remaining five are 13-23. ... Stanford LB Chase Thomas leads the Pac-12 with 10 tackles for loss and is second with 5.5 sacks. ... Oregon DT Ricky Heimuli did not play against Colorado last week because of an apparent ankle injury. He left practice on crutches earlier this week. RB LaMichael James (dislocated elbow) has missed the Ducks' past two games, but has indicated he's available if needed. ... Jon Bonano is Arizona's third kicker this season, but may have solved a big problem. Bonano kicked two field goals - including a season-long 41 yarder - and converted six extra points against UCLA. Previous No. 1 kickers Alex Zendejas and Jaime Salazar were a combined 13-of-18 on extra-point attempts. ... Colorado QB Tyler Hansen (concussion) is questionable for Saturday's game against Arizona State. If he cannot play, redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman would make his first career start. ... UCLA WR Jerry Johnson has missed the first seven games with a fractured ankle, but is ready to play vs. Cal. Coach Rick Neuheisel said he hoped to get 15 quality plays from Johnson. S Tony Dye (neck) will sit out the rest of the season. Dye hasn't played since sustaining his injury against Texas on Sept. 17. ... Arizona RB Taimi Tutogi may have a family reunion of sorts against the Huskies. Backup Washington LB Thomas Tutogi is his brother. ... Cal CB Marc Anthony (dislocated shoulder) will be back in the starting lineup after missing the past two games. ... Colorado P Darragh O'Neill last week set school records for punts killed inside the 20 (six) and inside the 10 (four). ... Oregon State QB Sean Mannion hopes to build on an impressive performance against Washington State in which he threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns. ... USC WR Robert Woods missed practice early in the week, but will play against Stanford. K Andre Heidari sustained an ankle injury vs. Notre Dame last week and missed practice early in the week, but has resumed kicking and is available. ... Utah has allowed 21 sacks in seven games. At the same point in 2010, the Utes had allowed three sacks. ... Washington RB Chris Polk has exceeded 100 rushing yards in six of seven games and is ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with an average of 124.6 yards per game. ... Colorado WR Paul Richardson (sprained knee) has missed the past three games, yet still remains the Buffaloes' leading receiver. He's hoping to play against Arizona State, but his playing status remains doubtful. ... Utah WR DeVonte Christopher (ankle) has missed two games, but is expected to play vs. Oregon State. ... Stanford is 38-of-38 in red zone scoring (30 touchdowns, eight field goals). ... Washington LB Cort Denison leads the Pac-12 with 63 tackles, an average of nine per game. ... Washington State sophomore CB Damante Horton has an interception in each of the past three games. ... Utah will wear black uniforms this week for its fourth annual "Black Out Game."

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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.




 

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