November 3, 2011

Week 10 preview in the Pac-12

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Once, California's football program was known for producing talented passers. Six Golden Bears quarterbacks have been NFL first-round picks, and three have taken their teams to the Super Bowl.

Once, Cal coach Jeff Tedford had a reputation for developing star quarterbacks. Six that he coached at Fresno State, Oregon and Cal went on to become first-round picks.

THE SCHEDULE
FRIDAY
USC at Colorado, 8 p.m.
SATURDAY
Stanford at Oregon State, 3:30 p.m.
Washington State at California, 6:30 p.m.
Arizona State at UCLA, 7 p.m.
Utah at Arizona, 7:30 p.m.
Oregon at Washington, 8:30 p.m.
But things have changed in Berkeley. And more changes may be imminent.

Quarterback Zach Maynard has struggled with inconsistency and inaccuracy, and has thrown 10 interceptions. Predictably, there have been calls for backup quarterback Allan Bridgford from Cal fans who have endured mediocre-to-substandard quarterback play since Aaron Rodgers departed in 2004.

Tedford said Maynard remains his starting quarterback, but he hardly offered a ringing endorsement. Tedford seemed to indicate he'll have a quick hook if Maynard struggles against Washington State on Saturday.

"It just depends on how the game goes," Tedford said. "We want to make sure we're consistent there and don't turn the ball over. Turnovers have been the downfall. It's been very critical. We turn the ball over, either down deep in our territory or when we're going in to score. It's hurt us and given the other team a short field."

Quarterback play isn't Cal's only problem, but it obviously is a major issue. At 4-4, the Golden Bears are out of the Pac-12 North Division race and cannot even take bowl eligibility for granted.

It seems something has to be done.

"It's Coach Tedford's decision," Maynard said after last week's surprising loss to UCLA. "I'm not the head coach. I'm just going to perform to the best of my abilities, practice hard and get ready for the next opponent."

Maynard, in his first season as the starter after transferring from Buffalo, has had good outings, such as a four-touchdown performance in an early-season win over Colorado and a solid showing in a win over Utah two weeks ago.

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But he also has been inaccurate, completing just 53.4 percent for the season. Making matters worse, three weeks ago the incompletions started becoming interceptions.

He was picked off three times in a 30-9 loss to USC. Last week, he was intercepted four times in the 31-14 loss to UCLA. Tedford said the interceptions vs. UCLA weren't necessarily Maynard's fault.

"Interceptions come in different things you have to evaluate," he said. "Whether there was pressure on the passer with pass protection. A guy runs a route too short or too deep, or breaks too early or what have you. All those things need to be evaluated.

"He was going to the right place with the ball. It was more that the ball was just outside and tipped on one. Another guy was breaking off his route. On one, he has a linebacker in his face and throws too early. A couple of weeks ago, he was forcing it. This was different. He read coverages well but made errant throws."

Actually, changing quarterbacks could create more problems at Cal. Maynard reportedly is popular with his teammates, and Cal's best player, wide receiver Keenan Allen, is Maynard's half-brother. A quarterback change risks dividing the team.

Still, Cal has lost four of its past five. There already may be some division. And Bridgford wants his shot.

"I'm going to do everything asked of me," he said earlier this week. "Competition always brings out the best in people. I definitely feel I'd be ready to play in a game. I know the playbook inside and out, just as good as anyone on the team."

Actually performing better is an entirely different matter, though. There is no guarantee Bridgford will be more successful. Of course, he can't prove himself from the sidelines.

"I do have confidence in Allan Bridgford," Tedford said. "If need be, we can give him an opportunity."

That need appears to be getting closer.

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BEST MATCHUP: UCLA run offense vs. Arizona State run defense. The Bruins don't have much of a passing game, but they're third in the Pac-12 in rushing; they've rushed for at least 170 yards in their four victories. The Bruins rolled up 294 rushing yards last week against Cal, with QB Kevin Prince leading the way with 163. Arizona State has held five opponents to 121 or fewer rushing yards, and the Sun Devils are 4-1 in those games. If UCLA's running game can consistently move the football, the Bruins have a chance at the upset. If the Sun Devils can force UCLA into obvious passing situations, they will cruise.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Arizona State TB Cameron Marshall. The Sun Devils are 4-0 when Marshall has rushed for 100 yards. That includes last season's 55-34 victory over UCLA in which Marshall rushed for 147 yards on 17 carries. The Bruins are ranked 83rd in the nation, which hints that Marshall could be in store for another productive game. Although he has been slowed by an ankle injury, he's coming off a 114-yard, three touchdown performance against Colorado last week. He has rushed for 10 touchdowns in the past five games.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Oregon QB Darron Thomas. Nobody is doubting that Thomas remains the Ducks' starting quarterback. But he needs to play well Saturday for two reasons. No. 1, the Ducks are facing Washington, which - like Oregon - has the ability to post high scores. No. 2, Oregon coach Chip Kelly has shown he's comfortable with backup QB Bryan Bennett. Bennett played the second half of last week's 43-28 victory over Washington State because Kelly said he provided the best chance to win. Bennett also started two weeks ago, when Thomas was injured, and led the Ducks to a 45-2 win over Colorado.

NUMBERS GAME: Stanford QB Andrew Luck has thrown four interceptions this season. Actually, that might be a good thing because after three of the interceptions Luck led the Cardinal to a touchdown the next time it had the football. And behind Luck, Stanford leads the nation in red zone scoring. The Cardinal has scored on all 46 of its forays inside the opponent's 20. They've managed 36 touchdowns and 10 field goals.

POLL WATCH: Stanford (fourth), Oregon (eighth) and Arizona State (19th) are in this week's BCS standings. Stanford, which faces Oregon State, and Oregon, which plays Washington, are trying to avoid upsets before their showdown for the North Division lead next week. USC is 21st in the AP poll, but ineligible for the coaches' poll or the BCS standings.

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"Definitely, the fans have a hatred for each other. But I would say some of the guys on the team don't fully grasp how big it is." - Oregon TE David Paulson, a native of Auburn, Wash., on the intense rivalry between Oregon and Washington fans

"If we can upset them, that would be one of the greatest moments of my life." - Oregon State DE Scott Crichton, on facing Stanford

"We just have to stop the run. If we make them one-dimensional we can beat them." - Oregon State's Crichton, on Stanford and the apparent game plan of forcing Andrew Luck to pass

"We know there's an elephant in the room. You can't just say, 'Don't worry about the rest of the games.' We know [Oregon] is a big game - if we win this game. The only thing on our mind right now is Oregon State." - Stanford LB A.J. Tarpley, on whether the Cardinal is looking ahead to next week's showdown with Oregon

ETC.: USC coach Lane Kiffin was fined $10,000 by the Pac-12 for criticizing the officials in last week's triple-overtime loss to Stanford. ... Utah WR DaVonte Christopher was a high school quarterback in Las Vegas. His favorite receiver was Juron Criner, now at Arizona. They will be reunited Saturday when the Utes face the Wildcats. ... Washington has scored at least 30 points in seven games, the most in a season since hitting that mark nine times in 2000. ... Dan Buckner, Arizona's leader in receiving yards, is out with a separated shoulder. CB Shaquille Richardson (ankle) is questionable and freshman CB Cortez Johnson (concussion) is doubtful. ... With another loss, Oregon State (2-6) will be eliminated from bowl consideration at the earliest point of the season since 1997, the Beavers' first season under coach Mike Riley. ... Stanford TE Zach Ertz, a strong run blocker and the Cardinal's third-leading receiver, is expected to miss at least two games with a lower leg injury. Starting SS Delano Howell (hand) is expected to return after missing two games. ... Washington State has scored 266 points through eight games. Last season, the Cougars managed 235 points for the entire season. ... Cal P Bryan Anger has kicked a season-long punt in each of the past three games. He had a 64-yarder last week. ... USC SS T.J. McDonald has been suspended for the first half of Friday's game against Colorado for an illegal hit last week. Drew McAllister will take his place in the starting lineup. ... Andrew Luck is the first Stanford quarterback to beat USC three times. ... With UCLA DT Cassius Marsh serving a two-game suspension, DE Datone Jones moved inside and posted six tackles and two sacks last week. ... USC TB Curtis McNeal will start against Colorado with Marc Tyler (shoulder) and George Farmer (ankle) doubtful. ... Arizona coaches are excited about the play of freshman DB Tramayne Bondurant. "He won't come off the field the rest of the year," interim coach Tim Kish said. ... Colorado has lost true freshman RB Malcolm Creer (torn ACL and MCL) for the rest of the season. But RB Rodney Stewart (knee) and WR Paul Richardson (knee) are expected to be back in action. Stewart has missed two games and Richardson has missed four. ... Washington RB Chris Polk has rushed for 100 yards in seven out of eight games this season and has set a school record with 18 career 100-yard games. ... Washington State sophomore CB Damante Horton has grabbed an interception in four consecutive games. He returned one 76 yards for a touchdown last week against Oregon. ... Arizona QB Nick Foles needs 71 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the second consecutive season. ... Arizona State CB Deveron Carr (concussion) is probable. T Evan Finkenberg (knee), who has been out since Oct. 1, could play this week, but it would be as a reserve. ... Cal WR Keenan Allen needs 11 receiving yards to reach 1,000. ... Oregon CB Anthony Gildon, who missed last week's game against Washington State, will be back in the lineup this week. And coach Chip Kelly has indicated TB LaMichael James may resume his role as punt returner. James has averaged 19.3 yards on six returns. ... Oregon State WR James Rodgers has 206 career receptions and needs 15 more to set a school record. ... Utah players and coaches are growing mustaches as a sign of unity.

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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.




 

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