October 4, 2007

Sun Devils out to prove they belong

MORE WEEK 6 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

Saturday's games

Overview: If there were any doubters, the Pac-10 proved it is more than just USC with last week's hard-fought struggle between Cal and Oregon. Cal rose to No. 3 in the polls with a 31-24 win, thanks to a Heisman-caliber performance from WR DeSean Jackson. On the same day, USC showed it might be more vulnerable than previously believed with a sloppy performance against Washington. The Trojans committed 16 penalties and turned the ball over three times in the 27-24 win. The aftermath brought injuries to key cogs in the USC offense. The good news for USC is that it's Stanford week. The other team in Los Angeles gets a chance to erase a bad memory from last season when UCLA plays host to Notre Dame. The Irish rallied to beat the Bruins last season, but UCLA should be able to get its revenge this season against a winless Notre Dame team. The other two conference games have Arizona State looking to stay perfect against Washington State and Arizona playing at Oregon State in a game that could have importance in terms of bowl positioning.

Best matchup: Washington State QB Alex Brink vs. Arizona State's pass defense. Brink's ability to pass against the Sun Devils defense, along with the Cougars' home-field advantage, are the keys to Washington State's upset hopes. Arizona State leads the conference in pass defense, pass-efficiency defense and interceptions, and Brink is the most seasoned quarterback in the league. He has passed for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in three games this season. But Washington State coach Bill Doba may have given this week's opponent some bulletin board material. "Arizona, I said ... is the second- or third-best team in the conference," Doba told the East Valley Tribune of Mesa, Ariz. "I still hold true to that. They are talented I think more than the team we're facing this week."

The pressure is on: Washington State's Doba. The pressure in this case is coming directly from the athletic director. Cougars AD Jim Sterk(CQ) told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer that "what happens from here on out" will help determine Doba's future. After dropping his first two Pac-10 games, Doba is 8-19 in league play and 17-22 overall since the start of 2004.

Who's hot: Arizona QB Willie Tuitama is 94-of-145 for 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns in his past three games. Cal TB Justin Forsett has scored a touchdown in each game this season and seven in his past three games. Arizona State freshman Thomas Weber has converted all 10 of his field-goal attempts after kicking four last week against Stanford.

Who's not: Oregon State has lost double-digit first-quarter leads in its past two games. The Beavers led Arizona State 19-0 before losing 44-32 on Sept. 22 and led UCLA 14-0 before losing 40-14 last week. The Beavers have turned the ball over more than anyone in the country, with 21 giveaways. Eleven of those have been interceptions from starting QB Sean Canfield. Stanford has allowed 96 points and 1,029 yards in two conference games this year.

Keep your eye on: It looks as if USC will need every one of its scholarship tailbacks. A week after a sloppy effort against Washington, the Trojans face Stanford with a long list of injuries at the position. C.J. Gable will miss the rest of the season after having abdominal surgery. Leading rusher Stafon Johnson isn't likely to play this week because of a foot bruise, and Chauncey Washington has been limited in practice with a shoulder problem. That left Allen Bradford taking first-team snaps earlier this week. Joe McKnight, Hershel Dennis and Desmond Reed will be in the mix, too, against Stanford.

Numbers game: Cal's No. 3 ranking is the highest the Bears have been ranked since 1952. Arizona State has won the past three games in the series against Washington State. The Cougars had won three in a row prior to ASU's current streak. Before that, Arizona State had won four in a row following a four-game Washington State streak. Arizona State's victory at Stanford last week snapped a 14-game losing streak in the state of California. .. USC has won 24 consecutive Pac-10 games at home.

Arizona State2-05-0
Southern California2-04-0
Oregon State0-22-3
Washington State0-22-3
Freshmen to watch: Arizona's long search for a running back has landed on true freshman Nicolas Grigsby. He accounted for 262 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against Washington State last week. True freshman TE Rob Gronkowski also had a breakout day with four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns against the Cougars.

Injury update: USC center Kristofer O'Dowd will miss 3-4 weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. G Chilo Rachal is day-to-day, but could miss three weeks with a sprained right knee.. Stanford QB T.C. Ostrander won't play against USC after having a seizure last weekend. Tavita Pritchard will start in his place. Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter will miss the Arizona game and possibly the rest of the season with a bruised kidney. UCLA G Shannon Tevaga (knee) should return against Notre Dame. TB Chris Markey (turf toe) is 50-50, coach Karl Dorrell said.

They said it: "He has not checked in with me about any of my career moves. I expect a call late in the week."
USC coach Pete Carroll on Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh said during the offseason that Carroll would remain at USC only one more year

"They don't need bulletin-board material. I mean, let's be honest: They're a very good team, a very solid defense, a good offense, a good quarterback. They may mention it. But that team doesn't need bulletin-board material. I doubt it's the centerpiece of their conversation down there."
Stanford wide receiver Evan Moore on whether Harbaugh's offseason comments will motivate USC

"I walked out of the locker room and my shoes were tied together. I was screwed up at the start of the game, so maybe it started with me. I was struggling before I got out there, so maybe I should have known."
Carroll on a mistake-filled win over Washington last week

"All I know, I don't like the green. I don't even like money this week, that color. Before I came in here, I threw my wallet in the trash. I don't like those guys and they don't like us, and that's what it is."
UCLA cornerback Trey Brown on Notre Dame.

Etc.: Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson again will face one of his former teams this week when he goes to Washington State. Erickson's Sun Devils already defeated Oregon State 44-32 this year. Erickson coached at Washington State from 1987-88. Notre Dame returns to the Rose Bowl for the first time since winning its first national championship. The Knute Rockne-led Irish defeated Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl. Arizona toyed with moving all-conference selection Antoine Cason to safety, but decided to leave him at cornerback.

MORE WEEK 6 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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