September 18, 2008

Pac-10: Arizona State looks to re-establish itself

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Keeping a close eye on a growling pit bull would be wise that is, unless said preoccupation allowed a rabid poodle to attack. And so it was with Arizona State, which was bitten by Fifi while looking at Cujo.

No doubt, Arizona State's 23-20 overtime loss to UNLV, which was 2-10 in '07, was a shocker. But surely it could be explained as a result of looking ahead to this week's highly anticipated game against Georgia.

"I don't know that that was the reason," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "The bottom line in our football game was we had an opportunity early in the game and in the third quarter to put the game away, and we kept them in the game. It got to the fourth quarter, they had an opportunity to win and they took advantage of it.

"I don't know if it was looking ahead. Obviously, we didn't play well enough to win."

Commend Erickson for not taking the easy excuse, even if it is obviously true. It's also true though not as obvious that the Sun Devils have a realistic chance to pull off a stunning upset of their own.

Given good protection, quarterback Rudy Carpenter can accumulate passing yardage in big chunks, and Georgia's pass defense has given up yardage in the same fashion.

But Georgia boasts quarterback Matthew Stafford, Heisman-contending running back Knowshon Moreno and membership in the SEC, the premier league in college football.

A victory over any SEC team provides a measure of validation for most programs, but Georgia was among the preseason favorites to reign over college football's dominant conference and is a strong candidate to win the national championship.

"It's an opportunity to find out where we are (as a program)," Erickson said. "And it's an opportunity to get on a national stage against an opponent that's been on a national stage a number of times."

It also can remove all the pain from last week's wounds.

Those bites can get infected if left untreated.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Oregon offensive line vs. Boise State defensive line. Boise State's defensive front has been extremely effective in its two games. The Broncos have allowed opponents a little more than 100 yards rushing in both games and have 14 tackles for a loss. But that was against Idaho State and Bowling Green. Oregon's offensive line is among the best in the country. The Ducks have allowed just one sack in three games, and protection will be key with an unproven quarterback starting in place of injured Justin Roper either Jeremiah Masoli or Chris Harper. That also will make the Ducks' running game vital. So far, so good there. The offensive line has paved the way for the Ducks to average 323.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    Arizona at UCLA, 3 p.m.
    Boise State at Oregon, 3:30 p.m.
    Portland State at Washington State, 3:30 p.m.
    Georgia at Arizona State, 8 p.m.
    San Jose State at Stanford, 9 p.m.
    Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter. Any chance Arizona State has to upset Georgia is completely on Carpenter, who has to have a big performance. That's not out of the question, though. Carpenter ranks fifth in the nation with 975 passing yards and has thrown six touchdown passes. Meanwhile, Georgia has had some issues in pass defense. The Bulldogs have surrendered four touchdown passes, and last week, South Carolina's Chris Smelley threw for 271 yards against them. Carpenter is better than Smelley. If the Sun Devils can provide adequate protection, the game could get interesting.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Oregon RB LaGarrette Blount, a junior college transfer, has posted back-to-back 132-yard, two-touchdown performances. In those two games against Utah State and Purdue Blount has averaged 8.8 yards per carry. Arizona WR Mike Thomas has 21 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games. And that's not skewed by one huge performance. He had 138 receiving yards against Toledo and 136 against New Mexico. USC's defense ranks among the nation's top 15 in the four main statistical categories. The Trojans are eighth in rushing defense, 15th in passing defense, fifth in total defense and third in scoring defense. The Trojans are one of just seven teams that have allowed one touchdown or less this season.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Well, the Pac-10 for starters. Last week, the Pac-10 went 3-7 in non-conference games, including 0-4 against the Mountain West. Take out USC and suddenly the Pac-10 is being compared to the struggling Big East and ACC. This week, the conference can be redeemed or have a relapse with four non-conference games. In back-to-back losses to Arizona State and TCU, Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard is 22 of 39 (56.4 percent) for just 219 yards. He also has three interceptions and no touchdown passes in that span. Washington State's rush defense is the nation's worst after three games. In all three games, an opposing runner has exceeded 100 yards. In the past two games, Cal's Jahvid Best had 200 and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin rushed for 217. The Cougars have allowed an average of 330.3 rushing yards per game.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "I'm not going to accept mediocrity. I will not accept it. I don't know how long it is going to take, but we will right this ship. It will be accomplished. It's not going to be an overnight, easy task, but it will be done." UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic in reaction to the Bruins' struggling line play.

    "Given the history of it, I would think it's just a bad day. It can happen at any time if you don't take care of the critical situations. I wouldn't expect to see this from our conference again at this magnitude. I think this was kind of just a weird weekend." Cal coach Jeff Tedford on the Pac-10's 3-7 record last week. Tedford's Bears lost to Maryland.

    "We all understand we've played three games so far. There are still nine left on our schedule, and by my math, if you end up 9-3, that's a pretty good season." Washington quarterback Jake Locker, whose team is 0-3.

  • ETC.
  • Arizona has committed six turnovers, and five of them gave the opponent possession inside the Wildcats' 25. All six have been turned into points (two touchdowns, four field goals). UCLA freshman OT tackle Jeff Baca and sophomore G Brandon Bennett worked with the starting lineup in practice as the Bruins try to upgrade their line. Meanwhile, Bruins LB Kyle Bosworth (knee) is not expected to play this week. California allowed five sacks in last week's loss to Maryland. Before that, the Bears had given up just 25 sacks over the previous 28 games. In the loss, Cal LB Zack Follett recorded the ninth forced fumble of his career. Suspended Oregon State OT Tavita Thompson has hired an attorney in hopes of having his suspension lifted. He was suspended for a performance-enhancing-drug violation, but is hopeful he can be reinstated before next Thursday's game against USC. Five-star freshman QB Andrew Luck has taken snaps with Stanford's first-team offense this week, raising speculation he could make his debut this week against San Jose State. No. 3 Georgia is the highest-ranked opponent to visit Sun Devil Stadium since No. 1 Nebraska in 1996. The Sun Devils won that game 19-0. Under coach Mike Bellotti, Oregon which plays host to Boise State on Saturday is 28-1 in non-conference games played in Eugene. USC had 11 tackles for loss in last week's victory over Ohio State.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

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




     

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