Pac-12: Utah Utes
Blowing away Colorado won't win any awards and winning at Washington State isn't terribly glamorous, but the Sun Devils’ 53-24 pounding of then-No. 20 Washington is difficult to dismiss.
Pollsters have also noticed. Arizona State is 22nd in the BCS standings and 23rd in the AP poll.
The Sun Devils seem close to breaking through in Year 2 under Graham as they prepare for a visit to Utah. They control their own destiny in the South Division and own probably the most forgiving schedule among their top competition -- UCLA, USC and Arizona. The Nov. 23 visit to UCLA, in fact, looms large as potentially the deciding game in the division, just as it did in the preseason.
But that sort of forward-looking talk is the kind that shouldn't seep into a locker room. Looking ahead is akin to inviting disappointment into the room in college football.
And, yes, Graham has noticed that too, which is why he's most happy with his team's maturity.
"All we can do is control what is in front of us," he said. "This team has been very diligent about staying focused on the job at hand and getting better every week. We control our own destiny. All we've got to do is go out and figure out a way to beat Utah and then go on to the next one."
There are, however, plenty of potential distractions this week for the Sun Devils. For one, it was announced Tuesday that athletics director Steve Patterson is leaving for the same job at Texas, which inspired some rumblings that Graham might become a candidate for the Longhorns job if Mack Brown were to retire or get fired. That won't completely go away, despite all the Nick Saban talk, or because Arizona State made it a precondition for Patterson being granted permission to interview with Texas that he agreed to not hire anyone from Arizona State.
Further, Utah's offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson was Arizona State's coach from 2007-2011, though Erickson told reporters this week that the game has no special meaning for him.
"Dennis is a pretty even keel guy," Utes coach Whittingham said. "He keeps his emotions in check. I haven't noticed any difference in his demeanor this week compared to any other."
Another issue for the Sun Devils might be overconfidence. The Utes have lost three of four, including their last two, a pair of South Division road games at Arizona and USC. Erickson's once thriving offense has taken a nose dive, in large part because his quarterback, Travis Wilson, has been battling injuries to his throwing hand. Wilson has completed just 8 of 23 passes for 66 yards with four interceptions in the last two games, and he was replaced in both by backup Adam Schulz.
And, of course, the Sun Devils brutalized the Utes 37-7 last year in Tempe.
"That was one of our poorest performances in the Pac-12 since we joined the conference," Whittingham said.
Still, the Sun Devils should be wary. The Utes are coming off a bye week, and Whittingham said Wilson is healthy and won't need the protective glove that seemed to hinder his performance at USC. Rice-Eccles Stadium is not an easy place to play, just ask Stanford, which lost there three weeks after whipping Arizona State. And the stakes are high, as a loss would remove the Sun Devils one-game lead in the division race.
Graham, however, thinks he has an ace-in-the-hole there, too: Leadership, which starts with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who is making a push for second-team All-Pac-12 QB behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
"I think he is the leader of our team," Graham said. "Taylor is one of the most respected people in this building just because of how he works."
Graham calls Kelly, "A tremendous giver of respect." He also is one of the nation's top dual-threat QBs, presently ranking eighth in the nation and second in the Pac-12 in total QBR.
"He's getting close to having a mastery of what we are doing," Graham said. "He's almost like having an offensive coordinator on the field. He understands the strengths and weaknesses of what we are doing."
Arizona State has been showing more strength than weakness of late. It will test the Sun Devils, however, to bring those strengths in full force to a second-consecutive road game against a rested team coming off a bye.
It's game day in Pullman, where the Cougars are looking to stay above .500 and get within one game of bowl eligibility, writes Chris Shaw of the Daily Evergreen.
Arizona State players insist playing on the road is no big deal, but the Sun Devils are looking for their first road win of the season at Washington State, writes Doug Haller of azcentral.com.
UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone isn't feeling the love after the offense struggled against Stanford and Oregon, writes Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Another former Oregon player wrote a letter expressing his displeasure with his school's fan base, shared by the Oregonian's John Canzano.
Stanford finding success with best 11 approach on special teams, writes Vihan Lakshman of the Stanford Daily.
Washington is tasked with replacing receiver Kasen Williams' production with the veteran receiver out for the season, writes Percy Allen of the Seattle Times.
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion talks about wearing orange uniforms and facing USC in an interview with the Oregonian.
Arizona is seeking athletically gifted high school seniors. Another requirement? They must love football, writes Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star.
Utah running back Kelvin York is looking to break out of his frustrating season, writes Lya Wodraska of the Salt Lake Tribune.
Previews and predictions for the week's slate of four games from Athlon Sports.
- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez can relate to Cal's Sonny Dykes, who is struggling to find success in Year 1 at his new school, writes Luke Della of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
- Arizona State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball prepares for a return to Washington State where he spent two stints and his son is currently a student, writes Doug Haller of azcentral.com.
- Cal quarterback Jared Goff has turned to gloves to help his fumbling problem, writes Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area Newsgroup.
- Wide receiver Paul Richardson (ankle) and running back Michael Adkins II (concussion) remain day to day as Colorado prepares for UCLA, writes John Henderson of the Denver Post.
- Oregon left guard Mana Greig went from walk-on to starter. Strong study habits and attention to detail helped Greig become the only starting offensive lineman for a BCS-conference school under 6-feet tall, writes Andrew Greif of the Oregonian.
- Oregon State right tackle Sean Harlow prepares to face his favorite childhood team and his father, former USC star Pat Harlow, is faced with split allegiances this week, writes Connor Letourneau of the Oregonian.
- USC interim coach Ed Orgeron continues to recruit with varying levels of success, writes Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.
- Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will pose a tough challenge for Washington State, writes Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review.
- A shoulder sprain against Oregon left UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks in tears when he was forced to stay on the sideline, writes Andrew Erickson of the Daily Bruin.
- A look around the Stanford program including an injury report, the upcoming number-retirement ceremony for John Elway and David Shaw's take on linebacker Trent Murphy's omission from the list of Butkus Award semifinalists, from Andy Drukarev of CardinalSportsReport.com.
Number to the left is national rank.
2. Oregon, 55.6 points per game
6. Arizona State, 45.4
15. Oregon State, 40.1
2. Oregon, 632.1 yards per game
14. Arizona State, 509.1
15. Washington, 501.9
22. Oregon State, 487.4
30. UCLA, 469.1
2. Oregon, 331.5 yards per game
11. Arizona, 288.0
22. Washington, 218.1
1. Oregon State, 420.0 yards per game
6. Washington State, 373.1
8. California, 358.9
14. Arizona State, 332.0
20. Oregon, 300.6
24. Washington, 283.8
Note: The offensive numbers have been trending down. Why? Pac-12 defenses. You’ve got to respect the balance of Oregon and Washington, though the Huskies probably should be getting more than 34.5 points per game out of 502 yards of offense. By the way, Stanford ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense with just 389.6 yards per game, but the Cardinal's 6.2 yards per play is just below Arizona State, Washington and Oregon State's 6.3 ypp, which is tied for second in the conference.
9. Oregon, 16.9 points per game
16. USC, 19.3
18. Stanford, 19.4
20. Arizona, 19.9
11. USC, 317.9
21. Arizona State, 349.3
25. Stanford, 353.4
Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)
7. Oregon, 4.41 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.69
16. USC, 4.79
23. Arizona, 4.89
25. UCLA, 4.97
26. Washington, 5.0
30. Arizona State
Note: Is this the year that defense eclipses offense in the Pac-12? As good as the top Pac-12 offenses are, the numbers for scoring and passing efficiency are better for defense than offense. Still plenty of football left, though. USC gave up 62 to Arizona State and 31 to Arizona, but when playing non-Arizona schools in its other six games, the Trojans have yielded 10.2 points per game.
1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 153.3 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.3
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 110.8
18. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 109.9
31. Tre Madden, USC, 95.9
Note: Who will lead the Pac-12 in rushing, and will that total end up winning the top spot in the nation? And, if so, how does that guy not get invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony? Also, do both All-American running backs come from the Pac-12?
5. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
13. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
28. Keith Price, Washington
29. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Note: Mariota is still No. 1 in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is 38th in the nation in the NCAA pass efficiency rating but he is 11th in QBR. Price climbed from 35th to 28th on his numbers against California. UCLA's Brett Hundley has fallen to 36th in the nation.
Receiving yards per game
1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 157.0
3. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 130.6
21. Chris Harper, California, 99.5
25. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State, 97.9
4. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.90 sacks per game
T10. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.9
T18. Anthony Barr, UCLA, 0.9 (Barr's played in fewer games than Washington)
21. Keenan Graham, UCLA, 0.8
Note: The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award looks like a battle between Murphy and Barr. Barr is fifth in the nation with 1.90 tackles for a loss per game, while Murphy is tied for seventh with 1.70 per game.
Random notes: Arizona State is the Pac-12's least-penalized team. Washington is the most-penalized team. Oregon leads the Pac-12 in turnover margin. It's plus-13 for the season, having forced a conference-high 23 turnovers. Arizona has the fewest turnovers with eight. Washington State has the most with 25, including 19 interceptions, which is nine more than any other team. California, however, is 12th in turnover margin at minus-12. Stanford, USC and Utah are tied for first in the conference with 27 sacks. Arizona and Colorado are last in the conference with just nine sacks. Stanford has yielded the fewest sacks --nine in eight games. Cal has yielded the most sacks -- 27 in eight games. Oregon State leads the conference in third down defense, with foes converting just 32 percent of the time. UCLA is still No. 1 in third down offense (51.9 percent).
Last week the Trojans were unable to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in the loss to Notre Dame, but there were no such troubles against the Utes. In fact, Utah was able to drive for a field goal on its opening possession but that was it.
“It was an outstanding performance by our players,” USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “They had a good mindset throughout the week to pull together through adversity and the result is a happy locker room right now.”
It was the USC defense that set the tone by forcing four Utah turnovers -- three interceptions and a fumble -- and converting all of them into points to go into the locker room at halftime with a 16-3 lead.
First it was Josh Shaw, who had been moved back to corner after spending the past three games at safety. Shaw was able to intercept a ball that had been tipped by a Utes receiver, and it set up a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Nelson Agholor for a 7-3 USC lead.
Leon McQuay III, who got his first start for the Trojans at safety, was able to get an interception after Wilson rolled to his right and threw late, with McQuay moving in for the ball at the right moment. Heidari was able to hit a 38-yard field goal to make it 13-3 and then late in the half, with time running out, the Utes inserted Adam Schulz at quarterback in place of Wilson, who was having trouble throwing the ball with a hand injury. Schulz didn’t fare any better as his first pass was intercepted by Su’a Cravens, who returned it 54 yards to the Utah 10. Heidari added a 28-yard field goal as time expired.
“We had emphasized all week on getting back to our dominant selves,” USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “We wanted to give up nothing on the field. We just had to execute the plan the coaches gave us and transfer that to the field during the game.”
About the only things that went wrong for USC were injuries to Cravens and offensive tackle Kevin Graf. Cravens injured his groin on the interception return, while Graf left the game earlier with a left ankle/foot injury. The string of injuries for the Trojans is long right now with players such as Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Morgan Breslin being forced to sit out the game. In fact, once Cravens went down, the Trojans were forced to suit up Dion Bailey, who had been on the sidelines in street clothes during the first half.
“We knew that at the nickel position we only had one guy to play,” Orgeron said. “He [Bailey] knew that and he told us he wanted to play so he put on his uniform and went out there. It shows that these guys believe in each other and are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.”
For the Trojans offensively, it wasn’t exactly a banner day either. USC gained only 30 yards rushing when factoring in sack totals. Tre Madden led the way with 60 yards on 12 carries. Kessler had a solid day with 21 completions in 32 attempts for 230 yards and one touchdown with no picks, but he was also sacked five times. The Trojans did not turn the ball over, but third-down conversions (3 of 15) continue to be an issue.
A special mention needs to be made of Heidari, who saw his job put open for competition this week after he missed two critical field goals against Notre Dame. Heidari admitted at practice earlier in the week that he was in “a funk,” but he appeared to get out of it by hitting on 4 of 5 field goals in a nice rebound performance.
“Andre is money,” Kessler said. “He’s a great kicker. Unfortunately he missed some kicks last week, but he’s one of the best kickers in the nation in my opinion. I have 100 percent confidence in him. When he’s focused and locked in, he is spot on.”
The Trojans travel to Oregon State next Friday to face a Beavers team that will not likely struggle on offense the way the Utes did. Orgeron will be looking to get his team as healthy as possible on a short week in order to play at a place that has not been kind to the Trojans in recent memory and against a team that is more than capable of providing a much stiffer test.
Oregon's official visitors
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1. Oregon in the spotlight: Separated by just 45 miles, Oregon and Oregon State will host a pair of California teams in games that will surely have major Pac-12 implications. Heisman hopefuls Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA square off as the undefeated No. 3 Ducks look to crack the top two of the BCS standings. Oregon State, winners of six in a row, host a reinvigorated Stanford squad that topped UCLA last week to get back into the top 10.
2. Get up for GameDay: ESPN’s College Football GameDay will be in Oregon for the Bruins-Ducks showdown. While the Ducks' offense gets plenty of attention -- and rightfully so -- it’s that defense, allowing fewer than 18 points per game -- that has been equally spectacular, if not underappreciated. They’ll go against a UCLA offensive line that is young and a bit banged up. The Bruins scored a season-low 10 points in the loss last week to Stanford. Part of the decline has been the loss of running back Jordon James, who is questionable this week. In their last two weeks, per ESPN Stats & Information, UCLA backs have been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 60 percent of their designed runs. In the first four games they had nine rushes of 20 yards or more. In the past two games, zero. On the flip side, Oregon has had no trouble running the ball (332.4 yards per game), and should be bolstered by the expected return of De’Anthony Thomas.
4. Bounce back? The Huskies -- once ranked as high as 15th in the country -- look to snap a three-game skid when California comes to town. The Bears are still looking for their first conference win and have dropped nine straight Pac-12 games dating back to last season. Complicating the matter for the Huskies is quarterback Keith Price and the injured thumb on his throwing hand. He has played through the injury for three weeks, but there is a question of whether he’ll be effective enough to play this week.
5. Honoring Coach James: Washington is also planning several tributes to legendary coach Don James, who died Sunday at age 80 of pancreatic cancer. In 18 seasons at Washington, James led the Huskies to six Pac-10 titles, a share of the 1991 national championship and a 153-58-2 record. Players and coaches will wear decals with the initials "DJ" and members of his family will serve as the honorary captains for the pregame coin toss. The band will perform a tribute to James at halftime, along with a memorial video. A public memorial service will be held Sunday afternoon at Alaska Airlines Arena.
6. Bounce back? Take 2: Utah and USC will both look to rebound from flat road performances last week. Utah is back on the road, headed down to L.A., where the Utes haven’t won since 1916. Aside from the bowl implications (see below) this is also a big recruiting trip for Utah, since 33 players on the roster hail from California. Utah’s front has been nasty, averaging 3.14 sacks per game, tops in the Pac-12. The Trojans got a boost with the return of Silas Redd (112 yards vs. Notre Dame) but marquee players from both teams, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, are battling injuries.
7. Off and running: In case anyone needs reminding, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last year’s win over Colorado. The teams will meet again in Boulder, and Carey has picked up where he left off last year. He has nine straight 100-yard rushing games and leads the country with an average of 161 yards per game. The Buffs are coming of a win over Charleston Southern where Michael Adkins II rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns. Also, from the Department of Funky Stats, Colorado is 0-6 in the pregame coin toss this year.
8. Bowl bound: Three Pac-12 teams are already bowl eligible: Oregon (7-0), Oregon State (6-1) and Stanford (6-1). For those three, it’s all about pecking order and jockeying for position to get to the best possible bowl game, which could include Roses, or maybe something bigger. All three of those teams still have to play each other starting with Stanford’s trip to Oregon State this weekend, Oregon’s trip to Stanford on Nov. 7 and OSU’s trip to Autzen on Nov. 29 for the Civil War.
9. Bowl bound? Lots of teams are on the bubble, but only one team could become bowl eligible this week. That’s UCLA (5-1). Of course, to do it, they’ll have to upset Oregon on the road. With GameDay in town, this one takes center stage across the country. Arizona State is the league’s only other five-win team, for now, and is off this weekend. Five other teams have four wins: Washington State (4-4, 2-3), Washington (4-3, 1-3), Arizona (4-2, 1-2), USC (4-3, 1-2) and Utah (4-3, 1-2).
10. Taking a breather: Two byes this week with Arizona State and Washington State resting up. The Cougars started the year with eight straight games, and head coach Mike Leach said that it’s possible some fatigue may have set in over the past couple of games -- both losses to the Oregon teams. WSU and ASU will meet next Thursday night in Pullman.
Utah travels to USC, and neither team feels particularly good about what it did this past week. Coming off a huge victory over Stanford, the Utes were flat in their first out-of-state road trip of the season in a 35-24 loss at Arizona.
A bowl berth still seems very much a possibility for both teams. The Trojans (4-3, 1-2) play 13 regular-season games this season because of their Week 1 trek to Hawaii. And with California and Colorado still on the schedule, it’s hard to imagine the Trojans not eking out at least two wins over the final six.
The road to the postseason is a little tougher for the Utes (4-3, 1-3). With trips to Oregon and Washington State sandwiched between home dates with ASU and Colorado, Utah is hoping it’s one-year bowl absence last season proves to be more of a freak occurrence rather than routine.
Most troubling to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, however, was that he has no explanation for why his team lacked the sizzle it showed two weeks ago in upending Stanford.
“I think that was our first out-of-state road trip and that could have played into it a little bit,” Whittingham said. “We were flat coming out. We had a good week of preparation. There were really no indicators we were going to come out flat. For whatever reason we weren’t real fired up in the first half ... We didn’t get it done. We lost some of the momentum we had from the Stanford win. Now we have to move forward and try to get that corrected this week.”
This wasn’t the first time it’s happened, either. Whittingham cited last season's 24-21 win over No. 25 BYU, which was followed by the Utes being blasted on the road by Arizona State. In 2011 they erased a 14-13 halftime deficit to win at Pittsburgh 26-14, only to tank on the road a week later at Cal.
“I talked with Coach (Dennis) Erickson afterwards and he said that’s happened to him so many times over the course of his career and he didn’t have a great answer either, other than it happens,” Whittingham said. “It’s happened to us a couple other times ... I wish I had an answer. If I had an answer than I wouldn’t let it happen. But it did.”
And now the Utes have to wash it away. With five opportunities left to find two wins, this game takes on even greater importance for Utah -- which will have to either sweep at home or pick up at least one out-of-state road win to become bowl eligible.
“The Pac-12 has become a meat grinder just like the SEC, in my opinion,” Whittingham said. “Every single week you’re going to be challenged. I don’t want to paint the picture that it was us being flat, or this and that, why we lost. Arizona is a darn good football team. They deserved to win. Ka'Deem Carey is one of the best backs in the country and did a number on us. You have to be able to play your ‘A’ every week in order to have a chance to win. We did play our ‘A’ game against Stanford and didn’t quite play up to that level this week.”
Interim USC coach Ed Orgeron is banking on his players’ peppier attitude to guide them after one opportunity after another slipped through hands in South Bend. Numerous times throughout the game the Trojans had an opportunity to re-take the lead, but either missed field goals or penalties or poor execution contributed to their downfall. Orgeron said he’s confident the Trojans have moved on.
“I really feel like we came back with a good attitude,” he said. “We’ve put the last one behind us. I really like the feeling of this team and their attitude. But we have to play well Saturday.
“They have a good mindset, whether they read (what's written about the team) or not. It’s none of our business. They are going to do what they want to do. They are grown men. But I think they are pretty focused.”
Both teams are hoping to get marquee playmakers back for this week. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson sat the second half of the Arizona game with a hand injury. Whittingham said it’s early, but he’s hopeful Wilson be ready to play. USC wide receiver Marqise Lee also missed the second half of the Notre Dame game when he aggravated his sprained knee.
After a few weeks of additions and subtractions to the Pac-12's recruiting classes, it's time to take another look at the most important target in the 2014 class for each program. While some schools are still in search of the same recruit from our previous report, others have either missed or reeled in that target and are on to another. A number of local prospects dot the list, while Stanford chases a national prospect -- and the top recruit in the West is heard from several times.
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The Pac-12 saw the most movement in the conference rankings this week. Oregon, which recently picked up a verbal from four-star WR Jalen Brown, moved into the top-40 nationally and up a spot in the conference rankings as well at No. 4. It’s a tight battle at the top of the conference with Arizona and Stanford right next to each other in the top 40. The Wildcats' class is led by four ESPN 300 prospects, and Stanford’s class features the nation’s top rated QB-PP Keller Chryst.
1. Arizona, 24 commits: The Wildcats check in at No. 23 in the RecruitingNation class rankings with a class that includes four ESPN300 commitments, including No. 120 overall Marquis Ware and No. 185 Jamardre Cobb of Salesian High in Los Angeles. Arizona will take its shot with No. 17 overall Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy), and teammate Dae'Juan Funderburk (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy) in December.
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