Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Morning Quarterback: Week 9

A Look Back at Saturday around the Pac-12


Offense: Duck fans have been anxiously awaiting the day that LaMichael James and Darron Thomas would step back onto the field. That day came Saturday against Washington State. There were a few who suggested that Darron needed another week off. I cannot say that I am entirely in agreement with that thought. What we have to wonder is how much of the subpar performance was rust related and how much was injury related? To some extent, both played a factor. Because we are not privy to the specifics of the injury, it is difficult to know which was more to blame.

That being said, all-in-all, Darron Thomas did not play that bad int he first half. There was only one very poor throw and that was on the pass over the middle to Paulson that he sailed. There were three dropped passes in his first 13 attempts, two of which bounced into a defenders hands. Looking at it empirically, Darron was just a few plays away from a really big first half. his struggles were with his footwork, mainly. That is likely a combination of rust and that gnawing feeling in the back of your head that makes your footwork a little more deliberate than normal. From that sense, it was good that Darron worked those things out against a weaker opponent like Washington State. bigger tests await.

The same can be said for James; he was rusty and it showed. He ran more East-West than he has all year and looked less explosive to the hole. But that goes with the territory. I expect LaMichael to have a smaller brace next week and more confidence. A full week of practice will help him immensely.

Defense: There will be another week of media and fans alike openly questioning the defense. It seemed like the Cougars were having their way with the Duck defense. As is often the case, though, looks can be deceiving. Washington State gained a total of 462 yards. The trick? Nearly 20% of those yards, 85, came with the Ducks up by 23 playing the subs in garbage time. Of the 337 yards passing, 21%, or 71 yards came in that last drive. In their first 10 offensive possessions, the Cougars scored on 3 of those drives for a total of 13 points. The Duck defense, while certainly not playing ti's best game of the season, was not as bad as it appears.

Coaching: Coach Kelly has always stressed playing against a "faceless opponent." Unfortunately, that message did not seem to be as clear today. It appears as if the players thought having James and Thomas back in the lineup would provide the spark. They were wrong. Players still need to step up and play big and that just did not happen Saturday. Those players who played without emotion deserve some of the blame. Ultimately, however, the coach is in charge of ensuring that players are ready to play. The Cougars did some unexpected things on both offense and defense and the Ducks did not seem to respond well to those changes. They played on their heels most of the game.

Praise should be given, though, to the gutsy decision to switch to Bennett in the second half; though it may have created a media firestorm, it seems to have helped the team regain some focus.

Around the rest of the conference:

Arizona State: Coming off of a bye week, Arizona State got a home game with Colorado. The Sun Devils rolled as expected. The defense, though, probably gave up a little more than they would have liked against a depleted Buffaloes team.

Arizona: The Wildcats played better than expected and made Washington earn a victory. After jumping out to an early 10-0 lead, the Wildcats just did not have the defense to stop the Husky attack.

California: If there was ever a Jekyll and Hyde team, it has to be the California Golden Bears. Zach Maynard threw 4 more interceptions and the Bears got trounced by UCLA. Is Jeff Tedford starting to feel some heat in the Bay?

Colorado: At this point of their venture into the Pac-12 Conference, Colorado has to be hoping that the access to California recruits will have an impact soon. The Buffaloes have no depth and very little top line talent. They look to be several years away from competitive football still.

Oregon State: A week after dismantling Washington State, the Beavers fell flat on their tails in Salt Lake City as Sean Mannion continued to experience growing pains while the Beavers nearly non-existent running game continued to struggle. It is unclear what the long-term future looks like for the Beavers, but the short term future is bleak.

Stanford: The Cardinal got their first test of the season with the best game of the weekend, a 3 overtime thriller at The Coliseum in Los Angeles. The win, though, may have come at a price as the team lost a couple of very valuable pieces and have their toughest foes ahead of them. Andrew Luck proved to be human after all, but much like last year's Ducks, the Cardinal found a way to continue winning.

USC: USC played what was likely their best game of the season. Their defense played good in spurts and made an exceptional play to turn an Andrew Luck pass into a "pick-6" for the Trojans. Matt Barkley may have sealed his stock as the second quarterback taken in next year's draft. There was one major blunder that lay at the hands of the coach. Coming out of a timeout, teh Trojans threw a pass to the middle of the field. With a timeout left, rather than get down and take the timeout, Robert Woods tried to run to the sideline and get out of bounds. He did, but only after the clock had struck 0:00. Go down after the catch, call a timeout and attempt the field goal to win. That is a coaching error

UCLA: I think Rick Neuheisel may just be a Phoenix. Every time it looks like his career is in ashes, he rises up, gets a win few expect and maybe saves his job for another year. As depleted as UCLA was entering the weekend, the win is a worthwhile accomplishment.

Utah: Utah got their first conference victory since joining the Pac-12 Conference. Whle it is not against the most impressive opponent, they were able to get their running game going with Jon White gaining over 200 yards against the Beavers. If the Utes want to compete in this league, though, they are going to need to upgrade their quarterback position.

Washington: Washington, coming off of a beat down at Stanford, perhaps looking ahead to this week's game with Oregon, walked through much of the Arizona game in a daze. They did end up winning by 11, but showed that their defense still needs a lot of work. Keith Price, after starting the season on fire has thrown 4 interceptions in his last 2 games including 3 to Arizona.

Washington State: What started as a promising season for the Cougars has quickly morphed into more of the same. The Cougars played inspired ball on Saturday and ARE playing better this season. That has not shown in conference play, but the Cougars are making some headway. Paul Wullff has almost assuredly earned himself another year to prove his worth.

PAC-12 Schedule for Week 10:

USC @ Colorado, 6:00 PM

Stanford at Oregon State, 12:30 PM
Washington State at  California 3:30 PM
Utah at Arizona 4:00 PM
Arizona State at UCLA 4:30 PM
Oregon at Washington 7:30PM 

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