USC struggles upend Pac-12 South

Notebook: South wide open; Utah’s Dunn has 2 100-yard returns

Bradley Parks,

Last Updated - October 29, 2012 6:19 GMT

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Marqise Lee did his part but Southern California as a whole came up short in a three-point loss to Arizona. Lee had 345 receiving yards, the fifth-most yards in a FBS game in history.

Southern Cal is losing its intimidation factor with each passing week. “USC week” used to be marked on all its opponents’ calendars, but it can hardly seem frightening with the Trojans’ uninspired play of late, most recently in its second loss of the season Saturday in a 38-35 setback against Arizona.
“The mistakes were discouraging,” coach Lane Kiffin said, “but we were able to overcome them on the scoreboard. We had the lead and I thought we might put it away.”

Might? Saturday’s loss is evidence of the way USC has played this season. The Trojans have let teams hang around to nip at their heels. They beat Utah by 10, Washington by 10 and Syracuse by 13. Stanford and Arizona were good enough to take advantage of their lack of focus and squeak out victories.

Fans are aware of Stanford’s offensive struggles with Josh Nunes at the helm. They also know Arizona’s defense is nothing at which to marvel. And yet Southern Cal fell to both.
Oregon’s top-ranked offense (53.4 points per game) and 24th-ranked defense (19.4 points allowed per game) most likely won’t be as kind to just hang around, or let the Trojans hang around, for that matter.
“We play every down like it’s our last,” Oregon linebacker Michael Clay said. “We have so many guys rotating in that there is no excuse for you to not give your 100 percent every single down. This intensity fuels the way we play.”
Head coach Chip Kelly has a no-holds-barred attitude and keeps his foot on the gas until the game is far out of reach. He’s not a nip-at-the-heels kind of guy and neither is his team. The Ducks’ lowest-scoring effort this season is 42 points.
The Trojans, on the other hand, enter this week’s matchup with the Ducks scoring 35 points per game and only eclipsing 40 three times. USC lost its only game against top-25 competition. All the Trojans can tout is a meaningless preseason No. 1 ranking.
Oregon is tough enough, but the three weeks following don’t get much easier for Southern Cal. The Trojans round out the Pac-12 slate with Arizona State and UCLA plus its season finale against Notre Dame.

If the Trojans aren’t careful, they could end up letting the Pac-12 South title slip away in such a competitive division with UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State breathing down their necks.
Complete Conference Standings

Arizona (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12)
•Talk about a signature win for the Wildcats. Defeating Southern Cal 38-35 was the victory Arizona’s been in search of since beating Oklahoma State in Week 2. With the Pac-12’s toughest teams – Oregon, Oregon State and Southern Cal – out of the way, Arizona may be looking at eight or nine wins at season’s end.
• The Wildcats’ defense certainly didn’t help them beat USC as 618 total yards allowed doesn’t paint the picture of stout defense. UCLA and Arizona State have fairly potent offenses. Both will put Arizona to the test in the weeks to come. The Wildcats must shore up their defense or continue adding fuel to the offensive fire.
• UCLA allowed 535 total yards to Arizona State. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott leads the Pac-12 in passing yards and running back Ka’Deem Carey ranks in the top five in rushing yards. Those two make up the dynamic duo Arizona will rely on against the Bruins’ clearly susceptible defense.
Next Game: vs. UCLA Nov. 3
Arizona State (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12)
• After two consecutive losses, Arizona State doesn’t need to enter panic mode just yet. The Sun Devils played well on offense in their 45-43 loss to UCLA, but the defense is clearly reeling without its two best defensive linemen, Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali. The Bruins scored the most points against the Sun Devils this season.
• Oregon State and Southern Cal are next on the bill for Arizona State, which doesn’t make for an easy turnaround. But head coach Todd Graham has confidence in his team in what is now a wide open South division. “We have to go to Corvallis and we have to win,” he said. “I believe in this team, I believe in these guys, and I believe in how they’re going to finish and what they’re going to do.”
• Arizona State has the third-worst rushing defense in the conference and have two key defensive starters shaken up. Oregon State running back Storm Woods ranks seventh in rushing yards at 77 per game, which isn’t bad in a conference full of talented runners. If the Sun Devils need to focus on anything this week in practice, it’s stopping the run.
Next Game: vs. Nov. 3
California (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12)
• Cal had no trouble moving the ball against Utah as it did in Week 8’s loss to Stanford, but finishing drives and maintaining possession was a different story. The Golden Bears turned the ball over three times and had trouble getting the defense off the field. “Turnovers will kill you every time,” head coach Jeff Tedford said.
• Washington is confident coming off a win against previously undefeated Oregon State in which the Huskies forced four turnovers. Cal must keep its offense on the field this week to have a shot at victory. Against Utah, the Bears’ time of possession was just 22:22, making any type of rhythm nearly impossible.
Next Game: at Washington Nov. 2
Colorado (1-7, 1-4 Pac-12)
• Colorado head coach John Embree is pleading for fans to stay with him and his team. “I know we’re not where [fans] want us to be, from a record standpoint,” he said, “but they have got to understand that it is right around the corner and they can help us make that turn quicker.”
• The first letters of Colorado’s next three opponents spell out “SAW” – Stanford, Arizona and Washington. It could be a sharp end to the season for the Buffaloes if something doesn’t change soon. Embree said he will consider starting quarterback Nick Hirschman in place of Jordan Webb to mix things up.
Next Game: at Stanford Nov. 3
No. 2 Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12)
• Southern Cal’s loss to Arizona makes this week all the more important for Oregon. Losing to an undefeated Trojans team would be one thing, but losing to a two-loss Trojans team could knock the Ducks out of BCS national title game contention.
• It’s tough finding flaws in Oregon’s game but the BCS computer has apparently found some. The Ducks dropped spots in the polls for two consecutive weeks without losing a game. Oregon’s players seem to have no interest in entertaining the polls, however. Head coach Chip Kelly continues to steer his team’s focus to victory against the next opponent.
“We have to have another great week at practice,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “We cannot get too ahead of ourselves. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal Nov. 3
No. 8 Oregon State (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12)
• After its first loss of the season, Oregon State needs to refocus quickly to avoid having the effects linger heading down the line. “The key deal now is our reaction to [the loss] and where we go from here.” head coach Mike Riley said. Just two weeks ago Arizona State was working its way up in the AP Top 25 Poll with one loss. Although Oregon and UCLA had other plans, the Sun Devils are still a formidable opponent.
• Storm Woods will be the catalyst for the Beavers as the Sun Devils allow about 170 yards rushing per game. With wide receiver Markus Wheaton’s status unknown after a hard hit in the first quarter against Washington and the quarterback position up in the air between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion, Woods seems to be the only stronghold.
Next Game: at Arizona State Nov. 3
No. 11 Southern Cal (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12)
• This week is huge for Southern Cal. The Trojans fell in the rankings after losing to Arizona and a loss to Oregon could plunge them through out of the top 25.
• Southern Cal racked up 618 yards on offense against Arizona, a fantastic number. But Oregon’s defense is a different animal. Quarterback Matt Barkley says unity will help the Trojans down the road. “Moving forward, we just have to come out hard and realize that we can still do something special,” he said.
Next Game: at Oregon Nov. 3
No. 22 Stanford (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12)
• Washington State put Stanford to the test and the Cardinal’s offense didn’t do much to help. The Cardinal’s two biggest yard-gainers, quarterback Josh Nunes and running back Stepfan Taylor, combined for just 204 total yards. The good news for the offense is that they didn’t commit any turnovers. The Cardinal leads the Pac-12 in turnover differential at plus-8. Colorado, next up for Stanford, is last at minus-8.
• The Buffs pose little threat to Stanford, but they do provide an opportunity for the Cardinal to get their offense moving. Colorado allows 46 points per game, 124th in the FBS. Stanford averages just 27 points per game with two outliers, 50 against Duke and 54 against Arizona. Without those two games, the Cardinal’s scoring average drops by eight points. Stanford needs to get the offense rolling now in anticipation of Oregon in Week 12.
Next Game: vs. Colorado Nov. 3
UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12)
• UCLA’s offense fired on all cylinders Saturday, showing all it has to offer. Brett Hundley threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns. Johnathan Franklin ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns. That’s exactly the kind of performance the Bruins need from their superstars heading in to what should be an offensive battle with Arizona.
• Arizona’s victory against Southern Cal blew the division open. UCLA is now just a half-game out of first place in the South with the division-leading Trojans still on the schedule. The Bruins also now hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against third-place Arizona State.
Next Game: at Arizona State Oct. 27
Utah (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12)
• Freshman quarterback Travis Wilson is gaining confidence. Despite just 156 yards and an interception, Wilson was happy with how he played compared to games passed. “I felt really good about all the passes I made,” Wilson said. “I feel like I was accurate, but I do have to eliminate that one pick. I felt great about tonight.” Wilson’s confidence is paramount looking toward the future for Utah.
• Utah wins when John White III runs well. Utah has won both of its games when White rushes for more than 100 yards. A solid rushing attack will help Wilson in times of trouble to give him something to rely on. White finished Saturday’s contest with 105 yards and two touchdowns.
• Reggie Dunn returned two kickoffs 100 yards for touchdowns, the second and third times he’s accomplished the feat in his Utah career.
Next Game: vs. Washington State Nov. 3
Washington (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12)
• Washington has become perhaps the Pac-12’s most confounding team. The Huskies do not have a particularly potent offensive unit with the second fewest points scored in the conference. Their defense runs in the middle of the pack with 386.4 yards allowed per game. Yet, the Huskies have defeated two top-10 opponents in Stanford and Oregon State.
• Washington faces Cal in a nationally televised game Friday. The Bears are certainly beatable for a team like Washington and linebacker Princeton Fuimano says the game plan will be straight forward. “Basically we just have to play and have fun,” he said. Simple enough.
Next Game: vs. California Nov. 2
Washington State (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12)
• Despite minus-16 rushing yards on the day, Washington State can take a lot of positives from Saturday’s loss to Stanford. The Cougars competed with a top-25 conference opponent and were perhaps just one errant throw from a shot at an overtime victory. Jeff Tuel tossed his only interception to Ed Reynolds in the fourth quarter, which Reynolds returned for a touchdown.
• Tuel played exceedingly well. He completed nearly 72 percent of his passes on 60 – yes, 60 – attempts. His final yardage totaled 401 and he threw two touchdowns. “I thought [Tuel] played pretty well,” head coach Mike Leach said. “I thought he played tough. I thought he kept drives going. I thought he did a pretty good job overcoming adversity.”
Next Game: at Utah Nov. 3