Pac-10 Football: Five Matchups to Keep an Eye On In Week Eight
Last weekend's slate of Pac-10 games provided us all with some nail-biting finishes and some incredible individual performances.
Now that the dust has settled, it seems like a good time to look ahead to five matchups that could provide the entertainment this weekend.
Oregon's Defense vs. Jake Locker (Washington)
Oregon's defense has been nothing short of spectacular so far in Pac-10 play. Through three games, the Ducks have yielded just nine points defensively. In fact, the only touchdown scored against them was caused by the offense—on an interception resulting in a touchdown.
Jake Locker has spent his time this year dazzling NFL scouts and turning the heads of opposing players and coaches. Locker, who is projected to be a high first round pick next April should he choose to come out, has thrown for 1,702 passing yards and 11 touchdowns this year. Locker has also run for 223 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns.
His talent is not lost on Oregon head coach Chip Kelley who was quoted this week saying, "I think Jake Locker is the best quarterback in this league. ...He scares us more than anybody we've played against."
Another one of this game's most important issues is whether or not Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will be healthy enough to play, and play effectively. However, the matchup between one of college football's greatest talents, and one of its staunchest defenses, will definitely be enough to keep the casual fan, and the NFL scout, interested in this game till the end.
Jahvid Best (Cal) vs. Washington State's Rush Defense
Cal running back Jahvid Best broke out of his slump in a big way last weekend against UCLA rushing for 102 yards, including a 93-yard touchdown run. He also added a 51-yard touchdown reception. His explosiveness should be on full display against the worst defense in the conference.
Washington State's rush defense makes this list not because of its dominance, but because of its lackluster play.
In their three Pac-10 games thus far, the Cougars have allowed rushing yard totals of, 156 (two touchdowns), 318 (six touchdowns), and 220 (three touchdowns).
They are going to have their work cut out for them trying to stop Best and Shane Vereen (who averaged 9.1 yards per carry last week on his way to 154 yards and a touchdown.)
Despite the target on his back, Best should have another monster week against the Cougars as he looks to help Cal inch its way back in the Pac-10 standings.
UCLA Secondary vs. Nick Foles (Arizona)
Nick Foles has been a shining light since the Arizona Wildcats handed him the keys to the offense. This weekend, the Pac-10's highest rated passer will face off against a UCLA secondary that has some playmakers of its own.
Sophomore safety Rahim Moore is tied for first in the nation with five interceptions this year. Granted, all five came in the Bruins first two games of the season (against San Diego State and Tennessee), but there's no denying Moore's ball hawking ability.
In addition to Moore, senior cornerback Alterraun Verner has also been making plays for the Bruins. He is currently tied for third in the Pac-10 with three interceptions and has 23 tackles thus far in conference play.
Given the way Foles has been playing recently, it's hard to imagine any secondary really giving him trouble. Foles is coming off his most impressive game yet, a 415 yard evisceration of Stanford, complete with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Foles has increased his passing yards in each of the three games he has started so far and it's no stretch to assume that he will have another big day against UCLA. Keeping him in check should absolutely be the first priority for the Bruins.
Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) vs. Matt Barkley (USC)
This weekend's Oregon State-USC matchup pits the two biggest rising stars in the Pac-10 against each other for the first time.
Oregon State sophomore running back Jacquizz Rodgers has absolutely lived up to his preseason hype—totalling 697 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns so far. In his first three conference games, Rodgers has scored eight times, including a monster 189 yard, four touchdown performance two weeks ago against Stanford.
Not to be outdone, true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley posted his own career day last weekend against Notre Dame in South Bend. Barkley was sensational in the game, throwing for a career high 380 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Trojan fans are hoping that Barkley's propensity to play well in big games will carry over to this Saturday against the Beavers. Despite being one of the most dominant teams of the decade, USC has had its title hopes derailed in two of the last three years by untimely losses to Oregon State.
Both of these losses, however, occurred in Corvallis. The Beavers haven't been able to beat the Trojans on the road since 1960, a streak Quizz Rodgers and co. would like to see end this Saturday.
With two great young players taking the field against each other on Saturday, along with the recent history these two teams have, Saturday's game should be a close one. At the very least, there will be some entertaining plays.
Dimitri Nance (ASU) vs. Toby Gerhart (Stanford)
Saturday's game between Arizona State and Stanford will depend heavily on the health of each team's starting running back, both of whom were injured in their previous game.
Dimitri Nance, who is fourth in the Pac-10 this season in rushing attempts, is depended on heavily by ASU's offense to take the pressure off of hot-and-cold quarterback Danny Sullivan. In last week's victory over Washington, Nance had 111 yards of combined offense (70 rushing, 41 receiving) to help the Sun Devils fend off the up-and-coming Washington Huskies.
Toby Gerhart was knocked out of Stanford's game last weekend against Arizona late in the contest with an ankle injury. Until that point, Gerhart, the country's fourth leading rusher, was having another great game. He ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh reported that Gerhart did practice on Monday and said, "He looked like Toby." This is a great sign for Cardinal fans heading into what should be a tough game with ASU this weekend.
Given the talent surrounding Gerhart, including freshman quarterback Andrew Luck who threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns last week, it leads one to believe that Stanford should be able to take care of business at home against ASU. Either way, the play of each team's running back should play a big role in determining the outcome.
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