Five questions: The Oregonian’s Gina Mizell on Oregon State

Oregon State is in its second year under Gary Andersen and has started to take steps forward. In a sentiment that many UCLA fans are familiar with, the Beavers say they’re “close” to a breakthrough. The Oregonian’s Gina Mizell answered a few questions about OSU, its quarterback carousel and what a successful year might look like in Corvallis.

1. What were the expectations for a successful year for Oregon State at the beginning of the season and how far away are the Beavers from those expectations?

I actually wrote about that exact topic — how the Beavers would define success in Year 2 of Andersen’s rebuild — before the season and got a variety of answers from players and coaches. Of course, wins and losses are the ultimate indicator, but this season was also going to be about progress after Andersen brought a new offensive and defensive scheme to Corvallis when he was hired and has been revamping the culture. I projected this team to go 3-9, with wins against Idaho State, Cal and Arizona and multiple close games. So far that’s played out, and I think most reasonable fans would have projected something similar. But now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Beavers won two out of their last three, which would be a nice springboard into 2017. This team is clearly better than last season, though I think the biggest disappointment is that the offense — particularly, the passing game — has been poor again this season. Continue reading

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Five questions: The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon on Utah

Utah enters this Saturday’s matchup with UCLA as the co-leader in the Pac-12 South, but the Utes have a tough schedule ahead and several key injuries weighing them down. At the beginning of the season, this game looked like one that would be a key factor in deciding the Pac-12 South champion. Now the Bruins need it to just stay in the hunt. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon answered some questions about the Utes, their growing injury report and their impressive new punter.

1. Injuries have marred Utah’s season, yet the Utes are still tied for first in the Pac-12 South. How have they been able to get by and how long will it last? 

It’s been a bit of a circus. The Cal game was the ultimate low, as four key starters were either missing or got injured during the game, and it probably changed the complexion of the match-up — Utah’s only loss of the year. If healthy, it’s reasonable to believe that Utah would be 7-0 so far (they were 1 yard shy of beating Cal). At running back, they’ve gone from a young core to the running back that retired when his starting status appeared to be threatened (see below), and they’re on their fourth center since spring. The defense has been healthier in general, until last week when they lost the free safety and middle linebacker against the Beavers. It’s awfully precarious. I think most observers believe that Utah could be out of the South running if the current injured players miss a lot of time, and ESPN’s FPI ranks them as the fourth-best team in the South. The schedule is backloaded: After UCLA, Utah still has to face Washington, Arizona State, Oregon and Colorado. Continue reading

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Five questions: Seattle Times’ Stefanie Loh on Washington State

Washington State was a popular sleeper pick in the Pac-12 North, then the Cougars lost to Eastern Washington in the season opener. Six weeks later, they’re back to where people thought they might be: in the thick of the conference race. The Seattle Times’ Stefanie Lowe answered some questions about the Cougars, Luke Falk and the deal with WSU’s suddenly potent run game. 

1. The Cougars started the year with a loss to Eastern Washington. Now they’re hot off two impressive wins against Oregon and Stanford. What has been the key in turning things around?

To this day, the Cougars themselves don’t seem to be able to pinpoint exactly why they started the season so flat. However, several things have been key to the turn around. For one, the defense seems to have come together and coalesced after a messy Game 1 that saw them give up 515 yards and six touchdowns against EWU. The return of Shalom Luani — who missed the first game due to a concussion and an ongoing legal case — at free safety was significant. He’s one of the cogs of the defense, and his steadying presence has helped the Cougars find their footing. Continue reading

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Five questions: The Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev on Arizona

UCLA is searching for a bounce-back performance against Arizona after a heartbreaking loss to Stanford. The Wildcats are just two years removed from their Pac-12 South championship, but fell quickly from the divisional perch. They finished fifth in the Pac-12 South last year and revamped their entire defensive staff this year. They have a dangerous mobile quarterback who nearly led them to an upset victory over Washington last week. The Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev answered some questions about quarterback Brandon Dawkins, the team’s struggling defense and its running back situation. 

1. Brandon Dawkins took over the starting role for an injured Anu Solomon and had some success. Even if Solomon is healthy, will Dawkins keep the starting job and if so, what necessary component does he bring to the offense?

I believe he will keep the starting job. He isn’t as polished a passer as Solomon, but Dawkins is a superior athlete. He can be a real difference-maker with his legs. We weren’t sure he could run effectively against Washington’s vaunted defense, but he did and then some (176 yards, two touchdowns). He has a big frame and a strong arm and has shown promise as a passer. But he still needs a lot of work (reading defenses, remaining patient in the pocket) to become a proficient all-around quarterback. Continue reading

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Five questions: Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner on Stanford

Stanford already has a conference win in the bag after a victory over USC last week while UCLA is just starting its Pac-12 slate. The Bruins are trying to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Cardinal and earn head coach Jim Mora‘s first win over Stanford in five tries. The Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner answered some questions about Stanford’s star running back, its quarterback and its defense.

1. Christian McCaffrey’s versatility makes him such a nightmare for opposing defenses. He has accounted for nearly 60 percent of Stanford’s yards from scrimmage, but how long can the Stanford offense survive on the solo McCaffrey show?

One more week, at most. Can’t image Stanford winning at Washington without McCaffrey getting help on the playmaking front. Can he beat UCLA largely by himself? That depends on the Bruins. Their front seven will challenge Stanford, but it doesn’t take much for him to find the end zone. I expect that Stanford will try to use Bryce Love’s speed in the misdirection game, attempt to stretch the field with receiver Michael Rector and look to tight end Dalton Schultz on third down. But if UCLA cannot contain – not stop, but contain – Stanford’s running game, then nothing else matters. Continue reading

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