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Conference gets very rude awakening

September 17, 2008|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

In the aftermath of a nightmarish weekend, coaches around the Pacific 10 Conference have circled the wagons with a common refrain.

Keyword: parity.

"There are a lot of good players and good coaches in our conference," said California Coach Jeff Tedford, whose team lost to Maryland. "But there are a lot of good players and good coaches in other conferences."

Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham, whose Huskies were swamped by Oklahoma, called it "one of those days."

"Black Saturday" stretched from Fort Worth to Seattle to College Park, fields strewn with lopsided scores as only three of 10 teams managed victories. Particularly galling, the Pac-10 was 0-4 against the Mountain West, including Arizona State's loss to Nevada Las Vegas.

"The Mountain West has a terrific conference," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops insisted after his team stumbled at New Mexico. "They're undervalued."

Two coaches who emerged victorious were slightly more blunt in their evaluations.

"The conference did get hammered last week," USC's Pete Carroll said. "That's the first time I can remember that happening."

Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti wondered about the long-range effects, not so much in the polls but in the living rooms of recruits who might be wooed to other parts of the nation.

"There's not a lot to say," he mused. "The only way we can answer is on the field."

Square one

The season has gotten off to a dismal start in the conference's northernmost region, where the Washington schools are a combined 0-5.

Now in his fourth season, Willingham is on the hot seat. Not so with Washington State Coach Paul Wulff, who recently inherited a program as barren as the winter plains surrounding Pullman.

"When I arrived on campus, no, I did not realize where we were at," said Wulff, who was hired away from Eastern Washington. "As we have gotten closer into the season, I've realized we have a long way to go."

Over the course of three losses, the Cougars' defense has surrendered a dizzying 475 yards and 50 points a game, in part because injuries at the safety positions have led to long runs. The offense, meanwhile, has scored a conference-low 11 points a game.

So where does Wulff begin? With his team facing Portland State on Saturday, he has players focused on the basics.

"We're making them go to class and eating and lifting and doing everything on time," he said. "And now we're demanding more on the football field."

Air it out

The way Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson sees it, there are at least two kinds of games.

The ones such as Saturday's matchup with No. 3 Georgia that make coaching a thrill, and games such as last weekend's loss that "make you want to retire."

The Sun Devils have no time to sulk, but quarterback Rudy Carpenter told reporters that -- like any quarterback -- he would have preferred a bigger role toward the end of the UNLV game.

After taking a 20-10 lead in the third quarter, Arizona State threw only six times. On Tuesday, Erickson acknowledged that he might have focused too heavily on the ground game.

"We ran the ball with pretty good success," Erickson said. "Did we maybe get a little conservative at the end? Probably. But I can't take it back."

Take cover

Undefeated Oregon heads into a dangerous game against Boise State team with a third- or possibly fourth-string quarterback at the helm.

The Ducks lost presumed starter Nate Costa before the season, then watched Justin Roper suffer a knee injury trying to make a first down during overtime of their 32-26 victory over Purdue on Saturday.

With Roper out for at least a week or two, Jeremiah Masoli and Chris Harper will share the spot.

Bellotti doesn't buy into concerns that his spread offense spreads the blocking too thin.

"Our quarterbacks have taken less hits in the spread offense than they used to in our West Coast, pro-style offense," he said.

They are taught scramble priorities through a simple motto: first down, touchdown, out of bounds or get down. Bellotti does not believe they need to be more careful.

"No," the coach said, "you've got to play football."


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