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Pacific 12 quarterbacks find some passing balance

PAC-12 NOTES

Stanford, Oregon and California are going against the conference's reputation as pass-heavy and gain plenty of yards on the ground. But USC relies on Matt Barkley's arm with great results.

September 20, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Oregon running back LaMichael James, left, breaks through the Missouri State defense during the Ducks' 56-7 victory Saturday. The running game playing a big role in Oregon's offensive success.
Oregon running back LaMichael James, left, breaks through the Missouri… (Don Ryan / Associated Press )

No offense to the Pacific 12 Conference, but the league's football teams have long been considered one-dimensional on that side of the ball.

You know the stigma: Golden-haired, strong-armed quarterbacks flourishing in pass-heavy schemes.

Reputation, meet reality.

Fifth-ranked Stanford is averaging 287 yards through the air and 196 on the ground. Tenth-ranked Oregon is averaging 280 yards passing and 261 rushing, eighth-best nationally.

California, which is 3-0, is averaging 292.3 yards passing and 178.7 rushing.

This season, it seems, there is a run on balance.

Stanford Coach David Shaw said that even though his team has a Heisman Trophy favorite and probable No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinal's offense starts with the running game.

Specifically, Stanford aims to force opposing secondary players to focus on the run, which frees up receivers running downfield.

"It's nothing more complicated than that," Shaw said Tuesday during the weekly Pac-12 football coaches' conference call.

Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said balance is important so defenses can't gang up on a one-dimensional offense, but he added that teams shouldn't strive for balance just for the sake of balance.

"It should be more about balanced production, how productive you are when running it and throwing it," Kelly said.

In some instances, he said, you play to your strengths — even if you are one-dimensional. A prime example: Arizona, the Ducks' opponent Saturday. The Wildcats average 381.7 passing yards and just 55.7 rushing yards.

"When you have that group of receivers — which I think is the best group of receivers in the conference — I would lean heavily on the pass too. Especially when I have someone like Nick Foles pulling the trigger," Kelly said.

The same could be said about USC, which is 3-0 despite relying on quarterback Matt Barkley's arm (307 passing yards per game) more than on a rushing attack (131.3 yards per game).

When it comes to balance, Shaw points to one of his influences: Bill Walsh, the architect of the pass-centric West Coast offense. Shaw played for Walsh at Stanford in the early 1990s.

"We started every meeting with the run meeting," Shaw said. "We started with how we're going to attack their front."

Senior moments

Since taking over in Washington State's season-opener for the injured Jeff Tuel, senior quarterback Marshall Lobbestael has thrown for 10 touchdowns with two interceptions and has a league-best 180.2 quarterback rating.

"We've played 12 quarters, and he's been outstanding in 10 1/2 of them," Cougars Coach Paul Wulff said of Lobbestael, a starter for the Cougars in 2008 and in three games in 2009.

Little giant

Former South Torrance High running back John White may lack size at 5-foot-8 and 186 pounds, but the Utah junior is the Pac-12's leading rusher with 380 yards.

"He's not the biggest guy in the world," Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But he's tough. He's quick. He's got excellent speed."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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