September 27, 2011 in Sports

Pac-12 notebook: QBs, RBs have been sterling

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – What comes first, great quarterback play or impressive receiver performance?

Thus far this year in the Pac-12, they seem to be symbiotic.

“The play of the quarterbacks, everyone notices all of them,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly on the conference’s teleconference Tuesday. “But whenever your quarterbacks are playing well, it’s because you probably have a good group of guys you’re throwing to.”

And the conference’s quarterbacks are playing well, holding down eight of the top 38 spots in the NCAA’s current efficiency ratings. Two of those are guys who started the season as backups, Washington State’s Marshall Lobbestael and UCLA’s Richard Brehaut.

“They’re unbelievable right now,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said of the conference’s quarterbacks. “Just get the conference stats and look at the passing efficiency numbers that are going on in this conference. The touchdown passes, the completion percentages, the yards.

“It’s what once was the Pac-8 and the Pac-10 and now the Pac-12 has been known for, and that’s the quarterback play. I think it’s holding true again this year.”

But a good quarterback can be made to look average if his receivers can’t get open. So the conference coaches have been smart enough to surround their stars with receivers oozing ability.

“Guys recruit talent around quarterbacks,” Sarkisian said of his Pac-12 peers. “They recruit talented quarterbacks. And they have schemes and they know how to attack. It’s all of that coming together and, ultimately, guys playing well at the position.”

And Kelly thinks that’s why the conference’s passers have taken another step this season. Teams like Arizona, Washington, USC, ASU and Washington State don’t just have a single strong receiver, they have a whole stable of them.

“It’s a good group of receivers, it’s not just one,” Kelly said. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s go double him and not cover one,’ because they’ve got a couple of really good guys.

“The overall talent at the receiver position in this league is pretty good right now.”

And young.

The top four receivers in yards per game are all sophomores, including, in order: WSU’s Marquess Wilson, who leads the nation; Keenan Allen of California, USC’s Robert Woods and Colorado’s Paul Richardson. The four have touchdown catches this year of, respectively, 80, 90, 57 and 78 yards.

Kelly’s Ducks face one of those guys, Allen, this week. And what he and his teammates can do had Kelly seemingly shaking his head.

“They’re pretty good,” Kelly said with a laugh. “You look at that opening drive (against UW) when it’s what, third-and-15 and all of sudden it’s 90 yards going the other way, a touchdown with Keenan (Allen).”

Four from the Pac-12

1. The Stanford Cardinal are ranked sixth in the nation. But even their coach, David Shaw, isn’t sure how good they can be. “It all boils down to how we prepare, how we practice and how we play,” Shaw said. “We’ve played well, but we have not played our best football this season.” Despite that, he thinks there is a chance they can be really good. “We’ve shown flashes,” of being dominant, he said, “but this is a week-by-week world we live in and the only thing that matters is how good we can be this week.”

2. LaMichael James may not be the biggest guy in the world, but according to Kelly, he certainly plays big. “He’s a lot more physical than I think some people give him credit for,” Kelly said, “because he’s 5-(foot)-9. He can pack a punch.” James may be able to move a pile, but his speed has resulted in 613 yards on just 65 carries this season, a 9.4 yards-per-carry average.

3. How confident are the Arizona State Sun Devils following their 43-22 win over USC last Saturday, the first they’ve had over the Trojans this century? “We played pretty well against USC, so obviously, when you win a game like that against a traditional, great program like that, it gives you confidence,” coach Dennis Erickson said. But such a feeling is ethereal. “It depends on the week,” Erickson said. “Things change every week. … But any team after a win, their confidence level goes up.”

4. It’s been a tough stretch for the Arizona Wildcats. They’ve lost three consecutive games to top-10 teams, two of those at home. Now they travel to USC, a team coming off its first loss of the season. Is there any hope in Tucson? “You can’t look at the scoreboard,” said UA coach Mike Stoops. “You have to play each play to get better. That’s our hope (that) these games will make us better later on down the road and hopefully this week against USC.”


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