Ten to Watch: USC defense must rise up

Ken Cross

September 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm.

Dion Bailey (18) and the USC defense will need to toughen up against Stanford. (Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

1.) No. 2 USC 35, No. 21 Stanford 28 – The Stanford Cardinal offense kicked into an Andrew Luck-style gear last Saturday night in the 50-12 win over Duke.  New quarterback Josh Nunes threw for 275 yards in the win, and he was much sharper than in Week One against San Jose State.  USC and Matt Barkley haven’t missed a beat offensively in the first two games.  The key will be to continue that consistency while picking the defense up against Nunes and tailback Stepfan Taylor.

2.) No. 10 Michigan State 27, No. 20 Notre Dame 17 –  The Spartans probably have the most athletic defense in the Big Ten which will be a major test for Notre Dame, who was taken to the wire last week against Purdue.  Le’Veon Bell will be a test for the Irish defense as he averages 4.5 yards per carry and has scored four times thus far.  Defensively, Notre Dame has been strong against the run in wins over Navy and Purdue, who have nowhere close to the running attack of Bell and the Spartans.

3.) No. 23 Tennessee 27,  No 25. Florida 20 – The Gators have defeated the Volunteers seven times in a row, but with a renewed confidence and a stringent passing attack with Tyler Bray, the Vols look primed for a win at home.  Florida’s defense played at a high level last week in the second half in a 20-17 win at Texas A&M.  The Gators shut out the Aggies for the final 30 minutes, as A&M totaled only 49 yards on six drives in the third and fourth quarters.

4.) No. 1 Alabama 30, Arkansas 10 – UL-Monroe’s come-from-behind win over Arkansas has become an earth-shattering tremor in Fayetteville.  After Tyler Wilson was injured in the second quarter of Saturday night’s game, the Razorbacks lacked focus on both sides of the football.  Wilson is a day-to-day but he needs to play for the Hogs to have any chance.  Alabama continues to play great defense and the Tide showed that once again in its 35-0 win over Western Kentucky.  The ‘Toppers only passed the 50-yard line twice.

5.) @Missouri 27, Arizona State 24 – This is maybe the most interesting matchup of the weekend as the Tigers’ ability to rebound from the mistake-filled 41-20 home loss to Georgia will be monitored.  James Franklin’s ability to execute an efficient and error free offense is the key for Mizzou.  Arizona State comes off an impressive 45-14 outing in their win against Illinois.  Speaking of offensive execution, quarterback Taylor Kelly is executing coach Todd Graham’s version of the spread with the utmost precision.  Marion Grice is averaging 7.8 yards on the ground for the Sun Devils.

6.) No. 25 BYU 28, @Utah 16 – This is a must-win of sorts for the collective psyche of the Utes as Utah was nailed in Logan by Utah State last week.  Tough news for the Utes came this week with the injury of Jordan Wynn and the fact that he is indeed out with a season-ending shoulder injury.  That leaves the impetus on John White and the running game to allow new signal-caller Jon Hayes to get acclimated to the game climate in the huge rivalry.  BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson knows the measuring stick of a Cougar signal-caller often has to do with beating Utah.  Ten of 11 BYU senior quarterbacks have defeated the Utes since 1974.

7.) @Auburn 24, UL-Monroe 21 – The Warhawks of UL Monroe provided the shocker last weekend as they came from 21 down to knock off Arkansas, 34-28, in overtime in Fayetteville.  The interesting stat was the fact that ULM ran 103 plays to 66 for the Razorbacks and quarterback Kolton Browning threw 67 passes for 412 yards.  Auburn has had trouble sticking the football in the end zone as they have only two touchdowns in their first two weeks.  The mobility of Kiehl Frazier could be a key or the Warhawks may accumulate two scalps.

8.) @Wisconsin 31, Utah State 20 – Along the same lines of UL Monroe is the Utah State Aggies, fresh from their 27-20 win over Utah.  Chuckie Keaton had a stellar effort in directing the Aggies offense vs. the Utes. He rushed 17 times for 95 yards.  The Badgers were shocked in Corvalis, 10-7, against a fired-up Beavers defensive unit that forced six Wisconsin punts in the first half and then two turnovers.  After Montee Ball rushed for only 61 yards last week, it is imperative for Wisconsin to establish a running game after Bret Bielema fired offensive line coach Mark Markuson following the loss to OSU.

9.) Ga. Tech 23, Virginia 20 – The Cavaliers had to survive four missed field goals by Penn State just to get the chance to win 17-16 in the fourth quarter.  The Yellow Jackets’ pass defense should be on-call with Virginia QB Michael Rocco at the controls.  He has passed for 569 yards in Virginia’s first two wins.  The Yellow Jackets only true test was at Virginia Tech, where they dropped a 20-17 OT decision in Week One.  Athleticism on the perimeter on both sides of the ball should decide this one.

10.) No. 22 UCLA 41, Houston 14 – After only two games in the Jim Mora Era in Westwood, the Bruins definitely have the organization and structure to make a run inside a much-improved league.  This starts with Johnathan Franklin arriving on the scene as a legitimate Heisman contender as he averaged 10.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Bret Hundley, who is a dual-threat who has completed 68.9 percent of his passes.  The Cougars haven’t been spotted since the departure of coach Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M.  Houston lost its opener to Texas State and then lost to Louisiana Tech in OT, last week.