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The Sack-10
Dwarves do sacking, send them packing
By: Malamute, Updated 5 January 2004

This was supposed to be a down year for the Pac-10, a conference that has been dubbed "Carroll and the Nine Dwarves." However, when it comes to playing other teams in the country, the dwarves stand tall, doing a lot of sacking, while sending the big guys packing.

One dwarf, Washington State, humiliated Texas (ranked number 5) in the Holiday Bowl; another dwarf, Oregon State, hammered New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl; and diminutive Cal upended Virginia Tech in the Insight bowl.

And earlier in the season, dwarfish Oregon beat highly-favored Michigan (ranked number 4 at season's end) at Autzen Stadium, limiting the Wolverines to negative yardage on the ground.

In the main, teams from the conference feature sack attacks that are as good as any in college football. On certain Saturdays, the conference has more sackers than there are baggers working at southern California supermarkets. Conference teams that struggled on defense this season played in the proverbial out-house bowls over the holidays.

In total sacks, just before the bowl games, three Pac-10 players ranked in the NCAA's Division IA top eight. Dave Ball of UCLA led the division in sacks; D. D. Acholonu of WSU was tied for fifth, along with Kenechi Udeze of USC and two other players.

In its six bowl games (4-2), the Pac-10 recorded 25 sacks, while surrendering a paltry 10 sacks. USC, OSU, WSU and California won their bowl games. UCLA lost to Fresno State on a field that was mostly a quagmire (a game evener) and Oregon lost a 1-point heartbreaker to Minnesota. The two losing conference teams were out-sacked by their opponents.

Table 1. Number of sacks for, followed by opponent's yards lost.

Bowl Game Pac-10 Other team
USC/Michigan 9-69 1-11
OSU/New Mexico 5-44 1-3
WSU/Texas 7-64 0-0
Oregon/Minnesota 1-6 4-25
Cal/Virginia Tech  2-18 2-11
UCLA/FSU 1-7 2-13
Totals 25-208 10-63

Most teams in the Pac-10 play a variation of the West Coast Offense, which features a short passing game and a variety of receivers that stretch the field horizontally. * When teams from the Pac-10 are matched against teams from other conferences, notably the Big Ten and Big 12, the emphasis is on stopping their running games, since those conferences, by and large, tend to be more ground-oriented than other teams in the country.

Forced into a passing duel with the best of the Pac-10 teams, a ground-oriented team is hopelessly overmatched, both offensively and defensively. But especially defensively, when it comes to handling the blitzing defenses seen in the Pac-10.

Even when a team from another conference is pass-oriented, it does not see the type of pass defenses employed by Pac-10 teams on a weekly basis. Also, the best teams in the Pac-10 handle blitzes better than many out-of-conference foes because they face them week-to-week in conference play.

Playing against conference teams weekly, you get a lot of practice defending the pass, using zones, nickels, and blitzes (zone, safety and corner-back blitzes). Because of that, in our opinion, no team in the country would finish unscathed playing a full Pac-10 schedule of 8 games. For example, Big Ten champion Michigan is 0-2 in Pac-10 play this season. **

In its game against New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl, OSU limited the Lobos to 6 yards rushing and out-dueled them in the air, 386 to 121 yards. The Beavers recorded 5 sacks, allowing just one.

In its win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl, USC held the Wolverines to 49 yards rushing (1.3 yards per rush). The Trojans’ defense sacked QB John Navarre 9 times for minus 69 yards, yardage that was subtracted from the rushing total. The men from Troy out-dueled the Blue 342 to 271 yards in the air. Previously, Michigan had surrendered 15 sacks all season long.

“We couldn’t handle their pressure up front,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We gave up too many sacks. That was the difference in the game.”

Pete Carroll handed Carr his lunch, packaged in a variety of sacks.

In the Holiday Bowl, the Cougars’ defense sacked the two Texas quarterbacks  (Charles Mock and Vince Young) a combined 7 times for 64 yards in losses. Although the Cougars out-dueled the Longhorns in the air and on the ground (203 to 196 yards and 157 to 131 yards respectively), it was the disparity in sacks' total (7-0) that made the difference in the game.

After the game, Mock said, “they were coming from everywhere,” Mock was sacked on the last play of the game, as was Navarre on Michigan’s last possession. Roy Williams, Texas’ heralded WR, said that “they were getting there when we tried to throw the football.”

The nerds who program the BCS computers have no idea what a sack attack is all about, nor do they care about home-and-home commitments.

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The BCS bowl system penalizes Pac-10 teams for playing out-of-conference opponents who demand a home-and-home commitment. At the same time, teams from other conferences schedule weaker opponents that don't require home-and-home commitments. For example, USC scheduled Auburn, BYU, Hawaii and Notre Dame as OOC opponents, while LSU, who is playing for the mythical national championship in the Sugar Bowl, played Arizona, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and I-AA Western Illinois. Ohio State played 8 home games, splitting its four road games and winning all of its games at home. At one time this season, Ohio State had played 8 home games, while USC had played just 4.

Also, teams that play a preponderance of road games for financial reasons are penalized by a BCS system that does not factor in home-field advantage.

If home and away games are factored into strength of schedule, with a simple adjustment of the BCS formula, the Pac-10 moves from number four on the list to number one based on games played over the last 6 seasons. ***

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David Lassen of the Ventura County Star writes, "His (Pete Carroll's) home visit with recruit Mike Williams ended with the coach and player going one-on-one (basketball) in the driveway." Williams, of course, signed with USC.

Four years ago, Coach Rick Neuheisel engaged in a three-point shooting contest with recruit Dominic Shaw. The Huskies admitted it was against an NCAA rule that forbids determining the athletics ability of a recruit (a tryout). The UW deemed it to be a minor infraction and did not sanction itself for that violation, although it admitted to several other minor violations, which incurred self-imposed penalties.

NCAA bylaw 13.12.1 states that "A member institution, on its campus or elsewhere, shall not conduct (or have conducted on its behalf) any physical activity (e.g., practice session or test/tryout) at which one or more prospects...reveal, demonstrate or display their athletics abilities in any sport..."
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* To be competitive against other teams in the conference, Karl Dorrell at UCLA, this season, has installed the West Coast Offense, which in most people’s estimation, is about 50 percent completed.

** Pass-oriented Utah is 2-0 in Pac-10 play this season. If the Pac-10 were to expand, Utah would be a likely candidate to fill a vacancy.

*** The SOS is a weighted average of 2/3 the winning percentage of a team's opponents and 1/3 the winning percentage of the opponent's opponents.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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