NCAA – What Chris Is Watching – 09/26/14 – (18) Utah vs (3) Stanford

(18) Utah vs (3) Stanford – 5:00 PM

Somebody’s “0” has got to go in Salt Lake City on Friday afternoon. Stanford has been the Pac-12 team everyone’s been talking about (besides UCLA) and will be looking to extend their nine match shutout streak on the road against the Utes. The home side themselves have six shutouts on the season and, more importantly, have a zero in the loss column despite having not played an elite team yet. And that’s why Friday afternoon’s match represents such a big opportunity for the Utes. Their non-conference resume is OK, but OK may not be good enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament if they end up on a strong bubble. All those concerns would be washed away if Rich Manning’s side can overcome the Cardinal. The Utes were lethal with their finishing against a better-than-they-seem Utah Valley side en route to a 4-0 win last weekend. It’s still largely scorer-by-committee on offense, with four players netting in that win over UVU, with Katie Taylor, scorer of three goals and four assists, still the focal point if the club has one in the attack. While they won’t be odds on to extend their three match clean sheet streak, Utah still is plenty good on defense and could frustrate Stanford, who they’ve held to one goal the past two seasons. The question is if the Utes can score against this Stanford side: they’ve also been shut out in those past two meetings.

Stanford continued to rumble past opposition with their fourth straight win, ninth straight clean sheet, ninth straight match unbeaten, and third straight win by multiple goals after downing Cal Poly on Sunday. That was two days after an impressive 3-0 demolition of Santa Clara, the Card making their rivals look distinctly mediocre in the confident win. At this point, many eyes are focused on the October 9 showdown in Westwood against title rivals UCLA, but Stanford can’t take their eyes off their next three matches, with a trio of opponents that likely see the Card as their ticket into the Big Dance. The Utes are first and are a club that have played Stanford very stubbornly over the past few seasons en route to 1-0 defeats. The Card will probably fancy their chances of prying the Utes defense open a little more this time around with the recent emergence of Ryan Walker-Hartshorn in the attack. The towering sophomore has been one of the breakout players of the season for the club and leads the team in scoring with five goals on an economical fourteen shots. Most of the defensive attention is still likely to come down on Chioma Ubogagu (and with good reason), but the difference this season may be that Stanford has other weapons to punish foes with. Given the nature of both sides, this could be a defensive war, and you wouldn’t bet against another game decided by a single moment of inspiration.

(36) Arizona State vs (2) UCLA – 7:00 PM

Despite entering this match with a six-match winning streak, Arizona State enters this Pac-12 opener right on the bubble cutline, though their win against Texas A&M earlier in the season likely inoculates them from too many worries come November. Still, these Sun Devils likely see themselves as potential national seed contenders, and a result against the national title favorites would do that cause immeasurable good. ASU has been rolling over everyone in its path for a while, having won five of their last six by multiple goals, though the strength of schedule hasn’t been tremendous. Results are results though, and the Sun Devil offense is purring right now, having not been shutout once this season in nine matches. The one-two punch of Cali Farquharson and Aly Moon have run riot through ASU’s non-conference opponents, combining for fifteen of the team’s twenty-seven goals in 2014. They haven’t faced a defense anywhere near as talented as UCLA’s though, and it promises to be a set of thrilling duels to watch on Friday evening. ASU will be hoping that key defender McKenzie Berryhill, who has been hobbled by injury for much of the year, will be fit for starting duty after playing twenty-five minutes off the bench last time out. The club has kept three clean sheets in a row, but conceding three to Illinois earlier in the year shows there may still be some vulnerability in the backline, regardless of personnel.

UCLA rolled through a challenging away-home set last weekend, involving a long flight from Texas back to Westwood, putting in a brutally efficient performance on Sunday against Loyola Marymount after a likely harder than expected battle with Texas on Friday. Sunday was a ruthlessly efficient display from the Bruins punctuated by some great goals from the defending national champions, showcasing the club’s strength both from set pieces and from open play. Impressively, it was the fifth match in six where Amanda Cromwell’s side has scored multiple goals. Instead, the defense might be the unit that could be a bit of a concern, with the team having now kept just one clean sheet in three matches. True, the goal conceded to LMU was in garbage time with the match already well in hand, but the Bruins will want to get back to putting zeroes up in the opposition scoring column with league play here. For both sides, this is the sole match this weekend, meaning both clubs will be going all out with nothing in reserve to try and come away with the three points. A UCLA win would be yet another step in what appears to be an inexorable march towards a #1 seed.

(6) South Carolina vs (32) Missouri – 6:00 PM

Fresh off a tense extra time win against Auburn on The Plains in their SEC opener, South Carolina will look to continue a push towards an unexpected league title as they face Missouri and Georgia this weekend at home, in what would appear to be two must win games for any title ambitions. The Gamecocks probably got more than they bargained for in the league opener last weekend against Auburn. In a match that only sparked to life late in the second half, South Carolina had seemingly blown it after giving up a late equalizer after having taken the lead from the penalty spot. But Stevi Parker struck in extra time with a sublime volley for a golden goal that gave SC the three points. Having not beaten a team in the RPI Top 30 thus far, Carolina’s current RPI ranking flatters them, but if they keep winning, the odds of any type of major correction will drop accordingly. At the same time though, the Gamecocks know that they’re suddenly a very appealing target for clubs hungry for an RPI boosting win, of which Missouri is one. SC conceded for the first time in four games last time out, something they’ll want to correct against the Tigers. At the same time, the offense seems to be settling into a groove. The SEC opener was their fourth straight match with at least two goals, and Carolina will be hopeful of extending that streak Friday.

Missouri also comes into this one on a hot streak and have been in fact very hot since a dismal opening weekend of the season. Since that winless weekend, the Tigers are 6-0-1, enough to propel them into a position where an NCAA Tournament bid is a distinct possibility. Still, the Tigers are very light on the quality results side of the equation, having yet to take home a positive result against a team in the RPI Top 50, which will get you bounced from the bubble any year. Friday, obviously, represents a big chance to change that, and a win here would go a long way in firming up the Tigers’ resume come November. Mizzou certainly started out league play in style, with a 3-1 win over another set of Tigers, LSU. It was no less than the home side deserved, as they held LSU’s much vaunted offense to four shots on goal, while Reagan Russell scored both the opener as well as the coup de grace late to make it 3-1. Russell and Taylor Grant have combined for ten goals thus far, though the latter did not play against LSU, and missing her against SC would obviously be a big blow. Keying things up is senior midfielder Kaysie Clark, who already has eight assists, though her one goal on thirty-three shots is a bit alarming. The offense will likely have to be in fine form, both considering the defense they’re facing and given that the club has kept just three clean sheets in nine games, including none in the past three. But if Mizzou can come out of this one with a win, all those worries will likely be cast aside for a while.

(20) Florida vs (19) Georgia – 7:00 PM

Georgia enters this derby clash as the higher ranked team in the RPI but as decided underdogs against a team they haven’t beaten since the semi-finals of the 2008 SEC Tournament. Since, it’s largely been a spate of beatings, with Florida having won the last three encounters by multiple goals, including a 5-1 mauling in Athens last season. The visitors will fancy their chances at getting something in Gainesville this Friday night though, as they enter on a run of five straight wins, with the offense in fine form at the moment, having scored fourteen goals in those five matches. After a nervy start against Vanderbilt that saw them go down 1-0, Georgia’s greater conditioning and deeper bench shone through, as they dominated the last hour en route to a 3-1 victory. Marion Crowder’s pace continues to bedevil opposing defenses, with the sophomore showing few ill effects in her return from an ACL tear, scoring the first and last goals for Georgia against Vandy last Sunday. The defense figures to be in the crosshairs though, with Florida’s powerful attack hoping to feast on a Georgia defense that looked more than a little vulnerable early against the Dores. Georgia knows that even a draw will likely increase its NCAA Tournament odds exponentially, though they’ll have to overcome history and a talented Gators team to do so.

Florida had a bit more auspicious start to their league season last Friday night, overcoming Alabama on the road in a 2-1 win. The Gators were being held until the last quarter of an hour when Liz Slattery netted the breakthrough. Lauren Silver grabbed an insurance goal that actually went down as the match winner, when Alabama struck less than a minute later to cut the deficit to one goal. The club will have to get used to being without Silver’s contributions for a bit though, with the full-back now a member of the Jamaican WNT that will participate in WWC qualifying in October. The Gators have generally been a well balanced scoring machine this season once you look past Savannah Jordan leading the line. Jordan has a team leading five goals, which some might see as a slight disappointment considering her electric scoring pace last season, though she remains a top notch threat up front for Florida. Questions remain over the defense, which has kept just four clean sheets in eight matches, especially with such an in-form attack coming to town. If Florida wants to lift a league title come the end of October though, the next few matches are must wins, especially with a trip to Texas A&M looming next Friday.

(47) Texas vs (7) Texas Tech – 8:00 PM

Texas Tech, one of three remaining perfect teams on the season, will put that mark on the line on Friday night, as they face off against a Texas side again fighting a battle on the bubble as the season hits its midway point. The Horns have cooled off significantly after a start that saw them draw with Arizona State and Hawaii and only broke a three match losing streak this past Sunday when they overcame Texas State in San Marcos. The offense has again been a worry for the Austin side, and before last Sunday’s win, they club had been shutout in three straight matches. Given the leaky nature of the defense in those matches, the offense may have to be on point going forward for the Horns to finally make the NCAA Tournament under Angela Kelly. Rookie Olivia Brook currently leads the club with five goals, but she’s a super sub who netted four of those goals in a two-game spurt against overmatched opponents. Second leading scorer? Defender Brooke Gilbert. Against a notoriously defensively stingy side like Texas Tech, that could mean problems. But at the same time, Texas needs big results, and TTU may represent the biggest opportunity for them in the league. A win isn’t paramount, but it would make the rest of the season a lot less stressful.

Texas Tech aren’t just trying to keep their perfect record intact, they’re trying to make the crucial push for Big XII silverware in a tricky tie on the road. The Red Raiders have a whopping six wins over RPI Top 100 teams going into this encounter, a big explainer for why they’re so highly ranked, along with that perfect record. Tom Stone’s side has seemingly cured some of their defensive woes from earlier in the season, where the club shipped a goal in three straight matches, which would’ve made some swoon last season given the 2013 team’s crushing defense. The Red Raiders have now conceded just one in their past five, including the shutout win over Memphis last Sunday. In the attack, Janine Beckie leads the club with six goals and has been shooting on sight, averaging over five shots a game thus far, while Hannah Devine has added a handful. A key may be shutting down Alli Murphy, already on her way to a potential All-American season with ten assists. The Red Raiders already have a great chance at a national seed and will look to continue building that resume here. They’ll be favored to be 13-0-0 heading to West Virginia if they triumph in Austin, though that’s certainly not a guarantee.

Other Matches To Watch That May Get Previews Later

(38) Arizona vs (43) USC – 5:00 PM
(70) TCU vs (13) West Virginia – 8:00 PM

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