Mailbag: WSU's defensive woes

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, where all questions are answered except the meaning of life. I’m keeping that one to myself.

Cougar Brian in Scappoose, Oregon, writes: With the probable loss to Oregon this week, we're staring at 1-3 in Pullman, and once we're past the two most winnable games on our schedule following that in Cal and Utah, it's hard to see a W again this season. Given how things are going, at what point do you see the seat under Mike Leach and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Mike Breske, heating up?

Kevin Gemmell: For Leach, there might be a slight, warm tingling sensation, but that’s about it. He’s already received an extension and he’s locked in. And I know WSU fans tend to take the pint-glass-half-empty approach to their team. But let’s not forget: It’s only his third season and he’s taken you to a bowl game. Things are better, relatively speaking.

What makes this start to the season so frustrating is that there was momentum coming out of 2013. Despite the bowl loss, the Cougars were moving in a good direction. Heck, you won at the Coliseum … with defense!

I like Breske. I like his schemes. The Pac-12 blog isn’t in the business of speculating about hot seats – because for as much as we know, we don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes.

The defense didn’t play great against Rutgers, but it played well enough to win. And had it not been for a special-teams gaffe, Washington State probably would have. Against Nevada, a Connor Halliday interception gave Nevada a short field on its first score and the offense only produced one touchdown. It was a team loss.

Keep in mind when Breske & Co. came in, they were installing an entirely new defensive scheme. It takes time to recruit the genetics to fit that system. This coaching staff hasn’t even been through a full recruiting cycle.

I’m inclined to give this group another full season after this one – assuming things don’t get markedly worse on either side of the ball. But I don’t have fans or boosters to answer to.

 




James in Alameda, California, writes: (Question edited for length) Multiple outlets are reporting different recovery times for Taylor Kelly’s injury. Any chance we'll know the truth about the injury or do you think ASU will just continue to say Kelly's status is "uncertain" until he actually returns?

Kevin Gemmell: Having talked with sources at ASU, I can only relay what I know. And what I know is that he will miss the UCLA game (barring an amazing recovery), and anything beyond that is up in the air. It depends how quickly his body heals. How much physical therapy is required? Did he drink a lot of milk as a kid? Some guys are more resilient than others. There is no blanket statement that can be made about an individual’s broken bone. Only generalities.

The UCLA game is the first of three straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20, followed by No. 17 USC and No. 16 Stanford. There’s a chance Washington will also be ranked by their Oct. 25 meeting. There's never a good time for an injured quarterback. But some stretches are worse than others. This is a bad one.

But remember, a lot of the Arizona State faithful were banking on Mike Bercovici to win the starting job when Todd Graham came in. And the Sun Devils do have the league’s leading rusher in D.J. Foster. All is not lost if Kelly can’t play for several games. But his accuracy and running ability certainly gave the ASU offense a little something extra.

 




JJ in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Lady and gentlemen, in your respective opinion, do the Ducks have a chance to make it to the playoff with the injuries at tackle? Asking a LOT for a true freshman at right tackle and a walk-on at left tackle to hold up for the entire season. At this rate, Puddles might have to line up at tackle. Thanks for the great blog.

Kevin Gemmell: This is one of those crystal-ball questions to which the best answer is time will tell.

For all we know, Tyrell Crosby and Matt Pierson might be the next coming of Jonathan Ogden and Dan Dierdorf. Or they could simply be placeholders until others return from injury. I don’t know. Of course it’s a lot to ask. But I’m guessing they wouldn’t be wearing one of 783,360 possible uniform combinations for Oregon if they didn’t have the talent.

You obviously look ahead to some of the games against A-list defensive lines, such as UCLA and Stanford, and wonder. But those guys also have a couple of games to get acclimated.

A lot needs to happen for a team to win a conference. You have to stay healthy. But no one ever really does, so you need to have depth. And you need a little luck. A lot of that is unpredictable. But, for what it’s worth, I think Oregon is still in the best position of any Pac-12 team to reach the playoffs.

#4Pac: Most impressive defensive player?

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
7:15
PM ET
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the best defensive player through the first three weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Larry Placido/Icon SMIWashington nose tackle Danny Shelton is clearing up doubts over his production and consistency.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: In the preseason, there was plenty of chatter about Washington NT Danny Shelton, mostly centered around if and when he'd be taken in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. The question with Shelton has never been talent or potential. It's been consistency and production. Was he just a big guy who gobbled up blockers, which is important for any interior lineman? Or was he something more, such as a guy who gobbled up blockers but also was a disruptive force -- as in unblockable? There's also the question of whether he'd take a few plays off here and there. Based on the early returns, let's just say the 339 pounder has NFL scouts and defensive coordinators salivating. Shelton not only leads the Pac-12 in sacks with six and tackles for a loss with 7.5, he also leads the Huskies' defense in tackles, period, with 27. Has a 3-4 NT ever led his team in tackles? We're going to say no without even fact-checking that assertion, at least not at the FBS level. It probably won't hold, but the mere fact that's where the numbers are after three games bodes well not only for the Huskies defense, it also figures to make Shelton a lot of money this spring when everyone wants to hand his name to Roger Goodell.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Is there a defensive player in the conference that can do more than Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson? Over his first two seasons, he proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers, but some still believe he would make for an even better safety. Against Illinois last week, Thompson scored on a 36-yard interception return and a 52-yard fumble return to become the first player in college football with multiple defensive touchdowns this year. The performance earned him Walter Camp national defensive player of the week honors and came after a 15-tackle game against Eastern Washington the week prior in which he recorded a sack a forced fumble. Thompson is the Huskies' only player to have recorded a sack, interception, pass breakup, and both forced and received a fumble. We're talking defense here, but it seems appropriate to point out he also has six carries for 82 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, which stands as the Huskies' longest run of the year.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No defensive player in the Pac-12 has been more productive over the last three seasons than UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. And he's picked up where he left off last year and the year before that. Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 37 tackles through three games, including a league-high 21 solo stops. He's averaging 12.3 stops per game -- a full tackle more than Arizona's Scooby Wright (11 per game) -- and more than two tackles per game over every other Pac-12 defender. If the name of the game is production, then Kendricks absolutely qualifies as the most impressive. And it's not just about making tackles, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown and he forced a fumble that led to a defensive score. Both of those happened on the road at Virginia, and as a result he was named the national defensive player of the week for Week 1. On a team loaded with talented playmakers -- some of whom get more buzz than Kendricks -- he's not only been the most complete and impressive player on the Bruins, but also the Pac-12. Excited to see what he does Sept. 25 with the trip to Arizona State against the Sun Devils and D.J. Foster, who leads the league with 170 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't putting up big numbers because opposing QBs aren't throwing his way. His one interception this season tells all you need to know about his play-making skills.
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is going to have a pretty short highlight reel this season -- because he's that good. Opposing quarterbacks would rather learn what it feels like to be sacked by four members of Oregon's pass rush than to throw at Ekpre-Olomu. And so, through three games, the senior has only tallied 11 tackles and one interception. But my goodness, the one interception displayed everything you need to know about Ekpre-Olomu and his play-making abilities. He showed his awareness, change of direction, speed, jumping abilities, body control and athleticism in that one play. I can't think of another play in the Pac-12 this season in which all of those abilities were displayed so well. I'm expecting a handful more plays similar to this, maybe even something more impressive. But the most impressive part of his play -- and the part that speaks to why he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12 -- is the fact that we're not seeing a ton of him. Because QBs want nothing to do with No. 14.

Colt Lyerla pleads not guilty to DUI

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
5:08
PM ET

HILLSBORO, Ore. -- Former University of Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla has pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence of drugs.

The Oregonian newspaper reports the 21-year-old made no statements at Wednesday's arraignment in Washington County. He is scheduled to return to court next month.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office says Lyerla was pulled over Sept. 6 after a deputy saw him speed out of a parking lot and then swerve in and out of a traffic lane.

The deputy noted in a probable cause affidavit that Lyerla's eyes were red, his face appeared flushed and dazed, and his speech was slurred.

Lyerla left the Ducks in October 2013, shortly after he was suspended for violating team rules. He was arrested later that month in Eugene on a cocaine possession charge.


(Read full post)


When Oregon wide receivers coach and passing coordinator Matt Lubick said earlier this fall that he could see the Ducks using six to eight receivers, people might've thought he was crazy.

With Bralon Addison going down and just one true veteran wide receiver returning -- Keanon Lowe -- the Ducks' wide receivers were anything but experienced. And to expect six to eight guys to step up would be crazy, right?

No. It would've been an underestimation.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Chris Bernacchi/AP ImagesByron Marshall has rushed 19 times for 179 yards and a touchdown this season. He's also caught 12 passes for 190 yards and two scores.
Through three games 13 different players have caught passes for Oregon. Wide receivers Lowe, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford have stepped up in big ways, but even past that group, there's clearly serious depth for Lubick to look to in the pass game.

Against South Dakota, the Ducks came out blazing with 11 different players catching passes. But the big surprise was that running back Byron Marshall acted as more of a slot guy as he hauled in a game-high eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Michigan State, seven players tallied receptions. Redshirt freshman Devon Allen recorded two touchdowns and 110 yards on three catches, though two other players caught three passes as well (Lowe and Marshall).

And against Wyoming, again, 11 players caught passes. This time it was tight end Pharaoh Brown who led the way with four catches for 46 yards.

It's not completely absurd to have that many guys catch passes in these early-season games, especially considering how many of them are blowouts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, already this season, there have been 38 games in which a Power 5 team had at least 10 players catch a pass.

But, it should give Mariota and the team faith that the Ducks are building to the conference season on a very strong foundation of capable receivers.

“We don't have a favorite [receiver],” Lubick said. “We have six or seven favorites.”

Carrington, Allen, Lowe and Stanford have all amassed at least 100 receiving yards already this season. But the wild card that is going to make the Duck offense very hard to plan for this season is Marshall.

The Ducks are using Marshall in a different way than they did last season and his numbers are sky rocketing. After three games, his two receiving touchdowns and 190 yards on 12 receptions is already more impressive than his full season of pass catching from last year (13 catches, 155 yards, 0 touchdowns). His rushing numbers are a bit lower, but with the emergence of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, that's to be expected. In 2014 he has carried the ball 19 times for 179 yards and one score. At this point last season he had carried the ball 29 times for 196 yards and two scores.

But Marshall's presence on the field forces defensive coordinators to be a bit more on their toes.

“As a defensive coordinator, he'll keep you guessing,” Lubick said. “He gives us flexibility. It messes with [opponents'] personnel groupings. He could play the whole game at wide out. He could also play the whole game at tailback.”

Moving forward the Ducks' pass game is likely to get more exciting. With how young Marshall, Allen, Carrington and Stanford are, their learning curves are going to pick up with each game.

Lubick saw how much progress these young players made this spring and summer with Marcus Mariota, but he also knows “there's nothing better than game reps and experience.”

The next chance to show off their passing game is Saturday against Washington State, a team that has an impressive passing game of their own. But the Cougars struggles come on defense. Already this season they've allowed 11 passes of 20 yards or more and they've given up 11.2 yards per completion.

It should be a good opportunity for Lubick's six or seven favorites to step up.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
Come son of Jor-El. Kneel before Zod. Snootchie boochies!

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! There are four teams on bye this week -- Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and USC -- so we won't update them until next week. Here are the updated depth charts for the other eight.
Some observations: Mark your calendars

The Pac-12 released the 2015 schedule on Tuesday and Kyle Bonagura broke it down last night. You can just scroll down, because it's the post right below this one. Or if you're really lazy, just click here.

Some of the key matches that jump out are Michigan's trip to Utah in a rematch of this weekend's game, Arizona State vs. Texas A&M at Reliant Stadium and a rematch of Oregon-Michigan State, with the Ducks traveling to B1G country this time around.

There's the usual matchups of Notre Dame vs. USC and Stanford, plus Oregon State travels to Michigan and Cal heads to Texas. And don't think the Cougars won't have vengeance on their mind when they go to Rutgers.

P-A-C vs. S-E-C

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the nonconference performances thus far of the Pac-12 and the SEC to find the answer to the question: Who is better?

He crunches the results, makes a couple of predictions, and leaves us with this result:
The Pac-12 hasn’t outperformed the SEC thus far in Power 5 results and has no discernible advantage going forward in the quantity or quality of its Power 5 games.
News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

Ever wonder what Mike Leach or Steve Sarkisian would look like if they were the subject of the Mona Lisa? We haven't either, thank goodness someone has.

Three times the jinx? We're kidding.

2015 Pac-12 football schedule

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
PM ET
We're three weeks into 2014 ... so let's talk about 2015.

The Pac-12 released the full 2015 football schedule Tuesday, which begins the third cycle of scheduling among conference teams since the 2011 expansion.

We've known about most of these games for awhile, but it's still fun to scan them all in one place. Chris Petersen's return to Boise State, Arizona State's trip to Houston to play Texas A&M and the state of Oregon against the state of Michigan (on the same day) immediately stand out.

10 notable nonconference games
  • Michigan at Utah
  • Arizona State vs Texas A&M
  • Washington at Boise State
  • Oregon at Michigan State
  • Oregon State at Michigan
  • Washington State at Rutgers
  • BYU at UCLA
  • California at Texas
  • USC at Notre Dame
  • Notre Dame at Stanford

Here is the full schedule:

Week 1

Thursday, Sept. 3
  • UTSA at Arizona
  • Michigan at Utah
Saturday, Sept. 5
  • Arizona State vs Texas A&M, NRG Stadium, Houston
  • Arkansas State at USC
  • Virginia at UCLA
  • Colorado at Hawaii
  • Eastern Washington at Oregon
  • Weber State at Oregon State
  • Washington at Boise State
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • Grambling State at California
  • Stanford at Northwestern
Week 2

Saturday, Sept. 12
  • Arizona at Nevada
  • Cal Poly at Arizona State
  • Idaho at USC
  • UCLA at UNLV
  • UMass at Colorado
  • Utah State at Utah
  • Oregon at Michigan State
  • Oregon State at Michigan
  • Sacramento State at Washington
  • Washington State at Rutgers
  • San Diego State at California
  • Central Florida at Stanford
Week 3

Saturday, Sept. 19
  • Northern Arizona at Arizona
  • New Mexico at Arizona State
  • Stanford at USC
  • BYU at UCLA
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
  • Utah at Fresno State
  • Georgia State at Oregon
  • San Jose State at Oregon State
  • Utah State at Washington
  • Wyoming at Washington State
  • California at Texas
Week 4

Friday, Sept. 25
  • Stanford at Oregon State
Saturday, Sept. 26
  • UCLA at Arizona
  • USC at Arizona State
  • Nicholls State at Colorado
  • Utah at Oregon
  • California at Washington
Week 5

Saturday, Oct. 3
  • Arizona at Stanford
  • Arizona State at UCLA
  • Oregon at Colorado
  • Washington State at California
Week 6

Thursday, Oct. 8
  • Washington at USC
Saturday, Oct. 10
  • Oregon State at Arizona
  • Colorado at Arizona State
  • California at Utah
  • Washington State at Oregon
Week 7

Thursday, Oct. 15
  • UCLA at Stanford
Saturday, Oct. 17
  • Arizona at Colorado
  • Arizona State at Utah
  • USC at Notre Dame
  • Oregon at Washington
  • Oregon State at Washington State
Week 8

Thursday, Oct. 22
  • California at UCLA
Saturday, Oct. 24
  • Washington State at Arizona
  • Utah at USC
  • Colorado at Oregon State
  • Washington at Stanford
Week 9

Thursday, Oct. 29
  • Oregon at Arizona State
Saturday, Oct. 31
  • Arizona at Washington
  • USC at California
  • Colorado at UCLA
  • Oregon State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington State
Week 10

Saturday, Nov. 7
  • Arizona at USC
  • Arizona State at Washington State
  • UCLA at Oregon State
  • Stanford at Colorado
  • Utah at Washington
  • California at Oregon
Week 11

Friday, Nov. 13
  • USC at Colorado
Saturday, Nov. 14
  • Utah at Arizona
  • Washington at Arizona State
  • Washington State at UCLA
  • Oregon at Stanford
  • Oregon State at California
Week 12

Saturday, Nov. 21
  • Arizona at Arizona State
  • USC at Oregon
  • UCLA at Utah
  • Colorado at Washington State
  • California at Stanford
  • Washington at Oregon State
Week 13

Friday, Nov. 27
  • Oregon State at Oregon
  • Washington State at Washington
Saturday, Nov. 28
  • Arizona State at California
  • UCLA at USC
  • Colorado at Utah
  • Notre Dame at Stanford
Friday, Dec. 4
  • Pac-12 Championship Game, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 4

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
7:00
PM ET
Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Hawaii at Colorado
  • WR Nelson Spruce has accounted for 39.7 percent of Colorado's receiving yards, the second-highest percentage in the conference.
  • The Buffaloes have picked up 43 first downs from pass plays, second most in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado is the only team in the Pac-12 that has been outscored this year (minus-25).
Utah at Michigan
  • Nine of Utah's 14 touchdown drives have taken two minutes or less.
  • Utah scores on 70 percent of drives where it gets the initial first down.
  • QB Travis Wilson is one of 10 players in the country with at least six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Georgia State at Washington
  • Georgia State, a second-year FBS program, has never beaten a FBS team.
  • WR John Ross is averaging 37.3 yards per reception on six catches -- half of which have gone for touchdowns.
  • In two games with Cyler Miles at quarterback, Washington has averaged 51.5 points and 500.5 yards per game.
California at Arizona
  • Cal has lost 14 consecutive Pac-12 games, the second-longest conference losing streak in the country.
  • According to VegasInsider.com, Arizona opened as a 17-point favorite, but dropped to as low as nine points Tuesday morning.
  • Cal ranks third in the Pac-12, converting on 51.5 percent of its third-down chances.
  • Arizona ranks No. 8 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 on offense, averaging 582.7 yards per game.
  • Cal ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in rush defense (113 yards per game) and Arizona is No. 3 (116.0)
San Diego State at Oregon State
  • Oregon State has allowed one more rushing first down (11) than via penalty (10).
  • San Diego State quarterback Quinn Kaehler and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion played against each other in the same high school league.
  • Mannion ranks No. 2 among active FBS quarterbacks with 11,064 career passing yards.
Oregon at Washington State
  • Oregon has scored at least 14 points in a national-best 68 straight games.
  • Both teams rank in the top 15 nationally in total offense: 10. Oregon (573.3); 15. WSU (557.0)
  • Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks third nationally averaging 11.35 yards per pass attempt.
  • Oregon safety Erick Dargan, who chose the Ducks over WSU, leads the nation with three interceptions -- tied with four others.
  • WSU teammates Isiah Myers and Vince Mayle are the only teammates that both rank in the top 15 in receptions -- Myers is No. 5 with 26; Mayle is No. 7 with 25.
National individual leaders

Passing touchdowns
t1. Connor Halliday, WSU — 12
t13. Sefo Liufau, Colorado — 8
t13. Marcus Mariota, Oregon — 8
t13. Cody Kessler, USC — 8
t13. Anu Solomon, Arizona — 8

RawQBR
4. Mariota, Oregon — 93.3
6. Taylor Kelly, ASU — 92.1
9. Jared Goff, Cal — 90.1
11. Travis Wilson, Utah — 87.5
14. Cyler Miles, Washington — 85.2

Rushing yards
3. D.J. Foster, Arizona State — 510
4. Nick Wilson, Arizona — 449

Rushing touchdowns
t8. Royce Freeman, Oregon — 5
t8. Foster, ASU — 5

Receiving yards
4. Isiah Myers, WSU — 423
10. Nelson Spruce, Colorado — 346

Receiving touchdowns
1. Spruce, Colorado — 6
t2. Myers, WSU — 5

Yards from scrimmage
1. Foster, ASU — 649
9. Wilson, Arizona — 470

Sacks
1. Danny Shelton, Washington — 6
t3. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington — 5

Defensive touchdowns
1. Shaq Thompson, Washington — 2

Field goals
3. Casey Skowron, Arizona — 7

Pac-12 team stats

Offensive touchdown drive percentage
1. Oregon — 56.8
2. Utah — 50
3. Arizona State — 45.2
4. Cal — 40.7
5. Arizona — 36.8
6. Washington State — 35
7. Washington — 34.2
8. Stanford — 33.3
9. USC — 30
10. Colorado — 25
11. Oregon State — 23.3
12. UCLA — 23.1

Defensive touchdown drive percentage
1. Stanford — 2.8
2. Oregon — 15.8
3. Arizona — 17.9
4. Arizona State — 18.6
5. Cal — 19.2
6. Utah — 19.4
7. UCLA — 20
8. USC — 20.5
9. Oregon State — 20.7
10. Washington State — 24.4
11. Washington — 26.3
12. Colorado — 35

Offensive 3-and-out percentage
1. Arizona — 5.3
2. Stanford — 6.1
3. Colorado — 10
3. Washington State — 10
5. Cal — 14.8
6. UCLA — 15.4
7. Oregon — 16.2
8. Washington — 18.4
t9. Oregon State — 20
t9. USC — 20
t11. Arizona State — 21.4
t11. Utah — 21.4

Defensive 3-and-out percentage
1. Utah — 45.2
2. Stanford — 38.9
3. Arizona — 35.9
4. Washington State — 31.7
5. Oregon State — 27.6
6. Washington — 26.3
7. UCLA — 25
t8. USC — 23.1
t8. Cal — 23.1
10. Arizona State — 20.9
11. Colorado — 20
12. Oregon — 15.8

Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Kanell's Top Four Teams

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
12:52
PM ET


video

Danny Kanell ranks the top four teams in college football.
video

Heather Dinich gives her week 4 playoff predictions.
EUGENE, Ore. -- When Marcus Mariota went airborne last Saturday, diving into the end zone for a second-quarter score against Wyoming, it was as if everyone at Autzen Stadium held their breath.

That includes every Oregon player and coach, every Ducks fan, every bettor, every single person who has found himself/herself rooting for this quiet Heisman contender. For a few seconds, until Mariota got to his feet with his teammates, stomachs were churning.

As exciting as the play was and as happy as fans were to see another six points added to the scoreboard, all of it seemed minuscule when compared to one detail: Is Marcus OK?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota doesn't play it safe, and that's a good thing for Oregon.
“You can’t really think about those types of things,” Mariota said of playing it safe. “Because that’s when you get hurt. My dad always told me that if you play with your mind worrying or cautious, then you play at half-speed and end up getting yourself hurt.”

It’s no secret: Oregon’s playoff hopes rest on Mariota’s shoulders ... even when they’re closer to the ground than his feet. And though the Ducks preach the mantra of every school, everywhere -- “backups need to come in and play like a starter” -- Oregon’s postseason dreams will be nonexistent if Mariota is sidelined due to injury. And fans need to look no further than last season to know that is a fact.

Many would like to enclose Mariota in bubble wrap, keeping him safe until they “need” him to make those kinds of plays later on down the road. They want his helmet to wear a helmet and for his Nike jersey to somehow deploy airbags when it senses possible injury within five yards.

But that’s not going to happen, though Phil Knight might be phoning in an idea to Nike manufacturers now.

But Mariota knows one fact: You don’t tiptoe the line toward a national title. It’s not exactly a game that welcomes those who bring fruit baskets and tap politely on the door asking to enter. No, it’s a game for the risk takers and those willing to lay it all on the line, which Mariota, if it wasn't evident before that dive, is certainly willing to do.

Especially this season, with no prior knowledge as to how exactly the committee will choose the four teams or which factors they will give the most weight, teams and players can’t leave anything to chance.

So, would Mariota make that flip again?

Yes. He would. Because he’s not playing it safe and no one should want that. If Oregon wins the title, no one will say it’s because Mariota played it safe until it “really mattered.” Because with this new playoff, no one knows exactly which detail matters. Thus, everything matters.

And so, Mariota throws caution to the wind and his body toward the end zone. And as nervous as it might make fans, coaches and teammates -- wide receiver Keanon Lowe said, “I hope he never does that again. Ever.” -- it’s how the Ducks need to play this season if they want to be in that group of four at the end of the season.

Mariota knows how to get there. Now, everyone needs to just trust his lead.

He has an innate playmaking ability that you just can’t coach. So coach Mark Helfrich certainly isn’t going to un-coach it.

“You can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do this,’” Helfrich said. “The way that he plays, the dynamic nature of his play, how he likes to improvise -- that’s one of our biggest strengths.”

 “I’ll just let my instincts take over,” Mariota added. “It’s tough as a football player to kind of stop yourself from doing something.”

And so, one of Oregon’s biggest strengths will also be one of its fans’ biggest fears moving forward. Every time Mariota leaves the pocket or throws his body in harm’s way, every time he dives or hurdles, fans everywhere are going to hold their breath until they see their Flyin’ Hawaiian get back on his feet.

It’s the way Mariota wants to win the national title this season. And as much as a national title might mean to Fan X or Fan Y, it means more to Mariota.

He’s a smart player. Any risk he takes is one that’s going to be calculated. And, if he does get injured, then it will happen because it was a risk that he believed was worth it.

Isn’t that the kind of player you’d want to lead your team? Those are usually the kinds of players who are standing on the top of the podium or in the winner’s circle.

“You can’t squelch somebody’s gifts and the stuff that he does,” Helfrich said. “We can’t, we won’t ever approach offense with any kind of handcuffed mentality.”

What does that mean? Well, it means a lot more stomach-churning moments as Oregon fans wait for Mariota to climb from the bottom of the pile or stand and walk without a limp. It means some hesitance as folks let Mariota fly free. It means letting the player make the plays that he believes in.

Because at the end of the day, he’s driving this machine. And no one buys a Maserati to go 30 mph.

Certainly not Oregon.

Pac-12 QB Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
11:00
AM ET
The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With a few All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to whom’s secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love.

 

Honorable mention: Jerry Neuheisel, UCLA; Taylor Kelly, ASU: Neuheisel was a great story this week -- in fact, the story this week -- after stepping in for an injured Brett Hundley and leading UCLA to a win against Texas. His game-winning touchdown pass with three minutes to go won’t soon be forgotten, and the Pac-12 Player of the Week honor was justified. If he’s forced back into action again, he’ll be considered in future weeks. Kelly was his usual self against Colorado -- completing 13 of 21 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns -- before exiting with an injury.

Inactive Week 2: Jared Goff, Cal; Sean Mannion, Oregon State; Travis Wilson, Utah

To see last week’s rankings, click here.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:00
AM ET
Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.

Leading off

For the folks out there who were on the fence about whether Todd Graham was really committed to Arizona State, he's given you half a million reasons to get off it.

During a news conference on Monday, it was announced that the Graham family and the family of athletic director Ray Anderson would each pledge $500,000 toward the school's fundraising effort to "reinvent" Sun Devil Stadium. Graham came to Arizona State with a reputation for hopping programs -- especially after a quick departure from Pittsburgh. This move seems to solidify his place in Tempe.
It really wasn’t about that. Obviously this is something that makes a big statement about what our commitment is, as we surely wouldn’t make this kind of commitment if we had anything else in mind.

Sun Devil Stadium will undergo three phases of renovations over the next three offseasons, with construction slated to be complete in 2017. You can watch the complete news conference here.

That's the good news for ASU.

The bad news is that the quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss next week's South Division showdown against UCLA. Several outlets reported the news Sunday night and the Pac-12 blog confirmed from an ASU source Monday. Mike Bercovici told Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic that he's ready for the challenge.

Eliminator

We told you last week if you haven't seen The Eliminator yet, you really should. As of right now, only Washington State and Colorado have been flagged as "eliminated" from the College Football Playoff. Arizona, ASU, Oregon and UCLA are listed as "still in contention" with the rest of the league "on the fence."

But before we get to the playoff, someone has to win their division first. Ted Miller hit on the South on Monday, which is a mess.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

If you only watch one video today of a Pac-12 mascot playing charades with Ashley Adamson, make it this one:

A look at backup QBs in the Pac-12

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:31
PM ET
UCLA and Arizona State learned the hard way just how important a backup quarterback can be over the weekend when both Brett Hundley and Taylor Kelly went down with injuries.

Here's a quick look at who each school has waiting in the wings:

Arizona: Jesse Scroggins, senior

The Wildcats’ depth chart lists Scroggins or Jerrard Randall or Connor Brewer as the backups to freshman Anu Solomon, but Scroggins in the only of the three to attempt a pass this season. He started his career at USC, where he redshirted in 2010 before appearing in one game off the bench in 2011, when he took the final snap of a game against Washington and did not attempt a pass. His only other collegiate action came in 2012 at El Camino College, where he threw for 1,148 yards in eight games.

Career stats: 1 for 2, 9 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Four stars; No. 2-ranked QB; No. 55 player overall; Class of 2010

Arizona State: Mike Bercovici, junior

There was a time when Bercovici was looked at more favorably than Taylor Kelly, but that perception is not but a faded memory, as Kelly won the job in 2012 and asserted himself as a top QB. Bercovici has a reputation for having a strong arm and a quick release. We'll find out.

Career stats: 14 for 24, 112 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Two stars; No. 80-ranked QB; No. 142 player in California; Class of 2011

California: Luke Rubenzer, true freshman

Rubenzer, who quickly asserted himself as an important part of the Cal offense, has been one of the surprises of this season. As a change-of-pace running quarterback, the Cal coaching staff determined he was too important to redshirt. He's run for 82 yards on 17 carries and a score. He appears capable as a thrower as well.

Career stats: 5 of 9, 103 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
As a recruit: Three stars; No. 43-ranked dual-threat QB; No. 28 player in Arizona; Class of 2014

Colorado: Jordan Gehrke, sophomore

Gehrke remains mostly an unknown after transferring from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona before the 2013 season. While Sefo Lifau is the unquestioned starter, reports out of Boulder indicated that Gehrke did a good job pushing Liufau throughout fall camp. He completing 174 of 366 passes for 2,388 yards and 22 touchdown with 14 interceptions for SCC.

Career stats: 4 for 8, 35 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Two stars; No. 121-ranked QB; no reported offers in high school; Class of 2012

Oregon: Jeff Lockie, sophomore

Lockie split the non-Mariota game reps with Jake Rodrigues last season, but it became clear this spring that Lockie was the preferred backup moving forward, which led to Rodrigues' decision to transfer. Lockie wasn't a high-profile recruit, but was the MVP of one of Northern California's most competitive high school leagues during his senior year at Monte Vista High.

Career stats: 25 for 33, 242 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
As a recruit: Two stars; No. 105-ranked QB; No. 145 player in California; Class of 2012

Oregon State: Brent VanderVeen, sophomore

VanderVeen emerged from a three-way competition for the backup job, beating out Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio in the process. He's the only backup in the conference that has yet to throw a pass in his career.

Career stats: No pass attempts
As a recruit: Two stars; No. 144-ranked QB; No. 193 player in California; Class of 2012

Stanford: Evan Crower, junior

Before the season began, Stanford coach David Shaw spoke candidly about Crower's future, offering the possibility that Kevin Hogan's backup could transfer after getting his degree in order to play somewhere else next season. Shaw said Crower is "ready to play," so wouldn't fault him for heading elsewhere. Vanderbilt?

Career stats: 18 for 28, 236 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Three stars; No. 38-ranked QB; No. 58 player in California; Class of 2011

UCLA: Jerry Neuheisel, sophomore

In his first meaningful playing time, Neuheisel stepped up to the challenge, completing 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two scores against Texas on Saturday. He's not going to make anyone forget about Brett Hundley, but it was a good enough performance for UCLA fans [and coaches] to feel good about the backup situation.

Career stats: 34 for 43, 302 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: One star; No. 156-ranked QB; No. 233 player in California; Class of 2011

USC: Max Browne, freshman

Without question, Browne is the most high-profile No. 2 quarterback in the conference, arriving at USC as one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. He's still green, having only appeared in one game, but if Cody Kessler were to go down there would certainly be a lot of interest in how Browne performs.

Career stats: 3 for 4, 30 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Four stars, No. 2-ranked QB; No. 20 player overall; Class of 2013

Utah: Kendal Thompson, junior

Thompson transferred from Oklahoma with hopes to earn the starting job, but Travis Wilson held on to it after a competition throughout fall camp. In two games off the bench so far, Thompson has shown to be an effective weapon. He's completed 10 of 17 passes for 156 yards and ran for 78 yards on 15 carries.

Career stats: 14 for 30, 220 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
As a recruit: Three stars; No. 22-ranked QB; Class of 2011

Washington: Jeff Lindquist, sophomore

The only backup to start a game in the Pac-12 this year, Lindquist played with mixed results against Hawaii in the season-opener. He has the physical skills to be a good starter, but still needs to develop.

Career stats: 10 for 26, 162 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Four stars; No. 17-ranked QB; No. 3 player in Washington; Class of 2012

Washington State: Luke Falk, freshman

When highly-regarded prospect Tyler Bruggman announced he was transferring immediately cast Falk in a different light. Bruggman saw the writing on the wall: Falk had the leg-up in the backup competition and instead of staying and competing, he opted to try his luck elsewhere. Falk arrived at WSU as a recruited walk-on, but was given a scholarship before the season. He threw an 84-yard touchdown on his second career pass attempt on Saturday.

Career stats: 2 for 2, 86 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
As a recruit: Walked on at WSU after originally committing to Cornell; two stars from Rivals.com
If we get some spoons, we can dig ourselves out of here!

And other interesting notes and quotes from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich's Sunday teleconference following Oregon's 48-14 win against Wyoming.
  • On Tyree Robinson, Reggie Daniels and the rest of the young players who are getting major reps: "They're coming along. We had some moments in every phase, not only the DB's but offensively, the young wideouts had a few kind of moments that we need to improve upon in a hurry, where it was a misalignment or a miscommunication. That's what happened on a couple of the third-down conversions, just a simple matter of confirming communication and whether it's the safety to the corner or vice versa, we miscommunicated, missed a couple signals at wideout that would've had huge plays each time. Those are the kind of things that absolutely cannot happen."
  • Are the young players ready for conference play? "Absolutely. We're to the point now, there's not freshmen and sophomores and juniors and seniors. It's if you're in there, you're our No. 1 guy. Period. And we expect those guys to play like it and play great, if they've been here for three games or three years."
  • Helfrich gave some props to freshman offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby. Said he did well finishing plays.
  • Oregon played 67 players on offense and defense versus Wyoming.
  • Helfrich referred to Washington State's 59-21 win against Portland State as a breakout game that really showed how Cougars QB Connor Halliday is really getting on the same page as his receivers. He said Halliday is putting up "Playstation numbers." Against Portland State, the senior QB completed 41 of 62 passes for six touchdowns (two interceptions) and 544 yards.
  • On the challenges of entering conference play: "They know you a little bit better, you know them a little bit better. You might know their personnel a little bit more in terms of recruiting and crossover that happens in our conference."
  • Regarding the number of big plays the Ducks have given up: "When everybody has done their job and fits where they're supposed to fit and takes care of their business, like anything, we've been great. There were some breakdowns [on Saturday], just gap-wise, turned into huge plays. … Part of that is on us as coaches and part of that is execution."
  • As far as the big plays, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Oregon has given up 51 plays of 10-plus yards, and 15 of those were 20-plus yard plays. Obviously, some of those plays happened when third or fourth string guys were in, but that is still a number to pay attention to. Giving up 51 plays of 10-plus yards through three games is nothing to be proud of. On a national scale, it puts the Ducks at No. 111, tied with Troy and Washington.
  • On how they get the offensive linemen to be so versatile: "We try to start from the beginning in spring ball, make everyone as versatile as possible, whether that's tackle and guard, right tackle and left tackle. Center is a little more nuanced -- a guy can snap or not, sort of. You can teach that a little bit. But having those guys rotate as much as possible. Hroniss [Grasu] played both guard spots. Everyone in there has played every position except for center, without exception. … Always have the ability to plug in your next-best play, not your next back up."
  • Grasu has practiced at every position, Helfrich said. Would they move him? "Anything is possible."
  • Regarding Marcus Mariota's dive and Oregon's guidelines as to reaching the ball for a TD: "It has got to be fourth down or the last play of the game. Secure the ball. We'll take first-and-goal at the 1 or third-and-inches rather than a touchback."
video
With 52 percent of the vote, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's diving touchdown was named this week's Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week.

It was certainly a play that made more than a few Duck fans nervous as he launched himself headfirst over five players and soared, upside-down, toward the end zone. But, he bounced up and Mariota gave a Heisman-highlight reel play in a game in which those kinds of plays typically don't happen.

As with every week, we're going to reach out to readers to get some of your reactions as well as some reactions from our team of Pac-12 writers.

Kyle Bonagura: By the time Marcus Mariota gets to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony later this year, most the country will have forgotten Oregon even played Wyoming this season. If that makes you sad for some strange, illogical reason, don't worry because Mariota's Chip-Kelly-Dive-Into-The-Pool impression against the Cowboys is a lock to be featured prominently in his Heisman highlight reel.

It was also one of those plays that can play with the collective emotions of a fan base, which I can imagine went something like this:

"Go, go, go ... he's in! ... Wait, is he in? ... Wait, never mind, is he OK? Get up. ... Yeah, he's ok ... Are we sure he got in? ... [watches replay] Oh, he is definitely in, what a play! ... SHOW IT TO ME AGAIN!”

Kevin Gemmell: The best part about that play was that it didn't have to happen. I get that the Ducks were only ahead 13-7 at the time. But come on, was Oregon really in any danger of losing that game? Of course not. But Mariota doesn't care. He could have stepped out of bounds at the 3.5-yard line instead of going all Evel Knievel. I'll wager dollars to donuts the Ducks would have scored a touchdown one or two plays later. But Mariota was laser focused on delivering a knockout blow. He plays with one speed. And it's pretty fun to watch a guy with no off switch.

Chantel Jennings: The move itself was a bit McKayla Maroney-esque, launching himself up and over a pile of teammates and players, before twisting, turning and landing on his rear end. The feel in the stadium the entire time was "OMG!" but it swayed from a "Oh my gosh, that's so awesome" to "Oh my gosh, is he OK? IS HE OK? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME HE'S OK!" to a "OK, sweet, he's OK, great. Good score. Wooooo." The only thing Maroney did better was the unimpressed face. Now, if someone can get Mariota to do that, that would certainly win the day.

The best of Twitter:

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Kanell's Top Four Teams
Danny Kanell ranks the top four teams in college football.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD