Sunday, September 23, 2012
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 4
By Ted Miller
What did we learn in Week 4? Read on.
Oregon State is back: After consecutive losing seasons, the Beavers have opened 2012 with consecutive victories over ranked teams, avenging defeats to Wisconsin and UCLA from a year ago. The previous two seasons, the Beavers couldn't run the ball or stop the run. Now they apparently can do both. That's sort of a big thing. Further, QB Sean Mannion has grown up. In the 27-20 win over No. 19 UCLA, he passed for a career-high 379 yards and two touchdowns and didn't let a bad decision on an interception get him down. Oregon State heads to Arizona next weekend looking for its first 3-0 start since 2002.
Oregon State's Sean Mannion passed for 379 yards and two touchdowns during a win at UCLA.
Ducks passed their test: Oregon coach Chip Kelly says the Ducks take a football test every weekend against a nameless, faceless opponent. Well, the Ducks advanced out of 101-level courses to a 300-level advanced class on Saturday, trading nonconference patsies for a ranked Pac-12 team that already had whipped Oklahoma State, the defending Big 12 champion. And the Ducks made an "A" against No. 22 Arizona with a 49-0 win. In a plot twist, the defense took center stage, while the offense needed a half to get its rhythm. The performance solidified the Ducks' status atop the Pac-12 pecking order, at least pending games with Stanford and USC.
USC can win without great QB play: USC bounced back from its loss to Stanford with a solid 27-9 win over California. It wasn't pretty, but it was much better than last weekend. The Trojans won by running the ball well -- both Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal eclipsed 100 yards on the ground -- and playing tough defense. The Trojans held Cal to 250 total yards. Barkley threw two TD passes, but he also tossed a pair of interceptions for the second consecutive week. He'd had just one multipick performance in his previous 16 games. His Heisman Trophy hopes are fading. The Trojans don't yet look like the offensive juggernaut just about everyone expected them to be -- Barkley and receiver Robert Woods were curiously muted -- but a better-than-expected defense might provide some time for them to rediscover their mojo.
Arizona State makes South Division statement: By stomping South Division rival Utah 37-7, Arizona State made the most noise this weekend in the South Division. UCLA and Arizona both lost, but to good teams. USC, which the Pac-12 blog has long lauded as a certain winner of the South, still looks like a solid front-runner, just not a certainty any longer. QB Taylor Kelly was brilliant for the Sun Devils, while the defense is proving to be opportunistic. The Sun Devils are at California next weekend. They need to prove they can play well on the road, and Cal is good enough to provide a revealing test -- for both teams really.
Colorado isn't a complete disaster: When Colorado was losing 31-14 at Washington State early in the fourth quarter, it appeared everything was mostly going to script. In fact, it even felt like an uptick for the woeful Buffaloes, who had started 0-3 in the worst possible way. But something seemed to click, and instead of accepting defeat, the Buffs fought back. Their efforts were rewarded with a three-touchdown barrage that gave them a 35-34 win. The specter of a winless season is now gone. That is a worrisome demon to exorcise. And the young Buffs got to see that good things sometimes happen to teams that fight back. A win might not signal a massive transformation -- the issues that led to the 0-3 start are still present -- but it certainly will help coach Jon Embree get a good night of sleep.
Mike Leach won't transform Washington State overnight: Of course, the home side of the field inside Martin Stadium isn't feeling too keen. There was so much goodwill and optimism after the hiring of Leach that there was a feeling he would be able to take a respectable crew of returning players and quickly turn them into a bowl team. That might not be the case. Leach, like most new coaches taking over a program in the dumps, might need some time to implement his system and recruit his type of players. On the downside, the Cougars' lack of poise and sloppiness -- particularly in the fourth quarter -- must trace back to some source deserving blame. It's not unreasonable to posit that Leach and his players have not yet clicked. There was a yielding in this loss that isn't easy to write off.