NCF Nation: Josh Huff
Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.
Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.
Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).
Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.
Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.
Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.
Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.
Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.
Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.
Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.
Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington: Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies 27-17 win over Washington State. He gained 139 yards in the second half when Washington took oer the game. He lost just two total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dilon, which was set in 1996.
Hau'oli Kikaha, DE, Washington: Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting 36-35 win over Oregon State in the Civil War. Most important was his 12-yard grab for the winning score with 29 seconds left. Huff also hauled in another 12-yard scoring pass on the previous scoring drive on a fourth-and-11 play.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: Ekpre-Olomu had a team-high 12 tackles -- all solos -- with an interception and three pass breakups in the Civil War. He also kept Beavers WR Brandin Cooks out of the end zone, though Cooks did catch 10 passes for 110 yards.
Kelvin York, RB, Utah: York rushed for 132 yards on 31 carries and scored two TDs in the Utes 24-17 win over Colorado.
Trevor Reilly, DE, Utah: Reilly had a team-high 14 tackles with a tackle for a loss in the Utes win over Colorado. Most important: The senior grabbed an interception on the Buffaloes' final possession, ending their fourth-quarter comeback.
Wayne Lyons, CB, Stanford: Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Gaffney rushed for 189 yards on 33 carries with a TD in the win over Notre Dame.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Hundley completed 18 of 27 passes for 208 yards and rushed 13 times for 80 yards and two TDs in the Bruins 35-14 win over USC.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: Barr had two sacks and a key forced fumble in the win over USC. He had five total tackles.
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: Foster, stepping in for an injured Marion Grice, rushed for 124 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns in the Sun Devils 58-21 win over Arizona. He also caught two passes for 26 yards.
De'Marieya Nelson, TE, Arizona State: Randall rushed for 35 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 21-yard pass on offense, and he had three tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery on special teams.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- If you wanted to floridly imagine a cosmic wrath exacted on Oregon on Saturday by the slighted Rose Bowl in Arizona's 42-16 whipping of the Ducks, you would note that the Wildcats were clad head-to-toe in rosy red while they posted their first win over a top-five team since 2007.
It would be ridiculous, of course, to further belabor De'Anthony Thomas' and Josh Huff's controversial musings last week about not being excited about the possibility of playing in the Rose Bowl because they had their sights set on the national title game, but the karmic symmetry is impossible to ignore.
Turn your nose up at the Granddaddy? Fine, how do you feel about the Alamo Bowl? Or maybe even something a little lower on the Pac-12 bowl pecking order?
Completely true. What did matter was the Wildcats playing an outstanding game in all three phases and the Ducks looking sloppy and uninterested while getting thrashed.
"Very sluggish in every phase. That's 100 percent my fault," Helfrich said. "I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and buttons to push."
There were a lot of notable negative landmarks for Oregon. This was the Ducks' first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008. After four consecutive BCS bowl berths, the Ducks will be playing before the New Year this postseason. Stanford wins the North Division for the second consecutive year.
Further, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season. The first came on the Ducks' opening offensive play, and it set the tone for the game. It was a catchable ball that bounced off sure-handed Bralon Addison along the sideline and was then redirected in bounds by Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson into the waiting hands of freshman linebacker Scooby Wright.
It was a fortuitous bit of playmaking, something the Wildcats had a surfeit of, while the normally fancypants Ducks seemed to be all thumbs.
"Everything went right today," Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said.
Denker, who began the season looking like the worst quarterback in the Pac-12, is now perhaps the most improved player in the Pac-12. He was nothing short of brilliant Saturday, completing 19 of 22 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and rushing for 102 yards on 14 carries. But top billing for Arizona goes to running back Ka'Deem Carey, who might need a second look from Heisman Trophy voters.
Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05)
His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. All those carries, by the way, produced just two lost yards. Further, Carey, a junior, became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).
"I think he's the best back in the country," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
The Wildcats defense was at its best at important moments. Oregon had a first-and-goal on the Arizona 9-yard line in the first quarter but netted only a field goal. The Wildcats held the Ducks on a fourth-and-2 play on their 41 with one minute before halftime, which ended up producing a quick Arizona touchdown drive for a 28-9 lead at the break. They stopped Oregon on a fourth-and-2 play from their 6-yard line in the third quarter. They intercepted Mariota on a second-and-1 play from their 13 in the fourth.
"We were really dialed in the whole game," a perky Rodriguez told reporters.
The opposite could be said for Oregon.
"No energy," Huff said. "Arizona played with a lot of emotion."
The Ducks were plagued by four dropped passes and drive-killing penalties. Despite seeing his Pac-12 record streak of 353 consecutive pass attempts without an interception end, Mariota played well. He completed 27 of 41 passes with two touchdowns, and his sprained knee seemed much better as he rushed for 52 yards and wasn't sacked.
Still, the loss surely will end his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
"It hurts," Mariota said about the loss, not the Heisman slippage. "I have never been blown out like this before in my life."
None of the current Oregon players have, at least while wearing a Ducks uniform. That's why the loss seems stunning and represents a bigger crisis for Helfrich in his first season than the lackluster showing at Stanford. He admitted there needs to be some "inward looking" throughout the program.
"We have a bunch of guys who are very hurt in that locker room right now," Helfrich said.
The question now no longer centers on the Rose Bowl or any BCS bowl. That possibility is done for. It's only about a Civil War matchup on Friday with Oregon State. It's about showing pride.
How might the Ducks react to a tight fourth quarter, which they haven't faced this year? Is statistically impressive quarterback Marcus Mariota a clutch performer? And, really, does first-year head coach Mark Helfrich have the cucumber-cool of the guy he replaced, Chip Kelly?
The No. 2 Ducks sharpened their No. 2 pencils and then ...
"In a hostile environment, under some duress, when you can make some adjustments and execute those adjustments in all three phases, that's a big deal," Helfrich said. "It's a sign of a mature team."
True. The Ducks improved to 6-0 overall, and Mariota produced a Heisman Trophy worthy performance on a big stage. He completed 24 of 31 passes for 366 yards with three touchdowns and he rushed for 88 yards and another score. He has accounted for 25 touchdowns this season, 17 passing, eight rushing.
"I don't have a Heisman vote, but I'd be hard-pressed to say we'll see a better quarterback this year," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said of Mariota. "That guy is special. I don't know when he is planning on going to the NFL, but when he does, I think he'll be a top-five draft pick."
It was a brilliant performance from bell to bell, the Ducks 18th consecutive road victory, the longest active streak in FBS football.
As a side bar, one noted by the Oregon fans in attendance with chants of, "Ten more years," late in the fourth quarter, the Ducks recorded their 10th consecutive victory in the bitter rivalry series, and each of those wins came by at least 17 points.
At this point, that dominance seems secondary, almost academic. The average high school senior can't remember Washington beating Oregon. But it's not secondary and academic to folks who can remember when the Huskies dominated the rivalry. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has been at Oregon for 21 years in three different stints starting in 1978. He paused when asked if beating the hated Huskies 10 consecutive times seemed possible during his early years at Oregon.
"This was a wild dream way back when," Aliotti said.
But Oregon is not a dream. It's 100 percent for real in all three phases. The Ducks outgained the Huskies 631 yards to 376, averaging 7.8 yards per play. They won the turnover battle 2-0. While the defense yielded 167 tough yards to Sankey, who also had a 60-yard TD run, it blanketed the Huskies' talented corps of receivers, holding Keith Price to 182 yards passing while sacking him four times.
But the star was Mariota, who didn't have his best weapon, running back De'Anthony Thomas, available due to a lingering ankle injury. Of course, it's not easy to get Mariota to talk about himself. When asked about his performance, he noted that it was "a team sport." When asked about feeling pressure in the fourth quarter, he shrugged off the question.
“"We have this deal that if we're prepared, we don't feel pressure," he said.
He threw the ball extremely well and when we covered him, he ran. We tried to spot him. We tried to blitz him. We tried to contain him. But he played a tremendous game. He's a hell of a player, and you have to give them a lot of credit. They're a really good team."” -- Washington coach Steve Sarkisian
Others are better spokespersons for his Heisman campaign.
"He threw the ball extremely well, and when we covered him, he ran," Sarkisian said. "We tried to spot him. We tried to blitz him. We tried to contain him. But he played a tremendous game. He's a hell of a player, and you have to give them a lot of credit. They're a really good team."
Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost calls the Ducks' plays. He said Mariota's best qualities are his maturity and composure.
"It's really easy to be a play-caller when the ball is in Marcus' hands," he said.
It's not only Mariota, as he repeatedly pointed out. When receiver Josh Huff went down with what looked like a worrisome leg injury, sophomore Bralon Addison stepped up with eight catches for 157 yards and two scores. When Huff came back in the second half, looking none the worse for wear, he caught six passes for 107 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown strike from Mariota.
And the Ducks defense held the Huskies to 16 points and 178 yards below their season averages.
The big question entering the game was whether the Ducks would finally get tested. They were. That the final score suggests that they weren't only means that they earned an A-plus for this midterm exam.
The conference featured four 1,000-yard receivers last year. One is off to the NFL: Oregon State's Markus Wheaton. One is out for the season -- or at least a significant part of it -- with a knee injury: Arizona's Austin Hill. Two others are back:
- Marqise Lee, USC: 118 receptions, 1,721 yards, 14 TDs
- Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: 67 receptions, 1,151 yards, 5 TDs
That's a good start. Lee was a unanimous All-American and Cooks could push for such recognition this fall.
There's plenty of talent after them. This is hardly a down position in the conference. In fact, several teams feel pretty good about their chances to produce a 1,000-yard pass-catcher.
Arizona: The Wildcats not only lost Hill, they also are replacing quarterback Matt Scott. Moreover, their No. 2 receiver in 2012, Dan Buckner, is gone, and the No. 3 guy was running back Ka'Deem Carey. There's solid experience returning at the position, but no one player looks like the go-to guy. The Wildcats are more likely to have three guys with over 600 yards receiving than to have one with 1,000.
Arizona State: Receiver is the Sun Devils' most questionable position. At this point, the most likely guy to go over 1,000 yards is tight end Chris Coyle. But if you were to imagine who will be the Sun Devils' top wideout in 2013, a good bet is touted juco transfer Jaelen Strong.
California: Keenan Allen is gone, but the Bears have plenty of young talent at receiver, a list topped by Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. With new coach Sonny Dykes' new high-flying spread passing offense, it's difficult to imagine the Bears don't produce a 1,000-yard receiver.
Colorado: The Buffaloes' only legitimate A-list player is receiver Paul Richardson. He'd start for just about any Pac-12 team. And, considering how much new coach Mike MacIntyre likes to throw, Richardson seems likely to hit the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy.
Oregon: The Ducks are expected to throw more this season for a number of reasons -- new coach, questions at running back, etc. -- but the chief reason is because quarterback Marcus Mariota is a highly capable passer. Last year, we saw flashes of what he could do. We'll see plenty more in 2013. With De'Anthony Thomas slated to be primarily a running back, expect Josh Huff to become Mariota's favorite target.
Stanford: Stanford isn't the sort of team that produces a 1,000-yard receiver, and its most likely candidates in recent years were tight ends. But if things fell a certain way, Ty Montgomery might make a run at it.
UCLA: If you were to make a list of most likely new members of the 1,000-yard club in 2013, Bruins wide receiver Shaquelle Evans would be on it. He caught 60 passes for 877 yards last year in quarterback Brett Hundley's first year as a starter. With no Johnathan Franklin at running back, the Bruins should be throwing plenty.
Utah: The Utes should be much better throwing the ball this season. For one, quarterback Travis Wilson can only be more mature after starting as a true freshman. Second, new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson likes to spread defenses out and throw the ball. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are a good tandem, and one or the other could make a run at 1,000 yards.
Washington: The Huskies have two legit candidates -- wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But Jenkins is working through a DUI arrest that has him presently suspended. Williams, who caught 77 passes for 878 yards a year ago, is a strong bet to be Keith Price's go-to guy.
Washington State: That list with likely new 1,000-yard receivers? Colorado's Richardson, UCLA's Evans and Washington's Williams would be on it. But atop the list would be Washington State's Gabe Marks. If he stays healthy, he's almost a sure thing, considering how much coach Mike Leach likes to throw the ball.
It's also interesting that both lost to an opponent that generally resembles their opponent in University of Phoenix Stadium.
Oregon went down to Stanford, a team that prides itself on its disciplined, physical play on both sides of the ball. That's Kansas State.
The parallels are far from exact -- for example, Baylor is pass-first; Oregon is run-first -- but they are notable. Both teams surely paid extra-special attention to those game tapes.
Said Ducks coach Chip Kelly, "I think Baylor has a lot of speed, speed in space. They made kids miss tackles. When they missed tackles, they hit some long runs."
That hits the first issue to watch: Tackling. Said Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, "Tackling is going to be the biggest thing in this game."
That seems simple, right? And it is. But it's a measure you can measure on your own at home: How often does the first guy miss or fail to bring his guy down? How often does the Duck or Wildcat with the ball get a second chance to gain yards?
Oregon thrives when it gets fast guys into space, and that fast guy leaves the first tackler grasping air. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Kenjon Barner, receiver Josh Huff and RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas can use a first-guy miss to go yard.
Kansas State isn't quite so fancy, but it's effective. It ranked seventh in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at just over 50 percent. How often can quarterback Collin Klein or another Wildcat twist away from a Ducks tackler and significantly boost the attractiveness of down and distance? Unlike Oregon, Kansas State loves to hold the ball for a long time. Against Oregon, in particular, it wants to methodically move the chains and play keep-away.
Oregon, by the way, ranks 14th in the nation in third-down defense, with foes converting less than 31 percent of the time.
And what about an X factor? We know who the stars are, and it's perfectly reasonable to believe the quarterback who plays better will lead the winning team. But so often in bowl games, a player who has been under the radar all week plays a major role in deciding things.
Maybe that's Huff for Oregon. Or Chris Harper, a former Duck who is now Kansas State's best receiver.
As for Oregon making like Baylor or Kansas State donning a Stanford disguise, it probably won't be that straightforward. Know that both teams labored over that what-might-have-been game film well before the Fiesta Bowl. The weaknesses that were exposed were taken note of and addressed.
At least that's what both teams' coaches and players are saying about the one that got away.
Said Helfrich, "I don't know if they are finding any magic in that game. I don't think it's in there. It's not going to come down to revelations from one game on either side."
BERKELEY, Calif. -- There were some nerves. There was some trepidation. As Chip Kelly put it, there was some fear that “Coach Kelly’s head might fall off.”
Yes, the Oregon players knew what happened to No. 1 Alabama before they took the field Saturday night against California. And when Kelly gathered the team around for the final meeting, he could feel the tension.
So he broke it, and as a team they talked about it.
“Everyone has a phone,” Kelly said following his team’s 59-17 victory over the Bears at Memorial Stadium. “They were all looking around, so I said, ‘I’ll tell you, Alabama lost.’ I think people were afraid to talk about it. Just because they won or lost shouldn’t affect us. I felt like I had to address it so they didn’t know if we talk about it or not talk about it. I didn’t want them worried that Coach Kelly’s head would fall off if we talk about it. I told them and said, ‘Hey, they lost, what does that have to do with us?’
“The outcome of that game shouldn’t affect us. Our deal is did we have a good Monday? Yes. Did we have a good Tuesday? Yes. Did we have a good Wednesday? Yes. That’s what’s going to help us play well tonight, not the fact that somebody else in another part of the country lost a football game.”
Said linebacker Michael Clay: “It was like walking on egg shells. And when he addressed it, it was like a huge weight off of our shoulders. It was very freeing.”
And for quarterback Marcus Mariota, it served as both ice-breaker and crucial reminder.
And Mariota did just that. The redshirt freshman matched an Oregon record by tossing six touchdowns on 27-of-34 passing for 377 yards with no interceptions.
With the Bears selling out to stop the run, the Pac-12’s top rushing team managed just 180 yards on the ground. But Mariota picked up the slack, finding Josh Huff three times for scores and tight end Colt Lyerla twice for touchdowns.
“He’s a special player,” Kelly said of his quarterback. “He keeps getting better and better. They did some things today where we felt like they were going to try to take away the run game and play some zone coverage on us. He’s got to do a good job figuring out what they are in, and it seemed like he was on target and making the right reads and making good decisions. You keep seeing him better and better each week.”
So instead of blowing a team out in the first 30 minutes, it took Oregon 45 against a Cal squad that challenged an injury-depleted Oregon defensive line. Isi Sofele rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown against a front that -- at one time -- featured three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman.
“Normally, Oregon backs break for 75-yard runs, but it wasn’t happening today,” said Cal linebacker Chris McCain. “I felt like defensively we did pretty well to stop their run, but the passes got to us.”
None bigger than Mariota’s 35-yard touchdown to Huff midway through the third quarter. Cal had narrowed the gap to 24-17 in early in the third quarter. A few possessions later, Allan Bridgford was intercepted by Boseko Lokombo at the Cal 35. On the next play, Mariota connected with Huff to put Oregon ahead 31-17.
“I thought that two-play sequence might have been the game-changing part of it,” Kelly said. “It was kind of a back-and-forth game. I felt like we got some distance.”
From there, Oregon scored four more second-half touchdowns. And as the Bears were forced to go to the air, the young defensive line started to get some pressure up front.
“You hear people talk about, ‘Well, we’re young.’ Too bad, you gotta go,” Kelly said. “We’ve recruited kids and told them they’ll have an opportunity to play. They’ve prepared for it. ... They don’t act like young guys, and that’s something we’re looking for. I think this young group is more mature than any young group I’ve been around.”
With California keeping things close and injuries piling up, it looked like Oregon might be in trouble early in the third quarter. It wasn't. The Ducks, as usual, rolled, this time winning 59-17.
It was over when: It appeared Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was hurt in the second quarter. And, in the third quarter, when California cut the Ducks lead to 24-17, it looked like the Ducks' national title hopes were threatened. But 35- and 39-yard touchdown passes from Mariota to Josh Huff made it 38-17 to start the fourth, and the Ducks then coasted home.
Game ball goes to: Mariota has gone from a very good redshirt freshman quarterback, to a good QB period, to a potential first-team All-Pac-12 QB. He completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a 230.79 passing efficiency rating. Yeah, through the roof. He has 28 TD passes this season.
Stat of the game: Oregon was outrushed 236 yards to 180. But the Ducks' receiving corps -- perceived to be a weakness at the beginning of the season -- caught seven total touchdown passes for 395 yards.
Unsung hero of the game: Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. His defense was decimated by injuries. At one point, five members of his front seven were freshmen, including three true freshmen on the line. It appears he lost safety Avery Patterson (knee) for the season, the second starting safety to go down. Still, the Ducks' defense, which was getting pushed around in the first half after getting pushed around by USC, regained its footing and held Cal to a single touchdown in the second half.
What it means: This sets up a major Pac-12 North Division showdown for the Ducks with Stanford in Autzen Stadium on Saturday. It also showed, again, that the Ducks have plenty of grit when they get challenged. Cal, meanwhile, falls to 3-8. The Bears complete their season next weekend with a visit to Oregon State. Will that be coach Jeff Tedford's last game in Berkeley?
Make it nine in a row for the Oregon Ducks over the Washington Huskies. The Ducks jumped out to a 21-0 lead before pulling away for a 52-21 win. The Ducks have won all nine games by at least 17 points. Here's how it all went down at Autzen.
It was over when: In the first quarter, the Huskies had just made their second-consecutive stop on defense. But the Huskies muffed the ensuing punt and on the next play, De'Anthony Thomas darted for a 16-yard score. It seemed like all the life just got sucked out of Washington as the Ducks put up 21 in the first quarter.
Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. When he wasn't jumping out of sacks (that was sick athleticism), he was tossing four touchdowns on 15-of-24 passing. He did have one interception early, but bounced back to hit Colt Lyerla twice, Josh Huff and Keanon Lowe for scores.
Second game ball: Nick Aliotti. Oregon's defensive coordinator has this defense playing awfully good ball. The Ducks forced five turnovers and twice stopped the Huskies on fourth down. Most of Washington's 353 yards came in the second half when the game was out of reach.
Stat of the game: 3. Avery Patterson picked off Keith Price in the first quarter and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. The Ducks have now had a pick-six in three straight games.
What it means for Oregon: For the Ducks, they hold serve -- and get some style points along the way -- as other top 10 teams behind them collapse. The number of undefeated teams is dwindling and Oregon is right where it needs to be. If anyone was still awake on the East Coast, they saw a dominating performance on both sides of the ball.
What it means for Washington: Much like their debacle at LSU, the Huskies will have to regroup with No. 13 USC coming to town next week. For as high as they were flying after last week's win over Stanford, this was another throttling by a top-5 team. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has to get the troops to shake this one off.
Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.
Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.
Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.
Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.
Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.
The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.
Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.
The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.
But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.
Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.
Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.
Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.
Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.
Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.
Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.
Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2012.
Monday we took a look at six players from the South Division. Today our focus shifts to the North.
Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: On the surface, the obvious pick here is Kenjon Barner with the oh-so-obligatory "can he be the featured back" question. Let's go ahead and address that right now. Yes, he can. There, that was easy. Huff, however, has yet to really show what he's capable of. Last year he was partly hampered by injury (31 catches, 430 yards, two touchdowns) and Lavasier Tuinei was the preferred target. No doubt, the potential is there (see how he made Stanford defenders look silly on his 59-yard touchdown catch). Huff's status remains up in the air pending next month's trial for a DUI citation, so we'll have to see how that plays out. The Ducks have so much offensive potency that they don't need him to be great. But wouldn't it be a whole lot better if he was?
Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: The beauty of football is that it's not a stat-driven, individual game. A wide receiver can be a great blocker or decoy and never get the statistical credit, but his teammates and coaches know his contributions. With that said, if Wheaton wants to be counted among the elite wide receivers in the conference -- and he absolutely should be -- he'll need to have more than just one receiving touchdown, which was the case in 2011. The fact that Oregon State's running game should be better helps, and Sean Mannion's continued growth is also a plus. He's an underappreciated talent around the conference who's out to prove he belongs in the conversation with the league's elite receivers.
Wayne Lyons, DB, Stanford: When your coach says you'll be up for the nation's top defensive back award by the time your career is through -- before you've put together a complete season -- that's his way of not-so-discreetly applying pressure. David Shaw expects big things out of Lyons -- and the highly touted defensive back will have to deliver. He's fully recovered from a foot injury he suffered last fall that nagged him for two games before shutting it down for the year. Stanford's secondary was dreadfully exposed against Oregon and Oklahoma State. The pressure is on Lyons to produce immediately (say, Week 3 against USC?).
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: And Baylor just scored again ... Haha. Didn't we all have a nice little chuckle at that one on Dec. 30. Well, the joke was stale by New Year's Eve. However, the lasting image of what Baylor's offense did to Washington is still very much fresh. The Huskies defense got an overhaul in the offseason -- and it's up to a veteran like Trufant to give the unit more punch and less punch line. Not easy, considering the Huskies allowed a whopping 35.9 points per game last year. But Trufant isn't alone in his efforts. He has good support in the secondary with safeties Justin Glenn and Sean Parker (the three combined for 207 tackles last season) and Trufant added a pair of picks. He's a very good defender who is going to have to become a great defender in 2012 to not only prove he can play at the next level, but to show it's time to stop cracking wise about Washington's D.
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: Outside of new head coach Mike Leach, no name coming out of Pullman, Wash., this spring has been uttered more than Jeff Tuel. A prototypical NFL quarterback with the arm and the arsenal to boot, all of the pieces are in place for Tuel to have a big season. But injuries have prevented him from reaching his true potential. This offense, which puts the quarterback center stage like no other, should go a long way in helping him reach it. He's picked it up quickly, which should come as no surprise. But there are still Connor Halliday advocates ready to take their shots at Tuel. He's got to prove he deserves to be the guy. Provo, Utah, seems like a good place to start.
Up next is the North Division.
QB: Zach Maynard will be a senior, and it says something about the depth behind him that he never lost his job during his midseason swoon.
WR: Keenan Allen is back, but that's it in terms of returning production and experience.
S: Three of the top four safeties from 2011 are gone.
Skill: In Chip Kelly's offense, you can never have enough fast guys. Sure, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff are back, but there's a lot of youth and uncertainty after that at running back and wide receiver.
TE: His name is David Paulson, but he's gone. Colt Lyerla was a productive backup -- at least in terms of finding the end zone -- but after him things are uncertain. Tight end is one of the most underrated positions in the Ducks offense, so having more than one Kelly trusts is significant.
S: Eddie Pleasant is gone and John Boyett is a senior. Avery Patterson, Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson are next in line, but the young talent isn't as certain as it is at corner.
OL: Oregon State lost three starters from a line that led the worst rushing attack in the conference and surrendered 27 sacks. Quarterback Sean Mannion has potential, but he needs time. And a running game.
DT: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. 'Nuff said.
LB: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. Almost enough said. Cameron Collins is gone, and all the contributors on the two-deep will be seniors, other than junior Michael Doctor.
WR: Perhaps the weakest position for the Cardinal in 2011, this need is augmented by the loss of Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu and the lack of up-and-comers other than sophomore Ty Montgomery.
DB: Three of four starters are gone, including both safeties. In the Cardinal's two losses -- to Oregon and Oklahoma State -- an absence of top-end athleticism in the back half was exploited.
OL: Three starters are back, but the losses are huge: Tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. And backup tackle Tyler Mabry and backup guard Matt Bentler also are gone. If coach David Shaw intends to remain a physical, downhill running team -- and he does -- he'll need to continuously stock up on linemen who can get the job done.
DB: Lots of guys are back in the secondary, but the Huskies gave up 284.6 yards passing per game, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12. They couldn't cover anybody and often seemed out of position. So new blood might help.
DL: (See if you can notice a theme here that ignores questions at wide receiver and running back). Two starters are gone from a line that consistently underperformed based on preseason expectations.
LB: Second-team All-Pac-12 middle linebacker Cort Dennison is the only one of the eight men on the depth chart who won't be back, but he was the team's only consistent linebacker.
DL: Three of four starters are back, but all three will be seniors.
OL: Three starters are back, but to make the next step on offense, the Cougars need to run the ball better. They ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. And that might reduce a conference-high 3.3 sacks per game. Mike Leach's quick-hit offense also might help.
RB: 170-pound sophomore Rickey Galvin is back, as is senior Carl Winston, but the backs need to share responsibility for a 3.1-yards-per-carry average, worst in the conference (of course, losing 237 yards to sacks doesn't help).
1. Win the battle of styles: At first, this was going to be: "Run and stop the run." But the key for Oregon might be flexibility. What the Ducks want is to get their fast players -- LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff -- into space and put pressure on Wisconsin to make one-on-one tackles. The Badgers' defense is sound and physical, but it's not terribly fast. Think Stanford. It doesn't matter how the Ducks get their speed guys into space, either through passes or runs; it just matters to get them there and let them do their thing. On the other side of the ball, Oregon's defense must find a way to create negative plays that take Wisconsin out of its comfort zone. The Badgers might gain 6 yards on five consecutive runs, but if they 2 lose two on first down, the Ducks' defense has a much better chance to get a stop. Second- and third-and-long turns the advantage from Wisconsin's size to the Ducks' speed.
2. Be special: Based on the regular season, Oregon is better on special teams. Punt and kick returns are where speedy players can make slower teams look bad. Wisconsin is 81st in the nation defending kickoff returns, and Thomas has gone yard twice this season. A special-teams touchdown could be a game-changer. Also, in terms of field position, Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in net punting while Wisconsin is 71st. In a tight game, special teams often make a difference in spectacular and subtle ways. This is an area where the Ducks would seem to have an advantage.
3. Clean sheet: While the national story from Oregon's opening loss to LSU was all that SEC size and speed overwhelming the Ducks, the secondary story was turnovers and penalties. The Ducks lost the turnover battle 4-1 -- LSU returned one fumble for a touchdown -- and had 12 penalties for 95 yards, including a pair of phantom "leg whip" penalties that if anybody saw those called in any other game this year, please email me. LSU was the better team -- after watching the Tigers this season, it's impossible to say otherwise -- but the Ducks made things easy for them. Wisconsin isn't LSU, but it will win this game easily if the Ducks lose the turnover battle 4-1 and get 95 yards in penalties. You can be almost certain that the Badgers aren't going to be sloppy; their eight turnovers are fewest in the nation. So the Ducks also need a clean afternoon. If the turnover tally is 0-0 or 1-1, Oregon should be in good shape.
So things haven't been perfect this fall, at least not like 2010, when the Ducks were darn near perfect on offense.
Or is that actually just bunk?
It's mostly bunk.
The difference in total yards comes from passing: The Ducks averaged 244.5 yards passing in 2010. They are averaging 212 this year. That, obviously, can be attributed to losing the top two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis.
When Stanford coach David Shaw looks at the Ducks, he sees an offense that is a little different from 2010's edition. But still scary.
"Every year they tweak it," he said. "Every year they add something. They didn't use to pull a lot of linemen. Now they have a few plays where they pull the center, pull the guards. They give you enough to keep you off balance."
James said he thought the offense was faster. And the Ducks have packages when they get James on the field at the same time with Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff, players who are as dangerous in space as any in the Pac-12. Miss a tackle, and they are celebrating in the endzone.
"It's a tough matchup," Shaw said. "They've got a lot of team speed. They've got the best back in the nation. When he's not in there, they've got a guy [Barner] who is just as fast and runs just as hard... If you are out of position, they will find you."
Much is made of the Ducks storming back from a 21-3 deficit last year, as it should be. That was impressive. What many forget is the Ducks' 52-31 win was a 7-point game heading into the fourth quarter. But that's when the Stanford defense cracked, yielding a 25-yard touchdown pass and 76-yard touchdown run from James.
A first key to slowing the Ducks is not yielding big plays. A second key is not letting the big plays that almost certainly are going to happen have a negative emotional/psychological effect. A defense that starts to play paranoid is one that is ripe to be exploited by misdirection.
"It can be frustrating," Shaw said. "I've talked to my guys about composure. [The Ducks] are going to make some plays."
Oregon has won eight of the past nine against Stanford. The lone Ducks defeat in that span came in 2009, a 51-42 upset win for the Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif. The key element in that game was the Cardinal building a 31-14 halftime lead and then not buckling when the Ducks made a couple of second-half runs. The Stanford defense yielded 570 yards, but it also held the Ducks to 71 plays. The Ducks had 80 last year and finished with 626 yards.
One thing that doesn't matter to Ducks coach Chip Kelly is playing on grass instead of the artificial turf at Autzen Stadium. He doesn't see a connection between the 2010 win and the 2009 loss.
"A lot is made when you lose on grass," Kelly said. "Then obviously it's the grass's fault. But if you win, no one talks about, 'Ah, you played on grass.' If they want to play in the parking lot, we'll play in the parking lot."
Stanford wouldn't want that. Asphalt is a faster surface.
So, with Oregon running back LaMichael James almost certainly out with a dislocated elbow for Saturday's game against the Sun Devils, the Ducks' offense is likely hamstrung and lacking weapons, correct?
Hardy-har-har. Replied Erickson, "You name them, they've got them."
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was asked who would replace James and what would change with his offense. He listed his depth chart: Kenjon Barner and a pair of true freshmen, De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson.
Well, he could have just said, "Nothing."
He's mostly right. Sure, James is the nation's best game-breaking back. Sure, he's had more 20-yard runs in his career than any other back in college football. Sure, he is an outstanding return guy and has dramatically improved in the passing game.
But Barner, James' best buddy on the team, is a pretty good backup plan. He'd be the starter for, oh, about 110 teams in the nation.
"Very similar," Kelly said of Barner and James. "I've always felt they were 1 and 1A here. They are both explosive. They both can go the distance."
And, according to Oregon's top-of-the-line stopwatches, Barner and James, who both tip the scales at 195 pounds, are a push in terms of speed and quickness. Barner's electronically timed 40-yard dash is the equal of James', but Barner beat James in the shuttle run and vertical jump.
Barner had 228 all-purpose yards at Tennessee last season, including an 80-yard punt return for a TD. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing twice last season on his way to 551 yards, despite missing two games with a concussion.
So, he's good.
And Thomas looks like a budding star. The multipurpose threat is the Ducks' leading receiver and has accounted for six TDs, four receiving. He averages 7.6 yards per rush and 16.8 yards per reception.
Carson, meanwhile, is the 227-pounder who offers the power element, a la former Duck RB LeGarrette Blount.
"They have got so much depth," Erickson said. "You take Barner, you take De’Anthony Thomas -- who we tried to recruit -- and they’re something special. They’re solid in all areas. They’re not going to try to change anything. They do what they do and they’ve got depth to do it, so you don’t treat it any different whether he plays or whether he doesn’t."
Still, it's hard not to turn more focus to Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas. He's been fairly efficient this season -- 15 TD passes, just two interceptions -- but his 208 yards passing per game ranks 10th in the Pac-12, and he's been far less of a running threat than last season (see: just 18 carries for 100 yards).
"Darron has done a really good job for us, managing the game, taking what the defense gives him," Kelly said. "He's been very efficient with the ball."
Kelly, who's not one to give in to reporters' questions, actually admitted that, yes, Thomas is running less this season due to play calling. (Sure, that's a "duh" admission, but it feels notable for reporters who regularly hear Kelly quibble over every detail: "No, Ted, the sky isn't really blue. That's about Rayleigh scattering -- light waves from the sun passing through our atmosphere.")
Part of that is Thomas taking what the defense gives him. Kelly said Thomas has been making the proper reads in the Ducks' diverse option game. But Kelly also said that he's called fewer zone-read plays this season.
Still, Thomas has shown in the past that he can run the ball well, and that forces a defense to account for him. The Sun Devils' defensive coaches surely asked themselves whether Thomas might be more of a factor in the running game with James out.
"For us to be successful, he has to be a viable running threat," Kelly said. "When defenses have forced him to run, he's done a good job with it."
Of course, the Sun Devils will focus first on containing the Ducks' running game, which they mostly stymied last season. That means Thomas, the passer, likely will need to make plays, and that receivers Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff, as well as De'Anthony Thomas, will need to step up.
Might this be a coming out party for the Ducks' passing game, which has been prolific just once this season, when Thomas passed for 295 yards and six TDs (although on just 19 attempts) against Nevada?
That's the thing about the Ducks: You don't know. Their offense can beat you a lot of ways, even without the nation's best running back.
"You try to make them earn it and keep the big plays down," Erickson said. "You run to the football and tackle."
In other words, nothing changes.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
6:52 3rd Qtr Tulane 14 Louisiana-Lafayette 21 Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State