NCF Nation: Myles Jack
LOS ANGELES -- Two years a monopoly does not make. But let’s just say UCLA is off of lowly Baltic Avenue and working its way toward Mora, err, Marvin Gardens.
We of course pay playful homage to the disastrous UCLA marketing campaign of a half-decade ago declaring that USC’s monopoly on Los Angeles football was over. Perhaps it didn’t fail. Maybe it was just ahead of its time.
For the second consecutive year, the Bruins posted a double-digit victory over their crosstown rival. Saturday night, they did it at the Coliseum, Traveler’s stomping grounds, for the first time since 1997. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the 35-14 win. Inch by inch, yard by yard, the Bruins are blanketing this angelic city in blue.
“You get into the old ‘We own this town' stuff. We've got it right now, but we have to play them in 12 months, so it’s temporary,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “I’ll tell you what -- it’s nice to have it now for two years in a row. It tells you what’s going on at UCLA. It’s an exciting time at UCLA. It’s an exciting time to be a UCLA Bruin. You want to play for a fun, tough, hard-nosed football team that can go and win games everywhere, come to UCLA.”
"You win two in a row in this town, things start to change,” Mora said. “That’s going to help us in recruiting. If I’m a high school player, I want to play at UCLA right now.”
Case in point: two-way threat Myles Jack, who has splashed onto the national stage over the past month for his exploits on both sides of the ball. As a running back, he scored another short-yardage touchdown Saturday night, his seventh of the season. As a linebacker, he added three tackles and recovered a fumble. It’s wins like this that Mora promised Jack during the recruiting process, and a major reason why he opted to come to UCLA.
“I saw the first year with them beating ’SC, beating Nebraska, going to the Pac-12 championship,” Jack said. “When they were recruiting me, everything [Mora] said, he backed it up with numbers. They won big games. They went to the Pac-12 championship. They went to the Holiday Bowl. I saw the change and I wanted to be a part of that.
“If they are telling [recruits] the same thing they are telling me, it’s true. They aren’t lying. Everything they told me came true. They told me I could come in and compete for a spot, and came in and won the spot. They told me we were going to win big games. We beat ’SC, we were going to do big things, beat Nebraska. And we’ve done it. Coach is a man of his word and his track record proves it.”
In the other locker room, the coaching situation is questionable, at best. Interim coach Ed Orgeron had been on a stellar 6-1 run since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin. But Saturday night, his team had no answers for its rival -- specifically Hundley, who was 18-of-27 for 208 yards passing to go with 80 yards and two scores on the ground. Protection issues also plagued the Trojans and quarterback Cody Kessler, who was sacked six times, including two each by Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh.
USC’s loss adds another wrinkle to its coaching search.
“I will take it one day at a time,” said Orgeron, who hasn’t made it a secret that he wants the job. “Right now I am hurting for these guys and our coaches. Tomorrow will be a new day, the sun will shine and we are going to get up and get after it again. We are going to look at film and correct it.”
Since the start of the 1990s, the USC-UCLA rivalry has been defined by streaks. UCLA won eight straight from 1991-98. The Trojans then went on to win 12 of the next 13 (two were vacated, but come on). As far as the rest of the country is concerned, this rivalry doesn’t have the same bite as, say, an Iron Bowl or Ohio State-Michigan. No one opted to boycott the letter “U” in the week leading up to the game. The CLA-SC showdown just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But it means plenty in a recruiting-rich environment like Southern California. And plenty to a city that’s thirsty for football but doesn’t have an NFL team.
“What a great night for L.A. to have competitive teams going at it like that,” Mora said. “I’m so proud of our kids, our young men for the way they fight and the way they come back every week; their resilience and their toughness. There is something growing there that is pretty special. And to come in here on a Saturday night like this and get a win, it tells you where this program is headed.”
Three wins, or even four, in a row might not make it a monopoly. But every victory brings Mora and the Bruins one step closer to Boardwalk.
Faced with a similar situation last year, the ASU defense played on its heels and watched Hundley march the Bruins 60 yards in the final 1:33 to set upKa'imi Fairbairn’s game winner as time expired, giving UCLA a 45-43 victory in Tempe.
But that’s the thing about history. That’s all it is. This time around, the Sun Devils were determined not to make the same mistakes. So when Hundley got the ball with 3:21 left and his team trailing 38-33, ASU coach Todd Graham made a declaration to his defense: We’re going to bring it.
“We had some regrets last year down the stretch in that last minute of that game,” Graham said. “We talked about it as a team. I talked to the seniors ... we had some regrets last year that we defended instead of attacked. We sent it every play that last drive. Even on the last play, because we came to win.”
The end result was two sacks on Hundley, who could move his team only 11 yards on eight plays after penalties and the losses stalled the come-from-behind effort. The 38-33 margin held, and the Sun Devils celebrated as the Pac-12 South Division champs.
Those two sacks on the final drive were part of a nine-sack effort from the Sun Devils, who pressured Hundley and UCLA’s young offensive line. Hundley rushed for 66 yards, but when you factor in the sacks, he netted only 5.
“The main concern was tackling Hundley,” ASU defensive line coach Jackie Shipp said. “He’s very good with the ball. He reminds me of Vince Young from when I was in the Big 12. The main thing was getting him down. We knew they were hurting on the offensive line. I knew we could get there. We just had to make sure we got him on the ground.”
Through the first 30 minutes, a game-winning drive seemed like a long shot for the Bruins. Behind an efficient and calculated performance from ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, the Sun Devils built a 35-13 halftime lead. Kelly was elusive on the ground, rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown, and accurate through the air, completing 20 of 27 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. Rushing scores from D.J. Foster and Michael Eubank, along with a 19-yard touchdown from Kelly to Jaelen Strong and a pick-six from Carl Bradford gave the Sun Devils a 22-point advantage at the break.
But as UCLA tends to do, it exploded in the second half, outscoring the Sun Devils 20-3 behind a pair of touchdown runs from Myles Jack and Paul Perkins and a 27-yard touchdown strike from Hundley to Shaq Evans. That set the stage for some last-minute drama that ultimately ended with the Sun Devils' defense making the plays it failed to make last season.
“We got ourselves into a hole in the first half and were not able to recover,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “They fought tooth and nail for that thing, and it was just a little too much to overcome. The loss is bitterly disappointing.”
What Mora laments most was his team’s inability to control Kelly on the ground. ASU’s quarterback rushed for 84 yards in the first half alone.
“He kept plays alive, he frustrated us, we couldn’t find the ball,” Mora said. “We got caught out of position on some things. That’s what was frustrating me -- not being able to handle the quarterback defensively.”
ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said getting Kelly involved in the running game was by design. They wanted to force the Bruins into making decisions on zone reads. From there, Kelly was making all the right calls.
“We were able to present some different looks to make sure he’d get a good pull-read and he made some great reads,” Norvell said. “... When you’ve got the defending Pac-12 South champs the last two years, you’re coming into their place, you knew it was going to be a battle. I was really proud of our guys and the way they played. That really showed the character of our team.”
The Sun Devils will represent the South Division in the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford, which claimed the North by virtue of Arizona’s win over Oregon. The only question is whether it’s in Tempe or Palo Alto. If Arizona State tops rival Arizona next week, it will host the Cardinal. If the Wildcats win, the title game will be at Stanford for the second straight year.
- North race: Oregon’s road is clear. If they win out, they will be the North Division champs. If they lose either of their final two games, both against conference opponents, Stanford will win the North by virtue of its tiebreaker. That is assuming, of course, Stanford gets by Cal in the Big Game. Stanford’s final game is a nonconference matchup against Notre Dame.
- South race: A lot will be decided this weekend when Arizona State travels to UCLA. If ASU wins this game, it will win the South. If UCLA wins and beats USC next week, it will be the South champs for the third straight year. USC is still in the mix, but the Trojans need some help. They need to beat Colorado and UCLA and hope that ASU drops its next two games.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Rick BowmerTaylor Kelly and Arizona State can win the Pac-12 South with a win at UCLA on Saturday.
- Bowl picture: Eight teams are bowl eligible with three more still in the mix. Washington State can become bowl eligible this weekend with a win over visiting Utah. Utah could still become bowl eligible with a win over Washington State and a win over Colorado in the season finale. Colorado could still become bowl eligible with a win over USC and a win over Utah. Recall that Colorado received a waiver from the NCAA that allows their two FCS victories to count toward bowl eligibility.
- Questionable quarterbacks: We’re still waiting to see the status of Washington quarterback Keith Price. The Huskies have kept him on ice this week, though he said he’s confident he’ll play. If he can’t, the Huskies will go with Cyler Miles. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says his knee is near 100 percent. One quarterback we know for sure isn’t playing is Utah’s Travis Wilson, who learned that his playing career might be over after concussion tests revealed a preexisting condition. The Pac-12 blog wishes him the best as the Utes move forward with Adam Schulz -- a strong-armed former walk-on.
- Clutch quarterbacks: The ASU-UCLA game obviously has massive Pac-12 South implications. But it also features two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league in ASU’s Taylor Kelly and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Remember last year’s game in Tempe? UCLA won in the closing seconds and both quarterbacks led their team on late scoring drives. The Bruins have had to find creative ways to score points. Last week it was LB/RB Myles Jack, who scored four rushing touchdowns, and DE-turned-tight end Cassius Marsh, who snagged a touchdown reception. ASU has had no problems getting production from Marion Grice, who has 20 touchdowns on the season and is closing in on 1,000 yards. Line play will be critical as ASU’s veteran front seven will push a young UCLA offensive line.
- Sense of urgency bowl: Both Washington and Oregon State are bowl eligible. But the Huskies are still lacking a quality road win and the Oregon State offense hasn’t been what it was the first half of the season. Washington has dropped all three road conference games this year and four straight dating back to last year’s Apple Cup. Quarterback Sean Mannion has an unfavorable 3-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio in his last two games, though he’s 199 yards shy of the school’s single-season passing mark. Brandin Cooks is now one of five Pac-12 receivers to ever reach 100 receptions in a season. Speaking of school records, Washington running back Bishop Sankey is to break Washington's single-season rushing mark. He has 1,396 yards, and if he keeps up his average of 139.6 yards per game, he'll top Corey Dillon's 1,695 yards in 1996. Both teams need this one to have the semblance of a salvaged season.
- Trying to get to a bowl: Aside from the bowl implications, the Cougars will be honoring 19 seniors. The Cougars are yet to win a conference home game this year while Utah is yet to win a conference game on the road. Combine that with Connor Halliday throwing at least one interception in every game and Utah’s inability to intercept the ball (only two on the year) and you have quite the conundrum. Washington State has had 10 or more receivers catch a pass in nine games this year.
- In control: The Ducks travel to Arizona this week, where they’ll face a Wildcats team looking to better its bowl situation. Ka'Deem Carey has now gone for at least 100 yards in 13 consecutive games and is second in the country with an average of 150.3. On the other side, Byron Marshall is nine yards shy of reaching 1,000. Assuming he does, that would be seven straight years the Ducks have had a 1,000-yard rusher. And there is the other streak -- Mariota's Pac-12 record of 353 passes without an interception.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Yes, that’s a tip of the hat to my Game of Thrones friends. The Trojans are on fire right now, having won four straight and five of their last six. They are 5-1 since Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach, including a win last week over No. 4 Stanford. But weather conditions are expected to be in the 30s and there is the possibility of snow in Boulder. USC isn’t traditionally a cold-weather team. Colorado is coming off a big home win against Cal and the Buffs still have something to play for in late November. Been a while since we typed that.
- Big Game: This is the season finale for Cal, which has a chance to make something of an otherwise depressing season. Of course, to do it, they’ll have to knock off a Cardinal team that probably smells blood after its loss to USC last week. The Bears are more than a 30-point underdog and the Cardinal have to win in the event Oregon drops one of its final two Pac-12 games. The Bears are trying to avoid their first winless conference season since 2001. The Cardinal have forced a turnover in 35 consecutive games.
Oregon is the Rose Bowl favorite: For the first time all year, Oregon seems destined for the Rose Bowl -- the game, not just the stadium. The Ducks were pegged for the national title game before losing to Stanford last week, which figured to have shipped them to a BCS bowl elsewhere. But after USC’s upset win over the Cardinal, Oregon again stands to host the Pac-12 championship game, which will send the winner to the Rose Bowl.
WSU a bowl threat: Needing two wins with three games to go, Washington State snapped a three-game losing streak at Arizona to take a big step toward returning to the postseason for the first time since 2003. The 24-17 win marked the team’s most important victory since taking down the Trojans at the Coliseum on Sept. 7 and is arguably -- considering the circumstances -- the team’s most complete win of the season. Utah’s trip to Pullman next week will essentially serve as a semifinal game for each team’s postseason hopes. If WSU loses, it still has the Apple Cup the following week, but Cougars fans would like nothing more than to lock up bowl eligibility at Martin Stadium. Will students delay the start of their Thanksgiving break to remain in town?
Injuries unearth strength for UCLA: A week ago, the Bruins’ desperate need for help at running back led coach Jim Mora to call on freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who responded with 120 yards on six carries. Mora played coy throughout the week as to the chances that Jack would be back with the offense, but it became obvious early in UCLA’s 41-31 win against Washington that the former Bellevue (Wash.) High two-way star’s performance earned a bigger role. Four touchdowns later, it’ll be hard to justify leaving Jack on the sideline when UCLA has the ball if/when the health situation improves in the backfield.
Cal is conference’s worst: Someone had to win. Someone had to snap a double-digit conference losing streak. Not only did Colorado pull it off, it turned it into a lopsided affair, winning 41-24. With only Stanford remaining, Cal is all but assured to become the 19th team since the Pac-8 was formed in 1968 to finish conference play without a win. One of those teams was Cal in 2001, which led to the dismissal of Tom Holmoe and the hiring of Jeff Tedford. Tedford, of course, was replaced by Sonny Dykes this season.
Another step back for Washington: Since peaking at No. 15 in the AP poll after its 4-0 start, Washington has failed to meet expectations. The first big blow was the 53-24 loss to Arizona State, and Friday’s loss to UCLA again stamped the Huskies as a third-tier program in the conference. Next week’s trip to Corvallis will be another benchmark test for the Huskies before they try to reclaim the Apple Cup on Nov. 29. If the UW athletic department is looking for a positive byproduct of the recent 2-4 stretch, it’s that the Sarkisian-for-USC campaign has died down significantly.
Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday completed 36 of 53 passes for 319 yards, none more important than a 25-yard strike to Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left. The score stood as the game-winner as WSU improved to 5-5 -- one game shy of bowl eligibility.
Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: After running for four touchdowns in the Bruins’ 41-31 win against UCLA, Jack maintained he’s “still defense all the way.” Could have fooled us. Jack became the first UCLA player since Maurice Jones-Drew to pull off the feat and is now tied with Jordan James for second on the team with five rushing scores despite playing offense in just two games.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey cracked the 100-yard mark for the 13th straight game, running for 132 yards on 26 carries and a score. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist came into the game No. 2 in the nation, averaging 152.6 yards per game.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards and broke the school’s single-season receiving record in the process. He surpassed the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson and sits at 1,201 receiving yards on the year.
Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice ran for 118 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Oregon State. ASU remains in control in the Pac-12 South with an important showdown with UCLA looming next week.
Andre Heidari, K, USC: Heidari’s day didn’t start too well when he missed the PAT following USC’s first touchdown of the game. But he redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal in the final minute to lift USC over No. 4 Stanford, 20-17.
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Stanford’s loss won’t fall on Gaffney’s shoulders. The senior carried 24 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores, including a highlight-reel quality 35-yarder in the first quarter.
South race: Arizona State and UCLA are in the same position as Stanford. If either team wins out, they will be the South Division champ. We have to wait one more week for these teams to meet, and both need to keep focus this week with a pair of dangerous North Division teams coming to town. Arizona State hosts Oregon State and UCLA hosts Washington. This is one of those "you have to earn it weeks" because of the league's nine-game schedule. USC is still in the hunt but must beat Stanford.
Bowl checkup: Right now the Pac-12 has eight bowl-eligible teams: Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Arizona. This week could provide some jockeying for bowl position and prestige. Colorado and California are officially out of bowl contention, and Washington State and Utah are still in the hunt with four wins each. Both have tough road draws this week -- Utah at Oregon and Washington State at Arizona -- and the stage is set for some good drama in Pullman, Wash., next week when Utah and Washington State square off in a game that could determine the postseason fates of both teams. Each needs to win two of their last three to become eligible.
North vs. South: This is a big weekend for determining which division is truly the strongest from top to bottom. Right now the North holds a slight edge, going 8-7 against teams from the South. But all six games this week feature North vs. South teams -- Washington is at UCLA, Washington State is at Arizona, Oregon State is at ASU, Stanford is at USC, Cal is at Colorado and Utah is at Oregon. The South is home for five of the six games.
All eyes on L.A.: Two huge games in the City of Angels this week with Stanford heading to USC and Washington coming down to UCLA. Both games have huge implications on the divisional standings. If USC wins, it keeps pace with UCLA and Arizona State. If the Cardinal win, they move one step closer to a second straight North title. Stanford has won the last four matchups and five of the last six. The last three have come down to a touchdown or less. Washington, meanwhile, looks to break its road blues. The Bruins are coming off a confidence-boosting road win at Arizona. We're also curious to see what Myles Jack brings, if anything, for an offensive encore.
All eyes (also) on Arizona: Speaking of huge games. Oregon State heads to Tempe to take on an Arizona State team looking to steal the South Division crown from UCLA. ASU still has a one-game advantage in Pac-12 play, so a loss wouldn't be devastating (losing to Washington would hurt UCLA's chances more). But the trip to Pasadena next week is obviously going to be very telling. In Tucson, the Wildcats are looking to better their bowl standing while the Cougars are hoping to take another step toward bowl eligibility. It's 12-straight 100-yard rushing games and counting for Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.
Someone has to win, right? California and Colorado are the only two teams still seeking a conference victory. Both teams have true freshmen starters at quarterback with Jared Goff at Cal and Sefo Liufau at Colorado. Speaking of true freshmen, keep an eye on Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam, who already holds the school's record for tackles by a freshman with 86. Cal hasn't won a conference game since topping Washington State on Oct. 13, 2012. Colorado hasn't won a league game since topping, well, Washington State on Sept. 22, 2012.
Bounce back: This is the first time we've had to include Oregon in a bounce-back category. But the Ducks were pretty much manhandled in the loss to Stanford last week. It was a low-output performance from the offense, and the defense couldn't get off the field. But the Ducks are still in contention for the North, though Oregon fans should be USC fans this weekend, and their shot at a BCS at-large game is still very much in play. Utah needs to find a way to snap its three-game slide. The Utes are winless since the victory over Stanford, and haven't won on the road this year. Like Stanford, Utah has a very physical front. But rehabbing at Autzen, especially with Oregon coming off of a loss, is going to be a tall order.
No more breathers: The bye weeks are done. All 12 teams are in action this week and next week. In Week 14, only California has an open date, but that's because its season will be over.
Giving back: ASU is known for embracing its military ties, and here's a head's up on something cool it is doing: As part of Sun Devil Athletics' annual Salute to Service football game against Oregon State, fans can purchase a ticket to donate to an active military member or veteran, and SDA will match every donated ticket with a second ticket.
"When I called her, she was wide-awake, excited," Jack said. "I think it was the most excited I've heard her be about a football game. That was what got me the most -- seeing how proud my mom was with how I played."
She should be proud, as Jack turned in one of the season's best performances. After all, how often is a starting linebacker named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week?
Playing offense for the first time this season, Jack rushed six times for 120 yards -– including a 66-yard touchdown run on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. On defense, where he's been the Bruins' No. 4 tackler, he had eight tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in the end zone.
Jack described things since Saturday as "hectic" and a "whirlwind," and it seemed that he, as much as anyone, was ready to move on. Hype can be fun, but it also can become a distraction. Jack already has been given advice by the Bruins' veteran star players, including QB Brett Hundley and OLB Anthony Barr.
"Just ignore the noise," Jack said. "Stay focused. There's plenty of games to go. Our sights are bigger than just winning one game. We're trying to win Pac-12 championships."
Next up for the Bruins in their quest for the Pac-12 South Division title is Jack's hometown team: Washington, which is making a rare Friday night visit to the Rose Bowl. Jack starred for Bellevue (Wash.) High School as a running back and defensive end and was highly recruited nationally. Suffice it to say, Huskies fans are still mourning his decision to head south to Westwood.
But the Huskies' recruitment might have been doomed when UCLA hired Jim Mora after the 2011 season. Mora and his wife had become friends with Jack's mother shortly after she transplanted from Atlanta to Seattle. Mora's son, Ryder, played football with Jack's little brother, Jahlen.
Mora was immediately impressed with the already yoked up budding high school freshman, and Jack was transfixed by his brother getting football advice from the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
"He coached the Falcons, and I had watched him on the NFL Network every morning before I went to school, and then I see just him up there watching the games," Jack said.
Jack called it an "eye-popper" when Mora was hired by the Bruins. Jack had already been offered by then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, and Mora quickly called to say the offer stood. Jack said when he made his visit, he knew he wanted to go to UCLA, so he committed early in June 2012.
It's one game. I'm not taking anybody's spot on offense. I'm still a defensive player. If coach asks me to come in on third-and-1, I'll be more than happy to come in there.”
-- UCLA's Myles Jack,
on taking snaps on offense
Mora recruited Jack as a linebacker, where he wanted to play, but many schools offered him as a running back. Among recruiting services, there was no unanimity on how much or how quickly Jack would contribute. He received three stars from ESPN recruiting, which noted, "Overall, Jack may be falling under the radar some due to the fact that he does not project high at one particular position and may need some adjustment time before he makes an immediate impact."
Instead, Jack's problem in his true freshman season is projecting highly at two positions. While that's a pleasant problem to have, it is an issue that needs to be managed. Running back and linebacker are taxing, physically demanding positions. Both wear a body down. The idea of Jack becoming a full-time, two-way starter isn't even being entertained.
"You've got to be careful," Mora said. "He's an 18-year-old freshman, and his plate is pretty full. We have to make sure we move methodically. My experience has told me you get carried away sometimes. When you get carried away and use a guy in too many different spots, they lose their effectiveness in all spots."
Part of the reason Jack saw action at running back is injury issues at the position. Starter Jordon James has been struggling with an ankle injury, though Mora said he expects him to be close to 100 percent for Washington. Damien Thigpen and Steven Manfro are both questionable for Friday.
That probably leaves Jack as a situational RB, as he was against Arizona, along with Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones, though a lot depends on whether James returns to his early-season form when the Bruins' running game was strong.
For Jack, he'll do as he is asked, though he has repeatedly made it clear that he's a linebacker first. He prefers to deliver a blow rather than take it.
"It's one game," he said. "I'm not taking anybody's spot on offense. I'm still a defensive player. If coach asks me to come in on third-and-1, I'll be more than happy to come in there."
His coaches probably will be more than happy to see him again tear through an opponent for a big gain on third-and-short a few moments after making a third-down stop on defense.
Team of the week: Is there any doubt? Stanford, again a substantial underdog to No. 3 and unbeaten Oregon, again controlled the line of scrimmage with its trademark physical style in a 26-20 victory on Thursday, that final score in no way reflecting the complete control the Cardinal had from bell-to-bell. It was a total team effort, featuring a great plan from the coaches that was well-executed by players who relish their underdog status when compared to flashy Oregon. Nerd Nation rules again. (But don't celebrate too long, Stanford. The season's far from over.)
Biggest play: While there were a number of big plays in the above game, no play was as "Good golly!" good as Myles Jack's 66-yard touchdown run for UCLA at Arizona. For one, he's a linebacker. Second, it was on a third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter just after an Arizona TD that reduced the Bruins' lead to five points. The Wildcats would score a TD on their next possession, so UCLA needed all the points it got. And the nation got introduced to Jack, a certain freshman All-American who is already being referred to as a first-round NFL draft pick.
Offensive standout: In the preseason, Stanford's offensive line looked like the nation's best unit. At times during the first half of the season, it didn't live up to that billing. But against Oregon it was dominant against a good defensive front. It not only paved the way from RB Tyler Gaffney's 157 yards on 45 carries, it also held the Ducks without a sack. QB Kevin Hogan was hurried just once. Stanford beat the Ducks because it made time of possession matter, with the offensive line playing the most important role in converting 14 of 21 third-down plays as well as the only fourth-down attempt. Last season's win over Oregon was about the Stanford defense. This one was about the O-line.
Defensive standout: Stanford LB Shayne Skov led the Cardinal's defense, which was pretty darn salty against the Ducks, with nine tackles (two for loss), two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He also broke up a pass and had two QB hurries.
Special teams standout: USC's Nelson Agholor returned punts 75 and 93 yards for TDs in the Trojans' 62-28 beatdown of California.
Special teams standout II: Against Arizona State, Utah punter Tom Hackett averaged 50.6 yards on nine punts, with a long of 70. He killed three inside the Sun Devils' 20-yard line and was a big reason the Utes controlled field position most of the afternoon.
Freakish two-way standout: Jack, a true freshman, became a national sensation on Saturday -- despite the late West Coast kickoff -- when he turned in helmet-sticker worthy performances on BOTH sides of the ball. On defense, he had eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery. On offense, he rushed for a team-high 120 yards on just six carries, including the aforementioned 66-yard touchdown.
Smiley face: In recent seasons, just when things started to go well for Arizona State and UCLA, it became time to bet against them, particularly on the road. Both lacked consistent mental toughness. But both might be changing their ways. Both won on the road against good foes, overcoming myriad momentum shifts when they looked like they might be in trouble. Is it possible that their game on Nov. 23 will match top-15 teams with the stakes being the South Division? Maybe.
Frowny face: As great as Stanford's win is for Stanford, the Cardinal -- for the second consecutive season -- ruined the Pac-12's chances to put a team in the national title game. The Pac-12 hasn't won a national title since USC in 2004. The conference, in fact, has played in the title game only once since then, with Oregon getting nipped by Auburn after the 2010 season. While the league isn't mathematically eliminated -- if there's only one unbeaten team at season's end, the Pac-12 has a good shot at being No. 1 among the once-beatens -- it is a bit disappointing that the conference likely won't finish 2013 with the No. 1 team, thereby ending the SEC's streak of 103 consecutive national titles. Plus or minus.
Thought of the week: Oregon fans should stop panicking or allowing the nationwide trolling to get to them. College football nation: If the Ducks have been truly unmasked and your rough-tough team would dominate them, then why not seek them out for a nonconference game? Ohio State, Baylor, Florida State, Alabama, etc? If the Ducks are just a gimmick team, sign a game contract for a home-and-home series. Out West, however, we won't hold our breaths for one reason: Those teams want no part of that. Why? Because while a very good Stanford program, which is rougher and tougher than just about anyone, has won two in a row against the Ducks in impressive fashion, Oregon remains an elite team that can slice and dice the hopes and dreams of an opponent before it can say, "I wish my team hadn't been brave because now I can't be an anonymous trash-talking troll on Twitter."
Question for the week: Is the Pac-12 still in the Heisman Trophy hunt? Sure, there's been an overreaction against Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, sprained knee and all, after the Ducks went down to Stanford and he didn't play well on a big stage. And Arizona losing to UCLA diminished Ka'Deem Carey's chances. But what happens if one or both finish strong? You could make an argument that both are the best players at their positions. Difficult to imagine at least one won't get an invitation to New York for the ceremony.
1. Oregon has a Stanford problem: Used to be the other way around. Last year it felt more like Oregon had a Stanford inconvenience, not so much a problem. This year, there is little doubt and few excuses. The Cardinal were dominant through 50 minutes and just good enough in the final 10. The extent of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee remains a question. Still, he looked pretty spry in the fourth quarter, and there was ample opportunity along the way for the Ducks to make plays. But it was Stanford’s defense that came up with the stops/turnovers and the offense that shoved its tempo right down the Oregon front seven. This was the offensive line we’ve been waiting to see. And let’s not forget Kevin Hogan’s mobility. He was good enough in the passing game, but his touchdown run was huge, as were his breaking three tackles on a third-down scramble. The Ducks still have national cred. They’ve done too much over the last four years to lose it with one game. But as long as Stanford continues to push them around, they won’t be able to shake the questions about their physicality.
3. ASU almost had a problem: First, give credit to Utah’s defense, which once again came to play. And with the ASU offense struggling, it was the defense that stepped up and kept the Sun Devils in the game. Over the last four games, the Sun Devils are allowing fewer than 20 points per game. And they were clutch in the fourth quarter in the 20-19 win over Utah. The ASU defense held Utah to a three-and-out or a turnover in all five of the Utes' fourth-quarter possessions. And here’s a fun note from our Stats & Info folks: According to ESPN’s win probability model, Arizona State had a 7.1 percent chance of winning at the end of the third quarter. Entering this weekend, only 17 FBS teams have come back to win after having a win probability of 7.1 percent or lower. The offense finally came alive and scored 13 points in the fourth. Utah had won 49 straight games when leading at halftime.
4. No problems for the Huskies: The Trojans weren’t the only team to become bowl-eligible on Saturday. The Huskies picked up pivotal win No. 6 and are bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year after a brilliant performance from quarterback Keith Price, who was 22-of-29 for 312 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Bishop Sankey turned in yet another solid performance with 143 yards and a score. The rebuilding Buffs have now lost 14 straight conference games. Washington has back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before closing out the year at home in the Apple Cup. The potential is there for nine or 10 wins, which would certainly assuage some of the midseason chatter about coach Steve Sarkisian.
5. Myles Jack = a problem for opposing teams: How fun is that guy to watch? UCLA coach Jim Mora has been hinting for quite some time that we’d see the true freshman linebacker swap sides. And on Saturday we saw him tally eight tackles, recover a fumble in the end zone, and then as a running back carry the ball six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. That overshadowed Ka'Deem Carey’s 149-yard rushing performance and a touchdown for Arizona -- Carey’s 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, which is tops in college football. More importantly, the Bruins won in Tucson for the first time since 2003 and kept pace with the Sun Devils for the race in the South Division. Arizona is pushed aside, making it a three-way race among the Bruins, Trojans and Sun Devils.
Stanford: We could give a helmet sticker to RB Tyler Gaffney for his 45 carries for 157 yards. We could give it to his offensive line. We could give it to LB Shayne Skov, who led a stout defense with nine tackles, two for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Or the entire defense, which shut down the Ducks' offense. Or we could give it to David Shaw, defensive coordinator Derek Mason and the entire Stanford staff. But it's our freaking blog, so we're giving this extra large helmet sticker to the entire program.
Nelson Agholor, WR/PR, USC: Agholor caught only five passes for 35 yards, but he left little doubt about the special teams player of the week. He returned punts 75 and 93 yards for TDs in the Trojans 62-28 beatdown of California.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: With the Sun Devils high-powerd offense stuck in second gear, Sutton led a stout defensive effort with nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception, which clinched a 20-19 victory at Utah. The Utes had just 247 total yards.
Keith Price, QB, Washington: In a 59-7 win over Colorado, Price completed 21 of 29 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 29 yards and a score as the Huskies became the conference's eighth bowl-eligible team. Oh, and Price didn't throw a pass in the second half.
Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: The Bruins true freshman had eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery on defense, and he rushed for a team-high 120 yards on just six carries, including a 66-yard touchdown that gave the Bruins their final TD in a 31-26 win at Arizona.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- UCLA is trying to win the Pac-12 South Division championship, and it has been doing so while often playing four true freshmen on offense. So it made perfect sense Saturday on the road against division rival Arizona to take a true freshman starter on defense and hand him the football on offense in a high-pressure situation and, you know, see how things go.
It was third-and-1 on the Bruins' 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Arizona had just cut the Bruins' lead to five points. The Wildcats, with their home crowd juiced, had the momentum. But they had no idea they were about to get Myles Jack'ed.
Jack, the centerpiece of a new UCLA offensive package that featured several defensive players, took a handoff, got the edge, threw off a couple of Wildcats and rumbled 66 yards for the Bruins' final touchdown in a 31-26 victory.
Jack finished with 120 yards on just six carries. Oh, and he had eight tackles and a fumble recovery on defense.
Sometimes you've got to improvise, but improvisation is only as good as its execution. The package featuring Jack, a dominant two-way player at Bellevue (Wash.) High School last year, was devised only this week. It could have ended up as merely a quirk in the game plan, but it turned out to be the critical game-changer in a key contest that elevated the Bruins in the South race while demoting the Wildcats. They entered the game with identical records, overall and in conference play.
All the fancy stuff is fun, but it's really about winning by any means necessary. It's about survival. UCLA was one of the survivors this weekend.
On Thursday, Oregon's fancy got stuffed by Stanford, and now the Cardinal has the lead in the North Division. On Saturday, both UCLA and Arizona State, which needed a late rally to beat Utah 20-19, were able to win tough South games on the road, while resurgent USC stomped on flagging California 62-28.
Stanford will move up a click in the BCS standings on Sunday as the nation's top one-loss team. The Cardinal merely need to win at USC on Saturday, then beat rival Cal, winless in conference play, on Nov. 23, and it will advance to the Pac-12 title game.
In other words, Stanford controls its own destiny. Just as Arizona State and UCLA do. Only one or the other will yield that control when they meet on Nov. 23. USC shares the same 4-2 conference record as the Bruins, but it already has lost to Arizona State, which is 5-1. The Trojans conclude their season by hosting UCLA at the Coliseum on Nov. 30.
So the picture is a bit clearer in the Pac-12 after a decidedly interesting weekend, but it is still blurry and uncertain, and it features a lot of football ahead.
The division winners who emerge on Nov. 30 will know that they endured perhaps the toughest grind in conference history.
"It's hard to win, man, it's hard," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.
Just take the Bruins' win over the Wildcats. Multiple times, it looked like UCLA was about to assert itself. It led 21-10 at the half, and Jack's touchdown seemed like a potential icer in the fourth.
But the Wildcats quickly went 75 yards for a touchdown to again close within five. At that point, the game had been mostly about offensive playmaking, with Jack, Bruins QB Brett Hundley and Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and QB B.J. Denker making big plays. But it was the defenses that ruled most of the fourth.
Arizona's defense twice got stops and the ball back for its offense in the fourth, giving it a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown. But both times the Bruins' defense prevented the Wildcats from even getting a first down.
"When we watch the film," Rodriguez said. "We are not going to be very happy."
Rodriguez is surely thinking about three red zone failures. The Wildcats got stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the UCLA 15-yard line in the first quarter; Carey fumbled on the 1-yard line as he appeared on the cusp of scoring; and Denker was stopped for a 6-yard loss on third-and-1 from the UCLA 4-yard line, forcing the Wildcats to kick a field goal.
“That's not fancy. That's one team making plays and the other not. The Bruins, by the way, don't have much of a recent history of making those clutch plays, particularly on the road. This was their first win in Tucson since 2003.
This team is different. I think it is starting to show. And I think people are starting to take notice just how different this team is than all the past teams.” -- UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley
"This team is different," Hundley said. "I think it is starting to show. And I think people are starting to take notice just how different this team is than all the past teams."
Jack certainly is different -- as in special. He already has been one of the nation's best true freshman linebackers this season. Now he has shown he can be a dynamic running back. A two-way star playing high-level AQ conference football is a rare thing. Jack is like former Stanford FB/LB Owen Marecic, only with far more athletic ability.
"It's remarkable, but it doesn't surprise me," Mora said of Jack's performance.
There, of course, is a fine line between getting as much as possible out of Jack while not creating diminishing returns by playing him too much. Running back and linebacker are taxing, high-contact, high-aerobic positions.
Jack admitted he was exhausted after the game, but that didn't stop him from joking about playing running back.
"I don't know if I wanted to show them that side of me, because now they're going to be trying to make me run the ball all the time," Jack said.
Jack didn't pause when asked which position he preferred: linebacker.
"I like to hit people rather than be hit," he said. "But whatever the team wants me to do, I'm with it."
That's sort of how things are in the Pac-12 right now. It's better to hit than be hit, and the teams competing at the top are doing whatever they can to win.
Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and USC all had good weekends. Each did what it had to do to remain in contention.
"I feel really confident in the way we are handling things," Hundley said. "I think we're in second right now. And we'll get a chance to play ASU. As long as we keep winning games, we control our own destiny."
Being in control is a good thing. On this Saturday, the Bruins asserted their control by Myles Jacking Arizona.
Either way, the Pac-12 clearly distinguished itself as one of the top two leagues in college football with a 29-5 mark against out of conference competition. And a strong argument can be made that, top to bottom, it is on par if not superior to the SEC.
The Pac-12 is deep, which, as we’ve learned the last couple of weeks, is its blessing and its curse.
Plus, ASU and UCLA picked up critical wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska, and Washington topped Boise State. Those were all marquee wins that bolstered the conference’s national perception. Washington has dropped two games but remains in the top 25 because voters are recognizing the quality of competition in the Pac-12.
The curse is Washington plays in the Pac-12 North, in which wins are hard to come by. The curse is that a four-win Washington State team would have a much better shot at going bowling if the Pac-12 played an eight-game conference schedule. The curse is Stanford ran into a surging Utah team that finally had its “hello Pac-12” moment. Stanford didn't lose that game. Utah won it. And the Utes aren't going to make things easy in the South. Just as Washington State isn’t going to make things easy in the North. They led the Beavers late into the third quarter on Saturday night.
Now UCLA, Stanford, Oregon, ASU, Washington UCLA, Utah and Oregon State are all going to cannibalize one another throughout the course of a vicious conference schedule. UCLA has back-to-back trips to Stanford and Oregon. Washington has to go to ASU. Utah is on the road for four of its next six games. ASU must try to clinch the South in Pasadena. UCLA has to try to clinch the South at the Coliseum. That’s right, don’t rule out USC just yet.
Or maybe we see Stanford do what it did last year -- drop a game on the road after a failed goal-line push (starting to sound familiar?) and then close strong in the last mile. Then again, Stanford could conceivably drop its next two to UCLA and Oregon State and then beat Oregon. That would almost seem apropos for this wacky conference. Almost.
If we learned anything these first seven weeks, it’s that the Pac-12 has changed the perception of how it’s viewed around the country. It started the year with five teams in the top 25. A total of seven have been in and out of the rankings. It has four in this week -- all four in the top 20 -- two in the top 10 and one, at No. 2, receiving first-place votes. Three other teams have been in and out of the rankings -- USC, Oregon State and ASU -- and the Beavers, Sun Devils and Utes are receiving votes.
And as the conference continues gorging itself, it’s only going to get more interesting from here on out.
Offensive MVP: You can make a case for a few guys, but Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota gets the nod because not only has he accounted for 25 touchdowns, but he’s responsible for zero turnovers. All he has done in the first half of the season is be dominant, help his team without hurting them, and garnered legitimate Heisman buzz.
Defensive MVP: Tough call here between UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Stanford’s Trent Murphy. Barr leads the conference with by two more tackles for loss than anyone else, despite playing fewer games. Murphy has more sacks and a freakishly athletic pick-six. We’re giving the nod to Barr, who has more total tackles, has forced three fumbles and recovered two.
Biggest disappointment: While things might be looking up in Troy, the way the quarterback situation was handled followed by the dismissal of head coach Lane Kiffin was disappointing. The Trojans had bought enough good will to start the year in the top 25, but that faded quickly. Now they are searching for someone who can restore the brand.
Newcomer of the year: Coin toss between the unbelievably versatile Myles Jack of UCLA -- who has future first-rounder written all over him -- and Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam. We’re a Gilliam lean simply because of the sheer volume of his production. The true freshman leads the conference with an average of 10.6 tackles per game, is second in the league in solo stops (35) and has 53 tackles and a couple of sacks on the year.
Best coach: It’s hard to overlook the job Mark Helfrich has done with Oregon. And if we’re talking strictly on the field, he gets the vote. But we’re tipping our cap to Jim Mora for keeping his team together through a tragedy that would rock any program. He has been an emotional beacon for his players and the university and shepherded them through an extremely difficult time. All the while staying perfect on the season, a distant second to the job he has done off the field.
Best game: There has been plenty of drama, but halfway through the season we’re sticking with Oregon State’s overtime win at Utah in Week 3. Travis Wilson engineered an outstanding second-half comeback, and the Utes eventually erased a 27-10 deficit and turned it into a 38-37 lead. Late touchdowns from both teams forced overtime in the conference’s most thrilling game to date.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
8:00 PM ET 20 Duke 1 Florida State 8:17 PM ET 2 Ohio State 10 Michigan State 4:00 PM ET 5 Missouri 3 Auburn 12:00 PM ET 17 Oklahoma 6 Oklahoma State 7:45 PM ET 7 Stanford 11 Arizona State 3:30 PM ET 25 Texas 9 Baylor 12:00 PM ET 16 UCF Southern Methodist 10:00 PM ET Utah State 23 Fresno State