NCF Nation: Xavier Cooper

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Taking stock of Week 4 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: While the Pac-12 blog has been hard on Stanford for giving up 21 unanswered points to Arizona State in the fourth quarter, the fact remains the Cardinal posted a two-touchdown win over a ranked team. And that first half showed folks why Stanford is a national title contender. Need to tighten some things up? Absolutely. But Stanford at its best has plenty of irresistible force and unmovable object to it.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWill Oregon State QB Sean Mannion miss coach Danny Langsdorf, who is heading to the NFL? Sure, but it shouldn't affect his production.
Best game: Oregon State fans let out a massive, "Whew," after the Beavers overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit at San Diego State and won 34-30. While the game was far from pretty, it was a win, and the Beavers seem like a team right now that should just be grateful to collect one. Further, the weekend was otherwise devoid of nail-biters, though USC allowed Utah State to stay unnecessarily close.

Biggest play: Oregon State's defense has been mostly horrible, but it provided the winning margin against San Diego State when CB Steven Nelson returned an interception 16 yards for a TD with 2:31 remaining. The play might have saved the Beavers' season.

Offensive standout: Oregon State can't run the ball or play defense, but QB Sean Mannion can throw the rock around with WR Brandin Cooks. Mannion completed 38 of 55 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Beavers' comeback win over San Diego State. Cooks was his chief weapon, catching 14 passes for 141 yards.

Defensive standout: Utah State couldn't block USC DT Leonard Williams, who had eight tackles with three coming for a loss in the Trojans' 17-14 win over Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies. The Trojans held a previously potent offense to just 285 total yards.

Defensive standout II: Sure, it came against woeful Idaho, but Washington State DT Xavier Cooper dominated inside. Of his five total tackles, 3.5 came for a loss, including 1.5 sacks. He was a key part of a surging defense that held the Vandals to 253 total yards. LB Darryl Monroe, who led the Cougars with 12 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, also merits note.

Special-teams standout: Think you had a long Saturday? Utah punter Tom Hackett punted 11 times for the Utes against BYU, averaging 44.2 yards per boot with a long of 61 yards, though that one was returned 58 yards to the Utah 13. That's 486 yards of punting from the Australian! Three were downed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line. G'day to that.

Frowny face: USC and Oregon State were both ranked in the preseason but both appear to be significantly flawed. The Trojans can't do anything on offense, and the Beavers are struggling on defense. Hmm. Maybe if they combined forces we could generate another national title contender?

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is 29-4 in nonconference play, including 21-3 against FBS teams, with just three matchups with Notre Dame left to play. That is by far the most distinguished mark in the nation. Remember when the Mountain West Conference was -- rightfully -- talking smack about the Pac-12? Well, the Pac-12 is 10-0 versus the MWC this year.

Thought of the week: While the season is only hitting the quarter pole, we should learn a little about the conference's South Division contenders -- and pretenders -- this weekend. Arizona has played three overmatched foes and was off over the weekend. The visit to Washington should be revealing. We have no idea who the Wildcats really are. They seem much improved on defense and limited throwing the ball. A victory over the Huskies would thrust them into the top 25 and announce them as contenders in the South Division. Meanwhile, the Arizona State-USC game also seems to serve as a critical separation game in the South.

Questions for the week: Will Lane Kiffin's last stand be in the desert? If Kiffin and the Trojans prevail and improve to 4-1, Kiffin might buy himself some goodwill -- and top-25 votes. The season would still offer plenty of hope. If the Trojans lose, they will fall to 0-2 in the conference, a major hole in the division race. At that point, reporters covering the Trojans likely would start writing speculative articles about USC's next coach.
Mike Leach is funny when you asked him which Pac-12 coach he'd like to take hunting. He's funny you ask him to compare his team leaders to famous military generals. He's funny when you ask him about his affection for pirates. Heck, Leach is funny -- and often insightful -- about a variety of things. He's just not going to tell you much about his football team.

Leach and the Cougars begin preseason camp Thursday not unlike they began spring practices: as mostly a blank slate. The depth chart that was included in the Cougars' 2012 media guide doesn't seem to be a terribly valuable document, at least to Leach. When you ask the Cougs' new coach about areas of concern, deepest positions, thinnest positions and incoming players who have a chance to earn playing time, it's not wise to expect much in the way of details or specific names.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMike Leach begins his first preseason at Washington State on Thursday, and much of the depth chart is uncertain.
"You earn your job every day," he said, mostly speaking to all depth-chart questions. "The starting lineup is going to be based on performance, not how many years you've played or how old you are."

One thing Leach isn't terribly funny about: team discipline. If his players didn't take his emphasis on it seriously in January, they surely will now. Last week, he dismissed projected starting defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi after he was arrested for allegedly shoplifting a pair of headphones from a Walmart. He was the third likely starter Leach cut loose from his defensive front seven, which wasn't terribly deep and stout in the first place. He'd previously booted linebackers C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi, who were both returning starters.

"There's nothing fun about it," Leach said when asked about kicking players off the team. "You'd like to save everyone."

Laurenzi was listed as the starter at left defensive tackle and the backup at nose tackle. His backup is senior Steven Hoffart, though senior Lenard Williams could move over from the right said, where he backs up Xavier Cooper on the depth chart. Or a new guy could break through. Leach wouldn't project who was first in line to work with the first-team defense. He, in fact, wasn't even ready to agree Laurenzi was a likely starter.

"It's difficult to say he had the first crack at it to begin with," Leach said. "We played a variety of people there and will continue to. We didn't have a set group of starters there."

Leach also professed to "feel good" about his front seven, though it appears to be his team's biggest question mark.

Leach said most of preseason practices will be focused on fundamentals, with game prep not beginning until around 10 days before the visit to BYU on Sept. 1.

Leach did say he'll wait only a week before deciding who his No. 1 quarterback will be, though it seems almost certain that will be Jeff Tuel. At that point, Tuel would get two-thirds of the reps with the first-team offense and his likely backup, Connor Halliday, would get the other third.

Note: Leach wouldn't comment on the expected arrival of freshman cornerback Raymond Ford, who was previously headed to California.

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