Pac-12 South: 2012 face plants
December, 5, 2012
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
Every team in the Pac-12 had a face plant in 2012 -- a forehead-slapper of a game that either completely changed the trajectory of their season or was simply one that they'd like to have back. Here's a look at the face-plant games in the South Division. Tomorrow we'll look at the exact opposite -- the signature wins of each team and the impact it had on the season.
Arizona: The then-5-3 Wildcats were rolling since losing in overtime at Stanford on Oct. 6, which was a third consecutive loss to a highly ranked team. They'd blown out Washington and beaten USC on consecutive weekends. They looked to be making a move in the South Division. Then, as my almost-4-year-old would say, "Smackadoodle!" UCLA delivered one of the most shocking beatdowns -- 66-10! -- of the season, utterly destroying a team that had been surging. It was 21-0 after the first quarter, 42-3 at halftime and the Wildcats were shut out in the fourth. The Bruins outgained Arizona 611 yards to 257. Both of your esteemed Pac-12 bloggers picked the Wildcats to win, by the way. So we share a face plant here.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils were set up nicely for their visit to Missouri, starting with the fact that they were better than Missouri. For one, they'd beaten Missouri a year before, and the Tigers were going to be missing their QB and best player, James Franklin. The Sun Devils were off to a nice, efficient 2-0 start, playing with discipline and protecting the football. But just about everything went wrong, and a comeback fell short in a 24-20 defeat. The Sun Devils had four turnovers -- they had 19 in their other 11 games -- and had seven penalties for 54 yards -- they averaged 4.2 penalties for 34 yards in the other 11 games.
Colorado: Just about the entire, 1-11 season was a face plant, but each of the first three games stand out for specific reasons: 1. The 22-17 opening loss to Colorado State was a defeat to an in-state rival that wasn't any good, a blow that immediately killed hope for a fast start to build confidence; 2. The 30-28 loss to Sacramento State was a defeat to an FCS team; 3. The 69-14 loss to Fresno State was an epic blowout defeat against a non-AQ team in which the Buffaloes simply didn't seem to be trying. Take your pick.
UCLA: Bruins fans know what's coming: How the heck did UCLA lose 43-17 against a woeful California squad that finished 3-9? The easy answer is six turnovers, including four interceptions from QB Brett Hundley, nearly half of the 10 interceptions he threw all season. The Bruins led 7-3 after the first quarter -- on an interception return from D-lineman Cassius Marsh, no less -- but then everything fell apart. The Bears rushed for 186 yards and got four TD passes from Zach Maynard, piling up 486 total yards. Of course, UCLA traditionally stinks it up in Berkeley: This was its seventh consecutive loss in Strawberry Canyon.
USC: Just about any of the Trojans' five losses could count, but the 39-36 loss at Arizona on Oct. 27 really set the downward trajectory for the season, as it was the first of four losses in five games. USC went to Tucson still with hopes -- Pac-12 and even national hopes. The Trojans were 6-1 and ninth in the BCS standings. They seemed to have recovered from their loss at Stanford on Sept. 27. They led 28-13 in the third quarter. But just after QB Matt Barkley missed an easy TD pass, things went south. Arizona scored 26 unanswered points and the Trojans' hopes for a special season were quashed.
Utah: Before the season, the Utes were widely seen as perhaps the South Division's second-best team behind USC. So much for consensus opinions. Arizona State stomped on those with a 37-7 unmasking in both teams' Pac-12 opener. The Utes were sloppy, yes, turning the ball over three times, but they were physically manhandled and looked slow. It could have been worse, too. It was 21-0 after the first quarter. Arizona State outgained the Utes 512 yards to 209. It certainly felt like a strong statement that the jump from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 would not be as seamless as some Utes folks had hoped, and coach Kyle Whittingham pretty much said as much after the game.