Pac-12: Cody Fajardo

Tuesday morning mailbag

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
11:00
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Thoughts, musings and rants from Week 1.

To the notes!

Jon in Nashville, Tenn. writes: Already looking forward to the UCLA-USC game, which made me wonder, who was the stronger opponent, Hawaii or Nevada?

Kevin Gemmell: That one is a long ways off, but I certainly think Nevada is the stronger team. We’ll know for sure, I suppose, when Hawaii travels to Nevada on Sept. 21 for their Mountain West opener. But after watching both games, I’d pick Nevada.

As you may know, we on the Pac-12 blog are big believers in good quarterback play. Cody Fajardo was the stronger quarterback of those two teams. The Bruins were only able to sack him twice -- and neither of those came from Anthony Barr (though he did have two tackles for a loss).

Both of those games served a good purpose for the Pac-12. I thought USC’s defense looked solid. And it provided the proper audition for the quarterbacks. Granted, I don’t think either passed the audition, but it was the kind of game that allowed the Trojans to try out both guys.

In the case of UCLA, as I wrote on Sunday, I think it was invaluable for the Bruins to face a talented, mobile quarterback like Fajardo because their schedule is laced with dual-threat guys. Considering where both teams are at, it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison. If the scenarios were swapped, I think USC would have had a tighter game against Nevada and UCLA would have had a wider margin of victory over Hawaii. But I don’t think either UCLA or USC would have gotten the same benefits had the roles been reversed.

Sam in Portland writes: During the nightcap some of the TV commentators were mocking (Mike) Leach's comment that the bottom of the Pac-12 is better than the bottom of the SEC, stating that WSU's loss to Auburn is definitive proof that he's wrong. Would you consider WSU completely outplaying the Tigers in Auburn and only losing by 1 TD because they shot themselves in the foot proof that he's wrong or evidence that Leach is in fact right?

Kevin Gemmell: I didn't see or hear those remarks, so I'll take your word for it. "Definitive" seems pretty strong.

I think as far as tinkle contests go, this might be the dumbest of them all. The whole “your worst is worse than our worst” is ridiculous. With that said, Washington State couldn’t have “completely” outplayed Auburn. If they did, the Cougs would have won.

But since you brought it up, let’s compare the bottom of the leagues as of right now: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State all lost for the SEC. Cal, Oregon State and Washington State all lost for the Pac-12.

Georgia lost to No. 8 Clemson by three, no real disgrace there. Kentucky lost to Western Kentucky, an FBS team from the Sun Belt. We’ll call that a bad loss. Vanderbilt lost to a conference opponent in Ole Miss, so that’s a push. Mississippi State lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State by 17. It’s not a horrible loss, but it was pretty convincing.

No. 25 Oregon State lost to FCS Eastern Washington. A good FCS team, mind you, but an FCS team nevertheless. Cal lost to No. 22 Northwestern by 14. It was a very respectable effort from the Bears. And then we have Washington State’s loss, another gutty effort that the Cougs probably could have pulled out.

So each conference had a bad loss (though I’d say OSU’s was worse, considering the Beavers were ranked and lost to an FCS team). Both conferences also had “respectable” losses.

Now, ask yourself what would happen if Oregon State played (for the sake of argument, we’ll say at a neutral site) Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky or Georgia? I think they probably go 3-1. WSU probably goes 2-2 and Cal probably goes 2-2.

Of course, Georgia isn’t going to stay at the bottom of the SEC. Just as Colorado probably isn’t going to stay at the top of the Pac-12.

So what’s the morale of this story? Who cares whose worst is worse. They are all 0-1. That’s all that matters.

Clint in Honolulu writes: Kevin, what did you think of the Northwestern players faking injuries to slow the Cal offense? Do you think any of their coaches should be suspended?

Kevin Gemmell: As others have already pointed out, Cal fans should be cautious about calling the kettle black. A simple Google search reveals some awfully amusing and indicting video of a similar incident a few years back.

That said, if that was the case, it was pretty weak. I was at the UCLA game and was streaming the Cal game on my laptop, checking in every couple of minutes, so I didn't see any specific instances. But I’ve read reports of defensive linemen looking to the sideline and then collapsing. I don’t know how you could prove a guy wasn't injured -- outside of a full admission from the coach or player -- but if it happened, it’s pretty weak sauce.

Just as the act itself is hard to prove, making suspensions stick for something like that would be just as difficult. As it stands, public humiliation and shaming will have to suffice. The internet has a way of taking care of that.

Alex in Portland writes: Biggest surprise of Week 1? (don't say Oregon State, don't say Oregon State).

Kevin Gemmell: I think when you look at the combined quarterback completion rate in the USC-Hawaii game you first have to evaluate the … OF COURSE IT’S OREGON STATE! Come on Alex. If you’re going to serve them up for me, at least try to do it with a little dignity. This one feels like bait to rip into the Beavers. And it would be pretty easy to do, considering how that defense played.

I picked Oregon State to win that game straight up. As did Ted Miller and just about everyone else in America outside of Cheney, Wash. However, let's hop in the way-back machine to June 25 and Oregon State's nonconference primer post. You can click the link, if you’d like. Or I can simply cut-and-paste what I wrote back then:


The skinny: This is not a team to be taken lightly. It pushed Washington State last season and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, finishing ranked fourth nationally among all FCS schools. [Vernon] Adams is a playmaker and, as a team, the Eagles set a school mark for passing yards in 2012 with 4,469. It's still an FCS school, but the Eagles are certainly an upgrade over Nicholls State.



You were sufficiently warned.

However, at the Pac-12 blog, we try to look for positives. And if you want to find some silver linings, look to the play of quarterback Sean Mannion, who along with Brandin Cooks, kept the Beavers in the game. Mannion was 37 of 43 for 422 yards and three touchdowns with a QBR of 93.3. Cooks caught 13 of those balls for 196 yards and two scores.

And this is what you want to hear out of your quarterback, who very easily could have used his pulpit to point the finger at his defense. Lord knows he's had plenty of fingers pointed at him over the last couple of years:


No one played a perfect game, the offense especially. We have our defense’s back a hundred times out of a hundred and they would do the same for us. I am not going to sit here and say that the offense played well because that isn’t true. Our defense fought hard. I think that our offense left some plays on the field, but all that we can do as a team is continue to grow and overcome this by working hard next week.


And he’s right. The Beavers offense did have three, three-and outs. But you can hardly saddle this one on the offense. By the way, when you’re playing an FCS team, you never want to see this.




But perhaps the most frustrating part of that game was the Beavers ruined my perfect week of predictions. 10-0 would have looked a heck of a lot better than 9-1. Or in Ted’s case, 8-2.

Bruins gain insight on running QBs

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
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PASADENA, Calif. -- The UCLA Bruins passed a crucial test in Week 1, which was (mostly) containing a dual-threat quarterback. Nevada's Cody Fajardo spent the first half of Saturday night’s 58-20 Bruins’ victory at the Rose Bowl dodging over-pursuing outside linebackers and escaping edges that were thought to be contained.

In the second half, not so much. Fajardo rushed for 79 yards in the first half, but was limited to just 27 after halftime. In total, Fajardo rushed for 106 yards and two scores. There were valuable lessons learned, and they will carry the Bruins through a schedule that includes some of the nation’s top dual-threat QBs. And getting to see a versatile quarterback like Fajardo in the first game gives the Bruins a framework for what they did right and what they need to correct moving forward.

“I think it’s invaluable,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “(Nebraska’s) Taylor Martinez, who we see next, to me is one of the top running quarterbacks in football – at any level. For us to play a guy like we did today and for him to have the success he had and learn from it is really going to help us. To see it on film is really going to ingrain the learning in our young men. And it’s a chance for us to say what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? What do we need to adjust? What do we need to do better?

“We can’t let quarterbacks do that to us. That’s what interesting about this college game. These quarterbacks are such threats running the football. I’m still adjusting to it. I better adjust darn quickly.”

Indeed, because after Martinez, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Washington’s Keith Price – among others – loom.

“At the college level, everyone has a guy who can tuck and run, whether it’s designed or not,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. “They are all threats. Most colleges have dual-threat guys. You have to adjust accordingly. Every call you have, someone who has to be responsible for the quarterback. It’s a great challenge every week.”

The Bruins finally got through to Fajardo in the second half with a pair of sacks -- a considerably low total for a team that ranked eighth in the country in 2012 at sacks per game -- but understandable considering the scrambling ability of Fajardo. Keenan Graham tallied both of UCLA’s sacks, one of which led to a game-changing blocked punt and touchdown that swung the momentum toward the Bruins in the second half.

It also helped that -- at least in the first half -- the Wolfpack pushed back. With a schedule that includes four teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 (and now likely a fifth after Washington’s win over No. 19 Boise state), rolling over an FBS team probably wouldn’t have been that beneficial to a Bruins team with Rose Bowl aspirations.

“In our preparation for Nevada, we knew they were going to come hard,” said UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo. “That’s a good team. They pushed us in the first half and forced us to make some adjustments. That’s a good thing for our team. That was really good preparation for us as we start to get ready for Nebraska.”

For veterans like linebackers Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, running quarterbacks at the college level aren’t much of a surprise. But for someone like true freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who tallied eight tackles and a tackle for a loss, the experience of seeing a runner early in his career was invaluable.

“I would say it was crucial for us young guys to be exposed to that early -- and not just us, the whole team,” Jack said. “Fajardo should be a Heisman candidate. He’s a great player. And for us to see someone like that in Week 1 was a good preview of what we’re going to see over the next few weeks and for the rest of the season.”

Instant analysis: UCLA 58, Nevada 20

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
1:44
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PASADENA, Calif. -- The UCLA defense got tested, as expected, by Nevada dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo. But fortunately for the Bruins, they’ve got a pretty good dual-threat guy as well in Brett Hundley. The second-year starter paced the Bruins with his arm and his legs and the Bruins erupted in the second half en route to a 58-20 victory. Here’s how it went down at the Rose Bowl.

It was over when: The Bruins, who led wire-to-wire, started to pull away in the third quarter. Leading 24-13, Kenny Orjioke blocked a Nevada punt deep in Wolf Pack territory. Phillip Ruhl recovered it on the hop and ran it in four yards for the score, extending the Bruins' lead to 31-13.

Game ball goes to: Gotta be Hundley, who picked up where he left off last season. Giving 2013 a sense of symmetry, UCLA’s first touchdown of the year came on a zone-read from Hundley, who scampered 37 yards for the touchdown. Last year, UCLA’s first touchdown of the season came on a 72-yard zone-read from Hundley. As a passer, he missed on a couple of deep balls, but hung in the pocket more than he did last season and made good decisions.

Unsung hero: Strong performance from running back Jordon James, who carried 21 times for 155 yards and a touchdown. The running back spot had been hotly debated following the departure of Johnathan Franklin, who was a finalist last year for the Doak Walker Award and the school’s all-time leading rusher. James spearheaded a rushing attack that totaled 345 yards on the ground.

Worth noting (1): The Bruins, who were the most penalized team in FBS football last year, were flagged 12 times for 93 yards.

Worth noting (2): Fajardo put some pressure on the Bruins by rushing for 79 yards and a score in the first half. But UCLA buckled down in the second half, holding him to just 27 yards on the ground and one touchdown.

What we learned about UCLA: The potential is there to be extremely explosive. Hundley looked sharp -- save a couple of deep throws -- and the running game didn't look like it missed a beat. Granted, there are tougher opponents ahead, but Nevada is no pushover, and the Bruins successfully pushed over them. This was a strong start for the Bruins and should be a good confidence boost as they prep for their next game on Sept. 14 at Nebraska.

Pregame: UCLA vs. Nevada

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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PASADENA, Calif. –- As far as Week 1 challenges go, the Bruins could be in for a big one with Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo -– a dual-threat athlete with a favorable history of picking on Pac-12 teams.

With 20 career starts, and his favorite wide receiver from last year, Brandon Wimberly, coming back, look for Fajardo to have another strong season. In fact, using ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating, Fajardo ranked 18th in the country last year in efficiency, 10 spots ahead of Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, a “bigger name” quarterback the Bruins will see in a couple of weeks.

Against two Pac-12 teams last year (Cal and Arizona) he completed 74 percent of his throws (47 of 63) and rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

First-year head coach Brian Polian is sure to bring a little of what he learned the last few years at Texas A&M and Stanford. But second-year offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich is pretty much running the show on offense.

Look for a lot of the same pistol/read-option principles we’ve seen from Nevada over the last decade. Keep an eye on UCLA left OLBs Aaron Wallace and Myles Jack, who should rotate a lot playing opposite Anthony Barr. Having to set edges against Fajardo will be very beneficial when they have to do it in two weeks against Martinez.

Nonconference primer: UCLA

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

UCLA

Nevada, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Brian Polian, first year
  • 2012 record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Cody Fajardo returns at quarterback after finishing 10th nationally last year in total offense, averaging 325.6 yards per game. He has a career completion percentage of 67.7 percent and accounted for 32 touchdowns last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Brock Hekking returns after earning second-team all-league honors last year. He posted eight sacks on the year and was third on the team with 75 tackles.
  • The skinny: How dangerous is Fajardo? Against two Pac-12 teams last year (Cal and Arizona) he completed 74 percent of his throws (47 of 63) and rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He can play. It's a new era following the (second) retirement of Chris Ault, father of the Pistol. But if Polian learned anything from his time at Stanford, you don't fix what's not broken. And Nevada knows how to score. Defense, however, is a different story as the Wolfpack allowed more than 33 points per game in 2012.
at Nebraska, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Bo Pelini (49-20), sixth year
  • 2012 record: 10-4, 7-1 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Uber-athletic quarterback Taylor Martinez is on pace to become just the second quarterback in FBS history (joining Colin Kaepernick) to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in a career. He accounted for 33 touchdowns last year, 23 in the air, 10 on the ground, while throwing for 2,871 yards and rushing for 1,019.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jason Ankrah will be called upon to be the leader of the front seven. He's started 18 games the past two seasons and last year he tallied 26 tackles with six for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
  • The skinny: The Huskers have enjoyed five straight years of at least nine wins and 10 wins in three of the past four years. The Bruins are a team still learning how to handle success. Last season's home victory was a coup for the Bruins. A win in Lincoln would carry even more weight. The Huskers are 19-2 at home in the past three seasons, falling to Texas in 2010 and Northwestern in 2011.
New Mexico State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Doug Martin, first year
  • 2012 record: 1-11, 0-6 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Despite the poor record, wide receiver Austin Franklin was still a semifinalist last year for the Biletnikoff Award -- which says something coming from a 1-11 team. He caught 74 balls for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns. He was first-team All-WAC and SI.com named him an All-American honorable mention.
  • Defensive headliner: A second-team all-league selection, linebacker Trashaun Nixon started all 12 games last year, recording 96 tackles with 9.5 for loss and three sacks.
  • The skinny: The Aggies enter the season on an 11-game losing skid (their only win last year coming against FCS Sacramento State, the same one that beat Colorado) and they have dropped 14 in a row against FBS competition. After a four-year record of 10-40, DeWayne Walker (formerly of Cal, USC, and UCLA among others) opted to return to the NFL where he's the DB coach for Jacksonville.
Thoughts: There are only three quarterbacks in FBS football who have passed for 4,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards over the last two seasons. The Bruins face two of them in Martinez and Fajardo. With the exception of New Mexico State, this is a considerably vigorous nonconference slate. Nevada will test the defense at home in the first week (though it's a test that's passable). Nevada's defensive struggles of late, however, suggest taking the over in this game. Combined rushing yards for Brett Hundley and Fajardo? 250? Then the Bruins get a week off to tweak and correct before making the trip to Lincoln, which will provide a stiff test. And for those who love the chess match aspect of scheming, it's probably worth noting that Nebraska will likely be studying that Nevada game film closely to see what the Bruins do to try and contain Fajardo. (I can tell you right now what the game plan is: Unleash Anthony Barr. Rinse. Repeat). We'll know exactly how much this team has matured by the time New Mexico State comes to town. 3-0 would be outstanding. 2-1 would be respectable. 1-2 would be viewed as a step backward for a program trying to build its brand under Jim Mora.

How's that for an opener to the bowl season? Twice the Arizona Wildcats overcame three-score deficits -- also recovering an onside kick in the final minute -- to shock Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Here's how it all went down in Albuquerque, N.M.

It was over when: Not until the clock read zeros, seriously. After cutting the score to 48-42 with 42 seconds left, the Wildcats recovered the onside kick at their own 49. They needed only three plays to move 51 yards. With 19 seconds left, Matt Scott connected with Tyler Slavin on a 2-yard pass to tie the score at 48-48, and the PAT from John Bonano was the deciding margin. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo was intercepted in the closing seconds to complete Arizona's comeback.

Gutsy call: With 3:20 left in the game and Nevada leading 45-35, Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 11-yard line. Nevada converted and forced Arizona to use all of its timeouts. Allen Hardison then hit a 25-yard field goal to put Nevada up 48-35, and that appeared to be the clincher. "Appeared" being the operative word.

Second guessing: As good as Ault's call was there, you question burning a timeout to ice Bonano on the go-ahead PAT. It turned out to be meaningless because of the interception, but with 19 seconds left, timeouts could have been very valuable.

Game ball goes to: No questions here. Although much of the attention was on the running backs, Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, it was Fajardo who turned in a gritty performance. He ran for 139 yards and a touchdown and threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Tip of the cap goes to his Arizona counterpart, Scott, who tossed for 369 yards and three TDs and showed a lot of poise on the go-ahead drive.

Unsung hero: Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers recovered the onside kick that allowed the Wildcats to go ahead -- and came up with the interception with 13 seconds left.

Stat(s) of the game: As expected, plenty of offense. The teams combined for 1,234 yards and 70 first downs (39 from Nevada).

New Mexico Bowl keys

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
9:30
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Three things to watch in today's New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada:

1. Slow down Ka'Deem Carey. Then what? Carey is the national leader, averaging 146 yards per game and he's scored 20 times on the ground with nine 100-yard rushing performances (and let's not forget that 366-yard performance). But quarterback Matt Scott is an awfully good runner as well. He averages 4.5 yards per carry, has five rushing touchdowns and he's netted 485 yards. Who steps up to spy Scott?

2. Slow down Stefphon Jefferson. Then what? Jefferson, who is No. 2 in the nation behind Carey in rushing yards per game, has rushed for 1,703 yards and 22 touchdowns (and let's not forget about his seven touchdown performance against Hawaii). He's run for at least 100 yards in nine games this season. But even if the Wildcats can slow him down, they still have to worry about quarterback Cody Fajardo, who will run the ball, on average about 15 times per game. At 5.8 yards per attempt, he actually has a higher per-carry average than Jefferson. He also has 11 rushing touchdowns and needs just 19 more yards to crack 1,000. Who steps up to spy Fajardo?

3. One defense has to step up: There's a reason we keep hammering home the idea of playing defense -- it's because both offenses are really good and neither defense is particularly stout, especially when it comes to applying pressure. Both units rank in the bottom half of the country in sacks and tackles for a loss. Both are in the negative on turnover margin. This might come down to the proverbial situation of whichever team can make two or three stops will win the game. Punters need not apply.

Pregame: Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
9:00
AM ET
Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Nevada (7-5, 4-4 MWC)

WHO TO WATCH: Don't blink, or you might miss the running backs. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing yards per game, and Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson is right behind him at No. 2 nationally. They have a combined 42 touchdowns on the ground this season. Carey, a consensus All-American, has done more with less (275 carries), averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and Jefferson has been more of a workhorse, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 341 attempts.

WHAT TO WATCH: Safeties and linebackers. Because, as good as both running backs are, both quarterbacks are equally potent with their legs. Matt Scott (Arizona) and Cody Fajardo (Nevada) are second on their teams in rushing behind Carey and Jefferson, respectively. Both will run some option; both will spread defenders out with designed runs; and both will scramble if nothing is open through the air. The better "spy" defender could be the difference-maker.

WHY TO WATCH: If watching the nation's top two statistical running backs isn't enough motivation, you need to find a new hobby. Both are fantastic players. But if you do need another reason, it's the first bowl game of the postseason -- so there is some novelty there. Two explosive offenses -- both ranking in the top 20 in scoring -- should make for a fun postseason kickoff.

PREDICTION: Arizona has traveled a far more difficult road to its 7-5 season, playing five ranked teams and going 2-3 versus Top 25 competition. Nevada played just one ranked team -- Boise State -- and fell 27-21. The Wildcats are more battle-tested. Arizona 41, Nevada 31.

Pac-12 bowl primer: Gildan New Mexico

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
4:00
PM ET
This week we'll be taking a snapshot look at all of the bowl games including Pac-12 teams.

GILDAN NEW MEXICO

Nevada (7-5, 4-4 MWC) vs. Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)

Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico.

When: Sat. Dec. 15, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT

TV: ESPN

About Arizona: All but one of the Wildcats' losses this year came to teams that are currently ranked in the BCS Top 25 -- including Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA. The 41-34 loss to Arizona State in the Territorial Cup is the only loss that wasn't to a ranked team. In their first year under Rich Rodriguez, the Wildcats quickly adapted to the spread attack and finished the regular season boasting the nation's No. 7 offense.

About Nevada: Pac-12 fans might remember Nevada from the season opener -- when the Wolf Pack went into Memorial Stadium and topped the Bears 31-24. Nevada only played one ranked team in 2012 -- which came in the season finale when it lost to Boise State 27-21.

Key players, Arizona: Running back Ka'Deem Carey, obviously, has to get the touches. And as the nation's leading running back, there's no reason to think he won't. But safety Marquis Flowers -- who has been one of the more underrated defensive performers in the conference, will likely get the call to spy Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo -- who is a gifted runner in Nevada's pistol zone read.

Key players, Nevada: Much like the Wildcats, Nevada has a premier running back as well in Stefphon Jefferson, who trails only Carey in rushing yards. On the flip side, safety Duke Williams has forced a team high three fumbles, has 5.5 tackles for a loss, 100 total tackles and has broken up eight passes -- so he's productive against the run and the pass.

Did you know: This is a return trip to New Mexico for the Wolf Pack. Nevada already played one game this year at University Stadium where they edged New Mexico 31-24 in a Mountain West Conference game. Fajardo threw three touchdowns (matching a season high) and also led the Pack in rushing ... this is just the third meeting between the schools, the last one coming in 1941 ... both teams have matching records and the quarterbacks, Matt Scott and Fajardo, are the second leading rushers on their teams.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:35
PM ET
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Arizona Wildcats (7-5)

Dec. 15, 1 p.m. ET, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)

Nevada take from RecruitingNation blogger David Helman: Unlike in 2010, Nevada's upset bid against Mountain West rival Boise State fell just short in Reno. The 27-21 loss capped off a 1-4 finish that saw the Wolf Pack drop from 6-1 to 7-5.

The rushing attack that gained so much notoriety under Colin Kaepernick was at full throttle once again in 2012, as the Wolf Pack boasted the nation's No. 7 rushing attack with 260 yards per game. The bulk of that went to junior running back Stefphon Jefferson, who rushed for 1,703 yards and 22 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo added 981 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to go with an efficient 2,530 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air.

A scoring defense ranked among the worst in the sport is going to be the big regret for this Wolf Pack team. Boise State's 27 points were the lowest output by an opponent in Nevada's losses. The Wolf Pack defense allowed 32, 39, 48 and 52 points in their other four setbacks.




Arizona take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Arizona had an up-and-down season, one that featured some impressive wins.

The first four losses came to ranked teams. That was justifiable. But losing the finale at home to rival Arizona State quashed some of the momentum built up in new coach Rich Rodriguez's first year.

Still, this team, which entered the season with a highly questionable defense found ways to win -- mostly because of its high-powered offense. Senior QB Matt Scott took to Rodriguez's spread-option attack with aplomb, and running back Ka'Deem Carey finished second in the nation in rushing.

First, there was a fast start. The Wildcats started 3-0 with wins over Toledo -- it looked better as the season went on -- and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats went to Oregon with high hopes, but were stomped 49-0. They then lost in overtime at Stanford 54-48, but that was double what any other Cardinal foe would score against the conference's best defense.

Arizona then posted impressive wins over Washington and USC. The Wildcats were in the South Division race, which meant they had Rose Bowl hopes. But those mostly died at UCLA after a shocking 66-10 defeat.

The Wildcats bounced back with consecutive wins over Colorado and Utah, but the home loss to Arizona State in the season-finale leaves Arizona needing a bowl win to head into the offseason feeling good about itself.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
9:00
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Welcome to Week 3. Ted and Kevin both went 7-5 in Week 2. Double yuck. The problem was all picks were identical, and neither picked an upset. Silly Pac-12 bloggers.

For the season, Ted is 16-7 and Kevin is 15-8.

Friday

Kevin: Washington State 35, UNLV 17: Time for the Cougars to get a win over an FBS team. Should happen this week against a UNLV squad that is 0-2 and fell to FCS school Northern Arizona. (Remember them, Arizona State?) If all goes according to plan, the starting offensive linemen should be crushing the buffet at the Rio by the third quarter.

Ted: Washington State 40, UNLV 20: While quarterback Jeff Tuel is decidedly questionable; backup Connor Halliday is experienced and capable. The guess here is things go a little more smoothly on both sides of the ball as new systems start to sink in.

Saturday

Kevin: Ohio State 28, Cal 10: The defense, which was supposed to be the strength of this team, hasn't shown up yet. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo rushed for 97 yards -- most of it on zone reads the Bears couldn't stop. What's Braxton Miller going to do?

Ted: Ohio State 30, California 17: During the summer, I believed this was prime upset material. Then Cal played twice.

Kevin: Oregon 49, Tennessee Tech 14: It was De'Anthony Thomas in Week 1 and Kenjon Barner in Week 2. Who is the Duck du jour in what should be the latest Oregon pasting? Fortunately, Oregon's schedule allows for growth with younger players, and it needs that because of all the injuries of late.

Ted: Oregon 50, Tennessee Tech 10: Yawn. The good news is Oregon might have an interesting game the next week when Arizona comes to town. I bet Ducks fans are hungry for a game that at least raises an eyebrow.

Kevin: Washington 31, Portland State 7: Not a lot of time for the Huskies to get right after their ill-fated journey to Baton Rouge, La., with Stanford, USC and Oregon looming in the next three weeks. This might be their last opportunity for a win until late October/early November. They'd better take advantage of it.

Ted: Washington 30, Portland State 20: Will the Huskies be flat after falling flat at LSU? I suspect so. Not flat enough to lose but perhaps flat enough to further frustrate Huskies fans.

Kevin: USC 38, Stanford 24: David Shaw knows how to plan a scheme against USC's defense, so I'd expect the Cardinal to put up some points. But when push comes to shove, Stanford's defense won't get the number of stops needed to slow down the Trojans' passing attack.

Ted: USC 35, Stanford 20: I think it will be close at halftime, but the Trojans will pull away early in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Matt Barkley & Co. will gash the Cardinal secondary, and then Stanford won't be able to answer.

Kevin: Fresno State 31, Colorado 17: The Bulldogs showed a little bite against the Ducks -- enough to suggest they can certainly hang with, and beat, a lower-tier Pac-12 team.

Ted: Colorado 28, Fresno State 27: Why? Because I suspect we're going to see some pride from the Buffs.

Kevin: BYU 35, Utah 27: I think Utah will play inspired football given this week's turn of events. But last week we saw that the offensive line concerns are graver than we all initially thought. Bronco Mendenhall saw it too.

Ted: BYU 28, Utah 24: There's a lot going on at Utah, most notably injury issues. And it's not just quarterback Jordan Wynn. Running back John White and safety Eric Rowe are questionable. But the biggest issue, as Kevin noted, is the disappointing play of the offensive line.

Kevin: Arizona 49, South Carolina State 10: The offense has come together quickly. I'd expect Arizona to use this game to clean some things up before heading to Autzen for a game that suddenly looks very interesting.

Ted: Arizona 42, South Carolina State 20: I suspect that some fumes from the post-Oklahoma State victory celebration will cause the Wildcats to be a bit flat. They are fortunate the opponent will be forgiving.

Kevin: UCLA 48, Houston 21: Houston can't stop the run. UCLA isn't going to abandon the run. Another huge game for Johnathan Franklin and another win for the Bruins.

Ted: UCLA 44, Houston 24: Another possible flat performance, but the Bruins should recall the loss at Houston from 2011 to provide some motivation. Agree with Kevin: Franklin gets another 200, and his Heisman candidacy inches up another notch.

Kevin: Arizona State 38, Missouri 31: OK, ASU. I'll bite. The Sun Devils are second in the nation with six interceptions, and Missouri likes to throw a lot. Vegas likes the Tigers by a touchdown, but I'll throw my confidence behind Todd Graham & Co.

Ted: Missouri 35, Arizona State 27: The Sun Devils have whipped two inferior foes at home. The Tigers are pretty good and are playing at home. The Sun Devils have been impressive, but they are still young. And Missouri quarterback James Franklin is a load.
Cal folk and Stanford folk don't really like being lumped together. Unless the words "Big" and "Game" accompany the two schools in the same sentence, folks from either side of San Francisco Bay would just as soon they not be mentioned together, thank you very much.

This week, however, the Bay Area's two Pac-12 teams find themselves in strikingly similar positions:

  • Both teams performed well below expectation in Week 1.
  • Both teams have very winnable games in Week 2.
  • Both teams have season-defining showdowns in Week 3.

Translation: There ain't much time to get your stuff together.

There is one massive difference that shouldn't be overlooked. Stanford was a winner in Week 1, surviving San Jose State 20-17. Cal can say no such thing, falling to Nevada 31-24. But when we take that very important factoid out of the equation, we're left with a couple of teams -- thought to be toward the top of the Pac-12's North division hierarchy -- scrambling to patch holes on Sept. 8 before crucial contests on Sept. 15.

Both teams had issues on defense -- a perceived strength in 2012 for each program. Cal, in particular, had few answers for Nevada and its pistol offense, yielding 220 yards on the ground, including 145 and three touchdowns from running back Stefphon Jefferson and 97 yards and a score from quarterback Cody Fajardo.

[+] EnlargeStefphon Jefferson
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStefphon Jefferson (25) and Nevada ran all over Cal in its opener on the way to 31-24 victory.
Nevada had 15 offensive drives in the game. Of those 15, five consisted of nine plays or more, four consumed at least four minutes and Nevada's first touchdown came on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes, 13 seconds of clock. Cal's defense allowed the Wolf Pack to convert 11 of 20 third downs -- a point that doesn't sit well with Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who said third-down defense was what frustrated him the most.

"It seemed like last week, what could have gone wrong did," Tedford said. "They did a nice job executing, you have to give them credit. But we couldn't get off the field on third down. They put long drives together."

Across the bay at Stanford, third downs were also an issue -- at least for the offense -- which converted just 2 of 13 chances (15 percent). For a little perspective, last season the Cardinal converted 53 percent.

After taking the opening kickoff 81 yards on 13 plays (6 minutes, 32 seconds) for a touchdown, the Cardinal failed to put a drive together that lasted more than eight plays. Of their 11 offensive drives (not counting the final drive that ended in victory formation), Stanford had four three-and-out drives. For a little more perspective, Stanford had 16 three-and-out drives all of last season.

"The best I can say is there was some dissatisfaction with the way that we played," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "San Jose State played us extremely tough and extremely well. But at the same time, we didn't play up to our capabilities and the positive is we were able to gut out a win and get some stops on defense in the fourth quarter. Those were positives and we ended the game with an interception. But at the same time, we were dissatisfied with our execution."

Both teams are at home in Week 2, with Stanford hosting Duke and Cal hosting FCS Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference. And just to be clear ...

"We're in no position to overlook anyone after losing last week," said Tedford.

Still, next week is looming. Stanford will play host to USC -- which was ranked No. 1 to start the season -- and Cal travels to Ohio State. Both games have tremendous implications for the rest of the season. For Stanford, it's a chance to silence critics who say the Cardinal will fall back to mediocrity now that Andrew Luck is gone. For Cal, it's a significant out-of-conference game that could bolster the league's national reputation.

Fajardo scorched Cal on zone-read runs. Imagine what Braxton Miller will do if the Bears don't tighten up. San Jose State's David Fales threw for 217 yards on 24 of 35 passing against the Cardinal. Matt Barkley and his wide receivers will be far more formidable.

In other words, if each school performs the way it did in Week 1, Sept. 15 could be a very long day.

Cal, Colorado stumble in openers

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
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Rough Saturday so far for the Pac-12.

NEVADA 31, CAL 24: Cody Fajardo, Stefphon Jefferson and the Nevada Wolf Pack spoiled the grand re-opening of Memorial Stadium.

Fajardo, Nevada's quarterback, rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown and also completed 25 of 32 balls for 230 yards. Jefferson carried the ball 34 times for 145 yards and three scores.

The Bears fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter after Jefferson capped a 16-play drive for the Wolf Pack and then Fajardo scored on a 49-yard run. The Bears were kept off the scoreboard until 4:38 in the second quarter and struggled to keep drives going, converting just 3 of 14 third-down attempts.

Cal quarterback Zach Maynard, who didn't start the game because he missed a tutoring session during the summer, came in late in the first quarter and finished the game 17-of-30 for 247 yards and two touchdown passes; one to Bryce Treggs and another to Chris Harper. Keenan Allen (five catches, 69 yards) scored on a 39-yard reverse.

C.J. Anderson took the bulk of the carries for Cal, carrying 14 times for 66 yards. Isi Sofele, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, carried five times for 21 yards.

With the score tied at 24-24, Cal took over at their own 2 with 5:44 remaining and a chance to drive for the lead. But the Bears couldn't get past their own 12. Nevada took the punt and marched 61 yards for the winning score, a 2-yard run by Jefferson.

Cal's defense -- which has been tops in the conference the last two seasons -- gave up 450 yards, including 220 on the ground from Nevada's pistol offense.

COLORADO STATE 22, COLORADO 17: Speaking of spoilers, the Colorado State Rams muscled their way to victory over Colorado in Denver, wrecking the debut of Kansas transfer Jordan Webb, who won Colorado's starting quarterback job after just a month on campus.

Webb ran hot-and-cold most of the night, missing his first four passes as the Buffaloes fell behind 3-0 on a Jared Roberts 47-yard field goal.

Then Webb put it together in the second quarter, coordinating a nine-play, 81 yard drive that ended with a 15-yard dart to Nelson Spruce and a 7-3 Colorado lead. Later in the quarter, Tyler McCulloch scooped up a one-handed grab on a 9-yard throw to give Colorado a 14-3 advantage.

But Colorado State's pursuit of Webb was relentless, sacking him five times and putting him on the ground several more. He finished 22-of-41 with 187 yards. Tony Jones did the bulk of the work on the ground for Colorado, carrying the ball 16 times, but managed just 43 yards. As a team, Colorado mustered just 58 rushing yards and was out-gained by the Rams 298-245.

Colorado re-took the lead in the fourth quarter when Will Oliver's 30-yard field goal gave the Buffs a 17-16 advantage. But Roberts converted back-to-back field goals to give CSU the lead and extend the score to 22-17.

Colorado had a chance to drive for the win in the closing minute, but failed to convert on a fourth-and-2 at the Colorado State 39.

Week 1 primer: Pac-12 North

July, 3, 2012
7/03/12
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Week 1 can't get here soon enough. Every team plays an out-of-conference opponent in the first two weeks of the season, so we thought we'd take a quick look at who is coming up in Week 1. We'll go into greater detail as the start of the season draws closer. This is just a primer for those who need their beaks moistened and whistles whet. Earlier today we looked at the South.

NEVADA

Game: at Cal, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Chris Ault (226-103-1, 28th year)

2011 record: 7-6 (5-2, WAC)

Did you know: Another team new to the Mountain West, Nevada returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. The Wolf Pack has been to seven straight bowl games, but also had a significant amount of turnover in the coaching staff this past season. Plus they've lost a lot of defensive linemen from a group that was only 101st in tackles for a loss last year. Dual threat quarterback Cody Fajardo is the one to keep an eye on.

ARKANSAS STATE

Game: at Oregon, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Gus Malzahn (first year)

2011 record: 10-3 (8-0, Sun Belt)

Did you know: Malzahn won the Broyles Award -- which goes to the nation's top assistant coach -- for his work with Auburn and their title run in 2010-2011. Not that a win would make Oregon feel better for what happened in the title game, but hey, it can't hurt. Returning quarterback Ryan Aplin, who is a three-year starter and has some NFL buzz, owns 16 school records and is the reigning conference player of the year.

NICHOLLS STATE

Game: at Oregon State, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Charlie Stubbs (5-17, third year)

2011 record: (1-10, 0-7 Southland)

Did you know: The Colonels have lost 10 straight after opening last season with a win over Evangel University. Nicholls State posted a 42-0 victory, but has been outscored 16-38 in its last 10 contests. Stubbs' first full-time coaching gig was at Oregon State, where he started as a receivers and tight ends coach before becoming the Beavers offensive coordinator in 1987.

SAN JOSE STATE

Game: at Stanford, Friday, Aug. 31

Coach: Mike MacIntyre (6-19, third season)

2011 record: 5-7 (3-4, WAC)

Did you know: This will be the 21st time Stanford has opened its season against the Spartans. The Cardinal are 19-1 in those other meetings and hold a 50-14-1 record in what has now been dubbed the Bill Walsh Legacy Game.

SAN DIEGO STATE

Game: at Washington, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Rocky Long (8-5, second season)

2011 record: 8-5 (4-3, MWC)

Did you know: The Aztecs lost three stars -- QB Ryan Lindley, RB Ronnie Hillman and LB Miles Burris -- to the NFL, but the addition of Pac-12 transfers Ryan Katz (QB, Oregon State) and Brice Butler (WR, USC) give offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig (formerly of Cal) some new firepower. After being bowl-less since 1998 the Aztecs have gone to the postseason in back-to-back years.

BYU

Game: Washington State, Thursday, Aug. 30.

Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (66-24, eighth season)

2011 record: 10-3 (independent)

Did you know: Of FBS coaches with at least five years experience, Mendenhall's .733 winning percentage ranks eighth among all coaches -- ahead of names such as Nick Saban and Les Miles. This isn't the only time we'll see BYU this year. They'll renew their rivalry at Utah in Week 3. Mike Leach has also talked extensively about how his time as a BYU student shaped the philosophies he would embrace as a head coach.

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