Pac-12: USC Trojans
JR in Salt Lake City writes: Of all the (many) bad losses Utah has had since it joined the PAC 12, WSU was, for me, the most puzzling and frustrating loss. I have been a big supporter of Coach Whit and his program, but my patience is starting to dwindle. Utah won the turnover battle, special teams and had a huge lead at home(!) -- the Utes can't lose that game. Assuming Utah continues to lose at the rate it’s been losing in conference play, and doesn't manage to get to six wins, is there any way Coach Whit keeps his job? I think that the answer is no, and I think that is why this loss is so depressing. I don't see three more wins on the schedule. I hope I am wrong.
Kevin Gemmell: First, you are correct. It was a bad loss. I’ve been making the radio rounds this week, including Salt Lake City, and what I’ve been saying is that there are no injury excuses to fall back on this time. You had a healthy quarterback and two opportunities at the end of the game to drive for the win.
On the first drive, which started with 4:51 left in the game, the Utes were only able to move from their 28 to their 49 before failing on fourth down. On the second drive, they moved from their 20 to their 38. There were some bad overthrows by Travis Wilson. But there was also one key drop by the normally sure-handed Dres Anderson.
After the Utes went up 21-0, a wise sportswriter sent out this tweet:
The words "comfortable" and "lead" have no business in the Pac12.— Kevin Gemmell (@Kevin_Gemmell) September 28, 2014
Now, do I think there are three wins out there for Utah? I do. Heck, I think there might even be four. Utah is going to win a game they aren’t supposed to. Because they are a good football team. The defense is stout, the special teams are as good as any in the country and they are getting better at running the football. I’ll be mildly surprised if the Utes don’t make a bowl game this year. I’m eye-balling the road games at Oregon State and at ASU as the two swing games.
And even if the Utes don’t make a bowl game, I don’t see Whittingham getting fired. I think he deserves at least one more year considering all he’s done for the program and having to adjust to life in a Power 5 conference. It doesn’t happen overnight. But if there isn’t more progress after five seasons, then I think we can have that discussion.
But no doubt about it. If Utah wants to be taken seriously, that was the sort of game it needed to win.
Trojan in Michigan in Ann Arbor writes: As someone who's access to Pac 12 games is somewhat limited (except for USC), was Hundley/UCLA's performance really that dominant? Or did ASU forget to pad up for this one? Reading the stat line is why I ask: almost half of Hundley's passing yards came off of 2 throws. There were five UCLA TDs of 80+ yards including the INT and KO returns - the Payton TD came on clearly broken defensive play, didn't see the other run and catch (were they broken too?). Take away those plays and does UCLA look efficient? The backup QB for ASU passed for 488 yards. It doesn't seem like defense was much of a factor here, on either side of the ball. In other words, I'm suspicious of games like these. But I'm also a nervous Trojan fan, fearing that both of these offenses are solid, while taking solace in some out-to-lunch type defenses.
Kevin Gemmell: The “take away” argument doesn’t really work for me. Because you can’t take it away. It happened. And thus it’s part of the game.
But OK, I’ll play along. Let’s take away the two 80-yard touchdowns to Eldridge Massington and Jordan Payton. What are we left with for Brett Hundley? 16-of-22 for 195 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and 72 rushing yards and a score. There’s not a coach in America who would say no to a 72 percent completion percentage, three scores and no turnovers out of his quarterback.
As for the rest of the game, UCLA dominated special teams and they dominated defense. Yards, schmards. You give an offense like ASU's extra possessions, of course they are going to get yards. But yards never won a football game. Keeping the other team off the scoreboard does.
I thought this was a very dominating performance by UCLA.
Brett in Madison, Wis., writes: Hello!We've got team power rankings, and QB power rankings from you all, but if you had to do phase power rankings (i.e. offense, defense, special teams), what would those be at this point in the season?
Kevin Gemmell: As of today? I’ll just hit the top five. Not going based of any rankings. Just my gut from what I’ve seen.
- Washington State
Shouldn’t be too much debate here. All five of these teams are capable of big numbers.
Stanford is clearly No. 1. UCLA is solid from front to back and Washington’s front seven is amazing. USC and Oregon aren’t perfect. But they have the athletes to make up very good units.
These last two get a little tricky, because the Cardinal are very good at returns and coverage, but not so much in field goals. Arizona is very good at field goals, but not so much in returns. I think the top two are interchangeable and Washington is a slight notch below them.
"I'll have the pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment please."
It's depth-chart Wednesday. As we do every week, here are the links to the teams playing this week followed by any significant notes. Washington is on bye this week, so we'll update the Huskies next week. The other 11 teams are in action. UCLA is the only team that doesn't do a weekly depth chart. Enjoy!
- Arizona State (page 15 of the game notes, though it's still listed as of Sept. 22)
- California (page nine of the game notes)
- Oregon (page 9 of the game notes)
- Oregon State (page 23 of the game notes)
- USC (page 15 of the game notes)
- Utah (page 11 of the game notes)
- Washington State (page 11 of the game notes)
- At Arizona, despite being listed the first four weeks as a potential starter at strong linebacker, Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea is officially off the depth chart after announcing his transfer. He didn't record a tackle in the first four games (depth charts are so awesome!).
- At Cal, Y receiver Stephen Anderson has dropped the "or" next to his name with Darius Powe.
- At Colorado, Jimmie Gilbert moves into the starting spot at right defensive end.
- At Oregon, it looks like there are two scenarios for whether Jake Fisher returns this week. It's either Fisher at LT, or Tyrell Crosby. If Crosby moves, Matt Pierson moves from left to right tackle. In special teams, Thomas Tyner is listed as the first kick returner and Charles Nelson is listed first at punt returns.
- At Oregon State, Siale Hautau moves in at left tackle for the injured Jalen Grimble (see story below). And it looks like Trevor Romaine is back to full-time kicking status.
- At Washington State, Sulaiman Hameed moves up to start at strong safety, while Darius Lemora moves to free safety.
The Heisman Pundit has released its weekly straw poll. As always, it is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters. And despite a bye week, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn't slipped a bit. Here are the results of this week's poll. Mariota received seven of the 10 first place votes.
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon -- 23 (7)
- Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia -- 18 (3)
- Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M -- 7
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama -- 5
- Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska -- 4
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin -- 2
- Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State -- 1
Yours truly joined ESPN Radio 1080 The Fan in Portland last night if you're aching for some pod.
- The Daily Star guys discuss the Arizona-Oregon showdown.
- A closer look at some of ASU's defensive woes.
- Cal's pass defense better figure things out quickly.
- Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce have quite the chemistry.
- Oregon's defense must be ready against Arizona.
- Defensive tackle Jalen Grimble is out three to four weeks for the Beavers.
- Stanford looking to get its offense moving before Notre Dame trip.
- Some post-practice video of Jim Mora.
- Tre Madden's recovery has been frustrating.
- What to expect from Utah-UCLA.
- Chris Petersen isn't pulling the plug on Cyler Miles.
- Some more Halliday for Heisman love.
USA Today wants to know which team has the best helmets? ASU and Oregon are in the discussion.
Speaking of the Ducks, their unis for this week.
Arizona at No. 2 Oregon
- Oregon has scored 50 points off turnovers, the most in the Pac-12.
- Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's 13 touchdowns without an interception are the most in the country. He went 10 games without a pick to start last season and had 25 touchdowns before finally throwing one ... against Arizona.
- Arizona leads the Pac-12 and is sixth nationally averaging 593.8 yards per game.
- Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in yards per play (8.14).
- Arizona QB Anu Solomon's 1,454 passing yards in the second most among freshmen in the country.
No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame
- Stanford ranks No. 1 in the country in scoring defense (6.5 points per game), total defense (198.o ypg) and passing defense (74 ypg). The Cardinal defense has allowed just two touchdowns in four games.
- The Stanford defense's average starting field position (21.6-yard line) is the most advantageous in the country.
- Stanford's Peter Kalambayi is the only player in the Pac-12 with more than two sacks and an interception.
- More penalties have been committed against WSU (41) than any other team in the Pac-12 -- 24 of those have come with the WSU defense on the field.
- Cal ranks No. 5 in the country in scoring offense (47.5 ppg).
- WSU QB Connor Halliday has attempted 60 more pass than anyone else in the country. He's also the national leader in completions (201), passing yards (2,318) and passing touchdowns (20).
- Cal's Jared Goff isn't far behind Halliday. He's ninth in the country averaging 337 yards passing per game and his touchdown/interception ratio of 17 to 3 is among the best in the country.
- Against FBS teams, Cal and WSU have combined to score 72.5 points per game and allow a total of 75.5 points per game.
- Oregon State ranks No. 16 in the country in total defense (306.5) and No. 2 in the Pac-12.
- Oregon State (18) and Colorado (17) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in total first downs received from opposing penalties.
- Colorado's 138 first downs ranks No. 2 in the country behind only Texas A&M.
- After catching 19 passes and three touchdowns against Cal, Colorado WR Nelson Spruce leads the country in receptions (56), receiving yards (697) and receiving touchdowns (10).
- The 123 yards Oregon State QB Sean Mannion threw for against USC last week was the least he'd ever thrown for in a game he started.
- USC's turnover margin (plus-seven) is sixth-best in the country; ASU (plus-one) is tied for No. 52.
- ASU is the least-penalized team in the Pac-12 (5.5 per game).
- USC QB Cody Kessler's 10 touchdowns without an interception are the second-most in the country behind only Mariota.
- ASU WR Jaelen Strong has accounted for 33.3 percent of the Sun Devils' receptions, the second-most in the Pac-12.
- ASU RB D.J. Foster averages 5.02 yards per carry before contact, which is the most among Pac-12 running backs.
- Both defenses -- Utah (75.5 yards to goal) ranks No. 8 and UCLA (75.1) is No. 11 -- have an average starting field position that ranks among the country's best.
- Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with four return touchdowns -- only two other players have at least two.
- Utah's Andy Phillips is one of two kickers in the country who has made at least five field goals from 40-plus yards.
- With 47 tackles, three for loss, a pick-six and a forced fumble, UCLA LB Eric Kendricks is making a strong case for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
- UCLA RB Paul Perkins has 214 yards rushing after contact, the second-most in the Pac-12 behind only ASU's D.J. Foster (224).
It's time to take our weekly stroll through The Eliminator. Not that one. This one. (But kudos to you if you know the reference).
The good news is, no Pac-12 teams were officially "eliminated" this week, per our Mark Schlabach. But a few teams were relegated to the "on the fence" category. One-loss Stanford and USC were already dangling. This week they are joined by Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah and Washington -- all who dropped their first games of the season over the weekend.
Here's Schlabach's take on the Huskies:
After trailing Georgia State by 14 points at home two weeks ago and then mustering little offense in a 20-13 loss to Stanford on Saturday, we're guessing the Huskies won't be occupying this spot for very long. Washington coach Chris Petersen was so desperate to generate some sort of offense against the Cardinal that he tried a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at his team's 47-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. It was stuffed for no gain, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for the go-ahead touchdown five plays later.
Three Pac-12 teams officially remain in contention. That's Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Of course, one of those teams won't be undefeated by the time Friday morning rolls around. The Ducks and Wildcats are set to square off Thursday night in Eugene.
More playoff projections
If you believe Yahoo's Pat Forde, then we're finally going to get to see the matchup we've dreamed about for years in the College Football Playoff: Oregon vs. Alabama. Forde projects the Ducks as the No. 2 seed and Alabama as No. 3 team. His take on the Ducks:
Oregon has won six straight Pac-12 home openers, and none of them has been close. Average score in routs of California (2013), Arizona (2012), Cal (2011), Stanford (2010), Cal (2009), and Washington (2008): 46-13. And three of those opponents were ranked at the time. Next: Sorry, Arizona, you’re the opening Pac-12 cannon fodder in Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports has the Ducks as the No. 3 seed facing No. 2 Auburn. There's also some good stuff on Notre Dame-Stanford.
Yours truly joined Bill Riley and Sean O'Connell on ESPN700 in Salt Lake City yesterday if you're aching for some pod.
- Both sides still remember what happened last year between Arizona and Oregon.
- A Q&A with ASU's Mike Bercovici.
- Some thoughts from Sonny Dykes on Cal's academic task force.
- The Buffs picked up a commit from a two-way athlete.
- Oregon motivated by last year's errors against Arizona.
- Sean Mannion said the USC film was painful to watch.
- Handing out Stanford's grades for the week.
- Some post-practice video with Brett Hundley.
- USC feeling a lot better about itself heading into its showdown with ASU.
- Utah has some offensive issues to fix before UCLA.
- News and notes from Chris Petersen's Monday meeting with the media.
- Highlights, of which there are many, from Mike Leach's Monday press conference.
It's been a long, long time since we've seen a Cal locker room celebration. This was awesome.
Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August
Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.
What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.
Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?
It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.
The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame
If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.
While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.
Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.
Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.
Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.
Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.
The middle stepped back instead of forward
Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.
You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.
Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.
Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.
That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.
At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.
LOS ANGELES -- Saturday night, the USC defense played like a group that had been marinating in mistakes for the last 14 days. That's 336 hours to ponder the 452 rushing yards they surrendered to Boston College. That's 20,160 minutes to mire in the misery of the 506 total yards and 37 points they yielded at Chestnut Hill.
Nothing will take that loss off of the standings. Instead, it serves as a reminder of how disastrous things can turn when the Trojans don't play to their potential.
"This team needed to get punched in the face," said linebacker Hayes Pullard, who sat the first half of the BC game for an illegal hit the week before against Stanford. "I hate to say that. But because of that we're bouncing back and growing as a team."
Following a bye last week, this group was eager to show the Sept. 13 performance wasn't the norm. And they stifled the Oregon State offense and its strong-armed quarterback en route to a 35-10 home win.
The USC defense held Oregon State to just three offensive points (its only touchdown coming on special teams), 58 yards rushing and 181 total offensive yards. They sacked Sean Mannion twice, intercepted him twice and forced him into the worst statistical performance of his career -- which included a 14.6 adjusted QBR.
"I'm proud of these guys after what they had to hear about for the last week," said USC coach Steve Sarkisian.
If Sept. 13 was the burn, then film session the next morning was the frosty reminder of all that had gone wrong.
Said Pullard: "We didn't want to see it. But we had to. That's the thing about football. You have to tell the truth on Sundays."
Added defensive lineman Leonard Williams: "Everybody was just down."
Noted safety Su'a Cravens: "It was tough watching plays that we should have made not being made. It was tough messing up assignments [even though] we went over it 100 times in practice. But we still messed it up."
Cravens turned in a phenomenal performance Saturday, posting a team high six tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter to break the early scoreless tie.
"Nobody likes losing," Cravens said. "And the way we lost, that's not SC ball. We got back to the basics and what we needed to do. That attitude of being hungry and dominant on the field came back. That attitude we had against Fresno State came back. It showed [Saturday]."
The Trojans are hoping it sticks around for a while. They have back-to-back games against the Arizona schools -- at home against ASU this week and at Tucson a week later. Both of those teams rank in the top 20 in scoring nationally.
Whether ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who sat out last week's game against UCLA with a foot injury, plays is still to be determined. Early reports are that his return this week is questionable.
Recall last year that it was the ASU game in Tempe that ultimately cost USC coach Lane Kiffin his job after the Trojans were blasted 62-41. The fallout sparked Kiffin's firing, Ed Orgeron's promotion, his quitting, Clay Helton's promotion and eventually Sarkisian's hiring.
USC's run defense will be tested by ASU's D.J. Foster, who leads the league in rushing with an average of 135 yards per game. The pass defense, however, is feeling pretty good about itself. Through four games and five weeks, the Trojans are the only team in the country that hasn't allowed a touchdown through the air.
"We were talking about that earlier in the week," Cravens said. "I think the coaches are doing a great of calling the right plays at the right time, and everyone is executing. I'm really proud of the DBs."
Those simply don’t exist, especially in the modern inception of the Pac-12, where substantial conference depth has translated into frequent drama. USC manhandled Oregon State to finish this past Saturday’s action, but before that, only eight total points separated the three earlier games at the end of regulation.
Though there wasn't much hype entering Week 5, it ultimately blossomed into a fantastic Saturday of down-to-the-wire finishes. That means the sky’s the limit for Week 6, which features a truly robust six-game slate. Let's set the table.
Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: Stanford at Notre Dame
Stanford is in the midst of what is widely considered to be the toughest two-game stretch of its schedule. A win Saturday means a road sweep of the only two trips that derailed the Cardinal when they faced a similar slate in 2012, so there is obviously a lot of stake entering this classic showdown (heck, in 2012, this game ultimately determined a spot in the national title game). One juicy battle is already set, and it pits Stanford's top-ranked pass defense (which has allowed only a single 100-yard passer in four games) against vastly improved Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (25 straight completions against Syracuse). The Cardinal defense is giving up only 4.7 points per game.
Team with the most to prove: Utah (at UCLA)
Coming off a muscle-flexing win in the Big House, Utah was enjoying life on cruise control against Washington State. The Utes jumped out to a 21-0 lead in front of their raucous home crowd, and the stars seemed to be aligning for a Week 6 Pac-12 South showdown between the undefeated Block U and fellow unbeaten No. 8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Not so fast, shouted Mike Leach's crew.
Wazzu roared back late, overcoming a fourth-and-14 paired and a 27-14 deficit in the final quarter to win 28-27. And, just like that, Utah had returned from its big early season splash to the dreaded land of questions.
Was the Utes' early season offense really that good, or was it just picking on very shoddy Idaho State and Fresno State defenses? After winning just two road games in two seasons prior, did Utah's victory at The Big House actually signify a turnaround, or was Michigan just a corpse of a football team?
Utah will enter the Rose Bowl with a chance to push aside the Wazzu loss and prove its impressive start was no fluke. The Bruins are bubbling with confidence after hanging 62 points on Arizona State, so this is a true litmus test for the Utes.
Most desperate team: Colorado (vs. Oregon State)
There is no pleasant way to lose in double overtime, but the Buffs took an especially gut-wrenching route in Strawberry Canyon. First, they blew an early 21-7 lead. Then, they wasted a sensational late Bryce Bobo touchdown catch that forced extra time in the first place. And in a game dominated by a severe lack of effective defense -- Cal and Colorado became the first teams in FBS history to both throw seven touchdown passes in one game -- the Buffs were, ironically enough, ultimately denied by the Bears’ defense in a second overtime goal-line stand.
Colorado is now 2-3, but most sobering is the fact that this 59-56 loss dropped them to 4-25 in Pac-12 play since entering the conference in 2011. Oregon State visits Boulder next weekend after mustering only 181 yards of total offense in a disheartening 35-10 loss at USC.
A glance at the Colorado schedule calls for intense urgency now: At least on paper, this coming contest against the Beavers looks like the Buffs' best chance to rack up another win this season. The Los Angeles schools loom after the bye, and there is also a trip to Autzen Stadium waiting in late November.
Diamond in the rough game: California at Washington State
Consider the dazzling offensive display that Cal and Colorado flashed this past Saturday: the aforementioned 14 touchdown passes (tying an FBS record) and the 913 passing yards. Then consider the mind-boggling numbers that Washington State quarterback Conor Halliday is on pace to post this season: After Saturday's 417-yard performance, he has a nation-best 2,318 yards and 20 touchdown passes in just five games. Assuming Washington State makes a bowl game, Halliday is on pace to become the first college quarterback to surpass 6,000 passing yards in a single season.
So if anyone is familiar with the results of mixing gasoline and fire, this game might be the football equivalent. It features two high-scoring offenses coming off confidence-building wins, a pair of shaky defenses, and two coaches hungry to capitalize on an opportunity to make a valuable dent in the Pac-12 standings. Though Leach has a chance to return to .500, Cal's Sonny Dykes can move to 4-1 as his team nears the meat of its schedule.
The true hidden intrigue here might come from Wazzu's defense, which tightened the screws down the stretch at Utah. How will the Cougars fare against explosive Cal youngster Jared Goff?
The week’s top chance at vengeance: Oregon (vs. Arizona)
The spotlight almost always focuses on Oregon’s loss to Stanford last season, but it’s important to remember that it was the Ducks’ later stumble at Arizona Stadium that ultimately derailed the team’s BCS train and rerouted it to the Alamo Bowl. After the Cardinal’s 2013 loss to USC, Oregon had a golden opportunity to again smell Roses, but the Wildcats quashed those by administering a humiliating 42-16 beatdown in the desert.
The Ducks say that catastrophe has helped them develop valuable perspective when it comes to preparation, and Thursday night's rematch offers a chance for Oregon to put November 23, 2013 in the past.
Remember that this is a showdown between undefeated teams. Arizona is still buzzing after Austin Hill snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with his Hail Mary catch against Cal. The Wildcats have proven they can score in bunches season, but keeping pace with the Ducks in that regard presents an entirely unique challenge.
This week's top chance at redemption: ASU (at USC)
One can be sure that Arizona State players and coaches will wince more than a few times this week. They will be watching film from their brutal 62-27 home loss to UCLA, a game highlighted by the Sun Devils' atrocious tackling against Brett Hundley and the Bruins' potent offense.
A trip to the Coliseum always offers a shot at redemption, but No. 16 USC is coming into this game bristling with confidence after smacking Oregon State, 35-10. The Trojans performed exponentially better defensively against the Beavers than they did in their previous game at Boston College, but ASU -- fresh off a 622-yard performance against UCLA -- will provide a new challenge for USC, even if quarterback Taylor Kelly (questionable) is not yet ready to return from injury.
Saturday offers two potential outcomes for these teams: ASU will either re-emerge in the Pac-12 South race following that ugly loss to the Bruins, or USC will further entrench itself alongside its crosstown rival as one of the firm leaders of that division.
Standing by the ocean's roar.
Do you love me? Do you surfer girl?
Two weeks in a row, two Hail Marys. Par for the course in the never-dull Pac-12. Lots of crazy action this past weekend (and last Thursday). Big special-teams moments, defensive touchdowns, and the Cougs and Bears won games with -- wait for it -- huge defensive plays at the end of their games. We have officially entered Bizarro World. And I don't want to go back.
Still offenses are what drives the Pac-12. So it seems timely that ESPN's Brett McMurphy, as part of his weekly survey, polled coaches on who is the best of the best when it comes to offensive X's and O's. Here are the top five:
Also receiving votes were Mike Leach, David Shaw, Mike Riley, Chris Petersen, Rich Rodriguez and Steve Sarkisian.
Through five weeks, here's how those top five coaches rank in scoring offense:
- Briles (1)
- Malzahn (15)
- Sumlin (2)
- Spurrier (55)
- Helfrich (4)
Worth noting that there are five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense. Besides Oregon, Cal is fifth and Arizona, Utah and ASU are all tied for 17th with an average of 42 points per game. Obviously, conference play will scale down those numbers. But no offensive conversation is complete without injecting some Pac-12 flavor.
The latest rankings are out and our Kyle Bonagura, as always, gives you the weekly impact on the Pac-12. You can see the complete rankings for both polls here. This is where the Pac-12 teams stand. As always, AP rank is listed first, followed by the coaches poll.
- Oregon 2-4
- UCLA 8-9
- Stanford 14-13
- USC 16-20
- ASU RV-24
Also receiving votes in the AP poll, besides ASU which dropped from the top 25, were Arizona and Washington. Arizona is also receiving votes in the coaches poll.
Here's how a couple of writers who cover the league voted:
And here's a look at the top 10 of the ESPN Power Rankings:
- A couple of Arizona defenders have left the team.
- An ASU practice report.
- The numbers from the Cal-Colorado game are nuts.
- Despite the loss, the Buffs are encouraged.
- Oregon's offensive line continues to be a work in progress.
- Some lingering thoughts from OSU's loss to USC.
- Is Stanford's running back by committee hurting the Cardinal?
- Jim Mora defends his defense, saying yards don't matter, only points allowed do.
- The Orange County Register offers five observations from USC's win over Oregon State.
- Utah's loss overshadows a strong performance from Devontae Booker.
- Washington's offense has some question marks.
- Some final thoughts on the Utah win.
Decorum (and pesky copyright laws) prohibit me from posting vines of broadcast games. But please, do yourself a favor. Go to Andy Phillips' Twitter account and enjoy.
In case you missed it, second Hail Mary in as many weeks. Who doesn't get sick of watching these (OK, Cal and Oregon State fans, you're excused from answering).
Remember how we talked about Utah-Washington State being a swing game? If the Cougars can somehow rally to find four more wins and the Utes can't find three, we're going to look back at the Cougs' 28-27 come-from-behind win as a tipping point.
The same could be said for Cal, which pulled off a double-overtime win against a feisty Colorado team to pick up win No. 3.
Let's begin with the Utes, who once again started hot in nonconference play, only to see things fall apart once league competition started. Can't blame this one on injured quarterbacks, because Utah had two opportunities in the fourth quarter with its starter to make something happen. The Pac-12 blog still thinks there are three wins out there for Utah. Of its eight remaining games, three of them are against unranked teams. The rub is that all three are on the road.
Cal also has five ranked teams still on the schedule, and the three remaining against unranked teams -- Washington State, Washington and Oregon State -- are critical. Two of the three are on the road. We're adding Cal to the projections this week. We like its moxie.
As for the Beavers, boy, that offense didn't look good. Given OSU's three unimpressive wins and one very bad loss, we're going to drop them from the projections for now, but as always reserve the right to change our minds.
We're down to just three undefeated teams left: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And 10 teams are either halfway to a bowl game or beyond.
Here are the latest projections. As always, salt heavily.
College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: Arizona
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Washington
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State
Cactus Bowl: Utah
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: California
* at large
Oregon remains at No. 2, but picked up an additional two-first place votes (up to 13) this week after Florida State struggled defensively in a 56-41 win at NC State. However, this week’s poll also saw a rise from Alabama, which also received 13 first-place votes after receiving seven last week.
But enough about Oregon, this week was all about UCLA. The Bruins jumped three spots to No. 8 -- passing Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ole Miss -- after their impressive 62-27 win at Arizona State. The performance knocked the previously 15th-ranked Sun Devils from the poll all together; however, Arizona State is still ranked No. 24 in the coaches' poll.
Stanford improved two spots to No. 14 after its 20-13 win at Washington and USC is back to No. 16 after its impressive 35-10 win at home against Oregon State.
This week marks the first poll of the season in which the Pac-12 had just four teams ranked. Arizona State, Arizona and Washington all received votes.
The first set of rankings from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will be released on Oct. 28 on ESPN.
UCLA and QB Brett Hundley are what we thought they'd be: UCLA answered a variety of questions in its 62-27 win over Arizona State, starting with Hundley's health and continuing with whether this team was overrated in the preseason. While it wasn't a perfect performance -- the defense needs to play better -- it was a dominating one on the road against a ranked team. As for Hundley, he might return to the Heisman picture after completing 18 of 23 passes for 355 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 97.7 QBR. Perhaps its time to ease up on nitpicking the Bruins over their lack of style points. Is your team 4-0?
Arizona State's young defense is going to be a problem: The preseason story with the Sun Devils was veteran, explosive offense paired with a completely rebuilt defense. Sometimes preseason stories don't hold up as young players step up. Sometimes they do. This one did. The Sun Devils are likely to improve on defense this season, but they're likely going to win a bunch of shootouts to be a factor in the South Division. Against UCLA, they yielded 580 yards -- a stunning 10 yards per play -- and gave up eight plays of more than 20 yards.
Washington is not ready for prime time: Washington was inconsistent during a 4-0 run through a weak nonconference schedule. At times, the defense or offense looked good, but often not at the same time and certainly not for four quarters -- or even three. There was some thought everything might come together in front of a raucous crowd Saturday against Stanford. Nope. While the defense played well, pressured Hogan consistently and contained the Cardinal running game, the offense was abysmal. Yes, Stanford is good on defense, but the Huskies have one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines and a good corps of receivers. The Huskies had just one sustained drive and averaged 3.4 yards per pass and 2.1 yards per run. The Huskies' problem under Steve Sarkisian was getting past Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North. It seems unlikely that will happen this year, either, in season one under Chris Petersen.
California has moved out of the Pac-12 basement: Cal and Colorado are both trying to move out of the bottom of the Pac-12 and become at least competitive. Last year, Cal didn't win a Pac-12 game, and Colorado's only conference win was over Cal. Both have looked much improved in the early going this season. But Cal's thrilling 59-56 win in double-overtime provides the Golden Bears a big boost. For one, the Bears, at 3-1, can legitimately entertain bowl hopes. In a game in which QBs Sefo Liufau and Jared Goff both threw for 449 yards and seven touchdowns, the Bears found a way to win, which is particularly meaningful after they suffered a heartbreaking loss at Arizona the week before via a Hail Mary. That might be enough, at the very least, to ensure they don't end up at the bottom of the conference by season's end.
Utah wilted; Washington State stepped up: Utah led 21-0 after one and 24-7 at halftime, but the Utes offense never got untracked -- one TD came from the defense, another from special teams -- while Washington State refused to yield on the road. The end result was a critical 28-27 victory for the Cougars, who couldn't afford to lose if they wanted to retain bowl hopes. It seemed as though the Utes tried to sit on the lead. That was a mistake. It might turn out to be meaningful that Cougars coach Mike Leach called a special first-quarter time out and gathered his team for a pep talk. Utah's Pac-12 woes continue, and the Cougs can hope this serves as a springboard for the rest of the season.
We were deceived by early USC, Oregon State results: USC's 35-10 win over Oregon State seemed to make two things clear: 1. The Beavers' 3-0 start against a weak nonconference schedule was meaningless in terms of projecting forward against good Pac-12 teams. 2. USC's shocking loss at Boston College was probably an anomaly. While it's premature to count Oregon State out of the North Division hunt, it's difficult not to see the defeat at USC as a bit of an exposure. And USC has enough on both sides of the ball to become a factor in the South race.
LOS ANGELES -- Coming off the bye week, the USC Trojans turned in a strong defensive showing in a 35-10 win over the visiting Oregon State Beavers. Here's how it went down at the Coliseum.
How the game was won: The Trojans pulled ahead in the first half on big plays. Safety Su'a Cravens opened the scoring with a pick-six and Cody Kessler connected with Darreus Rogers on a 48-yard Hail Mary as time expired on the first half. A 16-yard Justin Davis touchdown reception was sandwiched in between. The offense picked up steam in the second half, capitalizing on touchdown runs from Davis and Buck Allen. But the real story was the USC defense, which stifled Oregon State all night.
Game ball goes to: The USC defense. After an embarrassing performance two weeks ago against Boston College, where the Trojans yielded 452 yards on the ground, they rebounded after the bye week and kept the Beavers to just three offensive points (OSU's lone touchdown was a kickoff return), 181 total yards and 58 rushing yards while limiting OSU to just 1-of-10 on third down. They also forced a pair of Sean Mannion interceptions; the aforementioned pick-six and tip-drill, tip-toe job by Leon McQuay in the corner of the end zone after the ball was deflected by Adoree' Jackson.
What it means: For the Beavers, who haven't won at USC since 1960, it’s back to work. After beating a pair of Mountain West teams and an FCS squad, this was their first real test of the year. Others needs to step up around Mannion. For the Trojans, it should be a slight confidence boost heading into next week’s home showdown with Arizona State -- a team that thumped them pretty good last year.
Playoff implication: The Boston College loss will no doubt be a stain on USC’s résumé come playoff time. The saving grace is that it was early in the season and it’s a nonconference game. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward helping the committee forget about the shortcomings at Chestnut Hill.
Best play: It’s starting to feel like if there isn’t a Hail Mary in the Pac-12 at least once a week, something is off. The Trojans provided this week’s when Kessler connected with Rogers on a 48-yard chuck-it-and-pray pass as the first half came to a close. Rogers came out end zone to catch the ball at the 1-yard line, and then spun back in to give USC a 21-10 lead at the break.
What's next: The Trojans host a battered ASU team that was rocked on Thursday by UCLA. Recall, it was the ASU game last year that was the ultimate nail in Lane Kiffin’s coaching coffin. If the Trojans want to keep pace with the Bruins in the South Division, that’s a must-win game. For the Beavers, it’s a trip to Colorado, where the Buffs are sure to be salty after scoring 56 points -- and losing!
Colorado at California, Pac-12 Networks: Raise your hand if you expected Cal to be the Pac-12's biggest weekend favorite at some point this year. Well, that's the position the Bears (minus-14) find themselves in after having their hearts ripped out at Arizona last weekend. The general public certainly expects Sonny Dykes' team to bounce back, but be mindful of the explosive capability that Colorado's Nelson Spruce brings to the table. Oh, and Cal has outscored teams by 77 points in the first half before being outscored by 33 in the second half, the biggest differential (110 points!) in college football this season.
Washington State at Utah, Pac-12 Networks: After seeing the scare that Washington State put into Oregon last week, Utah might not want to get too far ahead of itself against the Cougars. But it must be noted that this is a golden opportunity for the Utes: Win and they'll be undefeated heading into a litmus-test showdown with 4-0 UCLA at the Rose Bowl next week. Wazzu, though, desperately needs this game. Connor Halliday's numbers can make your head spin, but high-scoring losses are no longer enough for a team that has stumbled out of the gate at 1-3. There's some explosive playmaking ability on both sides of this one, so expect an entertaining game in Salt Lake City.
Oregon State at No. 18 USC, ESPN: USC has had two weeks to think about an abysmal defensive performance in which Boston College racked up 452 rushing yards. The Trojans' defense resembled a sieve while the Eagles' read-option rushing attack poured the water. USC returns to the comforts of the Coliseum but will face a different, yet equally dangerous, offensive threat. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is less than 1,000 yards away from the Pac-12 all-time passing record, set by former Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley. Mannion's sharp performance last week against San Diego State should have USC's defense on alert to get its act together Saturday night.
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To the notes.
Jockston from SEC country writes: UCLA is good on offense, but it can't play defense, so it can't win a championship because defense wins championships. When does Pac-12 figure this out?
Ted Miller: Wait. Defense wins championships? Why didn't anybody ever mention that before?
UCLA didn't distinguish itself defensively against Arizona State, a very good offensive team, but its defense wasn't as bad -- and, yes, it feels strange typing this -- as 626 yards surrendered suggests.
It was a strange game. UCLA scored so fast that Arizona State got a lot more possessions than is normal. The Bruins nearly scored a point (62) per play (58), while the Sun Devils scored 27 points in 105 plays. The Bruins averaged 10 yards per play, which is good, while the Sun Devils averaged 6.0 yards per play, which is middling.
Middling? Well, for example, Alabama yielded 5.7 yards per play in a 33-23 win over West Virginia. Against that same Mountaineers offense, Oklahoma yielded 6.3 yards per play in a 45-33 victory.
How strange was the UCLA-ASU game? The Bruins scored a decisive 21 points in the third quarter while losing the time-of-possession "battle" 11:51 to 2:57.
As for the defense, scoring is what matters most, and UCLA pretty much held the Sun Devils to just 10 points over the final three quarters (ASU scored a touchdown 26 seconds into the second quarter). If you had told Jim Mora before the game that the Sun Devils would score 27 points, I'm pretty sure he would have given you a high five. Or maybe hit the floor to do the famous Mora breakdance "windmill" he likes to do when he's really happy.
Ted Miller: We can't know how Arizona State would have done against UCLA with Taylor Kelly at QB because of this pesky thing called the "space-time continuum."
As for "Was the UCLA offense really good or was the ASU D really bad?" it's a little of both. Before the season, we thought the Bruins offense would be pretty darn good, and it's trending that way after some early struggles as the O-line improves. And, before the season, we thought the Sun Devils defense would struggle to replace nine quality starters.
It also is true that Arizona State fans probably got caught up in their preseason optimism, which often refuses to acknowledge obvious weaknesses. When the Pac-12 blog wrote about the Sun Devils' defensive questions, the mailbag was glutted with angry missives such as, "Do some research -- we've got loads of quality young players!" or "We've got these great JC transfers!" or "You hate Arizona State."
The obvious preseason question for Arizona State is likely to continue as the obvious season issue: Can the high-powered offense outscore foes because the defense is going to struggle?
Understand: Arizona State isn't going to be an easy out. The UCLA game was, to use Todd Graham's descriptive term, a "catastrophe." I don't think we'll another one of those this season.
Ted Miller: See, Apollo, the narcissist, leads his chariot across the sky from east to west, meaning the sun comes up earlier in the east and sets later in the west. That causes it to be 9 a.m. in Bristol, Connecticut, when it's an ungodly 6 a.m. in north Scottsdale, at which point my bosses -- sunny and caffeinated -- are calling to tell me to do stuff with a complete lack of concern about where Apollo and his chariot might be in the western sky.
The UCLA-ASU game Thursday wasn't going to be scheduled for 4 p.m. PT so it could be a nice prime-time event for fans in Atlanta or Miami. Why? Largely because the game was being played on the West Coast, where a 4 p.m. kickoff would have taken place just as Lumbergh would have stopped by Joe Bruins' or Sandy Sun Devils' desk and noted they'd forgotten to put the new cover sheet on the TPS reports, and that they'd have to redo, like, 3,454 of them. Now.
The Pac-12 signed a $3 billion TV contract with ESPN and Fox, which means the TV times are typically going to be what is optimal for the networks.
That said, there has been an effort to reduce the late kickoffs. This weekend, the only 7:30 PT kick is Oregon State at USC, which figures to get plenty of eyeballs -- East and West -- on ESPN.
Ted Miller: I love this question, for this is very real.
You have coaches who believe in unmitigated, relentless optimism, which looks like irrational exuberance if actual play doesn't match preseason effervescing. Yes, Graham is that sort of coach. In the spring, he worked me over pretty good telling me he didn't expect much drop-off from his defense.
Then you have the grumps. Instead of pumping their team up, they work them over, telling them they're no good. Yes, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is that sort of coach. He'll tell you he wants his guys to be "comfortable being uncomfortable." He also worked me over pretty good this summer trying to convince me his receivers actually weren't as talented as folks were writing -- "I haven't seen it!" he kept saying.
Does that mean Rich Rod is a player-hating ogre? No. See this video. It's just his management style, which has worked pretty darn well throughout his career.
And does this mean Graham is a soft pollyanna? Heck no. I've seen -- heard -- Graham get crusty, and he can let the spittle fly with every bit the fervency of Rodriguez.
By the way, there's also a third type: The straight-shooter. Utah's Kyle Whittingham pretty much tells you what he thinks of his depth chart -- "We're good here; we're questionable here; we're young but talented here; and we're really searching here" -- and his analysis, in my experience, tends to hold up when games begin.
My view is it's the media's job to know who they are dealing with and to keep in perspective what that coach is saying.
Ted Miller: Oh, no, Kenny. You're not crazy. I can't understand why every Oregon State fan wouldn't be as confident. I mean, I remember back in 1960 when you guys last beat USC in Los Angeles. ... wait, I wasn't alive. So, no, don't remember that at all. But a 22-game losing streak against the Trojans in L.A. shouldn't rock your confidence.
I liked the Beavers' chances better before wide receiver Victor Bolden got hurt, but this is definitely an intriguing matchup. We don't yet know either team. We don't know the Beavers because they haven't played anybody, and we don't know the Trojans because they've been a bit schizophrenic.
I like how the Beavers' defense matches up with the USC offense, but the bigger question might be how well the Beavers run the ball. If they can run the ball, life is going to be much easier for quarterback Sean Mannion.
Ted Miller: We try to link to good stories. Sometimes, those stories are behind a pay wall. What you should do is subscribe to newspapers that have stories in them you want to read.
I know everyone loves free stuff and the free info on the Internet. And many, for whatever reason, perversely seem to enjoy the demise of newspapers.
But I will tell you this: Without traditional newspapers, which attempt to provide quality, objective journalism, you will end up with just agenda observers -- folks with various types of filters and biases who don't aspire to be true journalists -- monopolizing the flow of information.
While fan sites and even in-house team coverage have their place, a real newspaper beat writer who aggressively covers the good and bad and holds programs accountable is irreplaceable.
I just hope you don't learn that when they are all gone.
It looked like we were going to get another ASU-UCLA thriller last night. The Sun Devils were poised for at least a field goal to tie things up at 20-20 at the half. And then Ishmael Adams went all Ishmael Adamsy. A 95-yard pick-six in the closing seconds of the half, a 100-yard kick return and an all-out second-half flogging by the rest of the Bruins led to UCLA's 62-27 victory in Tempe.
The teams combined for 1,206 yards of offense. Brett Hundley was 18-of-23 for 355 yards with four passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Mike Bercovici, filling in for the injured Taylor Kelly, was 42-of-68 for 488 yards with three touchdowns, but two interceptions.
This sort of sums it up:
"They could not stop us," said the ASU coach who lost 27-62, but he was sort of right.— Chris Dufresne (@DufresneLATimes) September 26, 2014
Here's a recap of the game from Yahoo! Sports.
And another from the Arizona Republic.
And some running commentary from the L.A. Times so you can relive all of the thrills and chills.
Picks are in
Fridays are a good time to round up some picks from across the conference. The Pac-12 blog released its picks on Thursday morning (KG and CJ are off to a nice start). You can check those out here. Here's what some other folks are writing about Week 5 in the conference.
- Here are picks from Christian Caple of the News Tribune.
- Mostly unanimous from the Athlon Sports gang, with one exception in the OSU-USC game.
- Ryan Thorburn of the Register-Guard mixes picks with power rankings.
- Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News offers up his picks for the week.
Your team is perfect, right? All is right with the world. Whatever perceived imperfection is simply a concoction of the media/Pac-12 blog and you will defend your team tooth and nail. Buuuuutttt ... in the event there is something wrong, Jack Follman of Pacific Takes is going to remind you of it.
Follman broke down the weakness of every Pac-12 team. Picking a team totally at random, here's what he had to say about USC:
I went against straight up saying USC can't stop the run, before they bottled up Stanford fairly well and I think their colossally bad run defense performance against Boston College had more to do with their lack of depth than straight up run defense.
It's one thing to have preseason question marks. But when those questions are still being asked in Week 5, it's officially a weakness.
- Examining Anu Solomon one month into his career.
- Cal's offense is partly to blame for the Hill Mary.
- Colorado is looking for a leader in Greg Henderson.
- Aaron Fentriss says there's no reason for Oregon's defense to be just "mediocre."
- Breaking down Terron Ward's touchdown against SDSU.
- How does Stanford plan to slow down Washington?
- Aundrey Walker could play on Saturday for the Trojans.
- Dres Anderson is evolving into a complete player.
- The Huskies are expecting John Ross to suit up for Stanford.
- A Washington State practice report.
Someone should write a coffee table book on ASU's recent history in big games. If you put it on a coffee table, it will collapse.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 26, 2014
The UCLA football twitter account was bringing the funny last night.
WOW. WHAT IS THIS ISH?! TOUCHDOWN UCLA! Ishmael Adams gets his 2nd TD return of the game, 100 yards KO return! #UCLAvsASU— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) September 26, 2014