Sunday, September 16, 2012
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 3
By Ted Miller
What did we learn in Week 3? Read on.
Barkley's, USC's coronation was premature: There is no certainty in college football, particularly when you're questionable on the line of scrimmage. That's what USC quarterback Matt Barkley found out. His offensive line couldn't block Stanford's defensive front seven, which sacked him four times and harassed him constantly. Barkley, even with elite receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, completed only 20 of 41 passes with two interceptions in a 21-14 loss. Sure, losing center Khaled Holmes to an ankle injury was a major blow -- the Cardinal exploited his replacement, Cyrus Hobbi -- but the Cardinal's domination up front wasn't about one spot. And that domination was on both sides of the line. The Cardinal, with a first-year starting quarterback, outgained the Trojans 417 yards to 280. Barkley's Heisman Trophy hopes took a major blow, as did the Trojans' hopes for a national title, that bit of unfinished business that brought Barkley back for his senior year.
Luck had nothing to do with it: That was a sign in the crowd at Stanford, duly noted by ESPN analyst Robert Smith. Stanford has billed itself as a physical, run-first team, even when it had Luck. So, without him, it figures the Cardinal would remain themselves. Still, many of us doubted whether the Cardinal would be as physical without now-NFL offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. They were. Stanford figured out a way to neutralize the Trojans' flash, and then the Cardinal exploited their superiority on both lines of scrimmage. The most telling number? The Cardinal outrushed USC 202 yards to 26. The Pac-12 game of the year still might be Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. But if Stanford takes care of business, it might end up being the Cardinal's visit to Oregon on Nov. 17.
Marcus Mariota and Oregon have feasted on overmatched foes; perhaps stiffer tests await?
Oregon returns to the top: Oregon's 63-14 blowout of Tennessee Tech wasn't terribly relevant. But USC's loss and sudden vulnerability topples it from atop the Pac-12 perception pecking order. Stanford moves up. But the Cardinal can't eclipse the Ducks because Oregon has blown them out in consecutive seasons. USC no longer can be considered a favorite on Nov. 3 when the Ducks visit. But the wiser way to view things is to see a lot of football ahead. The Ducks have yet to play a team with a pulse. It's possible we'll see a few more plot twists before we get to November.
Arizona, UCLA avoid letdown: Arizona and UCLA posted big upset wins over ranked teams last weekend and became ranked teams themselves. Sometimes teams that do that fall flat the next week while still drunk on the past instead of focusing on the present. The Wildcats and Bruins did not. They bothrolled big and improved to 3-0. Sure, both played overmatched foes, a convenient bit of scheduling. Particularly the Wildcats against South Carolina State. But both now head into interesting matchups -- UCLA hosts Oregon State and Arizona visits Oregon -- riding plenty of positive momentum, sitting prettier than most had imagined in the preseason.
Arizona State's reinvention remains a work in progress: Arizona State had three turnovers in its first two games. It had four in its 24-20 loss at Missouri. QB Taylor Kelly had zero interceptions in the first two games. He had two against the Tigers. The Sun Devils had five penalties for 35 yards in the first two games combined. They had seven for 54 yards at Missouri. The point: As cleanly as the Sun Devils played in the first two games, their becoming a disciplined team on a consistent basis is still a work in progress. That probably shouldn't be surprising. It's hard to completely reinvent a team culture in just two games. And the Sun Devils' fourth-quarter surge, coming back from a 24-7 deficit, showed backbone. That's a positive.
California and Utah can't be overlooked: Cal lost its opener to Nevada, spoiling the debut of remodeled Memorial Stadium. Utah lost at Utah State in Week 2, ending a 12-game winning streak in the series. Both losses were greeted with gnashing teeth by the respective fan bases. Their performances on Saturday, however, showed that both are certainly not easy outs and could become factors in their Pac-12 divisions. Utah beat a 25th-ranked BYU team that waxed Washington State. The Utes' defense remains formidable, no matter the issues on offense. And the Bears were just a couple of plays away from pulling the upset at No. 12 Ohio State before succumbing 35-28.