Pac-12: Oregon Ducks
Entering Week 6 of the college football season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Georgia running back Todd Gurley have separated themselves as the front-runners for the Heisman. This week, Pac-12 reporter Chantel Jennings and SEC reporter Edward Aschoff engage in a friendly (-ish) debate regarding the two players:
Aschoff: Listen, Mariota is a heck of a player. I think he's hands down the best quarterback in the country and should be the first quarterback taken in next year's NFL draft. With that said, he's no Gurley. He's a machine, yes, but he's more of a Prius compared to the Cadillac Escalade with a V-8 that Gurley is. The scary thing about Georgia's junior running back is that he's slimmed down yet he looks bigger. He's faster and more agile yet he's stronger. Gurley can bowl his opponents over, sprint to the outside and take a run to the house, or he can leave defenders dizzy with his elusiveness. Gurley has 610 rushing yards, but he should have even more. His coaches limited him to just six carries against Troy (73 yards), and the argument could be made that his 28 carries (career-high 208 yards) against Tennessee on Saturday weren't enough. Oh, and did I mention that this tank of a human being is averaging a gaudy 8.8 yards per carry and that out of his 69 carries this season he has just 11 lost yards? Take Gurley off Georgia's team and the Bulldogs aren't 1-1 in SEC play. You really think Mariota is better than that? He's flashier than that? Come on.
Anyway, back to the nitty-gritty, which is yes, when it comes to the facts, Mariota is better than that. His pass attempt-to-touchdown ratio is the best in the country: every 7.4 times the ball leaves his hands, it's ending up in the end zone. OK, fine. Gurley doesn't pass the ball. Let's talk about running again. Every 11.5 carries, Gurley ends up in the end zone. Guess what? Every 11 carries, Mariota finds his way there. He has the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in the country. And he has already led his team to a victory over a top-10 team this season. Everyone can agree a Prius is more efficient than an Escalade, and in football, it's good to be efficient. That's exactly what Mariota is.
Aschoff: I see what you did there with the Prius and the Escalade. But if I need someone to bust through a brick wall and grind out that extra yard -- or three -- I'm handing it off to that environment-destroying driving machine. While we're talking about rushing, which is Gurley's specialty, he's already had 19 runs of 10 or more yards in just four games. If you're keeping score at home, that's 4.8 of those runs per game. Two of those runs went for 51 yards. What has Mariota done? He has 11 of those runs and hasn't even touched a 50-yard scamper yet. And it should be noted that Gurley is excellent when he takes contact. It seems to make him better. He drags defenders with him like Linus drags his blanket. Heading into last week, he was the only player in the country to average more than 100 yards after contact in multiple games (102 vs. Clemson and South Carolina). In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, Gurley was incredible against an improved Tennessee team. He ran for a career-high 208 yards (and now he has 16 career 100-yard rushing games), had two touchdowns, registered 30 receiving yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. How good was he? Well, Tennessee had so little confidence in its defense stopping him late in the game that it attempted an onside kick with two minutes left and three timeouts remaining in order to try to keep the ball away from him. All Gurley did after that was run the clock out with 26 rushing yards on six carries.
But hey, that Mariota performance over Washington State was cool and all ...
Jennings: You're right. I'll give you that. Washington State might not be better than a 2-2 Tennessee team that has already given up 4.4 yards per rush this season (cough, cough, No. 81 in the nation in that category). But it's not fair to look at the most recent performance since the slates are so different. Let's look at both players' best wins so far. Gurley's was against Clemson in the season opener, no? He carried the ball 15 times, scored thrice and accounted for 198 rushing yards and minus-5 receiving yards. That's cool. Mariota's best win was Week 2 against Michigan State, a game in which he threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns and added nine rushes for 42 yards. Michigan State is one of the best defenses in the country. Clemson isn't even one of the top three in the ACC. Now, I know I was an English major and all, but 360 yards of total offense plus three touchdowns is still bigger than 193 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, right?
Aschoff: That Michigan State (still the Big Ten, though) win was huge, and Mariota was great. I'll give that to you. And Clemson, well, #Clemsoning took over a couple of weeks ago. But don't sleep on what Gurley did against Tennessee and South Carolina. The numbers aren't exactly helping the Gamecocks, but that was a great game, and Gurley did everything he could have ... when his coach wasn't throwing the ball on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Gurley averaged 6.6 yards per carry in that game, on the road. Before Gurley faced Tennessee, the Vols were allowing 3.9 yards per carry. Then Gurley went all Gurley on the Vols.
Both of these players are great, and you have a chance to win any game with either. I want the bulldozer in the backfield who can grind out yards or take it to the house. The good thing is that this debate should rage on because they'll have plenty of opportunities to make us both look good going forward.
Time: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
The Buffs will look to pick up their second win of the season against a Hawaii team that nearly beat Washington and Oregon State. Hawaii has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 57 percent completion rate and has allowed only seven pass plays of 20-plus yards, but Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce will attempt to find their way through that defense and put up some big plays for Colorado.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Travis Wilson will lead his 2-0 Utes into the Big House, where a struggling Michigan team is looking for its first real statement win of the season. Michigan's defense has struggled this season so Utah receiver Dres Anderson could be a name known in the Midwest by Sunday. The Utah defense will also need to contain dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner, who could find his stride at any time.
Georgia State at Washington
Time: 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Washington put together a pretty convincing performance in a 44-19 win over Illinois, but can the Huskies keep moving forward and sustain that momentum? Georgia State isn't exactly a powerhouse, and with No. 16 Stanford on the horizon, Washington needs to make sure it keeps taking steps forward.
California at Arizona
Time: 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Arizona is 3-0 after picking up a win over Nevada (which could look even better by the end of the season) and welcomes 2-0 Cal to the desert on Saturday. One team is going to pick up its first loss -- and a conference loss at that -- this weekend, but will it be Jared Goff, whose Cal team has averaged 43 points per game, or Anu Solomon, who has finally given the Wildcats a sense of consistency at quarterback?
No. 2 Oregon at Washington State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
The second-ranked Ducks travel to Pullman, Washington, where Washington State seems to have finally hit some kind of a stride in its third game -- and first win -- of the season. It's never easy to play in the Palouse, but will the Cougars defense actually be able to slow Marcus Mariota and the Ducks machine? Or could this prove to be a stumbling block on the way to the College Football Playoff for Mark Helfrich & Co.?
San Diego State at Oregon State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: FOX Sports 1
San Diego State played No. 21 North Carolina close in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but the Aztecs relinquished a two-touchdown lead in the second half. Oregon State is coming off a bye week following a "closer than the Beavers would've liked" 38-30 win in Hawaii. Sean Mannion, who has 628 passing yards through two games, will continue building chemistry with Victor Bolden, while Storm Woods and Terron Ward look to keep some of the pressure off the pass game by giving the Beavers a reliable run game.
With Bralon Addison going down and just one true veteran wide receiver returning -- Keanon Lowe -- the Ducks' wide receivers were anything but experienced. And to expect six to eight guys to step up would be crazy, right?
No. It would've been an underestimation.
Against South Dakota, the Ducks came out blazing with 11 different players catching passes. But the big surprise was that running back Byron Marshall acted as more of a slot guy as he hauled in a game-high eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Against Michigan State, seven players tallied receptions. Redshirt freshman Devon Allen recorded two touchdowns and 110 yards on three catches, though two other players caught three passes as well (Lowe and Marshall).
And against Wyoming, again, 11 players caught passes. This time it was tight end Pharaoh Brown who led the way with four catches for 46 yards.
It's not completely absurd to have that many guys catch passes in these early-season games, especially considering how many of them are blowouts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, already this season, there have been 38 games in which a Power 5 team had at least 10 players catch a pass.
But, it should give Mariota and the team faith that the Ducks are building to the conference season on a very strong foundation of capable receivers.
“We don't have a favorite [receiver],” Lubick said. “We have six or seven favorites.”
Carrington, Allen, Lowe and Stanford have all amassed at least 100 receiving yards already this season. But the wild card that is going to make the Duck offense very hard to plan for this season is Marshall.
The Ducks are using Marshall in a different way than they did last season and his numbers are sky rocketing. After three games, his two receiving touchdowns and 190 yards on 12 receptions is already more impressive than his full season of pass catching from last year (13 catches, 155 yards, 0 touchdowns). His rushing numbers are a bit lower, but with the emergence of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, that's to be expected. In 2014 he has carried the ball 19 times for 179 yards and one score. At this point last season he had carried the ball 29 times for 196 yards and two scores.
But Marshall's presence on the field forces defensive coordinators to be a bit more on their toes.
“As a defensive coordinator, he'll keep you guessing,” Lubick said. “He gives us flexibility. It messes with [opponents'] personnel groupings. He could play the whole game at wide out. He could also play the whole game at tailback.”
Moving forward the Ducks' pass game is likely to get more exciting. With how young Marshall, Allen, Carrington and Stanford are, their learning curves are going to pick up with each game.
Lubick saw how much progress these young players made this spring and summer with Marcus Mariota, but he also knows “there's nothing better than game reps and experience.”
The next chance to show off their passing game is Saturday against Washington State, a team that has an impressive passing game of their own. But the Cougars struggles come on defense. Already this season they've allowed 11 passes of 20 yards or more and they've given up 11.2 yards per completion.
It should be a good opportunity for Lubick's six or seven favorites to step up.
That includes every Oregon player and coach, every Ducks fan, every bettor, every single person who has found himself/herself rooting for this quiet Heisman contender. For a few seconds, until Mariota got to his feet with his teammates, stomachs were churning.
As exciting as the play was and as happy as fans were to see another six points added to the scoreboard, all of it seemed minuscule when compared to one detail: Is Marcus OK?
It’s no secret: Oregon’s playoff hopes rest on Mariota’s shoulders ... even when they’re closer to the ground than his feet. And though the Ducks preach the mantra of every school, everywhere -- “backups need to come in and play like a starter” -- Oregon’s postseason dreams will be nonexistent if Mariota is sidelined due to injury. And fans need to look no further than last season to know that is a fact.
Many would like to enclose Mariota in bubble wrap, keeping him safe until they “need” him to make those kinds of plays later on down the road. They want his helmet to wear a helmet and for his Nike jersey to somehow deploy airbags when it senses possible injury within five yards.
But that’s not going to happen, though Phil Knight might be phoning in an idea to Nike manufacturers now.
But Mariota knows one fact: You don’t tiptoe the line toward a national title. It’s not exactly a game that welcomes those who bring fruit baskets and tap politely on the door asking to enter. No, it’s a game for the risk takers and those willing to lay it all on the line, which Mariota, if it wasn't evident before that dive, is certainly willing to do.
Especially this season, with no prior knowledge as to how exactly the committee will choose the four teams or which factors they will give the most weight, teams and players can’t leave anything to chance.
So, would Mariota make that flip again?
Yes. He would. Because he’s not playing it safe and no one should want that. If Oregon wins the title, no one will say it’s because Mariota played it safe until it “really mattered.” Because with this new playoff, no one knows exactly which detail matters. Thus, everything matters.
And so, Mariota throws caution to the wind and his body toward the end zone. And as nervous as it might make fans, coaches and teammates -- wide receiver Keanon Lowe said, “I hope he never does that again. Ever.” -- it’s how the Ducks need to play this season if they want to be in that group of four at the end of the season.
Mariota knows how to get there. Now, everyone needs to just trust his lead.
He has an innate playmaking ability that you just can’t coach. So coach Mark Helfrich certainly isn’t going to un-coach it.
“You can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do this,’” Helfrich said. “The way that he plays, the dynamic nature of his play, how he likes to improvise -- that’s one of our biggest strengths.”
“I’ll just let my instincts take over,” Mariota added. “It’s tough as a football player to kind of stop yourself from doing something.”
And so, one of Oregon’s biggest strengths will also be one of its fans’ biggest fears moving forward. Every time Mariota leaves the pocket or throws his body in harm’s way, every time he dives or hurdles, fans everywhere are going to hold their breath until they see their Flyin’ Hawaiian get back on his feet.
It’s the way Mariota wants to win the national title this season. And as much as a national title might mean to Fan X or Fan Y, it means more to Mariota.
He’s a smart player. Any risk he takes is one that’s going to be calculated. And, if he does get injured, then it will happen because it was a risk that he believed was worth it.
Isn’t that the kind of player you’d want to lead your team? Those are usually the kinds of players who are standing on the top of the podium or in the winner’s circle.
“You can’t squelch somebody’s gifts and the stuff that he does,” Helfrich said. “We can’t, we won’t ever approach offense with any kind of handcuffed mentality.”
What does that mean? Well, it means a lot more stomach-churning moments as Oregon fans wait for Mariota to climb from the bottom of the pile or stand and walk without a limp. It means some hesitance as folks let Mariota fly free. It means letting the player make the plays that he believes in.
Because at the end of the day, he’s driving this machine. And no one buys a Maserati to go 30 mph.
Certainly not Oregon.
With 52 percent of the vote, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's diving touchdown was named this week's Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week.
It was certainly a play that made more than a few Duck fans nervous as he launched himself headfirst over five players and soared, upside-down, toward the end zone. But, he bounced up and Mariota gave a Heisman-highlight reel play in a game in which those kinds of plays typically don't happen.
As with every week, we're going to reach out to readers to get some of your reactions as well as some reactions from our team of Pac-12 writers.
Kyle Bonagura: By the time Marcus Mariota gets to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony later this year, most the country will have forgotten Oregon even played Wyoming this season. If that makes you sad for some strange, illogical reason, don't worry because Mariota's Chip-Kelly-Dive-Into-The-Pool impression against the Cowboys is a lock to be featured prominently in his Heisman highlight reel.
It was also one of those plays that can play with the collective emotions of a fan base, which I can imagine went something like this:
"Go, go, go ... he's in! ... Wait, is he in? ... Wait, never mind, is he OK? Get up. ... Yeah, he's ok ... Are we sure he got in? ... [watches replay] Oh, he is definitely in, what a play! ... SHOW IT TO ME AGAIN!”
Kevin Gemmell: The best part about that play was that it didn't have to happen. I get that the Ducks were only ahead 13-7 at the time. But come on, was Oregon really in any danger of losing that game? Of course not. But Mariota doesn't care. He could have stepped out of bounds at the 3.5-yard line instead of going all Evel Knievel. I'll wager dollars to donuts the Ducks would have scored a touchdown one or two plays later. But Mariota was laser focused on delivering a knockout blow. He plays with one speed. And it's pretty fun to watch a guy with no off switch.
Chantel Jennings: The move itself was a bit McKayla Maroney-esque, launching himself up and over a pile of teammates and players, before twisting, turning and landing on his rear end. The feel in the stadium the entire time was "OMG!" but it swayed from a "Oh my gosh, that's so awesome" to "Oh my gosh, is he OK? IS HE OK? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME HE'S OK!" to a "OK, sweet, he's OK, great. Good score. Wooooo." The only thing Maroney did better was the unimpressed face. Now, if someone can get Mariota to do that, that would certainly win the day.
The best of Twitter:
@ESPN_Pac12blog Go, go, go! He's gonna score! He's in...HOLY CRAP, BE CAREFUL, MARIOTA.— Peter Mertens (@psMertens) September 15, 2014
Dear Marcus, please don't fall on your head.— Cora (@Cora_Bee) September 13, 2014
@ESPN_Pac12blog the sort of play where Gurley stops polishing his Heisman case, swears under his breath, and goes to hit the weight room— Ryder Cochrane (@RyderCochrane) September 15, 2014
If you see something you believe deserves to be nominated, tweet at the Pac-12 Blog here with the hashtag #PlayOfTheWeek.
We'll bring you the best in Pac-12 action and then it'll be up to you to decide which is the best of the best. We start with Week 3, which had a few surprises across the conference.
But to kick off the Play of the Week, we have two offensive and two defensive plays for you to sift through.
1. Jerry Neuheisel's second TD pass
2. Marcus Mariota's Superman dive
3. Shaq Thompson's fumble recovery touchdown
4. Erick Dargan tipped pass leading to his INT
Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA: It was Jerry’s World. The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns as he led the Bruins in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: Perkins took a bit of the pressure of Neuheisel as he was a weapon in the pass and run game. He had 126 yards on the ground on 24 carries and tallied 69 receiving yards on five catches.
Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The senior recorded the first three touchdowns of the day for the Cardinal in a 35-0 win over Army. His 13 yards per catch (four receptions, 52 yards) was a game-high.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The junior compiled quite the stat line in just under three quarters of play in the Ducks' 48-14 victory over Wyoming: Two passing touchdowns and 221 passing yards on 19-of-23 passing plus two rushing touchdowns and 71 rushing yards on five carries.
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson became Washington’s first player to record a fumble return score and pick six in the same game since at least 1978. He finished the game with four tackles and three carries for 16 yards in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois.
D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: The junior recorded his third-straight 100-yard rushing game, as he accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Foster also had three receptions for 52 yards and tallied his first receiving touchdown of the season as the Sun Devils defeated Colorado 38-24.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He helped seal the game for Arizona as he rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries. He recorded the first two touchdowns of the game for the Wildcats en route to a 35-28 win, giving Arizona a perfect 3-0 record entering Pac-12 play.
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.
Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.
Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.
Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.
No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.
Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.
No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).
No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.
Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."
Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah
Or rather, the second-half adjustments that Pellum made and how the Oregon defense responded in the final two quarters against Michigan State might have cleared the minds of those who were missing Aliotti. Oregon fans really shouldn't have expected anything different from a coach who has been on the Oregon staff for 21 years.
Against the Spartans, Pellum made some impressive in-game adjustments as Oregon rallied from a halftime deficit to a 19-point victory, largely fueled by the second-half defensive performance.
Pellum downplayed any significant halftime adjustments -- he said there were “a few” -- against Michigan State.
“I think that was the difference that everyone saw from the sidelines and the stands. Suddenly it looks a lot better, but I think we just played better.”
The statistics broken down by half against Michigan State were staggering.
The Ducks held the Spartans to just three points in the second half after allowing a 24-point second quarter. Oregon gave up just 162 yards of offense in the second half against the Spartans.
But it wasn’t just the drop in those numbers -- it was how Oregon forced that drop in those numbers, how they completely dictated the trajectory of the game with their defense.
According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook completed seven passes of 15-plus yards in the first half, on nine pass attempts. In the second half, he was just 1-of-3 on those same passes -- including no completions of 15-plus yards in the fourth quarter.
The Ducks were even stronger up front against the run. Though Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford didn’t tear off major runs in the first half, he did chip away, and that helped to set up some of Cook’s passing efforts.
In the first half, the Spartans rushed the ball 21 times and gained 86 yards (4.1 yards per rush). Of those 86 yards, 69 of them came before contact. That mean 80 percent of their rushing yardage happened before an Oregon defender even got there … meaning the Ducks weren’t exactly flying to the ball the way Pellum envisioned.
But in the second half, with a refocused and re-energized group, the Ducks came out and stuffed the Spartans running game. Michigan State ran the ball 15 times for 37 yards (2.5 yards per rush, a 1.6-yard improvement from the first half). And only 18 of those yards came before contact, showing a much better presence up front. Eight of those 15 rushes didn't gain a yard, as opposed to just three of the 21 rushes in the first half.
It was certainly an impressive performance against an offense that will likely put up big numbers in Big Ten conference play. And the Oregon defense proved that it could stop a team in a disciplined manner while making some adjustments.
Now, Oregon would like to prove they can bottle that second-half effort and turn it into a complete defensive performance. Against South Dakota and Michigan State, Oregon was able to find success even with some defensive lapses, but there are going to be games this season when the Ducks won’t have that kind of luxury and the run-stopping, pestering-the-passer defense is going to need to show up for 60 minutes.
Remember all that chatter in August about how good the quarterbacks were in the Pac-12? Well, it was also in July, and June ... pretty much since last season ended. The quarterbacks driving this quarterback-driven league certainly deserve their spotlight. But lest we forget, there are some guys who can also do some damage on the ground.
John Marshall of The Associated Press looks at some of the teams in the conference who are also tearing things up on the ground. Marshall goes into detail on the running games of four teams in the league, including Arizona State:
The Sun Devils also have a pass-first perception that isn't exactly true. Since coach Todd Graham arrived three years ago, his focus has been on establishing a strong running game to set up the pass. The Sun Devils have had success doing just that with a variety of backs. This season, it's D.J. Foster's turn. A high-profile local recruit, he spent his first two seasons playing multiple positions so the Sun Devils could take advantage of his versatility.
Arizona, ASU, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC are the six teams that are averaging more than 200 yards per game. However, perhaps the most interesting element of this story is who isn't mentioned. And that's Stanford. While the Cardinal have never been the team that put up obscene rushing numbers, they certainly have set the standard over the last few years for power running. And they've produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008. Bizarre seeing the Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. But as Marshall points out, it's still early.
Some high praise in a couple of different articles about Pac-12 players Wednesday. First, CBS' Dennis Dodd profiles UCLA's Myles Jack. He cites an NFL scout who calls Jack the best athlete in the Pac-12.
Also, Stanford coach David Shaw joined the NFL's college football podcast and compared wide receiver Ty Montgomery to former first-round pick Irving Fryar.
"This guy needs to touch the ball every single way as humanly possible," Shaw said. "Just because he’s that kind of an athlete. He’s that kind of a dynamic football player. We have to make it hard for defenses to key on him … There is one name some of the younger listeners might not know very well, but I spent a year with Irving Fryar in Philadelphia. You’re talking about compact, physical, explosive. Irving ran a 4.3 coming out of college, coming out of Nebraska, and he would run over somebody and then run around them."News/notes/team reports
- Arizona's kicker is becoming a bit of a celebrity.
- D.J. Foster's chemistry with his line is paying off.
- Handing out grades for Cal.
- The makers of "South Park" have something planned for Colorado.
- Injuries on Oregon's line will test the Ducks' versatility.
- Cool little feature from the Oregonian, delving into one critical Oregon State play and showing why it worked.
- Jon Wilner has Stanford third in his power rankings.
- Some post-practice Noel Mazzone video.
- Michael Hutchings ready to start while Hayes Pullard sits.
- What Kenneth Scott learned in his year "off."
- Cyler Miles athleticism is a boost for the Huskies.
- Mike Leach wants to see more focus from his players.
The smile hasn't changed, eh? Good for you, KP.
Something to keep an eye on in 2015?
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Then, redshirt freshman Jake Pisarcik beat out Cameron Hunt for the starting right guard position prior to the South Dakota game. Hunt, who had started the final seven games of last season, had become the first true freshman to start on the Ducks' O-line in 16 years and gave fans hope he was a part of a foundation that other players could build upon, not usurp. Against Michigan State, he'd return to the starting line up before more question marks were added.
Early in the third quarter against Michigan State, Yruretagoyena was carted off the field and Oregon put freshman Tyrell Crosby on the right side.
And suddenly, the wall that's supposed to protect Mariota and create a run game for the talented trio of Ducks' backs was seemingly falling down as question marks popped up.
Can the Ducks deal with these kinds of transitions just a few weeks before the start of conference play? Will the young players on the offensive line have a steep enough learning curve that when Oregon plays teams such as Stanford and Arizona -- teams that pushed them around a bit in the trenches in 2013 -- that there won't be any hiccups? Can this O-line, even with the early season shake-ups, be enough to help the Ducks find success in 2014?
Center Hroniss Grasu says yes. And why?
"It's our attitude, it's our mindset we have going in," Grasu said. "It's a mindset of being the best offensive line that we can be and just go out there, if we play together as a unit -- all five guys, one heartbeat -- good things will happen. That's all we think about."
Grasu said it's not even as important as to which five guys it is because the coaches have done a good job of grooming the "next man up" mentality, which is evident in the Crosby and Pisarcik cases. And looking forward to Wyoming, maybe the best question to ask isn't can Oregon's offensive linemen answer the questions, but which Oregon offensive linemen will answer those questions?
The Ducks don't talk about injuries, but even if Yruretagoyena is ready to go for the Wyoming game, it's likely to be a bit of a competition for the starting right guard spot considering Crosby's performance last weekend.
Next to him will likely be Hunt -- though Pisarcik shouldn't be ruled out -- and then the left side remains secure with Grasu at center and Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher at right guard and right tackle, respectively. But with the amount of shuffling that has happened with this group in the past three weeks, it's hard to say anything is written in permanent marker rather than pencil.
Certainly, no one thought the offensive line would be the group with the greatest question marks at the Week 3 mark. But with the way the running backs, tight ends and wide receivers have played and grown, it's starting to seem that the group that was once considered the most sturdy is the one that has the most to prove.
And that's the one that could have the greatest effect on the Ducks' success.