Pac-12: USC Trojans
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.
At this point in the season, any injury to a starter can be crippling. And in the ridiculously competitive Pac-12 South, it can be downright devastating. Earlier in the week we learned that USC would be without left tackle Chad Wheeler for the rest of the season. Wednesday, another impact player was lost for the year when Utah announced that wide receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking for that kid. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “Nobody’s outworked him. Nobody’s done more for us than Dres during that period of time. He’s taken care of business on and off the field. He’s got his degree already in hand.”
Here are some reactions:
- From The Associated Press.
- Matthew Piper of the Salt Lake Tribune has some player reactions.
- And for some pod reaction, our own Ted Miller was on ESPN Radio 700 in Salt Lake City.
The Utes, very much in the thick of things in the Pac-12 South -- and even the playoff conversation -- enter one of the toughest stretches in the country. After this week's trip to ASU, they are home to Oregon, at Stanford, home to Arizona and at Colorado to close out the season. According to FPI, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the 25 ranked teams and the eighth toughest in the nation.
Catching you up on the Heisman race, which could take a turn this weekend with Stanford heading to Oregon, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is nearly neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. In the latest ESPN.com poll, Prescott leads Mariota by a single point.
Here’s how it shakes out (followed by total points):
- Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (45)
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (44)
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (18)
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (13)
- Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (11)
No other Pac-12 players are receiving votes. Here’s guessing that if Mariota can finally get over his Stanford hump, he’ll enjoy a nice bump.
- The Wildcats don't mind some of the negativity they hear on the road.
- Todd Graham is confident heading into the Utah game.
- Cal's football team is getting all brainy.
- Mike MacIntyre still has confidence in Sefo Liufau.
- An Oregon practice report.
- Some Oregon State news and notes.
- Stanford will have to face Oregon with a defense that isn't full strength.
- Eddie Vanderdoes says it's do or die for the Bruins.
- Despite the wear and tear, Leonard Williams is living up to the hype.
- Lots of potential bowl landings for Utah.
- A couple of Washington post-practice videos.
- The Cougs got a little inspiration from a former coach.
I guess yesterday was National Cat Day? To which my beagle says, meh. The tweet is still funny, though.
ASU running back DJ Foster gets in a question for teammate Taylor Kelly. pic.twitter.com/gnIygvvhVC— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) October 29, 2014
Welcome to the mailbag. Please stay for the punch and pie. And if you feel like it, follow me on Twitter.
Emily, who was formerly from L.A., writes: Unhappy Trojan here, but I have to admit Utah was a really good team. Question that calls for speculation: if Utah beats Oregon - assuming both teams win this coming weekend (yes, I know that's a lot to assume) - do you think the Playoff Committee would recognize Utah as a team worthy of the playoff? Or would taking down Oregon completely knock the PAC-12 out of the running?
Kevin Gemmell: I think the same train of thought that applies to Oregon also applies to Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. A one-loss Pac-12 team will not be left out of the College Football Playoff. This is why we have people now and not computers. At some point, someone in that room will stand up and say it’s absurd for a one-loss Pac-12 champion to not be included. Question is, will there be one?
Since you’re asking specifically about the Utes, let’s break them down. They already have wins over two ranked teams. If they win out, they will have beaten ASU, Oregon and Arizona -- all ranked, and all in the top 15. Two of their wins would also be against Michigan and Stanford. The Michigan win doesn’t carry the weight it used to, but at least one person in that room will be swayed by a win at Stanford.
Now, what’s the likelihood this actually happens? Pretty slim. The Utes have the second-hardest remaining schedule of the 25 teams according to FPI (8th nationally) and their chances of winning out are .8 percent. And things got a lot tougher with the news this morning that receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the year with a knee injury. That taxes a passing game that already had issues.
But whether it’s Utah, Oregon or one of the desert schools, any of them would have a more-than-presentable résumé to make a case for playoff inclusion with just one loss.
Jeff in Sacramento writes: When is the last time Oregon lost 3 straight to the same team? For instance, if Oregon were to lose to Stanford, this would be the third year in a row. When is the last time that happened?
Kevin Gemmell: It took a ton of sleuthing and cross-referencing and spreadsheets, but I have your answer.
Actually, I popped open the Oregon media guide and found it in two minutes because it’s more recent than you’d think.
Before Oregon had a Stanford problem, it had a -- wait for it -- CAL PROBLEM! That’s right, the Bears were the thorn in Oregon’s side in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Before Oregon picked up its sixth-consecutive win over the Bears last week, it was Oski owning Puddles. In those three years, two of the wins were by double digits. Two wins came in Berkeley and one at Autzen.
Here are the links to the three games so you can relive the heroics of Nate Longshore and DeSean Jackson and wallow in the shortcomings of Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Johnson. 2006, 2007, 2008.
An anonymous Huskie in Cougar Land writes: Why can't Pac-12 teams schedule good opponents? Other than Oregon playing Michigan St and UCLA playing Texas, I can't count another Pac-12 team playing a team from a power five conference with a winning record. Why do we have to be such wimps? It's quite simple why nobody thinks the Pac-12 can compete with the SEC: they don't play anyone good! Imagine Oregon playing Alabama. Or Stanford playing LSU. If they played tougher opponents, they would not only get the credit they need - and want - but could also vault themselves into national prominence.
Kevin Gemmell: You might notice a trend … and that’s other schools ducking out of their obligations to play Pac-12 teams. It takes two to dance, otherwise you're just pulling a Billy Idol. The Pac-12 has been willing. But their partners haven’t been.
Like, for example, Texas A&M recently leaving Oregon at the altar, or Georgia pulling out of its Oregon game a few years ago. Or Notre Dame trying to get out of its obligation at ASU. By the way, this is the second year in a row that three teams from the Pac-12 play Notre Dame. Wouldn’t consider them wimps. And for what it's worth, Rutgers and Virginia are a couple of Power-5 teams that look bowl-bound.
But to ease your concerns, here are a few matchups we have to look forward to in the coming years (all information via fbsschedules.com):
- Arizona: Mississippi State in 2022 and 2023.
- Arizona State: Michigan State in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2022 and 2023.
- Cal: Texas in 2015 and 2016; North Carolina in 2017 and 2018; Auburn in 2019 and 2020; TCU in 2020 and 2021.
- Colorado: Michigan in 2016; Nebraska in 2018, 2019, 2023 and 2024.
- Oregon: Michigan State in 2015; Nebraska in 2016 and 2017; Ohio State in 2020 and 2021.
- Oregon State: Michigan in 2015; Ohio State in 2018.
- Stanford: Notre Dame annually.
- UCLA: Texas A&M in 2016 and 2017; Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2021 and 2024; Michigan in 2022 and 2023.
- USC: Notre Dame annually; Alabama in 2016, Texas in 2017 and 2018.
- Utah: Michigan in 2015.
- Washington: Michigan in 2020 and 2021.
- Washington State: Wisconsin in 2022 and 2023.
So as you can see, there’s not a single Pac-12 team that doesn’t have a notable Power-5 opponent (or independent Notre Dame) coming up on the schedule. Some are immediate, some are a few years away. Schedules are made years in advance. Sometimes they turn out to be great showdowns. Sometimes they are clunkers. And sometimes they just fizzle. But you can't accuse the Pac-12 of not being aggressive in its scheduling.
This first year of the College Football Playoff is going to be interesting, because we’ll see how much the selection committee really takes strength of schedule into account. And we’ll likely see teams adjust future schedules accordingly.
But the pain still grows;
It's no stranger to you and me.
(I know you totally just did the drums in your head!)
It's depth chart Wednesday! And the people rejoiced. All 12 teams are in action again, so here are the most current depth charts for each team (except, as you know by now, UCLA, which doesn't do a weekly depth chart). As always, I've made some notes below.
- Arizona State (page 17 of the game notes)
- California (page 10 of the game notes)
- Oregon (page 11 of the game notes)
- Oregon State (page 28 of the game notes)
- USC (page 17 of the game notes)
- Utah (page 11 of the game notes)
- Washington (page 9 of the game notes)
- Washington State (page 11 of the game notes)
Notes (lots this week)
- At ASU, not too significant, but this is the first time since his injury that Taylor Kelly doesn't have an "or" by Mike Bercovici. Also encouraging that there doesn't seem to be any lingering effects of the helmet-to-helmet hit he took against Washington (see link below).
- Lots of movement at Oregon. For the first time this season, there's no longer an "or" at the running back spot. Royce Freeman is listed as the starter and Thomas Tyner is listed as the backup. Tyner, you recall, did not make the trip to Santa Clara last week against Cal because of an injured shoulder. Sam Kamp is listed as an "or" with Arik Armstead at defensive end. Armstead also did not travel last week. Kicker Matt Wogan didn't travel either, but is listed as the Ducks' kicker this week. Joe Walker, who started the last three games, is listed as the starting inside linebacker ahead of Derrick Malone.
- At OSU, the offensive line shifts continue because of injuries. Fred Lauina is listed at left guard and Roman Sapolu is at right guard.
- At Stanford, Kyle Olugbode will start for the injured Zach Hoffpauir at safety. DT David Parry is questionable, so Harrison Phillips might get the start.
- At USC, with LT Chad Wheeler out for the year, Aundrey Walker is officially listed as the starter. Though per reports, Toa Lobendahn got some work at LT. Darreus Rogers is listed ahead of George Farmer, who missed the Utah game, and Scott Felix is in at rush linebacker for the injured J.R. Tavai.
- At Washington, either Deontae Cooper or Lavon Coleman will start at running back. Cory Littleton is listed ahead of Travis Feeney at linebacker.
- At WSU, receiver Kristoff Williams is no longer on the roster (see link below). Taylor Taliulu is listed as the starting strong safety and Pat Porter is listed as one of the starting cornerbacks. Also, Vince Mayle is listed as a kick returner.
- Arizona is preparing for an unhappy UCLA squad.
- Good news for the Sun Devils as Todd Graham describes Taylor Kelly as "fine" after hit.
- Some Cal news and notes.
- The Buffs are leaning on some young safeties.
- Putting the Oregon-Stanford game in perspective.
- An interesting look at the contract of Mike Riley.
- New-look Stanford hoping for same results against Oregon.
- Some post-practice video of Jim Mora talking Arizona prep.
- Steve Sarkisian pointing the finger at himself for USC's lack of a killer instinct.
- Utah is preparing for Kelly, but ready for Mike Bercovici.
- Is a linebacker change coming to clear the way for Shaq Thompson on offense?
- Kristoff Williams is done at WSU.
Happy birthday, coach.
Time for our weekly check-in with The Eliminator, everyone's favorite (or not) weekly segment. The latest victim is USC, which dropped its third game of the season on the road at Utah. Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, USC has now lost 15 in a row when trailing going into the fourth quarter.
So who is left? As the first batch of playoff rankings are set to be released Tuesday night (4:30 p.m. on ESPN for us West Coasters), the Pac-12 still has five teams that are either in contention or hanging on. Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State still qualify for the "In Contention" category, while Utah and UCLA are "On the Fence." Some thoughts on the Utes:
OK, it's time to call the Utes a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South. Utah became bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons by knocking off No. 20 USC 24-21 at home Saturday night. The Utes scored the winning touchdown on quarterback Travis Wilson's 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds to play. If the Utes keep winning against their upcoming schedule, they'll be a legitimate playoff threat (and they'll have earned it).
Should be much to debate when these folks release the first rankings.
All those going after USC head coach Steve Sarkisian need to slow your roll, so says Chris Dufresne of the L.A. Times. For whatever blame you want to throw on the Trojans' first-year head coach, Dufresne is quick to remind us that the blame can sometimes fall on the players not performing an otherwise acceptable decision from the coach. From his column:
No one weeps for Steve Sarkisian because he makes a fortune, yet the first-year coach does have the misfortune of presiding over a whiny, entitled franchise in the shameless era of dingbat social media. He also is chopping wood, well under the scholarship cap, in a Pac-12 that has never been better. Not every Trojans fan wants Sarkisian sacked for being 5-3 through eight games, but even one is too many.
He's not wrong, especially when you consider the Utah game and the fourth-and-2. Even though there's altitude, it still would have been a 40-plus-yard kick into the wind. And it only would have tied the game. Every coach has their own metrics for when to go on fourth down. I'm guessing most of the league's coaches would have done exactly what Sarkisian did.
- Anu Solomon is looking out for his receivers.
- ASU's defense is stepping up.
- Handing out grades for Cal.
- Every game is must-win for Colorado.
- The Ducks can't waste opportunities against Stanford.
- OSU turns its attention to Cal.
- Handing out grades for Stanford.
- Some post-practice video with Brett Hundley.
- From one play, Max Browne picked up valuable experience.
- Troll alert: Does BYU have a Utah complex?
- The Huskies are looking for some answers on offense.
- WSU needs to cool down.
Baby announcements have become quite the rage. Last week at practice, Cal assistant coach Pierre Ingram and his wife Dani found out they were having a boy through the magic of colored cupcakes. Pretty cool video.
Some highlights from Arizona's win over WSU. (Look away, Cougar Brian, look away.)
The bread basket: Washington at Colorado
Mike MacIntyre is still looking for that critical, confidence-building upset win in conference play. Victory against heavily-favored UCLA this past Saturday would have been a true milestone for his team, but the Buffs fell 40-37 in double overtime. Still, there were moral victories in Boulder: Colorado out-gained the Bruins in regulation, stayed close despite losing the turnover battle, and erased 17-0 and 31-14 deficits to force the extra frame. The Buffs just ran out of gas near the finish line. But they may be smelling blood with their next chance, as wounded Washington is coming to altitude. The Huskies have dipped below five yards per play offensively on the season (worst in the Pac-12) after a 24-10 home loss to Arizona State. If Colorado is going to win a conference game in 2014, this looks like their best chance.
The appetizer: USC at Washington State
There's been a close-but-no-cigar vibe at both schools this season, so perhaps it's fitting that both the Trojans and Cougars enter this game coming off losses. But while USC's 24-21 setback at Utah came in the final seconds, Washington State never had a realistic shot of winning in its 59-37 home loss to Arizona. Though Connor Halliday passed for 489 more yards (yes, that continues his NCAA record pace), the Cougars couldn't find their offensive footing until the second quarter, and they already trailed 31-0 at that point. So, Mike Leach's 2-6 club now must win out to just to reach bowl eligibility. Maybe their pass rush will find some room to work against a Trojan offensive line that'll be without starting left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but it's really hard to see this Wazzu defense dealing with USC's bevy of athletes over 60 full minutes.
Entree no. 1: Stanford at Oregon
A week ago, the Big One had lost much of its luster. That's what happens when one of its participants can't score. But Stanford's radical offensive adjustments (gasp, no huddle!) made for a dominant 38-14 win over Oregon State, and that re-infused the Pac-12's great war of the past half decade with some real buzz. The Ducks, meanwhile, did what we expected them to do in their 59-41 Levi's Stadium waltz over Cal. We'll keep a close eye on the status of Stanford defensive tackle David Parry (leg) this week, as he may be the determining factor when it comes to the extent of Oregon's rushing success. That variable plays right into the main event, a showdown between nation's best defense (Stanford's at 3.7 yards per play) and its best quarterback (look at that 24:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio for Marcus Mariota). Don't forget the flip side: The Cardinal's attempt to sustain offensive success may be the hinge point here.
Entree no. 2: Arizona at UCLA
It's tempting to write the Bruins off following yet another uninspiring performance. Brett Hundley's unit stalled with big leads in Boulder, and the defense surrendered 500 total yards to Colorado. But UCLA has found a way to survive and advance the past two weeks, so they're still very much in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title -- at least mathematically. There's no margin for error, though, and Arizona will test the numerous cracks in the Bruins' armor to no end. Aside from being unstoppable offensively in the Palouse, the Wildcats continued to receive critical defensive contributions from Scooby Wright III. He forced a remarkable three fumbles in that game (five now this season, no Arizona player has forced more since 1973), and we can see more of the same Saturday against turnover-prone UCLA. Wright (78 tackles) trails only the Bruins' Eric Kendricks (93 stops) in the Pac-12 tackle category, so the two conference leaders square off at the Rose Bowl.
A cold beverage on the side: Cal at Oregon State
This game may slip by the wayside while the other three with Pac-12 title implications rage on, but there's a high chance of solid entertainment value here. The Beavers' Sean Mannion needs just 194 passing yards to break Matt Barkley's career Pac-12 record, so he'll almost certainly eclipse that against Cal's porous defense at home. The Bears, meanwhile, continue to impress with their explosive capabilities on offense. Jared Goff is only a sophomore, but he's already looking like a player who can break Mannion's future passing record just two years from now. Oregon State's defense may have lost much of its early season confidence in this past weekend's thrashing at Stanford, and that's never good news before a gunslinger like Goff comes to visit.
Delicious dessert: Utah at Arizona State
It's nearly impossible to pick one Pac-12 game this weekend that has the biggest College Football Playoff implications, but this sucker holds that distinction, simply because it's the only contest in which both teams still have a realistic shot of qualifying amidst the madness at season's end. A week after Utah pushed USC aside, this a pivotal battle for South supremacy. The Utes are on cloud nine after their defining win, one that earned them bowl eligibility while simultaneously answering the massive question at quarterback (when push came to shove, Travis Wilson was the determinant). But the road only becomes more treacherous for Utah (Oregon and Stanford loom after this), and ASU is an opponent that's truly coming into its own. It's tough to judge the Sun Devils' offensive progress since Taylor Kelly was shaking off rust in Seattle's howling winds, but it's clear that Todd Graham's squad is building considerable confidence -- particularly on the defensive side of the ball. ASU must show their best performance against the run of the season to win on Saturday, because Utah's Devontae Booker has been consistently productive, even when the Utes have struggled to pass.
They're gonna make a movie from the things that they find crawling 'round my brain.
The Pac-12 lost one of its ranked teams this week when the Utah Utes came from behind in the final two minutes to knock off the USC Trojans at home. With the win, the Utes climbed from No. 19 to No. 18 (seemed like a light bump for beating a ranked team), and the Trojans went spiraling out of the rankings. As always, Kyle Bonagura has the breakdown of what it means for the conference.
Here is where things stand in both polls heading into Week 10. The AP ranking is listed first, followed by the ranking coaches poll.
- Oregon 5-6
- Arizona 14-15
- Arizona State 15-14
- Utah 18-18
- UCLA 25-25
And if you're curious on how some of the folks who cover the conference voted, here is a sampling:
- Adam Jude of the Seattle Times
- Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News
- Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star
- Michael Lev of the Orange County Register
- Kyle Ringo of the Daily Camera
- Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News
It would seem so. Now 6-1 with conference wins over the LA schools, the Utes find themselves as major players in the South Division heading into this week's showdown with ASU. Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune writes the biggest difference is Utah has been able to finish. From his story:
Many of the things Utah fans sought before the season have been achieved. Bowl eligibility: Check. Sweep over Southern California schools: Check. Winning on the road: Check. National ranking: Check. Beating nationally ranked teams: Check. But Utah's coaches and players are tearing up the checklist. Although they may not have expected as much early success, they're starting to embrace the idea that bigger, better things are still at stake.
Aside from Saturday being Utah's second win over a ranked team this season, the win also makes Utah bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.
- Some social media reactions to Arizona's win.
- Another bowl for ASU? Ho-hum. (Plus, see Doug Haller get choked out by his media credential!)
- Bears switching their attention to another team from Oregon.
- Another tough one for the Buffs.
- Has Oregon done enough to solve its "Stanford Problem?"
- Some morning-after thoughts of OSU's loss to Stanford.
- Some more on Stanford's win over the Beavers.
- UCLA's penalty struggles almost cost them in Boulder.
- Five things we learned from USC's loss to Utah.
- Utah's win over USC was a sign of major progress.
- The Huskies hope to have Cyler Miles back for Colorado.
- The Cougs got overwhelmed by Arizona.
What does the Utah locker room look like after beating USC? Click here and find out.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: In a game that saw 100 total points, Mariota was again the offensive centerpiece. His explosive 18-for-30, 326-yard, five touchdown effort also featured some valuable scrambling and charged Oregon's 59-41 win over Cal. Mariota did throw his first pick of the season. Still, that 24:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't too shabby.
Charles Nelson, WR, Oregon: So many different Ducks created offensive fireworks against Cal's helpless defense. See Royce Freeman (22 carries, 112 yards), Byron Marshall (four catches, 133 yards), and Dwayne Stanford (six catches, 103 yards). But Nelson's 58-yard punt return for a touchdown was the most electrifying Oregon play of them all. It'll be fun to see him in a game also featuring Ty Montgomery (honored below) next week.
Michael Adkins II, RB, Colorado: No UCLA players earned helmet stickers for their 40-37 double overtime squeak-by at Colorado (the Bruins just could not put Colorado away), but the Buffs deserve some recognition for their fight. They scratched and clawed their way back from 17-0 and 31-14 deficits to push this one beyond regulation, and Adkins II delivered 107 yards on 17 carries in that effort.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford: The Cardinal's offensive strength actually comes through its combination of size and athleticism on the perimeter this season, and Montgomery is Exhibit A of that change. Aside from delivering an electrifying 50-yard punt return for a score (his second of the season), Montgomery caught six critical passes from Kevin Hogan in Stanford's 38-14 win.
Blake Martinez, LB, Stanford: David Shaw's defense continues to amaze with its suffocating ways. On Saturday, they held Oregon State's first string to a measly 2.5 yards per play. One reason the Cardinal isn't skipping a defensive beat: Martinez is blossoming in Shayne Skov's former inside linebacker role. He delivered 2.5 tackles for loss as nearly half of the Beavers' plays resulted in no gain or worse.
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona: You can call him a beast, or a machine, a whatever you please. Simply put, Wright produces. He forced three -- yes, three! -- fumbles in Arizona's 59-37 win at Washington State to go along with a trio of sacks. The gives Wright five forced fumbles this year. No Arizona player has forced more in a single campaign since 1973.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: Washington State's defense never had a chance against Solomon's 26-for-38, 294-yard, five touchdown performance. It would also be unfair to discount an excellent rushing performance from Terris Jones-Grigsby: 13 attempts, 107 yards (8.2 per carry). The Wildcats offense was a buzzsaw in the Palouse.
Travis Wilson, QB, Utah: Many were saying that Utah didn't have the quarterback play necessary to be a true contender in the Pac-12 South. Think again on that front. Wilson's offense took over down four points to USC with 2:08 remaining, 73 yards away from paydirt. A great sequence in Ute football history ensued, as Wilson led the home team downfield. He followed his dramatic 18-yard run with a one-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay. That came with eight seconds remaining; it sealed the 24-21 win. Clutch. Oh, and Wilson still hasn't thrown a pick. He fits with Utah's run-heavy, strong-defense formula.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: It's tough to run against USC: The Trojans hadn't allowed over four yards per carry in four straight games, and they had held opposing ground attacks to fewer than three yards per rush in three of those games. Booker's gritty 26-carry, 102-yard effort was a staple of the Utes' massive win, which was hard-fought until the very end.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC: This will be forgotten because of USC's heartbreaking loss, but Kessler was nails in the face of a ferociously aggressive Utah pass rush for much of this game. He hung in the pocket, took hits, and managed to finish 24-for-32 for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns in this physical war. Kessler's one interception did prove costly, but that was a solid performance against a sturdy defense on the road.
Taylor Kelly, QB, ASU: Yes, the stats here are far from impressive (14-for-25, 180 yards, two touchdowns, and a costly pick -six). But it's important to consider the rainy, windy Seattle conditions while also acknowledging that Kelly -- coming off a prolonged absence due to injury -- gutted this one out to make the plays when he absolutely needed to. The best example came on the game-winning touchdown toss, when Kelly withstood a vicious hit to find Gary Chambers in the end zone. ASU beat Washington 24-10.
Laui Moeakiola, LB, ASU: Sure, the Sun Devils picked on a back-up quarterback of the Pac-12's least efficient offense in terrible weather conditions, but this was still a great effort from an improving ASU unit. Moeakiola led the way with 10 tackles, 2.5 for loss, a pair of sacks, and a pass break-up. He forced a Troy Williams fumble on one of his vicious takedowns deep in Washington territory.
Muddled South picture should clear this week (maybe): Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah won this weekend. The Wildcats, Sun Devils and Utes have one conference loss, while UCLA and USC have two. Utah has wins over UCLA and USC, so its visit to Arizona State on Saturday is a biggie. Arizona, which lost to USC, will visit UCLA on Saturday. The winners of those two games take a big step forward toward the division crown and the Pac-12 title game. If Utah beats the Sun Devils, the visit from Oregon on Nov. 8 suddenly becomes an unexpected national matchup. If both Arizona schools win, well, the Territorial Cup on Nov. 28 could become epic. Of course, there are likely plenty of plot twists remaining.
It's a big story when Marcus Mariota makes a mistake, which tells you a lot about how good he is: Mariota passed for 326 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-41 win over California but the biggest news for the Heisman Trophy candidate was he threw his first interception of the season -- his first in 253 passes extending back to last season's Civil War versus Oregon State, in fact. That was the factoid lead, but the substance is Mariota is playing well -- and, apparently healthy -- as he prepares to lead the Ducks against Stanford on Saturday. For all he has accomplished, Mariota is 0-2 versus the Cardinal. He needs to win that game to punch his ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
UCLA doesn't like making things easy: UCLA led Colorado 17-0, 24-7 and 31-14 entering the fourth quarter, but the Buffaloes didn't quit and forced overtime. While the Bruins prevailed 40-37 in double-OT, it was a slog of a win that should have been a dominant one. The Bruins are 6-2 and, at 3-2 in conference play, are solidly in the South Division hunt. But six of their eight games have been decided by eight or fewer points, including three by a field goal or less. This is a flawed team that often looks sloppy on both sides of the ball, but it's still hanging on, figuring out ways to survive and fight another day.
Stanford's offense shows signs of life: Stanford outgained Oregon State 438 yards to 221 in a dominant 38-14 win, and there's no question the 438 and 38 are the most important numbers for the Cardinal, which have paired a dominant defense with an anemic offense much of this season. But coach David Shaw shook things up a bit, using tempo and being more aggressive in the passing game and the plan worked against a solid Beavers defense. The timing for the offense shaking off its woes couldn't be better with a trip to Oregon coming up.
Pac-12 reveals a bottom: Colorado and Washington State both fell to 2-6, which means both need to win out to become bowl eligible. So big longshot. Every other Pac-12 team has at least four wins, and nine or 10 bowl teams doesn't seem unrealistic. Yet while the Buffs and Cougs appear to be the bottom teams in the South and North, respectively, it's notable that Washington State beat Utah and Colorado has pushed UCLA, Oregon State and California to the brink. Neither is a gimme, and it wouldn't be shocking if one or the other posts a major upset.
The MUSS was out in full force in Salt Lake City for a critical South Division showdown between Utah and USC. The Utes pulled off the 24-21 win in dramatic fashion. Here's how it all went down at Rice-Eccles.
How the game was won: With a lot of sweat and soon-to-be-sore muscles. It was a physical game with four lead changes. But it was the last one that stuck. Travis Wilson engineered an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds left.
Game ball goes to: The Pac-12 blog believed that if the Utes got "marginal" quarterback play, they would have success against USC. It's why the blog unanimously picked Utah to win. Well, they got marginal quarterback play for most of the game and outstanding quarterback play out of Wilson on Utah's final drive. He finished the game 18-of-32 for 193 yards and the one touchdown pass. But his poise and athleticism were on display during his 18-yard scramble that set up first-and-goal and the game-winner.
What it means: The Utes are in control in the Pac-12 South, but they have a vicious schedule looming. With win No. 6, Utah is now bowl eligible after missing the postseason the last two years. For USC, which already has a loss to ASU in the South, its chances of winning the division have taken a serious hit.
Playoff implication: The Utes are still in the conversation. The Pac-12 blog firmly believes a one-loss league champion will be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Win out, and the Utes will be there. But given the schedule ahead, that's easier said than done.
Play(s) of the game: There were a lot of big little moments. Third down conversions, fourth-down stops, etc. Steve Sarkisian's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 late in the game will be highly debated. But for as much flak as Utah's quarterbacks have taken over the last couple of weeks, you have to say the combination of Wilson's run and subsequent game-winning touchdown qualify. Adoree' Jackson's 100-yard kick return does not go unnoticed.
Up next: Both teams are on the road. The Utes, who are a perfect 3-0 away from home, make the trip to Tempe, Arizona, to face the Sun Devils. That has South drama written all over it. The Trojans make the trip to Pullman, Washington, to face the Cougars, where they'll try to avenge last season's 10-7 loss to WSU in Los Angeles.
USC at Utah
The Utes are scheduled to host at least three official visitors this weekend, led by Utah wide receiver commit Donzale Roddie. Also on hand will be safety Tyson Cisrow and defensive end Simitali Moala. Cisrow is another in a long line of Florida standouts the Utes are chasing in this 2015 class. Utah already holds commitments from three Florida preps and is well on its way to matching the five Sunshine State prospects signed in the 2014 class. This will be an important visit for Roddie as well, as the three-star recruit is being chased by Colorado and has said in the past that he'll continue to listen to other schools despite his verbal commitment.
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We've got football tonight! And in true Pac-12 fashion, it features the top two scoring offenses in the conference and the league's most efficient passers. Oregon ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12, scoring an average of 43.6 points per game. Cal is No. 2, averaging 41.6 points per game. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks first in the league in quarterback efficiency, and Cal's Jared Goff is No. 2. The weather in Santa Clara tonight calls for 75 degrees and partly cloudy, so don't expect an monsoons like last season in Eugene.
Here's what some folks are saying about tonight's showdown:
- Marcus Mariota has set himself apart from some of the previous Heisman winners.
- The Bears are leaving last year's water-logged loss in the past.
- Sonny Dykes said the trip to Levi's Stadium feels like a road game.
- The Ducks' defense is starting to find success in the opponent's backfield.
As noted, the quarterbacks will take center stage in the showdown. Here's a statistical breakdown of Mariota and Goff.
As always, the Pac-12 blog presents its picks on Thursday morning. And each Friday we bring some picks from national writers and folks who cover the conference. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that all the Pac-12 blog writers picked Utah to beat USC. And we all know what happens when the Pac-12 blog agrees (gulp).
But we're not the only ones. Stewart Mandel from Fox Sports is also a Utah believer:
The Trojans are the more talented team, but this is not the most favorable matchup for them. RB Buck Allen has sprung for at least 115 yards in all but one game but the Utes boast the nation’s sixth-best rushing defense. And Utah star Devontae Booker is fully capable of exploiting an average USC rushing defense. The Trojans admittedly have a huge edge at quarterback with Cody Kessler, but if Utah prevents too many long throws downfield, it should survive.
- Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review likes the Trojans.
- Mostly consensus for the Athlon folks, though there are a couple of dissenting opinions on Utah-USC and ASU-Washington.
- Ryan Thorburn of the Register-Guard likes the Cougs in an upset over Arizona.
- Rich Rodriguez is re-writing Arizona records.
- Todd Graham sees big things for safety Damarious Randall.
- Colorado disputes claims its offensive line plays dirty (see UCLA story below).
- Texas A&M has pulled out of its future nonconference game with Oregon and replaced it with Clemson.
- An Oregon State practice report (including some injury updates).
- David Shaw says he's going to change things up on offense.
- Shots fired; UCLA defensive lineman calls Colorado's O-line "dirty."
- Some video with USC offensive guard Viane Talamaivao.
- The Utes are no longer a Pac-12 novelty.
- Notes and quotes from Chris Petersen's meeting with the media.
- A profile of Eric Mele, who is running WSU's special teams.
What does Super Mariota really look like?
This doesn't qualify as "fun," but more of a tip of the cap to Colorado, UCLA, Navy and San Jose State, who will honor Houston offensive lineman David Quessenberry, who is battling cancer.
Yesterday was media day for Pac-12 basketball. Here's an interesting comparison between Pac-12 hoops and football. Unlike football, basketball has a little bit of DISparity.
Good to see this guy up and moving.
Cal WR Trevor Davis on giving the crowd a thumbs up after his injury last week https://t.co/Y4PDis6uVE— Mike Vernon (@M_Vernon) October 23, 2014
If you believe what Todd Graham has been saying all along -- that Taylor Kelly is his starting quarterback once he's back to 100 percent -- then you can expect to see Kelly at the helm for the No. 14 Sun Devils when they travel to Washington this weekend.
Speaking with the media on Wednesday after practice, Kelly said he feels 100 percent and is ready to go.
Here's an excerpt from Zach Buchanan's piece in The Arizona Republic:
Kelly insists he's capable of making all the movements required of playing quarterback, which in ASU's system also means a lot of running the ball on read options. If he's worried about anything, it's a bit of mental rust.
Kelly has been throwing in some capacity for a few weeks, but nothing prepares you for game action.
"The main thing I was worried about was my eyes, trusting my eyes and the game speed and stuff," Kelly said. "It's been a really great experience this week, and things are going to work great."
During Kelly's absence, Mike Bercovici led the Sun Devils to a 2-1 record with wins over USC and Stanford.
The flip side
ASU's opponent, may or may not have its starter back for Saturday's matchup. Cyler Miles is still day-to-day after suffering a concussion in the loss last week to Oregon. Redshirt freshman Troy Williams has been taking first-team reps. Here's what Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith told reporters after practice Wednesday:
I think he’s understanding and throwing the ball really accurately. That was the slight edge we thought Jeff (Lindquist)brought in the first game. And then we were really pleased at how Troy created some offense with his arm (against Oregon). He really has some arm talent, and that showed in the last month.
Williams was 5-of 10-for 37 yards against the Ducks. He rushed five times for 28 yards and a touchdown.
- Rich Rodriguez is winning. And that makes him a popular name for other coaching jobs.
- Even if Kelly does start, Todd Graham says there is room for both quarterbacks.
- Five things to know about Cal.
- Colorado has to find a way to pressure Brett Hundley.
- An Oregon practice report from Wednesday.
- John Garrettt has been calling the plays for Oregon State.
- Mike Bloomgren talks about Stanford's offense and its offensive line.
- Some video with the UCLA coordinators talking Colorado.
- Adoree' Jackson is on pace to play against Utah.
- Devontae Booker is quickly earning the nickname "The Beast."
- Washington is looking for a way to bolster the running game.
- The Cougars are preparing for a high-powered Arizona attack.
Andre Yruretagoyena talks about getting his ears pierced, running without pants and his kitten. Seriously.
You just knew it was going to make an appearance ...
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.
Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.
Today, we're trying to make sense of the Pac-12 South as we head into the home stretch. Who's your favorite the win the division?
Personally, I'm a "defense wins championships" guy, so I'll work with a process of elimination here: ASU hasn't yet proven they can consistently play sturdy defense (don't get too excited about shutting down Stanford's unimpressive 2014 offense), USC takes critical stretches off on that side of the ball (see their Hail Mary defense), Arizona has also been leaky, and UCLA has battled defensive discipline issues all season long.
That leaves me with Utah, a team leading the nation with 5.5 sacks per game and on pace for a record 71.5 sacks, as the only consistent defensive choice. Combine that with Devontae Booker's excellent running, and it becomes apparent that the Utes are the team with the necessary stability to be considered Pac-12 South favorites.
I see it coming down to the winner of Arizona State-Arizona. And (drum roll please) in that matchup, I'd have to go with the Wildcats. I think Rich Rodriguez has enough talent on the field and trickery in his playbook to come away with a win in that game. The game is at Arizona so that would be going against the grain of road teams winning matchups, which makes sense. Arizona's defense has been suspect at times this season, but I think that group will begin making some major strides, but at the end of the day this is going to be about what offense is going to put the most points on the board. I think we're going to see a group of young players like Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson carry the banner for the Pac-12 South. It's going to be one heck of a rematch at Levi's Stadium when the Wildcats take on Oregon. That's a game I wouldn't mind seeing again.
I mentioned this earlier in the week on our Spreecast. Utah reminds me a lot of Stanford in 2012. They are a team that isn't getting a ton of production out of the quarterback position, but they are winning on strength of a running game, good defense and efficient special teams play.
I know, I know. The upcoming schedule looks brutal. But we've seen that this year's Utes can handle the road -- something previous editions haven't been particularly good at. Booker's emergence (563 yards, five touchdowns in his last three games) has been enough to sustain an offense that has struggled in the air.
Defensively, this might be the best overall unit in the conference. Nate Orchard is a backfield menace and Gionni Paul has quietly been one of the best middle linebackers in the league. The secondary is hunting and the special teams are top notch. Tom Hackett has done an outstanding job flipping the field and anytime the Utes get in or around the 30-yard line, it's almost guaranteed points, courtesy of "Automatic" Andy Phillips.
The South is a mess right now. And you could easily make an argument for five teams to win the league. And you wouldn't be wrong about any of them. So why not Utah?
The fact that you can make a legitimate case for five teams to win the South means there isn't an obvious favorite. Best tie-breaker?
Remaining schedule ... and that clearly favors USC.
At 4-1 in conference play, the Trojans are two wins up on Arizona (2-1), Utah (2-1) and UCLA (2-2) and one on Arizona State (3-1). We've already established there are no easy games in the Pac-12, so that they're already at four is significant. And with that understood, their remaining slate -- at Utah, at Washington State, home against Cal, at UCLA -- is the most manageable.
Take Utah for example. The Utes have six more conference games -- USC, at Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona, at Colorado -- so while there's a good chance they beat USC on Saturday, their road to the division title is significantly more difficult. The other three teams face similar futures, which leaves USC with the best shot to emerge.
1:00 PM ET Washington Colorado 4:30 PM ET USC Washington State 7:30 PM ET Stanford 5 Oregon 10:30 PM ET California Oregon State 10:30 PM ET 12 Arizona 22 UCLA 11:00 PM ET 17 Utah 14 Arizona State