We are now into the meat of the PAC 12 football season. The contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders and attrition is beginning to rear its ugly head.
Let’s review all that we can surmise following week 5 ... Dots style.
The Huskies are well-positioned
One of just three PAC teams that remain undefeated, the Huskies are the only team that can claim three of those wins on the road. The remaining schedule presents some key PAC contenders (Utah, WSU, Stanford) but affords the Dawgs the opportunity to play five of their remaining seven at home. Not bad a bad advantage for a team D that leads the PAC in scoring (by a full TD a game over #2), total D and pass D.
The injury bug is biting teams hard
The MASH unit has struck the PAC 12 in a big way. Just this past week, significant players such as USC LT Toa Lobendahn, Oregon QB Justin Herbert, Oregon RB Royce Freeman, Cal WR Demetris Robertson and Oregon State RB Ryan Nall suffered injuries that will certainly cost each of them game time, if not the whole season. This is not particularly unusual by PAC standards, but it really tests the notion of overall team depth.
Cal is coming back to earth
Now that we know North Carolina is a bad team and that Ole Miss may not be much better, we are starting to see Cal’s early schedule in a different light. Their wins are not worth any less, but the idea that they had somehow escaped the inevitabilities of a rebuild the likes of which Justin Wilcox is undertaking may have been misguided. They are handcuffed with an offense that lacks playmakers at RB, WR and QB positions and a defense that, while showing spirit, is overmatched against elite units such as the Oregon rushing attack.
Stanford and WSU are not going away in the North
The Stanford Love (see below) may not be the well-balanced machine that we have become accustomed to seeing around here, but they have one really big thing going for them: Bryce Love. The Stanford rushing attack leads the nation in total yards and chunk plays. That is certainly something that can be built around, particularly if new QB KJ Costello can show the kind of ball security he demonstrated against ASU.
Utah takes control
I don’t know if it will last, but the Utes clearly won the BYE week. Without taking a snap, they remained the only undefeated team in the division and now, as absurd as it sounds, control their own destiny. It is doubtful that we’ve heard the last of USC or UCLA now that both are sitting in identical positions. Colorado is saddled with a key loss to a division rival, but also look like they can take any of the other three out. Still, Utah is in the captain’s chair right now.
The Cool Chart
PAC 12 Power Rankings - Week 5
12. Oregon State (1-4 / 0-2)
Washington 42, Oregon State 7
Give the Beavers a lot of credit for showing up on Saturday night as something other than a defeated and broken football team. For one half of football, the Oregon State defense stood toe to toe with a top 10 offense in the nation and played some spirited football. Though they gave up seven yards per play during that half, the scoreboard read 7-0 in favor of UW thanks to gutsy efforts put forth by guys like LB Manase Hungalu, LB Bright Ugwoegbu, and S David Morris.
But this was obviously an overmatched team. The Beavers, even before having to go against one of the elite defenses in college football, were already a struggling offensive team. It only got worse.
QB Darell Garretson could get nothing going in the passing game filling in for injured starter Jake Luton. RB Ryan Nall had to leave the game with what looked like a serious ankle injury. TE Noah Togiai had nobody ready to take his spot once it became clear that injury was going to hold him out. The net-net was seven garbage time points, just two 3rd down conversions all evening, an absurd 1.3 yards per rushing attempt and a ridiculous 2.3 yards per passing attempt.
POG: LB Manase Hungalu (11 tackles, 1.5 sacks)
Anyone who was a fan of some of the UW teams that suffered through the lean years will agree with this observation: sometimes really good players end up on really bad teams. Isaiah Stanback, anyone?
Hungalu is clearly one of those players. For one half of football, the OSU MLB was pretty much carrying his entire football team against the number six team in the nation. Of course, he couldn’t carry that whole load for a full 60 minutes, but he remains a bad, bad man and one of my absolute favorite players in the conference.
11. Arizona (2-2 / 0-1)
I’m not sure that Arizona was dying to get their BYE week in this early. Teams that are as young as the Wildcats often are better off getting a mid or late season BYE in order to heal the wounds that inevitably come from attrition. Regardless, the next three games (@ Colorado, vs UCLA and @ Cal) are going to be instrumental in determining the postseason potential of this team.
10. California (3-2 / 0-2)
Cal 24, Oregon 45
This was the game that many of us thought was coming for Cal. The one where we got to see the real Cal. The Bear reality check. The humbler.
Going on the road to play the Ducks in Eugene is not a fun task for any team. But given that the Ducks have some holes in their defense and given all of the injuries Oregon suffered during the game, I was hoping to see more out of Cal from a competitive standpoint than what I did.
The Bears flat out got whipped by an Oregon squad that had one wing tied behind their collective back.
It comes back to the old adage “run the ball and stop the run”. The Bears could quite literally do neither. A net 8 yards rushing for Cal against 328 rushing yards surrendered to a team that had no other option than to run after the loss of their starting QB.
I will throw a little love to QB Ross Bowers. He did better that I thought he would by going for 255 yards passing with 3 TDs and, importantly, no INTs. But I have to wonder if the kid will want to play against UW this week after suffering seven sacks behind a line that couldn’t block air much less a mediocre Oregon front seven.
POG: WR Kanawai Noa (7 recs, 126 yds, 1 TD)
With news spreading that WR Demetris Robertson will miss the rest of the season, the Bears were desperate to see another receiver step up and become a deep threat opposite Vic Wharton III. Noa was that player on Saturday. His ascension will be important to the Bear offense, especially if the running game continues to suffer..
9. Arizona State (2-3 / 1-1)
ASU 24, Stanford 34
This was always going to be a tough match for ASU. Trying to match up their rather inept run defense against a Stanford team that has only power run in its current repertoire was a daunting task.
Obviously, it did not go well as evidenced by Bryce Love setting a new Stanford record with 301 yards rushing in a single game. 301? Yikes, Sun Devils.
In fairness, the already defensively challenged Devils are not playing with a full hand. They are missing a few players, including star DE Koron Crump, and are leaning heavily on the arm of surging QB Manny Wilkins to carry the team with their passing attack.
I thought the numbers failed to relay how well Wilkins played given how well Stanford controlled the time of possession. That said, the two interceptions Wilkins through were clearly the difference in a two possession loss.
POG: WR N’Keal Harry (3 recs, 40 yds, 1 TD pass)
I thought LB DJ Calhoun probably had the best all around game, but I can’t possibly pick a linebacker after what Love did to ASU. Thus, I’m going to go with N’Keal Harry who had a pretty good game. Though he didn’t have a lot catches, he did a little of everything including some notable blocking and a TD pass on a trick play. This guy is a real gamer.
8. Colorado (3-2 / 0-2)
Colorado 23, UCLA 27
I went back and watched the recording of this game because I wanted to see how this close-scoring game went down. I came away from it thinking that Colorado is playing a pretty physical style of football. I think the Buffs may have been surprised by UCLA’s focus on the run game which may have worn out their somewhat undersized D-line and set up a couple of big play action plays by the Bruins. Otherwise, it seemed to be about as even a matchup as you could get. Colorado was, in fact, just a Juwann Winfree dropped TD pass away from winning this game.
The reality, though, is that the Buffs now sit with two losses (at home, no less) and their full PAC 12 schedule ahead of them. USC falling to WSU helps keep the dream of the South alive, but there is very little wiggle room left for Coach MacIntyre to navigate. The Buffs need to begin translating some of their effort into wins.
POG: RB Phillip Lindsay (130 total yards, 2 TDs)
There was a play in the first half where Lindsay took a short dump-off pass and got lit up by UCLA DB Darnay Holmes in what was an incredibly intentional and violent targeting penalty (Holmes was ejected). How did Lindsay respond? He popped right up off the turf, indicated his overall state of fitness, and went on to score a TD on the next play. I love this guy. He’s clearly the best thing that a struggling Colorado offense has going on right now.
7. UCLA (3-2 / 1-1)
Colorado 23, UCLA 27
Sometimes a team struggling to reach its goals can find itself again by going to an away game. Something about road tripping with your teammates can spark a “circle the wagons” mind set that can help realign pieces and unlock potential.
I think this may have happened a little bit for the Bruins. There was an obvious, concerted effort by UCLA to play a more physical brand of football and, for the most part, that played out successfully against Colorado. There was a focus on establishing the running game, increasing activity on the defensive line and stopping the Buff rushing attack.
It wasn’t all pretty. The Bruins o-line still looks like a work in progress and the rush defense will take some time to get back on track. But winning a physical game against a division rival is a solid accomplishment and a positive momentum-builder.
POG: LB Kenny Young (12 tackles, 1 TFL)
UCLA came into the game as the worst rush defense in the nation. I thought Kenny Young must have taken that stat personally. I thought he was very active and physical in trying to control Phillip Lindsay and the Buffalo running game. His 12 tackles led the team in what was a good game for the senior.
6. Oregon (4-1 / 1-1)
Cal 24, Oregon 45
The only thing really surprising to me about the win that the Ducks posted over the Cal Bears was the ease in which Oregon covered the spread despite the ridiculous rash of injuries they suffered. Already down WR Charles Nelson, the Ducks suffered injuries to starting QB Justin Herbert, RB Royce Freeman, WR Dillon Mitchell, backup QB Taylor Alie and TE Jacob Breeland.
Given the injuries and the fact that Oregon - already the #2 most penalized team in the nation coming into the night - took another 10 penalties on the evening, I’m having a hard time justifying any kind of positive movement up the power rankings. It’s more of a “ruh-roh” situation, especially if the Herbert injury is serious (editor’s note: we now know that, yes, it is serious. A broken collarbone to the non-throwing side).
POG: LB Troy Dye (9 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL)
The Ducks won both because they were able to run the ball (Kani Benoit posted 138 yds and 2 TDs) and stop the run. The Bears were only able to generate 40 yards of gross rushing, after adjusting for sacks. A big part of that equation was LB Troy Dye. The Bears had a hard time getting blockers on him and I don’t think that there was a single instance in the game were a ball carrier was able to get past him on any 1:1 situations. .
5. Stanford (3-2 / 2-1)
ASU 24, Stanford 34
I would like to make a proposal to the UWDP community. I suggest that until such time as the Stanford Cardinal give us reason to reconsider, we ought to rename the team to the Stanford Love.
Seriously, Stanford’s running game continues to hum. And that is a good thing because I can’t tell if they have any other definitive area anywhere on the team (defensive secondary, maybe?) that we can call a “strength”.
Following a 328 yard, 10 yard per carry team effort against ASU, the Stanford Love now lead the nation in rushing (8.2 yards per carry) and boast a thousand yard rusher in Bryce Love.
Until the Love can show us that they have something else they can lean on, I will resist getting too crazy in these power rankings. The defense was only just “ok”, though I was impressed with the efforts of the secondary (particularly S Justin Reid) who stood tall against Manny Wilkins and ASU’s excellent air attack despite being short-handed.
POG: RB Bryce Love (25 carries, 302 yards, 3 TDs)
Another week, another appearance by Love in the POG column. Could you imagine where Stanford would be without him right now? He’s already passed the 1000 yard mark for the season, he leads the nation in explosive plays, he’s now had seven straight games with at least one 50+ yard TD run, and he was basically the entirety of the offense against ASU. In a fair and just world, he’d be the front-runner for the Heisman.
4. (14) USC (4-1 / 2-1)
USC 27, WSU 30
I don’t want to take anything away from WSU, but USC is not a team in a good situation. They’ve now struggled to win against dramatically overmatched teams like Western Michigan and Cal. They’ve now dropped a game that they expected to win in WSU.
What in the name of Traveler is going on in LA?
Injuries are a factor. USC sits here thin at wide receiver, defensive line, and offensive line. This lack of depth reared its head in a big way against the Cougs.
Of bigger concern is the continued softness that we see from the Trojans on the LOS. It has peaked so severely, that Clay Helton and Tee Martin were hesitant to take advantage of the USC rushing attack even though Ronald Jones had returned from his absence of a week ago. In fact, the Trojans attempted just 19 called runs- the sum total of which went for a 139 yds (a 7 ypc average!) out of their total 58 plays run.
To add insult to all of this injury, QB Sam Darnold now tied for the conference lead in interceptions and is second to Cal’s Ross Bowers in total turnovers. Hardly what you’d expect of your supposed Heisman candidate.
POG: WR Tyler Vaughns (6 recs, 89 yards)
Maybe if DE Rasheem Green had stayed healthy for most of the game, he would have been a pretty good candidate. On the other hand, I thought Tyler Vaughns had a coming out party of sorts. USC has been desperate to establish a number two receiver. Vaughns answered the call with some difficult catches to keep chains moving, including a critical 4th and 13 that satisfied the “high degree of difficulty” benchmark. I’ll be keeping an eye on his emergence over the next several weeks..
3. (20) Utah (4-0 / 1-0)
It’s good to be Utah right now. Though they are struggling with their own injuries, the BYE week afforded them the opportunity to heal their own and to bear witness to the felling of their top division rival. The Utes get a shot at their PAC 12 doppelganger when they host Stanford next week. Until they, they get to enjoy being the official “favorite” of the South and the last of the unbeatens in the PAC.
2. (11) Washington State (5-0 / 2-0)
USC 27, WSU 30
I gave serious consideration to moving WSU to the top spot for this week. After all, they have what is easily the biggest and most meaningful win of any PAC 12 team so far this season.
There are three things holding me back (besides the obvious homerism of this blog). First, WSU needed every single break that they could get to beat a USC team in Pullman including catching USC while they were down three offensive linemen, seeing player after player on the USC D fall to injury and having QB Sam Darnold face plant in his worst performance as a collegian.
Second, WSU was fortunate to be able to beat USC with their running game - an element of their game that really isn’t their core identity. In fact, I thought that their Air Raid was rather lackluster. QB Luke Falk was not efficient in taking 51 attempts to get just 340 yards (along with just 2 TDs and 1 INT). In fact, just 238 yards were racked up by wide receivers with very few chunk plays outside of a couple of long throws to WR Renard Bell and a long TD pass to Tavares Martin.
Finally, we have to consider that the power rankings are a cumulative assessment of how “powerful of a position” each team sits in. The Cougs are the only team in all of FBS to have not traveled away from home on the season and will play five of their last seven on the road. That contrasts with a UW team that will play five of their last seven at Husky Stadium.
POG:RB Jamaal Morrow (138 total yards, 2 TDs)
I really wanted to go defense with this award. In particular, I thought both DE Hercules Mata’afa and S Jahad Woods (he forced the game ending Darnold fumble) were lights out. But I can’t say that WSU would have won this game were it not for the role that Morrow played in breaking off some long plays off of short passes including that last TD in the fourth. He’s your POG.
1. (6) Washington (5-0 / 2-0)
Washington 42, Oregon State 7
The Huskies went into Corvallis on Saturday night and basically choked out another PAC 12 team for the second straight week. It was definitive and dominating.
UW fans will sweat things like the “slow start” and the kicking game, but it almost doesn’t matter. If the UW defense keeps playing at the level that it is playing at right now, every game will be a race to 20. A team with an offense half of what UW has right now would win those kinds of games on most nights.
Speaking of which, I didn’t think UW’s offense was anything more than a “B”. There are still some mistakes being made on the offensive line that we would have hoped would have been cleaned up by now (there was one sack on QB Jake Browning where both Sosebee and Shelton whiffed on the blitzer that was pretty embarrassing). Browning still is hesitating noticeably when it comes to spreading the ball around, though I thought he made a concerted effort in the second half to “trust his receivers”. Otherwise, there was a lot to like from the efforts of guys like RB Lavon Coleman, TE Hunter Bryant, WR Dante Pettis and RB Myles Gaskin.
But this team is all about its defense right now. But what exactly is it? A sweep of the defensive stats doesn’t reveal anything remarkable. UW had zero sacks and only four TFLs on the whole evening. Yet they still surrender just 184 yards of total offense and a virtual shut out on the opponent’s scoreboard (until the garbage time TD late in the fourth). The key components of this formula are things that don’t show up on the scoreboard. Namely, blanket coverage by the secondary, sound tackling all around and chaos on the line of scrimmage out of base three and four man fronts.
I suppose it is proof of what Coach Pete told us last week: “Stats are for losers”. A message well-intended for fans and pollsters alike.
POG: LB Ben Burr-Kirven (6 tackles, 1 FF)
Picking POGs in games where basically everybody on the traveling squad plays is always hard. You could make an argument for guys like Browning or Pettis here, but I like to focus on the guys who contributed to whatever facet of the game made the greatest difference in deciding the game. To me, that was front seven play.
I’m probably the latest to jump on the BBK bandwagon, but there is no doubt about what he’s giving to the team right now. While he can still get erased when an o-lineman gets his hands on him, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t really happen very often. More common is BBK honing in on a ball carrier like a missile and making a sure tackle every time. We saw a lot of that against the Beavers.