Injuries are a fact of life in the game of football. In that context, 2017 is empirically not any more unusual than any other.
But it just feels different. Maybe it is the severity of some of these injuries. Maybe it is the names on the back of the jerseys. Or maybe it is just that it is affecting the Huskies so disproportionately in the season that was supposed to be “UW’s year.”
Jon Wilner last week was the latest to run a piece about the MASH unit that has become the PAC 12. Coming into week 9, the injuries were spread all over the conference. Any selection of size, shape and accomplishment could be found sporting braces and hoodies looking on from the sidelines of whichever team they play for.
We had big guys: USC’s Marlon Tuipulotu, UCLA’s Kenny Lacy, USC’s Kenny Bigelow, UW’s Trey Adams and USC’s Viane Tamalvaio.
We had projected playmakers: Utah’s Armand Shyne, Cal’s Tre Watson, Cal’s Demetris Robertson, Cal’s Melquise Stovall, UW’s Chico McClatcher, and UCLA’s Caleb Wilson.
We had a few token QBs: Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Utah’s Tyler Huntley, and Oregon State’s Jake Luton.
We had defensive rocks: WSU’s Peyton Pelluer, ASU’s Koron Crump, UW’s Byron Murphy, USC’s Isaiah Pola-Mao, UW’s Jordan Miller, Cal’s Devante Downs, and USC’s Porter Gustin.
We even had a kicker: USC’s Michael Brown.
It’s a brutal situation getting more and more desperate out there for PAC 12 teams left simply trying to assemble a playable roster.
And then week 9 struck. The toll hasn’t been completely calculated, but we know that UW’s Hunter Bryant is done for the year and that UCLA’s Josh Rosen, who missed a big chunk of last season, may need to miss some time.
Attrition strikes all college football teams this kind of year. Back ends of schedules get dicey for any team in part because the players available in certain positions are often underdeveloped or not prepared. The deeper teams seem to make their runs late in the season precisely because they’ve had the ability to develop their depth and, importantly, get it exposed to game situations early in the year.
As we look into our week 10 power rankings, the depth factor is starting to emerge in how we assess the situation each team is currently in and how we project them going forward.
Washington, which has taken more than its fair share of injuries, seems to be holding up well. The defense, which has lost both of its starting corners, is actually playing better and is now starting to see some players come back to health. Offensively, the toll has been felt. But we saw how Petersen was able to circle the wagons around the run game and get some of his newer rotational players some much-needed PT while still generating strong results.
It’s a tough business for all involved and it is unfortunate to see so many young players affected. But the parade marches on.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings - Week 10
12. Oregon State (1-7 / 0-5)
Stanford 15, OSU 14
The Beavs put their best foot forward in front of a national audience and, had it not been for a random, never-would-happen-in-99-other-attempts fumble by Ryan Nall, they would have pulled the upset.
It just goes to show how hard it is to go on the road and win in the PAC 12 where the parity is so great and the margin of error so small.
Unfortunately, I can’t move OSU up in the power poll. After all, they are the first team in the conference to officially be eliminated from the postseason. That said, if you are a prospective “mid-tier” recruit with some upside and you watched on television what interim head coach Cory Hall brought to the sideline, how would you resist the urge to jump up and tackle your mother? His whole pregame speech about “leaving bodies” on the field was motivating, if a little morbid. He’s an authentic and unique leader. I hope OSU gives him a shot.
POG: LB Jonathan Willis (10 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU)
The narrative about “Bryce Love proved he’s the true Heisman” that ESPN kept pushing was cute and all. But I’m not sure Love would have done much more than his compatriots did against an OSU LB corps that was on fire. We are used to it from MLB Manase Hungalu. But Willis was every bit the impact player. His fourth quarter sack on QB Keller Chryst ought to have been the game-clinching play for OSU’s failed upset bid.
11. California (4-5 / 1-5)
Cal 28, Colorado 44
It was ironic that Cal lost to Colorado last weekend. After all, it is Cal’s herd that is getting thinned out as the season grinds on.
I suspect that we all knew that Cal was going to have depth problems. They’ve certainly suffered their share of injuries in what is essentially a rebuilding year. No amount of grit or enthusiasm will make up for the bodies missing in action on this Bears roster.
It is still pretty fun to watch them go. Ross Bowers is a true gamer and his RB, Patrick Laird, is the walking definition of the term “field rat.” The coaching staff has really done a nice job in motivating these players.
But time is not on their side and their postseason hopes are fading quickly.
POG: WR Kanawai Noa (7 recs, 108 yds, 2 TDs)
I’m not sure that people are tuning into the kind of production Noa is turning out on a regular basis. He’s quickly ascending as one of the better WRs in the conference. He’s fourth in the PAC in both receiving yardage and yards per catch. On top of that, he’s become Bowers’s security blanket.
10. Utah (4-4 / 1-4)
Utah 20, Oregon 41
The season is quickly getting away from the Utes.
One would have expected the offense to be a challenge. To his credit, QB Tyler Huntley bounced back after an awful start a week ago and played fairly efficiently last weekend. But the Utes don’t have a huge game-breaker outside of WR Darren Carrington and have not been able to get a run game going all season.
The Utes D was supposed to be their strength. Yet they were shredded like wet tissue against an Oregon offense that time and again dared them to stop the run. It was mano a mano and they simply couldn’t stand up to the Ducks.
That, my fellow ‘Pounders, is what I call a red flag.
POG: P Mitch Wishnowsky (3 punts, 3 i20 punts)
Huntley was pretty good, but Wishnowsky put on another punting clinic. I shudder to think what the score would have been had a mortal been punting for Utah.
9. UCLA (4-4 / 2-3)
UCLA 23, Washington 44
Defensive and garbage time touchdowns masked what was otherwise a complete and physical beatdown at the hands of Washington. Just about every aspect of the Bruins team was punched in the gut. The offensive line was blown up from the inside out, the defensive front seven was knocked backwards play after play (despite UW not having star Trey Adams available) and the special teams got hit in the mouth for a couple of chunk kickoff and punt returns.
QB Josh Rosen was knocked out of the game early in the second half. The injury to his non-throwing hand raised some questions about his toughness. With Jim Mora making some comments after the game about playing with a “short sword” (I presume he was talking about injuries and not manhood), I would venture a guess that this is not a team in a good place right now.
POG: QB Devon Modster
I’m not putting stats up here because they aren’t relevant to this assessment. I thought Modster came in under incredibly difficult circumstances, brought a workmanlike attitude to the huddle and did a nice job of playing within himself despite the bullets flying all around. His performance reminded me of the game that Keith Price had when he filled in for Jake Locker against Oregon. It wasn’t winning football, but you could tell that there was a player there waiting to be developed.
8. Colorado (5-4 / 2-4)
Cal 28, Colorado 44
It is funny how things can change so quickly. One week ago in this space we were observing the apparent bottoming out of the quarterback situation at Colorado. Sam Noyer showed he was not ready. Steven Montez showed that he was fresh out of swagger. Mike MacIntyre showed that he can do sideline rants that would make Sam Kinison blush.
But the Buffs seemed to rediscover the fine art of passing last weekend. Playing Cal and their soft zone can have the effect of propping up a quarterback. But credit Montez and his receiving corps for making it happen. The Buffs’ passing game came to life and seemed to energize the whole squad. This is the Colorado team that we all expected to see from the start.
POG: QB Steven Montez (20-26, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 picks)
How appropriate that on the weekend preceding Halloween Montez decides to rejoin us folks in the land of the living. And what a return. Can you get more efficient than 20 of 26 with a 13+ ypa and no turnovers? If Colorado keeps getting that kind of production out of him, Colorado can still spoil some dreams (looking at you, USC).
7. Oregon (5-4 / 2-4)
Utah 20, Oregon 41
Welcome back, offense.
After a three game stretch of futile offensive results, Oregon got back on track against what we’ve all considered to be a pretty good defense.
Taking a page out of the UW playbook (or maybe the other way around?), the Ducks ran the ball 49 times against just 13 passes (one of which was a trick pass by Charles Nelson for a TD) on their way to an easy win.
The biggest takeaway from this one was the continued improvement of the Duck D. While still not “good”, they are now squarely an “average” defense (66th in S&P ranking) while showing balance in both managing offensive efficiency and explosives. That’s a vast improvement from where they were a year ago.
And it is looking more and more like Justin Herbert is ready to play again. Maybe even just in time for UW in Seattle. Kind of like when the Ducks got back Vernon Adams from injury just before the last time these two met in Seattle.
POG: LB Troy Dye (11 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU)
We’ve not called Dye’s name a lot this season. Recall that he made the move from the MIKE to more of a hybrid position on the outside. He now plays a role similar to what Travis Feeney played for UW a few years ago. He seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much.
6. Arizona State (4-4 / 3-2)
USC 48, ASU 17
What the hell, ASU?
Any and all discipline that the Sun Devils had in containing the big play went out the window on their home turf against the Trojans. I’m so irritated that I’m going to end my analysis there.
This was an ass-kicking of epic proportions that turned ASU’s upstart hopes of seizing the South into nothing but a desperate wish.
What will be interesting to see is if ASU has the ability to bounce back. If they descend back into the depths of the conference, expect the Todd Graham hot seat chatter to intensify. UW win be damned; it is always about what have you done lately.
POG: WR Kyle Williams (7 recs, 131 yds, 1 TD)
This loss wasn’t about ASU’s offense. That aspect of the team actually improved last weekend relative to what they did against UW and Utah. Getting Kyle Williams involved certainly helped. With USC so focused on trying to contain N’Keal Harry, Williams took advantage.
5. (25) Washington State (6-2 / 3-2)
WSU 37, Arizona 58
Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and say “we got the wrong team at the wrong time.” When you take on Arizona with Khalil Tate having the kind of month that he’s having, that might certainly be the case.
Still, you can’t overlook the serious questions that this blowout loss leaves the Cougs grappling with. The biggest being the status of the D. It was shredded to the tune of 585 yards, “only” 310 of which (wait, Tate can throw it, too?) came on the ground.
Then there is the QB situation. Luke Falk, the supposed “greatest Coug of all time” was benched for the second time this season and remained so even as backup Tyler Hilinski was burned for four INTs.
There is some bad juju in the Palouse right now.
POG: WSU Offensive Line (1 sack surrendered)
I get that Arizona rolled out a dime and pretty much stayed in it all game, but give the Coug offensive line credit for keeping the pass rush in check. It was only two weeks ago where we saw ASU get to Jake Browning with just three rushers against five OL, two TEs, and Myles Gaskin in pass protection. WSU’s o-line deserved more than the support they got from their QB and their rushing game.
4. (23) Arizona (6-2 / 4-1)
WSU 37, Arizona 58
Welcome back to the top 25, Rich Rod.
Another unbelievable offensive outburst, this time against a defense in WSU that many folks thought could contain QB Khalil Tate, has thrust the Wildcats back into the New Year's bowl game mix.
There are a lot of good things happening with Arizona right now. The offensive line is playing out of its mind, young receivers are emerging, the defense is playing effective prevent, and emerging star Tony Fields is back on the field after taking a vicious head shot a week ago.
Then there is Khalil Tate, who proved against WSU that he is more than a pretty face with some fast wheels. His 11.7 ypa are three yards better than anyone else in the conference and his 68.7% completion rate would tie him with Jake Browning if he had enough attempts to qualify.
POG: QB Khalil Tate (275 yards passing, 146 yards rushing, 3 total TDs)
RB JJ Taylor had a huge game (153 yds, 2 TDs), but it was again Tate that set the tone. He is playing at an elite level as a dual-threat QB right now. It will be interesting to see how much more he has left in the tank as the season grinds on. Next up: USC.
3. (17) USC (7-2 / 5-1)
USC 48, ASU 17
With just three games left to play, the Trojans are getting closer and closer to locking down the South division. In fact, this weekend’s game against Arizona isn’t exactly a “winner take all” situation, but it may as well be.
The Trojans found their rushing attack against the Sun Devils and, lo and behold, it unlocked their passing attack. QB Sam Darnold had just one turnover (yet another fumble) which helped USC maintain possession and generate a crazy 607 yards of total offense.
I’m going to bump USC up a spot with the comment that getting their turnovers under more control gives them some upside.
POG: WR Tyler Vaughns (6 recs, 126 yds, 2 TD)
I probably should have picked Ronald Jones (18 cars, 216 yds, 2 TD) here. But I just can’t get over how Tyler Vaughns is exploding right in front of our eyes. He was flat-out dominating as the latest in what is becoming a line of great USC receivers.
2. (18) Stanford (6-2 / 5-1)
Stanford 15, OSU 14
Look, I get it. Stanford didn’t beat OSU on Thursday night. They were gifted an unforced error and connected on a desperate fade route with 12 seconds left to steal a game they had not earned.
Contrary to public opinion, this does very little to affect UW’s playoff chances and really doesn’t justify a drop in the power poll. To the former, the PAC 12 is already viewed by the public as one of the two weakest conferences in the country. Had Stanford blown out OSU, nothing would have changed in that regard. The narrow win simply confirms that status quo.
To the latter, Stanford still controls its own destiny. That puts them in an advantaged position relative to many other teams. Their road is difficult to be sure. What is surely a season-ending injury to star CB Alijah Holder is a blow. So is losing LB Joey Alfieri.
David Shaw has to do some soul-searching at the QB position. While benching Keller Chryst might be seen as him failing to develop yet another highly ranked QB, it is obvious that KJ Costello is already the better player. Until we see something more from the passing game, I’m redubbing Stanford as the “Stanford Love.”
POG: DT Harrison Phillips (9 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 FF)
I’ve been critical of Phillips over the past few years. I’ve always felt that he was a smallish DT who could too easily be wiped out of plays. The flip side of the analysis is that Stanford’s man-in-the-middle does have some hustle to him.
While I don’t always appreciate how ESPN likes to hype certain players during the game, I have to admit that he was as dominating against OSU as Brock Huard predicted he would be. That he forced the game-deciding fumble in the fourth quarter was simply gravy on the potatoes. He was easily Stanford’s best player.
1. (12) Washington (7-1 / 4-1)
UCLA 23, Washington 44
The Huskies took advantage of the unique opportunity to work out their rushing attack (big games from Gaskin, Lavon Coleman, and Salvon Ahmed) against UCLA to the tune of 58 attempts, 333 yds and 5 TDs (!). In their first game without Trey Adams at LT, the Dawgs were able to also able to bank a lot of valuable reps for the LT rotation of Andrew Kirkland and Luke Wattenberg without ever exposing the game or QB Jake Browning to jeopardy. That same benefit was accrued to WR Ty Jones and Ahmed - two players who earned more than their normal number of first-team offensive snaps.
These kinds of investments are the kinds that pay dividends a few weeks down the road as confidence builds and more complexity gets layered on top.
That UW could take advantage of that luxury has as much to do with the elite play of the defense. 23 points looks like a lot, but considering that 14 of those points came from a defensive score and a garbage time score against backups, it looks pretty good overall. I was especially impressed with CBs Austin Joyner and Myles Bryant. While there were some mistakes, both filled in for their respective starters admirably. Things, in fact, are getting better for UW’s defense with DJ Beavers finally healthy and Byron Murphy’s return expected in the not too distant future.
POG: DT Vita Vea (3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PBUs)
We’ve seen some excellent interior defensive line play the past few years. But I really can’t recall seeing as dominating a physical performance of a UW defensive lineman against a PAC 12 offensive line as what I witnessed on Saturday. It was a special day for Vea what with not just his power but the displays of his pass awareness, closing speed on screens, and overall versatility. That day was one that will undoubtedly improve his draft stock.