Shall we call it “Separation Saturday”?
It might be a little early to do so, but we certainly were able to glean a lot of insight about the status of the PAC after the first full weekend of in-conference action. In the North, UW and WSU look like the class of the division with both putting up impressive and holistic victories over the weekend. USC still seems like the best of the South with Utah emerging as the true top challenger.
In case you were busy enjoying the last vestiges of summer and didn’t catch all the games, here are the other conference roundup items that I observed:
Oregon isn’t there ... yet
The Ducks lost a wild one to ASU, but not for a lack of trying. They fell behind early in the contest but came on strong at the end showing a certain amount of resilience that wasn’t there a year ago. The defense might not have the pieces needed to compete at a high level yet, but there are enough playmakers in Eugene to be a difficult out for any conference opponent.
Utah is beat up, but well-positioned
Utah’s injury problems now extend to significantly important players - DB Chase Hansen, QB Tyler Huntley and DE Kylie Fitts included. Those injuries aside, and Utah happens to have depth in those positions, Utah now looks like the team in the South best positioned to challenge USC for the division.
USC is not as physical as they were a year ago
This will be a theme today. The Trojans were beat up on both sides of the LOS by Cal in a development that I can’t say I saw coming. Maybe it was a bad week for them, but they now run the risk of being viewed as “soft” if things don’t improve.
Winners and Losers
WSU, Cal and Arizona are emerging to me as teams better than what we thought going into the season. The heroics of guys like Bryce Love and Josh Rosen aside, Stanford and UCLA are emerging as teams that may not be as ready to compete as we may have originally assumed. Last week’s game action hasn’t really changed my perceptions of these teams. I’ll be interested to see, in particular, if WSU can sustain (they have USC on Friday) and if Stanford can get something out of new QB K.J. Costello if, in fact, he gets the job full time.
The Huskies made a statement
The best win of the weekend was UW’s physically dominating victory over Colorado. Of course it wasn’t a perfect game. But UW dominated a pretty good Colorado team in Boulder in the elements in most phases of the game - pass defense, rushing attack, run defense, and special teams.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings
12. Oregon State (1-3 / 0-1)
No substantial news is coming from Corvallis concerning things like Jake Luton’s fractured spine, Gary Andersen’s fractured defense, or Beaver fans’ fractured hearts. Basically, business as usual for the PAC 12’s cellar dweller.
11. Arizona (2-2 / 0-1)
Utah 30, Arizona 24
It was more of the same for the Arizona Wildcats in their loss against Utah. On one hand, their defense continues to shine. Holding Utah to just 341 yards and about 5 yards per play is a pretty good result for a team that was as porous defensively as Arizona was a year ago.
On the other hand, Arizona’s offense gave up five turnovers - four of them (3 picks, 1 fumble) off the hands of QB Brandon Dawkins. We can debate the veracity of the game-deciding fumble in the fourth quarter all day long, but it won’t change the fact that this is a critical issue for ‘Zona. It’s a shame, too. Arizona was otherwise the better team on the night.
POG: LB Tony Fields II (6 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
There are some exciting freshmen in Tucson playing for what I affectionately refer to as the BabyCats. Fields is among them. The weakside backer is a Keishawn Bierria clone. He is slippery against blocks and really can close on a ball carrier. I thought he popped all night, particularly on the sack that knocked Utah QB Tyler Huntley out of the game..
10. UCLA (2-2 / 0-1)
UCLA 34, Stanford 58
I don’t even know how to explain UCLA right now. They catch a reeling Stanford team with QB problems at the right time and then … this. The only thing they had to do was take take away Stanford’s rushing attack and make the Cardinal beat them with their underwhelming passing attack. What happened?
They surrendered the second biggest rushing day to a Stanford back in history (Bryce Love’s 263 yards are second only to Christian McCaffrey’s 284 yard day against Cal last season) and over 400 yards of total rushing offense to the Cardinal.
That’s totally unacceptable.
The good news, I suppose, is that the UCLA offense looked fine. I continue to see Josh Rosen as the most toolsy and, probably, the best QB in the conference. I also thought that Soso Jamabo looked pretty good as the featured back and gave something to the UCLA rushing attack.
But this is a team that doesn’t believe in anything right now. When and if they get that back, they might actually be able to do something.
POG: RB Sosa Jamabo (12 carries, 100 yds, 4 recs, 47 yds, 1 TD)
Rosen was okay, but 480 yards doesn’t look quite as impressive after you consider it took him 60 attempts to get there. Jamabo, on the other hand, was very efficient all night for the Bruins. In fact, I even saw him do a little blocking in there. Maybe the talented sophomore is starting to figure things out.
9. Arizona State (2-2 / 1-0)
Oregon 35, ASU 37
Ding dong, the witch is dead. ASU’s 13-year losing streak to Oregon - something that UW fans might know something about - is a thing of the past.
The key to this one, once again, was QB Manny Wilkins. The rising signal caller was an offensive force in leading ASU to 489 yards of offense and 34 points out of trips to the red zone. The Devils continued to show their warts on the offensive line and all across the defense (in particular, that secondary). But a win over a ranked team was exactly what Todd Graham needed to cool off his sizzling seat.
POG: WR N’Keal Harry (7 recs, 170 yds, 1 TD, 24.3 avg)
Tough call here between Harry, Wilkins and WLB Christian Sam (11 tackles, 1 TFL). But I had to go with Harry given the fact that Oregon simply could not contain him. Harry accounted for 10 targets and nearly half of the passing yardage that Wilkins recorded on the day.
8. California (3-1 / 0-1)
USC 30, Cal 20
I continue to be impressed with Cal. For three quarters, they were not only standing toe-to-toe with the #5 team in the nation, they were outplaying them. They were doing it with spirited offensive line play, tough running, good old-fashioned hustle out of the linebacking corps and a with a secondary that wasn’t intimidated by “the Chosen One.”
The only problem for Cal is that the game is not three quarters long. It is four. And they just ran out of gas.
I’m not sure how much more fuel Cal has in the tank as we forecast the rest of the season. But they are clearly a team that is responding to its new coaching staff in a way similar to how UW initially responded to Sark. Compare and contrast to what is happening down in Westwood. Nothing to be ashamed of here.
POG: LB Devante Downs (14 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QBH)
Downs was my pick (and the PAC 12 pick) for POG last week. He is making a repeat appearance here because the fact of the matter is that Cal’s newfound physical toughness is being drawn straight from the inspiration of their weakside linebacker. Fourteen tough tackles and a few mean scowls thrown in there just for the sake of it. I love what he’s bringing to Cal’s D right now.
7. Colorado (3-1 / 0-1)
Washington 37, Colorado 10
Opening up against the Huskies is not the ideal way to start your conference campaign, especially if you are a team rebuilding your defense and breaking in a new starting QB. While the Buffs aren’t feeling great about getting ground up by UW for the second time in their past six games, there are some positives here. The biggest is that the defense clearly isn’t the exposure that many thought it might be to start the season. They manned up against UW and stood toe-to-toe with them for portions of the game. The secondary, in particular, was effective in taking UW’s passing game completely away.
But it is also clear that QB Steven Montez is still a work in progress. He showed that he can still be flustered and that he needs to develop more resilience. He seems to me to be where ASU’s Manny Wilkins was a season ago before his injury. We’ll see if this game helps him further in his development.
POG: LB Rick Gamboa (10 tackles, 1 PBU)
I struggled in picking a defensive player for this honor given how little pressure Colorado put on the UW offense. In fact, there were no sacks and just one QBH generated by the Buffs D for the entire night (which is a testament to the UW offensive line). But I thought Gamboa was particularly active. He dug in and seemed to stay energized through what must have been a depressing night.
6. Stanford (2-2 / 1-1)
UCLA 34, Stanford 58
Are the Cardinal back? I’m not sure that they were ever quite gone. But to the extent that they were, this kind of thrashing over a long-time rival is certainly refreshing.
Most impressive was the manner in which the game was executed. While the defense left something to be desired (and, yes, I’m still quite down on that Stanford defensive line), the Cardinal physically dominated the Bruins with their offensive line and their power run game. That is something to build on.
But Stanford paid a price for it. QB Keller Chryst and QB Quenton Meeks both suffered injuries that might keep them out a while. Though K.J. Costello looked capable at QB (we’ll have to watch this simmering QB controversy), I’m not sure that the Cardinal can take much more attrition on either side of the ball.
POG: RB Bryce Love (30 carries, 263 yards, 1 TD)
As normal, Love didn’t get the goal line carries (Cameron Scarlett took those to the tune of 3 TDs), but he did do all the heavy lifting for the Stanford offense. His 263 yards are the second most in program history and his 30 carries were very McCaffrey-esque.
5. Oregon (3-1 / 1-0)
Oregon 35, ASU 37
There are a couple of ways to look at this game. One on hand, it seemed like the same old story with the Oregon defense - and especially it’s “strength” in the secondary - absolutely getting shredded by an ASU team that was already seeing its season go on life support. On the other hand, it was hard to ignore the character and the tenacity that the Ducks showed in mounting a comeback after falling behind so early.
I’m even more impressed with QB Justin Herbert than I was before. He is still prone to footwork and accuracy problems when he gets out of the pocket, but he can really dial in and elevate his receivers once he gets going.
On the other hand, I’m not terribly impressed with the progress of the offensive line (though ASU is a tough measuring stick for pass pro given all of their blitzing). In fact, it was weird to me that the rushing attack generated just 15 carries for Royce Freeman and one each for Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin and Kani Benoit. 19 total carries among Oregon RBs is probably some kind of futility record since Chip Kelly took over as OC years ago.
POG: DE Jalen Jelks (8 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 TFLs)
I realize that this was not a great day for the Oregon defense, but I have to call out Jelks. Every time you saw a play in the ASU backfield and wondered “hey, who was that guy,” you can rest assured it was Jelks. The 6’6” junior might be on his way to a long-awaited breakout season.
4. (20) Utah (4-0 / 1-0)
Utah 30, Arizona 24
Last week I was confidently declaring that I was “getting more comfortable” with what Utah was putting together on offense. Now Utah fans are wishing that I had not gone there. Let’s just call that the “curse of the Gekko.”
With QB Tyler Huntley suffering a second-quarter shoulder injury on a sack, old friend Troy Williams took over and promptly dropped a 40 yard bomb into the hands of WR Darren Carrington (those two do seem to have rapport, by the way). That was about the extent of the offense that Williams would go on to generate in a rather lackluster overall effort that saw Utah’s offense generate just two TDs on the night.
The Utes’ D looked so-so. Tucson is a tough place to play in September, so I can forgive the 448 yards in total offense surrendered to a rising Arizona team. I do appreciate Utah’s five forced turnovers. That said, I’m not sure I saw enough from this D (and we’ll have to wait and see if DE Kylie Fitts is going to miss any time after his first half injury) to conclude that they can carry this team if the offense continues to sputter or if Huntley is out for an extended period.
POG: CB Casey Hughes (6 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 TFL)
Hughes is probably a name that you won’t recognize if you didn’t happen to watch the game. He delivered two really critical forced fumbles. The first was in the 2nd quarter on a long J.J. Taylor run that could have easily gone for a TD were it not for Hughes’ effort. The second was the key forced fumble on Brandon Dawkins in the fourth that ended Arizona’s comeback attempt. Huge game for Hughes.
3. (16) Washington State (4-0 / 1-0)
Nevada 7, WSU 45
I think many of the readers here are going to give me pushback for holding the Cougs third in this week’s poll. “Who’ve they played” will be the chorus, especially in light of the blowout loss handed to Boise State by Virginia last weekend.
All I can say is to get over it.
The Cougs have played good football for most of the season and racked up an important conference win over a northern rival. There will be plenty of time for us to argue about how good the Cougs really are and whether they can sustain over the last half of the season. But, as of right now, they are sitting pretty with their first 4-0 start in 16 years, the conference’s #1 (yes, #1) pass defense and an Air Raid that (finally) seems to be hitting its stride and racking up big plays in between efficient ones.
It might all change this week as the Cougs lock in on USC. Until then, they’ve earned the #3 spot.
POG:DE Hercules Mata’afa (3 tackles, 2.5 sacks)
Okay. Maybe Hercules wasn’t better than Luke Falk (who racked up 478 yds and 5 TDs on just 47 attempts). But I really want to acknowledge the WSU pass rush here. It has been effective all year albeit against some mediocre opposition. WSU’s 15 sacks is tied for the league lead (UW is second with 13 … bet you didn’t know that) and Hercules is the main force behind those numbers.
2. (5) USC (4-0 / 2-0)
USC 30, Cal 20
I think we have to be honest here and acknowledge that although USC has two conference wins and is undefeated overall, they no longer look like the standard-bearer in the conference. They are still a very good team with a gaggle of playmakers spread all across the roster. But what we saw in the lackluster win over Cal was a team that was, at times, completely out-physicaled by a rebuilding Golden Bears team. Their offensive line isn’t playing well and the entirety of their defense is no more than middle-of-the-PAC quality. There was one scoring drive given up against Cal, in fact, where the Bears completely imposed their physical will by running on all but one play (an incomplete pass) on their way to a TD.
That just can’t happen.
In addition, something's not right with the Chosen One. I get that the media is still hyping Darnold up as a savior, but I’m not seeing it on film. What I am seeing is a guy who breaks the pocket at the first sign of trouble, who takes forever to wind up on a pass and who is abandoning his principles of good technique when under pressure resulting in inaccuracy and turnovers. 223 yards on 38 attempts isn’t going to get it done.
This is a relative assessment, mind you - Sam Darnold is still a dangerous weapon. But his lack of progress from last year is holding this team back.
I’m dropping USC a spot.
POG: S Chris Hawkins (6 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)
USC was really able to contain the Cal passing game which, I thought, was the key to putting the Bears away. Hawkins was easily the top contributor to that not only when he got his hands on the ball but also in how he controlled his zones. You just didn’t see much happening wherever he was on the field. He was a real bright spot for the Trojans.
1. (6) Washington (4-0 / 1-0)
Washington 37, Colorado 10
The Huskies put together easily the most complete victory of any PAC 12 team over another conference team this past weekend. While the passing game stats were depressed significantly by the very wet elements, the offense more than made up for it with heavy doses of rambling offensive linemen bulldozing Colorado defenders to the tune of 263 yards and 6.5 per carry across all of their rushers.
The defense was just as impressive. Let’s see here: a pick six, three INTs, five sacks, a blocked punt and seven TFLs. Along the way, the Colorado receiving trio of Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross, which has been tagged as the best unit in the conference, was held to a total of 11 catches for 106 yards and no scores. UW now leads the conference in both scoring D (11.8 pts per game) and total D (3.9 yds per play) both of which are top 10 stats in the country.
While UW is dealing with some key injuries, there is no doubt that - as of right now - they look like the clear #1 team in the conference.
POG: CB Myles Bryant (7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TFL, 1 TD)
There were many players to celebrate here - Myles Gaskin and his 207 yards, walk-on LB Ryan Bowman and his eye-popping domination on the edge, Jordan Miller and his two picks … all good candidates. But it was Bryant who stepped into the void following the news of Byron Murphy’s injury and played the part of lock-down corner. His pick-six was pretty much a game-ender.