Last weekend was the official opening to the PAC 12 conference play and things are already getting nuts. Half the conference took a BYE week while the other half focused on the traditional ritual of conference stalwarts feasting on their own brethren.
Just the way we like it.
Let’s jump into it, shall we?
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings — Week 4
12. UCLA (0-3)
In other news, a road trip to Colorado and then a visit from Washington is just ahead on the schedule. Everything is fine. Nothing to see here.
Next up: @ Colorado (Friday Night)
11. Oregon State (1-3, 0-1)
Arizona 35, Oregon State 14
The Beavers are switching places with Arizona for obvious reasons. It was a tough weekend for Jonathan Smith’s crew in both phases. In a not so surprising development, the porous Beaver D got ravaged by the Arizona rushing attack. On the flip side, it was surprising to see the OSU offense get held in check to the tune of just 14 points.
Smith has his hands full with a blooming QB controversy. Conor Blount started last week despite the accomplishments of Jake Luton in the week prior. He was not efficient and did not present a challenge to an Arizona D that was clearly trying to take the rushing attack and RB Jermar Jefferson away (Jefferson still managed a 100 yards in total offense ... again).
Defensively, the Beavers showed some fight - maybe more than we’ve seen at any other point in the season - but they were simply outmatched. Kudos to LB Hamilcar Rashed who had a breakout game.
POG: Hamilcar Rashed, Jr (6 tckls, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF)
Next up: @ Arizona State
10. Arizona (2-2, 1-0)
Arizona 35, Oregon State 14
I’m not sure which is more impressive: 35 points scored on the road or 14 points allowed. Either way, there is nothing but good news coming out of Arizona’s road trip to Corvallis.
The Wildcats have been struggling to find some kind of identity in the season’s opening weeks. The Beavers were like a tonic that cures all that ails ya’ last Saturday afternoon. Khalil Tate racked up 152 yards on just 17 attempts, RB JJ Taylor literally ran wild to the tune of 284 rushing yards and the Arizona defense contained a pretty decent Oregon State offense holding them to just a couple of TDs. It was a clean, efficient win just in time for Kevin Sumlin’s beleaguered crew.
POG: RB JJ Taylor (27 rushes, 284 yds, 2 TDs)
Next up: vs USC
9. #24 California (3-0)
The Bears had a BYE week, but that didn’t stop them from making some news both on the good and bad sides.
Athletic OLB Cam Goode, who already has a defensive score to his credit this season, will miss the rest of the year with a “lower body injury”. I wouldn’t want to oversell the significance of this loss, but Goode is clearly a playmaker whose presence will be missed in that Cal defense.
But, hey, good news! Cal is ranked!!! The Bears cracked into the top 25 after a strong victory over the University of BYE. It is their first appearance in rankings since a brief dalliance with the polls all the way back in 2015.
Next up: vs. Oregon
8. Arizona State (2-2, 0-1)
Arizona State 20, #10 Washington 27
The Sun Devils surprised last Saturday night with a very patient and quite conservative game plan that focused on running the ball and preventing big plays. Critics have been quick to point out the disadvantage that comes from effectively etching your best playmaker, in this case WR N’Keal Harry, out of the game plan. On the flip side, it is hard to argue with the results. ASU played for the most part a clean game against a superior opponent and was very much in a position to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter.
I was most impressed with ASU’s ability to run block in front of beleagured sophomore tailback Eno Benjamin. The Sun Devil workhorse only averaged 4.0 yards per carry, but got enough carries to both top 100 yards and score a TD. That conservative game plan allowed ASU to convert 50% of their first downs and, impressively, avoid 3 and outs for most of the game (I believe their only such one happened in the third quarter). I’m not sure what else Herm Edwards could have asked of his team against the Huskies.
Either way, I come out of the ASU game with the impression that the Sun Devils are far more disciplined than what I had assumed and will likely win enough to stay in the South division hunt for the remainder of the year.
POG: LB Merlin Robertson (11 tckls, 1 TFL)
Next up: vs Oregon State
7. Washington State (3-1, 0-1)
Washington State 36, USC 39
The Cougin’ It chants have resurfaced after existing in abstentia for most of the last two seasons. But is it fair?
On one hand, there can be no doubt that the Cougs outplayed USC on the road on Friday night. The big stats that jumped out at me were that WSU racked up 435 yards to USC’s 354 and they converted 7 of 16 third downs to USC’s 3 of 9.
On the other hand, the Cougs simply couldn’t do enough to win the game. They generated no turnovers, they only sacked JT Daniels twice (despite having strong success in with their match-ups against the Trojan O-Line) and they had their game-winning kick blocked at the end of the game.
I know that a UW fan’s instinct is to breakout the chant whenever the opportunity presents itself. But I cannot say in good faith that this game qualifies as a Cougin’ It moment. In fact, if you are a Coug fan, there is much more to like than not coming out of Friday night. QB Gardner Minshew is clearly the real deal. He’s uber-efficient, knows when to take risks and is cool in the pocket. I’m also impressed with how well the WSU O-Line played against some real competition not to mention the activity of the undersized WSU defensive front seven.
The caution flag to keep an eye on for WSU is the state of the secondary. They were flat out crushed by a true freshman QB and the entire battery of the USC receiving corps. That unit was the primary driver of WSU losing the penalty battle with 11 for 118 yards and could be a weak link that other teams will try to exploit going forward.
POG: QB Gardner Minshew (37/52, 344 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs)
Next up: vs Utah
6. USC (2-2, 1-1)
Washington State 36, USC 39
There is much to unpack following USC’s come-from-behind, saved-by-a-blocked-kick, probably-should-have-lost home victory over WSU under the Friday night lights. Where shall we begin?
One, it’s amazing to me how soft both sides of the LOS are for the Trojans.
Two, Clay Helton is still on the hot seat.
Three, the offensive playmakers - in particular JT Daniels, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, RB Vavae Malepeai, and WR Tyler Vaughns - can really stress a defense.
Four, WR Michael Pittman is a grown man.
Pittman turns short gain into 50-yard TD https://t.co/MhjWyL59DK— Chris Landon (@chrislandon) September 22, 2018
Five, the Trojans just have this weird way of surviving no matter how poorly they play. On Friday night, it was Jay Tufele’s blocked kick that saved the day. The ability to hang around and to survive is the benefit of having depth of talent spread across the roster.
The Trojans are still dangerous, but don’t look like they are ready to run the table on their way to the South.
POG: DL Jay Tufele (3 tckls, 1 blocked FG)
Next up: @ Arizona
5. Utah (2-1, 0-1)
Nothing to see here. These are not the Utes you are looking for. Move along.
Next up: @ Washington State
4. #19 Oregon (3-1, 0-1)
#7 Stanford 38, #20 Oregon 31
You may have clicked on this article today with hopes of reading about how WSU may have Coug’d it in their game against USC. You may then be surprised to read that the only Cougin’ going on in the PAC last weekend was in Eugene where the Ducks snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against a tough division rival.
The truth of the matter is that the Ducks were the better team on Saturday. Their offensive line simply dominated Stanford’s front seven. Justin Herbert’s passing game was virtually indefensible. Even the rushing attack was gashing away at will in a manner that we hadn’t seen since last season.
Everything was rolling for the Ducks until it wasn’t.
I’m not sure if the Ducks will bounce back or be completely deflated going into this weekend. Either way, I’m quite convinced that they are even more dangerous, albeit still young, than what I thought going into the season. All of a sudden, that road trip to Eugene in just a few short weeks doesn’t look so inviting in the eyes of Husky fans.
POG: WR Dillon Mitchell (11 catches, 239 yds) ... how does a WR rack up 239 yds and not score?
Next up: @ Cal
3. Colorado (3-0)
Colorado officially won the BYE week and will remain at their #3 position in this week’s Power Ranks. I know that this will drive fans crazy especially given what we are now learning about Nebraska. But, whatever. Undefeated.
Next up: vs UCLA (Friday Night)
2. #11 Washington (3-1, 2-0)
ASU 20, #10 Washington 27
I know that there are many fans of UW who are disappointed that the Huskies didn’t cover the point spread. Likewise, I know several non-gambling types that look at the final score and wonder how it was that Washington still can’t get its offense on track. While I understand the instinctual reaction, I think the score does not relay what happened in this game.
The fact of the matter was that UW played a remarkably clean game. A dominating secondary, an ultra-efficient passing attack (that didn’t get full credit due to a dropped TD pass by Quinten Pounds on an absolute dime thrown by Jake Browning), a multi-headed rushing attack that was as potent as we’ve seen in some time, and a remarkable toughness by a defensive front six (the seventh man was actually in coverage most of the night) led by DT Greg Gaines and uber-linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven against an ASU offense that was selling out to establish the run.
Add in a positive turnover ratio, a strong placekicking game, a trio of awesome catches (Ty Jones in the end zone, Cade Otton tip-toeing a TD, and Andre Baccellia’s game winning first down), great pass blocking, and a dominating performance by the secondary against the conference’s most elite receiver and you have yourself one helluva of an entertaining football game.
The Huskies actually fell a spot in the rankings this week. No matter. If UW wins the conference, they go to the Rose Bowl. If they win out, they go to the Playoff. BYU, Oregon, Stanford all being ranked so highly pretty much guarantee it. The line of sight is clear. Rankings are meaningless.
POG: Ben Burr-Kirven (20 tckls, 2 FF, 1 FR)
Next up: vs #20 BYU
1. #7 Stanford (4-0, 2-0)
#7 Stanford 38, #20 Oregon 31
When I originally drafted this updated power ranking piece, I was getting prepared to drop Stanford significantly in the order. That was because I was in the process of putting this rough draft together just when Oregon was up on the Cardinal 24-7 in the third quarter and threatening to score again. WR Jaylon Redd had just made a brilliant run to the Stanford goal line when he was forced out of bounds as called when his foot hit the pylon. That controversial (but correct) call gave Stanford a second life by denying the Ducks another TD and making them snap it again. And then this happened:
Stanford's defense has allowed just 5.0 points per game in the second half this season.— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) September 24, 2018
On Saturday at No. 20 Oregon, they allowed just 7 and scored a touchdown of their own.#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/l8K0w8Okzd
That play certainly turned around the game for Stanford and may have well change the trajectory of their season.
Time will tell if this remarkable Stanford comeback was more a product of their brilliance or of Oregon’s youth. Either way, I came away with a few clear impressions:
a) Bryce Love is still dangerous, but not quite what he was a year ago
b) that Stanford D-line has serious issues
c) the Cardinal are a disciplined and tough crew
They also are undefeated and have two in-conference wins including a potentially significant tie-breaker against a tough opponent. I’m bumping Stanford back up to the top spot based on their advantage over UW in divisional positioning at the moment. We’ll see what happens this week with their road trip to South Bend.