What a weird, confusing, frustrating weekend it was for so many teams in the PAC 12. Among the many observations:
... Oregon State ironically marches into Berkeley and upset the Bears with defense
... Stanford follows their power-run driven home win over UW with a flaccid-run driven home loss to UCLA
... Washington almost beat Oregon with offense and ultimately lost to them because of defense
... Colorado, dare I say it, may have quit on its first year coach
... the leading candidate for Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, Jayden Daniels, complete just four passes and drove his offense to a three-point output in a virtual knockout loss against Utah
It’s a bottoms up situation that leaves our Power Rankings in virtual ruins. Fun.
Overreactions of the Week
The PAC belongs to Oregon.
It sure looks that way now...this much I concede. However, I think that the Husky offense, powered by freshman playmakers and first year starters at QB and RB, demonstrated a blueprint that the rest of the conference can use to attack that Oregon defense and, perhaps, burst the bubble that has formed around what is a good but not impenetrable unit.
The PAC is essentially a three team race between Oregon, Utah and USC. The Ducks will surely reach the P12 Championship, but projecting a matchup against either of the South contenders reveals some questions. Utah does not play Oregon in the regular season. Thus anything can happen. But the Utes have shown that their d-line is far more capable of stopping the run than UW’s while, at the same time, their own power running attack should at least be the equal of what Salvon Ahmed and co delivered last weekend.
USC would be a different kind of challenge. Assuming that health issues resolve themselves, the Trojans would boast a pound-for-pound talent advantage on both sides of the ball. It would be a tremendous challenge for the Ducks to overcome on a neutral site.
We shall see. There is still tremendous intrigue left to navigate for the PAC 12 in the race for the conference.
The Dawgs are done.
Husky fans are rightly concerned about the direction of the program. For the first time in three cycles, the defense has not been able to “reload” and, as such, the Dawgs have descended into one of the mid-tier defenses in the conference. The book on defeating Washington’s “bend-don’t-break” defense with its dime bases and two down linemen looks seems to have been passed around the conference as UW now faces relentless power rushing attacks from just about every team it faces, even when those teams don’t have much of a rushing attack to speak of. It’s been an effective counter to Jimmy Lake’s preferred scheme going on two seasons now.
This season is certainly a wash but not all is lost for this program. Although it took Chris Petersen and his staff a few seasons to get the recruiting to the same level as Steve Sarkisian left it, he has been able to stock the coffers with a more balanced representation of talent across each level of the defense in addition to making progress with the skill positions. That talent influx should be able to fuel continuous upside for the program by allowing the coordinators the opportunity to adjust to the tactics that opponents are throwing at them. In the near future, UW’s dependence on DB-heavy base defenses and slot receiver driven passing games will become more of an option than a requirement based on talent on hand.
Sure, we will have to waste the talents of guys like Jacob Eason, Trey Adams, Hunter Bryant and Myles Bryant on a throwaway season like this one. Program development is rarely a linear phenomenon. The future is still as bright as it was before Cal, before Stanford and before Oregon. But it’s still the future.
The Cool Chart
The PAC 12 Power Rankings - after Week 8
12. Stanford (3-4, 2-3) ▼
UCLA 34, Stanford 16
The Cardinal suffered a crushing blow to their hopes of continuing their streak of 10 straight seasons of bowl eligibility. David Shaw is going to have to guide his team to three more wins out the five games left on the schedule. Three of those games are Notre Dame, the Big Game and a trip to the Palouse.
It’s amazing how quickly winds can change for a team. The same team that gashed UW’s defense with the rushing attack put up a 2.6 ypa with starting RB Cameron Scarlett. The same offense that seemed to convert every third down against the Huskies put up a 4.5 ypa with third string QB Jack West. It’s like a Tale of Two Teams. And it is definitely looking like the worst of times.
POG: DE Thomas Booker (9 tckls, 2 TFLs)
Booker still isn’t as consistent as the coaching staff is hoping he’d be by now, but he is definitely coming on. He is about the only person on the D-line able to create any kind of havoc.
Next Up: vs Arizona
11. UCLA (2-5, 2-2) ▲
UCLA 34, Stanford 16
If you did a double-take the first time you saw that score come across the ticker, you are not alone. The Bruins beat the same Stanford team that beat UW just two weeks ago in the same location the Cardinal accomplished that feat. And they didn’t just beat them. They crushed them. In doing so, they ended an epic 11-game losing streak to Stanford.
The return of QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson seemed to kickstart the offensive explosion. DTR leaned heavily on a very effective rushing performance from star RB Joshua Kelley and the long-awaited breakout by WR Kyle Philips (10 recs, 100 yds, 2 TDs). But it wasn’t just the offense. The Bruns D generated 7 (!) sacks, a fumble and a paltry 3.2 yards surrendered per play.
This win is a huge shot in the arm for the Bruins as it keeps their still-thin bowl hopes alive.
POG: RB Joshua Kelley (18 carries, 176 yds, 1 TD)
A healthy Kelley is the key to UCLA’s offense. The passing game, even with a productive Kyle Philips, is still questionable. Kelley has the capability to overcome that and a so-so offensive line with his talent alone. That’s exactly what he did on Thursday.
Next Up: vs Arizona St
10. Arizona (4-3, 2-2) ▼
Arizona 14, USC 41
Have we seen the end of the Khalil Tate era in Tucson?
I have to imagine that this may well be the case after watching how a banged up USC team was able to harass the fading Arizona star to the tune of just 47 yards passing and six sacks surrendered. This on the heels of a very similar kind of performance in the second half of their home game against UW a week ago.
Backup Grant Gunnell took over from Tate in the third quarter and promptly produced 196 yards passing and a couple of TD passes. With bowl eligibility still out there, Kevin Sumlin is going to have to make a decision about who gives the Wildcats the best chance to earn it. Right now, the rest of the team seems to believe in Gunnell.
POG: QB Grant Gunnell (196 yds passing, 7.5 YPA, 2 TDs, 1 INT)
The time might be now for the Arizona backup. While I recognize it was effectively garbage time, Gunnell provided yet again a spark in the Arizona passing game and simply seems to have a better grasp of the scheme that OC Noel Mazzone is trying to implement.
Next Up: at Stanford
9. Colorado (3-4, 1-3)
Colorado 10, WSU 41
It really seems to me that the Buffaloes are starting to give up on the season. The key indicator of this truth is the lack of production coming from the leaders and the star players. In this case I’m talking about players like QB Steven Montez, WR Laviska Shenault, and DE Terrance Lang. Against a team like WSU that had failed to win a single conference game, these guys all laid eggs and let this one get out of control before the game was even to halftime.
I’m not sure exactly where the Buffs go from here. My sense is that coach Mel Tucker is going to endure the disengagement from certain players and allow some of the younger leaders like RB Alex Fontenot to assert more influence over some of the program with an eye towards next season. That said, with three wins in the bank, bowl eligibility is still out there. Though I have my doubts.
POG: OLB Davion Taylor (11 tckls, 2 TFLs)
Taylor is not one of Colorado’s younger players, but he seemed to be one of the few Colorado defenders that is still buying into Mel Tucker’s vision. He was really impressive in the open field against WSU - 10 of his 11 tackles were solo. In a game where the Buffs D couldn’t get off the field on third downs, Taylor at least gave them a chance.
Next Up: vs USC (Fri)
8. Oregon State (3-4, 2-2) ▲
Oregon State 21, California 17
Here is a sobering thought: at the halfway mark of conference play, the Beavers are ahead of the Huskies in the race for the North. In fact, the odds of them winning the North (thanks to the fact that Oregon is still ahead of them) are infinitely higher than UW’s (though admittedly not realistic at all).
As frightening as that sounds, the Beavs have earned it. Unlike their purple brethren, the Beavers have been developing a resiliency in the face of a difficult rebuild to the point where they actually have a chance to get bowl eligible in Jonathan Smith’s second season. The road will certainly be tough, but finding three wins among the last five after next week’s BYE is possible. Especially if they can continue to see development on defense and efficient play from Jake Luton at quarterback.
POG: Hamilcar Rashed Jr (7 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 TFLs)
Rashed was one of those guys that we called out in our summer previews and have been waiting for all season long. He was used as a blitzer against Cal and was obviously very effective in disrupting the passing game of Devon Modster. His three sacks were a third of OSU’s program record-setting 9 sacks on the night.
Next Up: BYE
7. California (4-3, 1-3) ▼
Oregon State 21, California 17
Yes, they lost to OSU. And yes, they are moving up in the Power Rankings. It sounds crazy, but that is what happens on a weekend when both UCLA and OSU win football games. We have to start shifting our attention towards what’s still out there for teams and how likely it is they are going to get it.
Still, losing to Oregon State at home was something that simply could not happen for a team that was still holding on to an outside hope of making a run at the North. Being dealt their third loss while seeing Oregon defeat Washington effectively smothers that hope once and for all.
The good news is that the schedule still affords Cal a great opportunity for the remaining two wins that will get them to bowl eligibility. For that reason they remain grounded right in the middlish areas of the power rankings. That said, they won’t be enjoying too much more success if they can’t get more production out of that offensive line or if QB Devon Modster, who was dinged up in the fourth quarter, can’t figure out how to do better than 12 for 27 and 150 yards.
POG: LB Evan Weaver (21 tckls, 2 sacks)
I’m going to pencil Weaver in for all remaining Cal POG awards through the rest of the season. 21 tackles? That’s insane. He is the lifeblood of the Cal defensive engine and has already locked up the PAC 12 DPOY for 2019.
Next Up: at #12 Utah
6. Washington State (4-3, 1-3) ▲
Colorado 10, WSU 41
The Cougs defense finally showed up and helped to buoy what was otherwise a season starting to slip off the rails for Mike Leach and company. As things do tend to go in the PAC 12, good fortune comes and goes for different teams at different times. It shone down on Cougs as their win - their first conference win of the season - was coupled with losses by Stanford, UW and Cal in front of them. The implication being, because the Cougs have all five of their North division rivals ahead of them on the schedule, that WSU still has a puncher’s chance at winning the division IF (and that is in all caps) two of USC, Arizona, ASU and/or OSU can find a way to beat the Ducks.
That doesn’t sound as promising typed on the screen as it did in my head when I was thinking it.
Regardless, the Cougs put up a complete effort in dismantling what is proving to be a not very good Colorado team. It was the right kind of game at the right time for a WSU team that has been struggling with inner turmoil. QB Anthony Gordon had a solid effort and was complemented with fine play from the middle of his defense including LB Jahad Woods and LB Justus Rodgers.
POG: RB Max Borghi (162 total yards, 2 TDs)
Borghi is the Swiss utility knife of the PAC 12. Need a tough third down conversion? He can run for it. Need a quick pass to a safety valve when the QB is under pressure? He can catch it and turn it upfield. Need someone to step up and redirect a blitzing linebacker? He can make that block. He put all of that and more on display against Colorado.
Next Up: at #11 Oregon
5. (24) Arizona State (5-2, 2-2) ▼
#18 Arizona State 3, #13 Utah 21
This game was coming for the Devils. Their #18 ranking and their gaudy record coming into this game was greatly fueled by a stretch of good fortune in tight ball games against mediocre opponents. QB Jayden Daniels, who is definitely an “it” kind of player, hadn’t really yet been tested against an elite defense. After the beat down by Utah, he now knows what goes into that experience.
There isn’t much more to be said about this one. ASU’s offense has some holes along the offensive line and an inexperienced QB. On the flip side, I thought that their defense played decently against a banged up Utah club. While they are very likely out of the South race, they are still just one win away from bowl eligibility and still have a chance to make a push for one of the better post-season venues.
POG: DL Jermayne Lole (6 tckls, 2 TFLs, 1 fumble recovery)
Lole is a little known lineman who has recently been making a case for more playing time in Tempe. He is a bit small for the inside, but he makes up for it with quickness. Against Utah, he was very disruptive and it translated to some very noticeable results.
Next Up: at UCLA
4. Washington (5-3, 2-3) ▲
#12 Oregon 35, #25 Washington 31
One of the most underappreciated datapoints coming into the Week 8 matchup against the Ducks was the fact that Washington hasn’t had a bye week and won’t have one until a full two weeks later than any other team in the conference. That attrition and fatigue factor sure showed up in spades as UW squandered a 14 point lead in the second half of what was otherwise a hard-fought and entertaining game against the Ducks.
Offensively, the Huskies seem to be maturing. The offensive line was dominating while both QB Jacob Eason and RB Salvon Ahmed had their best games of the season. The breakouts of younger players such as Tyrell Bynum, Puka Nacua and (hello!) Marquis Spiker were fun to watch. It is, I’m sure, of little consequence given that in all likelihood more than 3⁄4 of this offense will be moving on at the end of what is now a lost season for the Huskies.
With no CFP, no conference championship and no division title still in front of them, the Dawgs have just themselves to play for. Chris Petersen and his staff will have their hands full in simply keeping this team and the incoming recruiting class together as they contend with dwindling fan enthusiasm and the feeling of irrelevance that is certain to envelope the program for the remainder of the season.
Despite all of that, I still have to bump UW up solely based on what the rest of the conference did this weekend. Weird.
POG: OL Jaxson Kirkland
Lost in the morass of another missed opportunity in front of a national audience was the performance of a UW offensive line that was every bit the equal of their more lauded Oregon contemporaries. Ahmed averaged nearly 6 yards a carry and Eason was never sacked (save for a botched snap that he had to fall on). The ABC broadcast crew was gushing about C Nick Harris (and he did have a great game), but it was Kirkland who was absolutely mauling what is a good Oregon d-line.
Next Up: BYE
3. USC (4-3, 3-1) ▲
Arizona 14, USC 41
USC got another efficient game from QB Kedon Slovis and a breakout performance from a speedster running back by the name of Kenan Christon to fuel what turned into a laugher against a reeling Arizona program.
While the offense excited, it was USC’s defense that really powered the Trojans efforts in the game. They effectively pitched a shutout against Khalil Tate and didn’t surrender any points at all to the Wildcats until backup Grant Gunnell came in and sparked a couple of fourth quarter touchdowns against USC’s reserves.
The Trojans have definitely been showing some signs of life despite their up and down record. The big question is whether or not they can survive all of their injuries. After the Arizona game, you can add the names of S Talanoa Hufanga, DE Drake Jackson, RB Stephen Carr and RB Markese Stepp to the list of the walking wounded. Still, they have the tie-breaker against Utah in the South and, as of now, are matching the Utes step for step in what is shaping up to be a tight race for a spot in the PAC 12 Championship Game.
POG: LB Kana’i Muaga (13 tckls, 1 sack, 2 TFLs, 1 FF, 1 INT)
Muaga is a sophomore linebacker who earned his first real playing time of the season thanks in part to ongoing injuries. He certainly made an impression. He terrorized Arizona with his speed and was a disruptive force all night. It’s going to be hard to keep him on the bench going forward.
Next Up: vs at Colorado (Fri)
2. (12) Utah (6-1, 3-1)
#18 Arizona State 3, #13 Utah 21
This won’t go down as the best win for Kyle Whittingham and his Utah team, but it might go down as his most important. A strong defensive effort and some timely playmaking by stars Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss, both of whom were dinged up in the game, effectively put Utah into a two-team race with USC for the South.
The Utes continue to get the job done with ruthless efficiency on both sides of the ball. The Defense, in particular, was lights out limiting ASU’s to just 136 total yards in offense. The game was effectively over when Utah scored the first TD of the game with 8 minutes to play in the second quarter.
The only question now is about how healthy Utah will be as they enter crunch time of their schedule. The have Cal at home and a road trip to UW before a much-needed BYE week.
POG: DE Bradlee Anae (3 sacks)
Utah’s senior DE has his limitations to be sure. But his super power is the pass rush. Anae only had three tackles on the night, but every one of them involved burying his face mask into Jayden Daniels’ chest. The threat of Anae was enough to keep the ASU QB’s attention as he went on to complete just four passes for the entire night.
Next Up: at UCLA
1. (11) Oregon (6-1, 4-0)
#12 Oregon 35, #25 Washington 31
Well, that was fun while it lasted.
UW enjoyed a very brief run of relevance against Oregon but that was before Mario Cristobal took over and set the world back to one where the Ducks are better than the Huskies at just about everything. Sigh.
Ok, melodramatics aside, this was a huge win for Oregon. Not necessarily because UW is a good team - they are more mediocre than good - but because this was the case of a masterful, come from behind win against a ranked team on the road in front of a national audience (quick fun fact: Chris Petersen has never led UW to a come from behind win against a ranked team over his entire UW tenure). Cristobal essentially locked up the North as he also banked some CFP votes for his team with this win. Now all they have to do is win out and hope that a few teams ahead of them in the rankings stumble along the way. The Playoff is still a possibility.
POG: OT Penei Sewell
When Oregon absolutely, positively needed to re-establish its physical dominance over the soft UW front seven in the second half, they went to work behind their big sophomore left tackle. Both Cyrus Habibi-Likio and Travis Dye ended up averaging 6 yards or more per carry thanks in large part to the gaping holes that Sewell was blowing open on the left side of the line. That Justin Herbert was barely even touched by a UW pass rusher for the game is the cherry on top of what was a dominating effort by Oregon’s next great offensive linemen.
Next Up: vs Washington St