I'm posting this on behalf of my friend, who emails this to his friends every week (he doesn't post anywhere on the web). I think he'd be an excellent sports blogger.
Washington 31, Cal 7
If you didn't watch this game, consider yourself lucky.
UW won the turnover battle 3 to 0; that's pretty much all you need to know.
Oh and this: Cal drove the length of the field on their opening drive and had it at Washington's 1/2 yard line, but elected to run one of my least favorite plays in the book: the QB sneak. I detest this play because the QB (who normally tries to avoid contact so that he can pass) suddenly thrusts himself into the teeth of the defense, trying to gain a few feet. Conceptually this play is problematic: you stand to gain very little, while deliberately running into the defense's strength.
The QB sneak is not to be confused with the QB draw -- a deliberate rush attempt -- which can be very effective. The QB sneak involves the quarterback lining up under center and trying to move forward with no momentum whatsoever. That alone should make you think twice before running it (unless you have a bulldozer quarterback who's 6'6" and 325 pounds with excellent hands), but in Cal's case, the decision was even worse:
- Jared Goff (Cal's QB) is long and wiry.
- Cal is fast. Speed wins on the edges, not up the middle.
- It was first down. You don't stretch the ball dangerously near the goal line unless it's fourth down or time is running out.
Unfortunately for Cal, Goff did not handle the ball correctly, and exacerbated his error by attempting to move forward anyway. Shaq Thompson recovered Goff's fumble, raced 100 yards in the opposite direction, and staked UW to a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish. Further errors by Cal led to a 28-0 Husky lead at the half, and that was that.
Am I now impressed with UW as a result of this win? Hardly. Cal's horrific defense nevertheless held the Huskies to a field goal in the second half. If you can't score on Cal's defense, your offense is not very good. Furthermore, the breaks went UW's way. If Cal scores on the opening possession and does not give away a touchdown instead, the entire complexion of the game changes.
Washington will take the win, but they're going to have to show me something at Oregon tomorrow for me to take them seriously. Their defense may be good, but as Stanford knows, you can't win on defense alone.
Oregon 42, UCLA 30
On the flip side of the coin, we have UCLA, which can't seem to figure out its identity despite having played six games.
The Ducks ended up winning this game by 12 points, but it was 35-10 after three quarters. The stats will show that UCLA put up 553 yards and 31 first downs, but as we all know, stats are often deceiving: most of that yardage (321) occurred in the fourth quarter when the game was effectively out of reach.
As in the Washington-Cal game, the most important stat was turnovers: UCLA 2, Oregon 0. Hundley fumbled on a blindside hit, and also threw a poor interception; both miscues led to short fields for the Ducks, who cashed in with touchdowns in each case. You might argue that the game would have been closer without the turnovers, but the result would have been the same: Oregon still would have won, and easily.
The reason? Oregon was ruthlessly efficient in both the passing game and the running game, rendering UCLA's defense ineffective. Commenting on the game for Pac-12 Networks, Matt Leinart stated that the Bruins "wanted no part of Oregon's offense" and that UCLA's defensive performance was "shameful." I'm not entirely sure how he came to the conclusion that the Bruins wanted no part of the Ducks -- did he see the confrontation on the sidelines between Mora (head coach) and Ulbrich (defensive coordinator)? -- but this much is clear: when Oregon plays like Oregon, they are the best offense in the conference. I've seen that Oregon play numerous times over the past decade or so. Last Saturday's Oregon would have beaten any team in the country.
Put another way: Oregon's success had more to do with the Ducks playing well than with UCLA not showing up. If Leinart disagrees, he can pick a fight with Mora and Ulbrich. (I would not recommend this.)
How good was Oregon? The Ducks went 3-for-7 on third downs.
"So?" you are probably saying. "That's not that great."
Correct: it's 43%. The point isn't that Oregon converted on 43% of their third downs. The point is that Oregon only HAD seven first downs to convert! They were so successful on first and second down that UCLA rarely had a chance to get their defense off the field.
The takeaway from this game is that, once again, UCLA is not yet on a par with the top teams in the conference. Hundley is 0-for-Oregon (0-3 vs. Oregon and Oregon State) and 0-for-Stanford (0-3 vs. the Cardinal, and only 1-1 vs. Cal). All indications are that he will leave Westwood with a year of eligibility remaining. If he's smart, he'll wait until he can prove he can beat the best.
Oregon, meanwhile, retakes the mantra (for now, at least) as the Pac-12's best team. After the game, Leinart and Curtis Conway went back and forth debating whether Stanford or Oregon was the Pac-12's best; both picked Stanford based on their defense.
The problem is that Stanford can't do anything on offense against teams with a decent defense...
Stanford 34, SWSU 17
...and no, SWSU does not qualify as a decent defense.
This game was played on a Friday night (don't get me started) so I had already lost interest before the game had begun.
If I had watched it, I would have seen SWSU stay in the game, trailing 24-17 in the fourth quarter before Stanford sealed it with a field goal and insurance touchdown. I would have noticed Stanford's defense holding the Cougars to -26 (yes, minus 26) yards rushing and 292 yards passing despite 69 attempts. Hopefully, I would not have seen anything resembling a tree.
Stanford shut down Connor Halliday and the Air Raid offense one week after the QB had passed for a record 734 yards against Cal. On the other hand, Cal did score 60 points at SWSU, while Stanford only managed 34 at home against the Cougars. We must therefore conclude (based on these two games, which are obviously a sufficient sample size) that Stanford's defense is about 2.5 times better than Cal's (734 vs. 292 passing yards), while Cal's offense is about twice as good as Stanford's (60 vs. 34 points).
Unfortunately only Vegas can score half a point in football. Since 2 1/2 to 2 is impossible, I am hereby predicting that Stanford will defeat Cal in this year's Big Game by a final score of 5-4. You heard it here first.
Game of the Week (by far)
USC 28, Arizona 26
Now this was worth waiting for. (Sorry about ending the sentence with a preposition.)
The first half seemingly told the tale: USC's defense stuffed the run and forced Arizona to become one-dimensional. The Trojans played especially well in the red zone, limiting the Wildcats to three first half field goal attempts. Meanwhile, USC was efficient on offense, with Buck Allen (who is pretty good when he doesn't fumble) tallying two TD's to give the Trojans a 14-6 halftime lead.
USC, quite simply, looked like the better team.
The Trojans increased their lead to 28-13 after three quarters, and it appeared the game was all but over.
That was when the haunting memory of the Arizona State game bubbled to the surface. Facing 4th and 3 from the USC 41, Arizona drew up a wheel route for running back Jared Baker. Inexplicably, he was left undefended, and suddenly it was 28-20.
With ten minutes to play, USC needed a field goal or touchdown to keep it a two score game; the offense could muster only three first downs on two possessions.
Nervous time. Arizona had one final opportunity, taking over at their own 20 with 3:34 to play.
Arizona is good at these endgame situations. USC, not so much.
The Wildcats scored with a minute left to make it 28-26. They lined up for the two point conversion....
Incomplete! USC leads!
Wait...what? USC flagged for pass interference? (Truth be told, that call was borderline at best. The ball looked uncatchable.)
One more time, then: Arizona takes it at the 1 1/2 yard line for the tie...a run...stuffed! USC leads!
All that's left is the onside kick. The Wildcats line up...the ball bounces high in the air...
RECOVERED BY ARIZONA! (This was not USC's fault; it was simply excellent execution by Arizona on a fortuitous bounce.)
Uh-oh. Not again?!
Yes, again. Arizona drove to the USC 19 to attempt the game-winning 36 yard field goal.
The kick is up...........................GOOD! Right down the middle! Arizona leads!!!
Wait...what? Timeout? (Yes. Sarkisian had called timeout right before the kick had been attempted.)
One more time, then: Arizona lines up for the kick...it's up..............
Trojans win, Trojans win!
USC thus avoids a second consecutive demoralizing last-second loss to an Arizona school.
What We Learned
1. Despite the return to normalcy, the conference is still as screwed up as ever. Consider this ridiculous stat: Pac-12 home teams are 4-14 in conference games.
Let me repeat that. In 18 games between Pac-12 teams, the home team has won four times.
No wonder everyone already has at least one conference loss.
2. The cream has already risen in the North. Cal (and even SWSU) had their brief moment in the sun, but that window has already closed. Stanford and Oregon, as expected, lead the North -- despite the carnage -- with 2-1 conference records. SWSU is gone (and happily forgotten) while Cal is not far behind. Oregon State is not strong enough to challenge. UW has no offense and I don't expect them to do anything against Oregon. Translation: for the nth time (where n is much larger than it should be), Stanford vs. Oregon is likely to decide the North.
3. The South is a total mess. Colorado at 0-3 won't be a player, but USC, ASU, Arizona, and Utah all sit on one loss, while UCLA will rebound (yes, I'm predicting wins over Cal and Colorado) to get back in the hunt. So who's the best team? Don't ask me; I have no clue at this point.
4. If you're hoping for a berth in the Playoff... then you better root for Oregon, whether you want to or not. The Ducks represent the conference's best chance of obtaining one of the four spots at this point. Stanford would be the #2 option, but they're a distant #2 thanks to two losses. Theoretically, ASU, USC, UCLA, Utah, or Arizona could run the table and make a case for themselves, but I don't expect that to happen.
Realistically: it's Ducks or bust.
5. I love Dabo Swinney. The Clemson coach understands the value of telling it like it is. To wit: "I did a horse crap job of coaching these guys today, and they overcame their coaching." Pac-12 coaches, take note: you're more likely to learn from your mistakes if you admit them first.
BYES: Arizona, SWSU
Utah @ Oregon State: the Utes are better, but this game is in Corvallis. Hmmm....
UCLA @ Cal: the Bears looked bad against UW, but I expect their offense to perform better against UCLA's inconsistent defense. The problem for Cal: UCLA's offense is going to have a field day against Cal's defense. I'll be at the game (for the 25th straight time in this series) and I expect the Bruins to finally win in Berkeley for the first time since 1998. Then again, this is Berkeley and strange things happen....
Colorado @ USC: USC is definitely more talented, but Colorado has some giddyup in their step -- on offense. Not so much on defense. I expect a rather uninteresting game that USC wins comfortably...and if you're a Trojan fan, that is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Washington @ Oregon: this depends on which Oregon offense shows up. If it's the one that played against Arizona (Mariota not 100%, offensive line not at full strength), anything could happen. But if it's the one that just played UCLA, forget it: Oregon in a rout.
Stanford @ ASU: can Stanford get to 24 points? If so, they win, because the Sun Devils certainly won't against Stanford's defense.
Next week: mid-season report cards. Weeeee!
Enjoy the weekend.