The first two weeks of Pac-12 football were incredibly exciting and Week 3 was no different. The week was full of great games, dominating performances, and one very bizarre ending.
UCLA makes a statement
The first two weeks of non-conference play featured a couple statement games for the Pac-12. Washington thrashed the 19th ranked Boise State Broncos, 38-6, in Week 1 and Oregon traveled to the east coast and completely dominated the Virginia Cavaliers, 59-10, in Week 2. The big game in Week 3 featured UCLA traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the 23rd ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska, who won the Big Ten Legends Division last year, is expected to compete for the Big Ten Title again this year. It would be an emotional game for the Bruins because six days earlier, UCLA receiver Nick Pasquale was killed when he was struck by a vehicle.
Early on, the Bruins were very mistake prone, and they found themselves down 21-3 in the 2nd quarter. But thanks to the great play of the Bruins defense and sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins went on to score 38 unanswered points in the 41-21 rout of the Cornhuskers in front of a crowd of over 91,000. Hundley was phenomenal, throwing for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns in the victory, and arguably inserting himself as a dark horse Heisman candidate. Hundley also showed that he was one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the nation as he constantly kept plays alive and bought himself time with his legs. Hundley rushed for 61 yards in the game, including a 15-yard scramble on 3rd and 12 when three Nebraska defenders had him in their grasps. The run really seemed to turn the tide for the Bruins, who were down by 18 at the time. UCLA is now ranked 13th in the country heading into Week 4 and they have clearly separated themselves as the favorite in the Pac-12 South.
Pac-12 shows dominance over power conferences
Week 3 featured six matchups between the Pac-12 and other BCS conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC), and the Pac-12 showed their supremacy in almost every matchup. The Pac-12 went 5-1 in those games this weekend, including 3-1 against the Big Ten.
Arizona State has quality win with bizarre ending
If you went to bed at 11 o’clock or sooner last Saturday night, chances are you missed one of the strangest endings you will ever see in all of sports in the Wisconsin vs. Arizona State game. The score was 32-30 in favor of ASU, but Wisconsin was inside the ASU 20 yard line with 18 seconds to go and no timeouts. Wisconsin has the ball on the right hash and their plan was to take a knee in the middle of the field and then spike the ball to stop the clock and bring on the field goal unit for the win. But it is safe to say than that everything did not go according to plan. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave ran to the middle of the field, but instead of taking a knee, Stave simply just sets the ball on the turf and tries to get his teammates back to the line of scrimmage to snap and spike the ball.
This causes utter confusion and chaos on the field. ASU players jump on the ball because they think it is a fumble, officials are trying to determine whether Stave gave himself up or if he legitimately fumbled. While this was going on, the clock kept running and before Wisconsin could get up to spike the ball and stop the clock, time had ran out and the game was over. Wisconsin players and coaches were irate while it seemed everyone else including the officials and the celebrating ASU players were shocked and confused. Even though the officials were reprimanded by the NCAA, it still goes down as a crazy win for the Sun Devils.
First of all, ASU shouldn’t have even been in this position. ASU head coach Todd Graham decided to go for two on two of the ASU touchdowns and failed on both of the attempts. And despite multiple miscues like several dropped passes, a muffed punt that turned into a Badgers touchdown, and drives that stalled at the Wisconsin 2-yard line, ASU still outplayed the Badgers for the most part. The Sun Devils still had more total yards then the Badgers and twice as many first downs. Angry Wisconsin fans will be upset at the officials for the last play debacle, but in reality, Wisconsin got a huge break from the officials a few plays before. On 3rd down and 4, Stave completed an out route to tight end Jeff Duckworth. Duckworth clearly stepped out of bounds at about midfield but the officials missed it and Duckworth got 25 extra yards out of the no-call.
But the main thing I would say to Badgers fans is that they shouldn’t blame the refs; they should blame their quarterback. Stave put the officials in a no-win situation. ASU jumped on the ball because even though the officials blew the play dead, Stave did technically fumble the football. The refs couldn’t call ASU for delay of game for falling on a fumble; they also couldn’t call an official’s timeout to explain to everyone what had just happened and give the Badgers an opportunity to get their field goal team on the field. It was a situation where the officials had to screw someone over and it just happened to be Wisconsin. If Stave had just slid on the ground and handed the ball to the officials, Wisconsin would have been able to spike the ball, kick a field goal, and most likely would have won the game.
Thrilling Oregon State-Utah game
The first matchup between Pac-12 teams took place in Week 2 when Washington State took on USC. It was an incredible defensive struggle, but the Cougars upset the Trojans 10-7 on a warm night in Southern California. The 2nd game of the conference season featured Oregon State and Utah, which was also a three-point game, but the style of play was much different. The Beavers squeaked out a 51-48 overtime victory in a game that featured over 1,000 yards of total offense. Despite throwing 3 interceptions, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson torched the Beavers defense all night, throwing for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as rushing for 142 yards and 3 scores. Despite the great performance from Wilson, OSU quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks left no doubt that they were the best players on the field on Saturday night.
If this game could be summarized on one play, it would be when on fourth and inches at their own 46-yard line in the 4th quarter, Beavers head coach Mike Riley called for a double pass where Mannion tossed the ball to running back Storm Woods, who threw a lateral back to Mannion, who then completes a 50 yard bomb to Cooks to make it 1st and goal. Mannion threw for 443 yards and 5 touchdowns while Cooks caught 9 passes for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns in the victory.
Even though both Mannion and Cooks are juniors, their NFL Draft stock has continued to rise throughout each week. Mannion’s pocket presence and ability to read defenses and complete passes into tight coverage has scouts very interested. Cooks great speed, play-making ability, and ability to gain separation from defenders also has him high on draft boards. You could even put OSU’s number two wide receiver, Richard Mullaney, on that list, who caught 7 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. His great hands and Mike Hass-like route running ability gives defensive coordinators’ fits. However, if the Beavers want to be a threat in the Pac-12 North, they need to make some major changes on the defensive side.
For the second time in three weeks, the Beavers have failed to slow down a mobile quarterback. Whether Wilson was was on a designed run, throwing on the run, or scrambling outside the pocket, the Beavers could not contain him at all. OSU’s secondary once again struggled in pass coverage and both the secondary and linebackers struggled mightily to stop the run. As good as OSU’s offense has been they are very one dimensional, especially with the injury to Storm Woods. If the Beavers can somehow find a way to stop people on defense, Oregon State will be a threat in the Pac-12.
Even though the Ducks were a significant favorite against SEC foe Tennessee, many thought the physicality of the Volunteers would give the Ducks some trouble because of their huge defensive line and experienced offensive line. Even though the Ducks were projected to win this game, nobody thought they would be as dominant as they were. Oregon completely had their way offensively, amassing 687 total yards against the supposedly stout Tennessee defense. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 456 yards and 4 touchdowns, as well as a rushing touchdown in the 59-17 rout of Tennessee. The Volunteers looked sluggish on offensive and their vanilla play-calling was simply no match for the Ducks pure speed. The Ducks saw the emergence of a possible new star in true freshman tight end Johnny Mundt. Mundt, who started in place of Colt Lyerla, who was out with the flu, had 5 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns in the victory.
The dominance that Oregon showed in this victory is hard to ignore. It’s not like Tennessee is some push-over. The Volunteers have several players that will be playing in the NFL next year and new head coach Butch Jones seems to have to program going in the right direction as the Volunteers are projected to be a middle of the road team in the SEC. The Ducks just made the Volunteers look silly, which begs the question: Is Tennessee not as good as people thought they were or is Oregon just that good? It will be interesting to see how the rest of Tennessee’s season plays out as they head through the heart of their SEC schedule.
Game to watch in Week 4
Arguably the most intriguing game in the country is the matchup between Arizona State and Stanford. Stanford is coming off a not-so-impressive win over a weak Army team and ASU is coming off a controversial but emotional win against Wisconsin. This game will be a contrast in styles as ASU, who moved into the 23rd ranking this week, will likely have quarterback Taylor Kelly throw the ball at least 40 times in this game. While on the other side, the 5th ranked Cardinal will try to run it down ASU’s throat and try to control the ball for most of the game. The key for Arizona State is their ability to protect Kelly, and for their receivers to gain separation from the pesky Stanford secondary. The key for Stanford will be being able to run the ball against Will Sutton and the nasty ASU front seven.
Five Pac-12 teams found themselves in the Top 25 in the latest AP Poll, once again establishing themselves as one of the top two conferences in the country. As non-conference play comes to and end and conference play revs up, the Pac-12 will be that much more interesting to watch.