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Pac-12 Football Notebook: USC Roars Back; Stanford Owns the Road

UCLA falters in the final minute, leaving only one team from the conference in the top 20

This week’s games provided more questions than answers in the Pac-12 so let’s just jump right into the interrogation:

This Week's 10 Questions:

Question No. 1. Did we give UCLA too much credit for its win over LSU?

UCLA’s victory over LSU had the country buzzing about UCLA and Chip Kelly, with thoughts of a Rose Bowl berth dancing in the heads of Bruin fans.

On Saturday, UCLA needed only to prevent a touchdown when Fresno State took over at its own 25-yard line with 54 seconds left to become 3-0 for the first time in six years. With Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener limping around with a hip injury, it seemed like a sure thing.

But Fresno State covered those 75 yards in six plays, needing only 40 seconds to do it, for a 40-37 win.

The loss dropped UCLA from No. 13 to No. 24 in the AP rankings, leaving only one Pac-12 team in this week’s top 20.

One stat that defies explanation: Fresno State ran 49 plays in the first half; UCLA ran 16.


Question No. 2. Is Stanford the best road team in America?

The Cardinal has played seven straight games away from home, including the last four last season and the first three this year. Stanford is a remarkable 6-1 in those games, the only loss being the neutral-site game against Kansas State when the Cardinal was still trying to figure out who its starting quarterback would be. Stanford has won six games in a row on the opponent’s home field, with five of those being against Pac-12 foes – Cal, Washington, Oregon State, UCLA last year and USC this season.

Stanford plays its first home game of this season – and first since its second game of last season – when it hosts UCLA on Saturday.


Question No. 3. What the heck happened to Colorado?

After Colorado beat Northern Colorado 35-7 in its opener and nearly upset No. 5 Texas A&M last week in a 10-7 loss, there were hints that the Buffaloes might be the surprise team of the Pac-12, like they were last year.

The egg Colorado laid in its 30-0 home loss to Minnesota on Saturday suggested something completely different.

The offensive statistics were off-the-chart bad.

The Buffaloes were shut out for the first time in nine years. They finished with 63 yards of total offense, the eighth-worst total in Colorado history, and they had a rushing total of minus-19 yards, the third-worst in program history.

Over the past six quarters, Colorado has scored no points and gained 117 yards on 66 plays, an average of 1.8 yards per play.

Running back Jarek Broussard, the Pac-12 offensive player of the year last season when he rushed for 301 yards in one game, finished Saturday’s game with 8 rushing yards on five carries, an average of 1.6 yards per carry.

The only Buffalo with an impressive running game was Ralphie VI.


Question No. 4. Was getting rid of Clay Helton the boost USC needed?

One game after Cay Helton was fired, USC won its first game under interim head coach Donte Williams, beating Washington State 45-13.

And several items make it more impressive:

---The Trojans weathered a scary moment on their flight to the game. When the plane carrying the team landed in Lewiston, Idaho, on Friday, the tail of the plane tipped backward during deplaning, causing the players and coaches to scramble. It seemed like an omen that the bottom was dropping out of the USC program. But who pays attention to omens?

---The Trojans were 8 ½-point favorites and they won by 31 points.

---The game was on the road, in the rain, not an easy situation for a team that had undergone an unexpected coaching change five days earlier.

---USC’s touted quarterback Kedon Slovis was injured on USC’s third offensive play and did not play the rest of the game. He was replaced by freshman Jaxson Dart, who had never thrown a pass in a college game.

---Dart threw an interception on his first possession, and USC trailed 14-0 and was outgained 192-74 late in the second quarter. But the Trojans did not fold like you might have expected, given the shocking loss to Stanford last week and upheaval in the coaching staff. Instead, they scored 45 consecutive points and won going away.

--- Dart threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns, both of which are records for a USC quarterback in his first game. Which leads to question No. 5


Question No. 5. Will there be quarterback changes at USC or Utah or Oregon or Washington State or Colorado?


The Slovis-Dax situation is eerily similar to the Slovis-JT Daniels situation of 2019. Daniels was injured in the first game of the 2019 season and replaced by freshman Slovis, who was so impressive that he remained the starter even after Daniels became healthy again. (Daniels then transferred to Georgia and may be on his way to a national-championship season, but that’s another story).

Slovis was the first-team all-Pac-12 quarterback last year, but he has been less than spectacular this season.

He is currently 10th in the Pac-12 in passer rating, and he was outplayed by Stanford’s Tanner McKee last week.

When asked after Saturday’s game whether Slovis would remain the starter, Williams was noncommittal, providing only the cliché that there is competition at every position.

The first issue is Slovis’ health and whether he will be sufficiently recovered from his neck injury to play in next week’s game against Oregon State


Freshman Ty Thompson played the second half of the Ducks’ 48-7 victory over Stony Brook after starter Anthony Brown was injured late in the second quarter.

However, coach Mario Cristobal said afterward that Brown should be OK for next week’s game against Arizona, and might have been able to play Saturday if the outcome had been in doubt. Brown was 14-for-18 in the game before being injured so there is no reason to believe he would be replaced as the starter if he’s healthy.


Charlie Brewer was impressive in the Utes’ season-opening win over Weber State, but he was less productive in the subsequent losses to BYU and San Diego State. He was replaced by Cameron Rising in the third quarter of Saturday’s game, with San Diego State leading 24-10. Rising went 19-for-32 with three touchdown passes and no interceptions while rallying the Utes to tie the game and send it into overtime. 

The Utes eventually lost 33-31 in triple overtime when a controversial catch by Utah's Connor O'Toole on a potential, game-tying two-point conversion in the third overtime was initially ruled a catch, but was overturned after a replay and ruled incomplete.

What do you think?

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said a starter for next week’s game against Washington State will be determined in the next day or two, but he may not announce who that starter is.

We’re betting it will be Rising. The preseason competition for the starting spot was close, and Saturday’s showing should tip the balance in Rising’s favor for at least one week.

Washington State

Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura emerged from the locker room after halftime with a brace on his leg and did not start the third quarter. He returned to the game midway through the third quarter and attempted three passes – an interception and two incompletions – before being replaced again.

De Laura’s replacements – Cammon Cooper and Victor Gabalis – did nothing of note and de Laura was at least healthy enough to return to the game, so presumably de Laura will start against Utah.


Freshman Brendon Lewis got the starting job when JT Shrout went down with a season-ending injury on Aug. 14. But against Minnesota Lewis was 8-for-16 for a mere 55 yards, was sacked four times and lost a fumble. Freshman Drew Carter replaced him the fourth quarter and was 4-for-8. Coach Karl Dorrell did not say who his starter will be next week against Arizona State.


Question No. 6. Is the Pac-12 better than the Mountain West?

Oregon’s road win over Ohio State on network TV did worlds of good for the Pac-12’s football image, but the Pac-12 has yet to prove it is the best conference in the West. The Pac-12 is just 5-5 against Mountain West Conference teams this season, and nine of those games were played on the home field of the Pac-12 team. Fresno State was picked to finish fourth in the six-team Mountain West Conference West Division, but it gave Oregon a scare and knocked off UCLA. San Diego State was pegged to finish third in the Mountain West West and it is 2-0 against Pac-12 after upsetting Utah.

At least the Pac-12 can say it’s better than the Big Sky, although it is just 5-2 against that FCS conference, and all seven games were Pac-12 home games.


Question No. 7. Will Arizona ever win another game?

The Wildcats have lost 15 straight games, but none was more galling than Saturday’s 21-19 loss to Northern Arizona.

It seems worse when you consider that the Wildcats lost . . . . .

---At home.

---To an FCS team.

---To a team picked to finish seventh in the Big Sky Conference.

---To a team that had lost its first two games, both to FCS teams.

---In a game in which Arizona held a 13-0 lead.

---To a team that rallied behind a freshman quarterback making his debut in college football (R.J. Martinez).

It’s hard to find a game on the remaining schedule that Arizona might win. The Wildcats, who are the only winless Pac-12 team, play Oregon in Eugene next Saturday and that could get ugly.


Question No. 8. Has Washington righted the ship?

A season-opening 10-7 home loss to Montana followed by a 31-10 defeat at Michigan made people sleepless in Seattle, wondering what happened to an offense that was expected to be explosive.

But the Huskies responded with a 52-3 victory over Arkansas State on Saturday and head into their Pac-12 opener against Cal with a head of steam. They rolled up 598 yards of total offense and recorded 30 first downs.

Quarterback Dylan Morris threw two more interceptions, giving him five for the season, but he also threw for 367 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time in his seven career starts that he surpassed 300 yards passing.

Granted, it was against a Sun Belt opponent, but Arkansas State had given Memphis a scare in a 55-50 loss a week ago.


Question No. 9. Will BYU run through the Pac-12?

BYU is 3-0 against the Pac-12, including wins over two teams that were ranked at the time – Utah and Arizona State. The Cougars have two games remaining against Pac-12 teams – October 23 against Washington State and November 27 against USC – and could wind up 5-0 against the Pac-12. Would BYU then get an invitation to play in the Pac-12 championship game?


Question No. 10. Has Cal flipped the script?

After finishing at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in nearly every offensive category in Justin Wilcox’s first four seasons as Cal’s coach, the Bears apparently have found an offense. They rolled up 42 points and 534 yards of offense in Saturday’s 42-30 win over Sacramento State one week after scoring 32 points and gaining 442 yards of offense in a two-point loss to TCU.

The Bears have been outstanding at the start of games, outscoring their opponents 34-6 in the first quarter, when Cal has dominated play in all three games.

However – and it’s a big however – the Cal defense, which has been a strength during Wilcox’s tenure and the reason the Bears have stayed competitive, has been a disappointment. It's the reason Cal is just 1-2.

Sac State, an FCS school, racked up 30 points and a season-high 467 yards against the Bears, one week after the Bears yielded 34 points and 505 yards to TCU. Sac State had scored 19 points against Dixie State and 16 against Northern Iowa in its first two games, both against FCS opposition.

The most glaring problem is in the secondary. Cal committed four pass interference penalties against Sac State, but at least the Bears showed balance, as those interference penalties were committed by four different players.

The Pac-12 top five teams:

1. Oregon (3-0) – The Ducks are the only unbeaten Pac-12 team and are ranked No. 3 in the country. No-brainer

2. Stanford (2-1) – It’s hard to simply dismiss that opening loss to Kansas State, but what other team deserves to be No. 2?

3. UCLA (2-1) – The win over LSU still counts for something, but not as much as it did earlier.

4. USC (2-1) -- Impressive showing against Washington State

5. Arizona State (2-1) – A road loss to BYU isn’t reason for panic, but the Sun Devils have yet to beat any team of note.


Pac-12 Player of the Year Standings

1. CJ Verdell, Oregon running back – He leads the Pac-12 in rushing at 94.7 yards per game, and his 161 rushing yards against Ohio State still stand tall for a team ranked in the top five nationally.

2. Tanner McKee, Stanford – He is 2-0 as a starter, ranks second in the Pac-12 in passer rating and has five touchdown passes with no interceptions.

3. Anthony Brown, Oregon quarterback – Brown is only eighth in the conference in passer rating, but the quarterback of the best team in the conference has to be ranked high.

4. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA quarterback – The Pac-12 leader in passer rating has also rushed for 88 yards.

5 (tie). Zach Charbonnet, UCLA running back – Despite his poor game against Fresno State (19 yards on six carries), Charbonnet is still third in the conference in rushing (80.7 yards per game), and his 10.5 yards per carry lead the Pac-12 by a wide margin.

5. (tie). Drake London, USC wide receiver – A wide receiver has been named this conference’s offensive player of the year only five times since the award began in 1975, but London is second in the nation in receptions (29) and fourth in receiving yards (375).

Note: We’re watching Oregon State running back B.J. Baylor, who is second in the Pac-12 in rushing, but until he performs well against a quality opponent he remains on the outside.


Cover photo of Stanford QB Tanner McKee is by Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports


Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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