Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Roundup: Week 3 (Part One)

UCLA 41, Nebraska 21. With the searing pain of losing a loved one on their minds, the Bruins wanted to go out against Nebraska and honor their fallen teammate Nick Pasquale with their performance. but after the first 28 minutes of the game they weren't doing him very proud. Brett Hundley was off on his throws, especially on one particular play when Shaq Evans adjusted a hitch route and burned a Nebraska corner for what would have been about a 30-40 yard gain but Hundley threw the original hitch route right to the corner for an interception. In the trenches, the Bruins struggled to create space for their running backs to operate while their vaunted front seven was pushed around by the Nebraska offensive line.

The biggest question mark coming into the game was the UCLA defensive backs and how they would hold up. It didn't take long for that question to be answered and the unfortunate answer was that they were not very good. No one in the UCLA secondary could cover Quincy Enuwa or Kenny Bell as Nebraska started ripping the Bruins secondary early and often. Nebraska's first touchdown drive ended with two UCLA DBs running with a slot receiver on a seem route leaving Enuwa completely uncovered on a slant route for an 11 yard touchdown. UCLA responded with a field goal but Nebraska came back onto the field and put together another efficient drive that ended with Enuwa beating UCLA corner Fabian Moreau off the line and then won a jump ball in the endzone. Later in the second quarter with the score still 14-3, UCLA had another disastrous miscue as UCLA punter Sean Covington dropped a snap and handed Nebraska the ball at the UCLA 26. Two plays later the ball was in the end zone again as Moreau got beat on a corner route by Bell to make the score 21-3. UCLA took the ball following the Bell touchdown and desperately needed a score to stay in the game but after a missed field goal it sure looked like UCLA was cooked.

However, the Bruins defense final stiffened and forced a three and out and then took the ball and scored a touchdown to get back in the game. The drive was highlighted by QB Brett Hundley making a special play that few can make. He shook off a pair of tackles in the backfield and scrambled 13 yards for the first down. On the next play, Hundley hit Devin Fuller on a well designed crossing route as Fuller came across the field and the Nebraska corner got caught in traffic trying to run with Fuller. Fuller's 32 yard catch and run put UCLA on the door step and two plays later, Paul Perkins got the ball on a draw play and found a seam for the score. Little did we know that finally getting a stop and a scoring drive would spark UCLA to one heck of a comeback. UCLA made some adjustments at halftime and completely dominated Nebraska in the second half. After being pushed around for most of the game, UCLA's front seven took over the game and allowed only four first downs the rest of the way. UCLA scored touchdowns on all four of its 3rd quarter possessions and suddenly this game became a blowout in the other direction as the Bruins went on to win 41-21.

UCLA should be proud of their performance and know that they won one for Nick and did it in the best way possible by fighting and showing resilience in the face of almost insurmountable odds. I will say this though, the secondary is still a significant concern despite the great second half defensive performance. Most if not all of Nebraska's second half incompletions and poor throws were forced by pressure in the backfield. I never got a great look at whether Nebraska had open receivers in the 2nd half but UCLA's pressure made sure Martinez didn't have time to find them. UCLA's corners played very poorly to start the game and did not get much of a chance to atone in the second half so they are still a concern going forward.

Stanford 34, Army 20. There was another Pac-12 team in action early yesterday but that game wasn't nearly as noteworthy. The Cardinal started incredibly sloppy as Kevin Hogan fumbled on the opening possession to set up a short field goal and then a quick three and out set up another field goal to put Stanford behind 6-0 early and spark UPSET ALERT on every internet media source. But then Stanford settled down and found a groove with a six play, 75 yard drive to take the lead and put Stanford in control. The Cardinal went on to score 17 unanswered and it looked like Stanford had full control but Stanford's defense committed an uncharacteristic mistake by giving Army's Terry Baggett the edge uncontested for a 46 yard run to set up a touchdown to make it 17-13 just before the half. Army had the ball to start the 3rd with a chance to retake control but Stanford's defense rose to the occasion by forcing a punt and after Stanford's offense couldn't get untracked, the Cardinal pounced on a fumble. That turnover got the offense going as Tyler Gaffney broke a screen pass for a 23 yard touchdown on a 2nd and 16 to make it 24-13 and effectively put the game away.

This was a very sloppy and below standard performance for the Cardinal. You can attribute a lot of this performance to the long road trip as jet lag and 9:00 AM often don't go together very well. That being said, Stanford has started to develop a nasty habit of playing down to the level of their competition. Just think of last year's games against San Jose State, USC, Washington, Arizona, and Washington State and now this. That's six teams ranging from middling to poor with no business hanging with a top 10 team like Stanford yet the Cardinal had trouble putting all of them away. They inexplicably lost to Washington and trailed by 10 to Arizona with under three minutes to go last year. You always hear that good teams need to beat up on the bad teams when they get a chance. Well, Stanford needs to start acting like a good team before it bites them in the butt again like it did last year.

USC 35, Boston College 7. Well, well, well, maybe USC has an offense after all. The Trojans have been rancid offensively before yesterday but maybe all it took was for Lane Kiffin to make up his mind on a QB. Truth be told, both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek saw the field just like the previous two games but yesterday it was for entirely different reasons. Kessler got the start and was never replaced while the game was in doubt and he finally looked like a competent passer. Kessler completed 15 of 17 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Most of Kessler's passes were set up by play action thanks to a stellar effort from tailbacks Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Madden and Davis combined for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

Boston College isn't a good team but neither are Hawaii or Washington State so it was good to see USC finally dominate a bad team like they're supposed to. What we need to see now is whether Kessler can remain effective and mistake free when he isn't buoyed by a run game. Eventually, USC will run into a strong defense that can stop Madden and Davis and take away the effectiveness of Kessler's play action while forcing Kessler into obvious pass situations on 2nd and 3rd and long. Can Kessler still find receivers when the defense knows he's going to throw? Better yet, can he throw in the face of pressure? The answer was no against Hawaii and Wazzou but Boston College wasn't able to get anyone in the backfield yesterday. The Trojans will face much better pass rushers in the weeks to come so it'll be interesting to see if Kessler's new found confidence still applies when 300 pound monsters are breathing in his face but those answers can wait. For now USC looks a lot better than it did a week ago and Lane Kiffin can relax in his office for at least one more week.

Oregon 59, Tennessee 14. Remember when Marcus Mariota was struggling as a passer and everyone was worried that he was regressing and becoming a running back with a live arm? That was fun. Mariota started slow again as he completed just two of his first seven pass attempts which included overthrowing a wide open receiver on third down to end each of the Ducks first two possessions. But, Mariota suddenly flipped a switch and completed 21 of his next 26 throws (that included two throwaways under pressure by the way) and finished with a career high 456 yards (first 400 yard passing game for an Oregon QB since 2005) and four touchdown plus another score on the ground. The Ducks were sloppy all over the field early as the Ducks started with consecutive three and outs, the second of which came after a fumble set Oregon up at the Tennessee 29 and resulted in a missed field goal (some things never change).

The Ducks defense had a major breakdown on Tennessee's ensuing possession as a miscommunication left Vols wideout Josh Smith open by at least 30 yards as he notched a 51 yard catch and run. The play set up a touchdown and then Oregon proceeded to have a touchdown of their own wiped out by an offensive pass interference call that forced a field goal attempt. Suddenly Oregon was down 7-3 and Tennessee was building confidence. Then Oregon stopped playing around and began ripping the Vols to pieces on offense and defense. Oregon completely out manned Tennessee's vaunted offensive line as the Ducks used only four or five men in the box on every play and Tennessee still couldn't run on them. The Ducks chose to drop seven to eight men into coverage on every play and the Vols couldn't get anyone open. The Oregon offense finally kicked into high gear on its third possession as a long Bralon Addison punt return set up a touchdown pass to freshman tight end John Mundt who started in place of Colt Lyerla reportedly because of an illness. That quick scoring drive started a run of eight consecutive touchdown drives, seven of which happened in under two minutes.

Now that Mariota has hit his stride, Oregon might actually be unstoppable. I'm not going to lie, the Ducks looked amazing yesterday and I don't see many flaws that better teams can exploit.

Washington 34, Illinois 24. Washington looked very impressive again as the Huskies out gained Illinois 615-327. Keith Price has regained his 2011 form and then some as he finished 28/35 for 342 and two touchdowns while Bishop Sankey complemented him on the ground with 208 rushing yards. You might ask, "How did they win by only 10 when they looked so utterly dominant?" The answer is a bunch of really dumb mistakes. The Huskies lost a pair of fumbles that cost them productive drives in the 1st half that resulted in the halftime lead being only 10-3. The Huskies were also incredibly undisciplined as UW committed 12 penalties for 104 yards. Many of those flags allowed Illinois to extend drives and keep the Huskies offense on the sideline.

I'll confess that I don't get Big Ten Network and couldn't find an online stream for this game until late in the third quarter so I don't have too much analysis of how UW played. I was a little perturbed by how Washington's defense played after the Huskies went up 31-10 in the 4th. On the first play from scrimmage following a Jaydon Mickens touchdown catch to make it 31-10, UW corner Gregory Ducre made a horrible mistake by allowing Illinois receiver Ryan Lankford to get a free inside release with no safety help coming over the top. That is the ultimate no-no for a corner and the result was a 72 yard touchdown that cut the lead to 14. The Huskies offense also became inexplicably conservative late as UW punted on its next two possessions although the defense at least rose up and forced a three and out in between those two stalled drives.

The UW defense also lost their minds again on Illinois' second drive following the touchdown as over-aggressiveness left a receiver wide open on a double-reverse pass for a 35 yard gain. That big play led to a short rushing touchdown as Illinois pulled to within one defensive stop of getting a shot at forcing overtime. Fortunately for the Huskies, they were able to put a drive together, bleed the clock, and kick a field goal to go up 10 and put the game away. The Huskies are a really good team and they played well but they need to take better care of the ball and do a better job of putting teams away late. then again, if you're biggest concern is how you play with a 21 point lead, that means you're pretty good.

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