Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Roundup Week 4: Arizona State isn't there yet, Stanford likes to play with its food, and Oregon State does not like tackling

With perhaps the most forgettable college football Saturday of all-time in the rear view mirror, we can all finally move on and gear up for a loaded week five schedule. So how bad was yesterday? Of the 59 games involving FBS teams yesterday, the Vegas favorite won 57 times. So there were no real marque games and that was made up for when there were no upsets. What a perfect waste pf time and yet we'll all be sitting around in April praying for a chance to watch a Saturday slate that bad. College football is a hell of a drug man. As much as I would love to let everyone get out of here and forget yesterday ever happened, I just can't do that. Here is the damage from yesterday:

#17 Washington 56, Idaho State 0

This one went about as you would expect as the Huskies cleaned the field with the Bengals. Washington QB Keith Price was not at his best as his accuracy was a little erratic from time to time but he still got in a fine half of work. Also, in one of the most hilarious mercy moves I have ever seen, Bishop Sankey was pulled from the game following the first quarter after he ran for 77 yards on just four carries. The defense was obviously dominant as well as they pitched a shutout and allowed only 164 total yards, 4/18 third down conversions, and forced three turnovers. Washington played how it was supposed to play on both sides of the ball and frankly they earned a chance to play a patsy after scheduling two quality opponents on their non-conference schedule.

The unfortunate thing for the Huskies moving forward is they are still making dumb mistakes. They lost another fumble and committed get this, 16 penalties for 130 yards. 10 of those penalties were on the offensive line and Steve Sarkisian tried to blame that on last second illegal shifts by the ISU defensive line. I need to say a couple things on that. First of all, the shifts were not illegal otherwise they would have been flagged and secondly, shifting right before the play shouldn't make up for the advantage that UW's offensive line had over ISU's defensive line. Sarkisian can complain all he wants but the rest of the conference is going to watch this film and copy what the Bengals were doing. Sarkisian better stop crying and adjust before false starts and holding penalties kill a potential game winning drive against a team with a pulse.

On a quick side note, shout out to UW running back Deontae Cooper who finally scored his first career touchdown after missing each of his first three seasons with three different ACL tears. As an Oregon fan I tell myself to hate UW and everything about it but Cooper's comeback story is impossible not to root for.

USC 17, Utah State 14

Okay, so if it was not apparent before, let it be said definitively now: USC's defense is really freaking good. Utah State's star QB Chuckie Keeton was averaging 370 yards of total offense per game going into yesterday but USC significantly damaged that mark by holding him to just 164. I mentioned in my preview of this game that the biggest key to Utah State's success was running the ball effectively and setting up short third downs. Against USC, the Aggies could not run at all on the Trojans (save for a pair of seemingly random big plays) and faced 3rd and 10 or longer 10 times resulting in a 5/17 3rd down conversion mark.

Now that we have a four game sample size of complete domination we can confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt that USC's defense is in fact the truth. The offense, well they're still pretty bad. I think most people kind of thought the Trojans weren't as good as they looked against Boston College but the hope was they would be at least better than they showed in the first two weeks. I will grant you that yesterday's performance was an improvement over the Washington State game but I saw nothing to change my stance that USC has the worst offense in the Pac-12. Cody Kessler was fine, he only completed half of his passes but he finally had the ball moving down field in big chucks as he averaged better than 10 yards per completion. The quarterback situation for the Trojans is still far from ideal but at least it isn't their biggest problem.

The biggest problem for USC's offense is and always has been their god awful offensive line. The Trojans looked confused by Utah State's blitz packages as linebackers and safeties were turned loose into the backfield throughout the afternoon. Even when the Aggies sat back in coverage, their defensive line still managed to win one on one battles and pressure Kessler into some bad throws. Even against the run, the Trojans offensive line looked over-matched as USC averaged exactly three yards per carry on 39 attempts. The only turnover of the game happened in the 2nd quarter when there was a miscommunication on the offensive line that left a blitzing linebacker unblocked on the left side which led to a strip sack on Kessler that he never saw coming. You could look at Kessler's 13/26 performance and say he still isn't playing well but I object to that thinking because nearly every one of those throws was straight into the teeth of oncoming pass rushers.

Kessler was also victimized by some dropped passes which is continually becoming a problem for USC. Marqise Lee is quickly falling from the best player in the Pac-12 to not even being an All-Pac-12 honorable mention as he dropped another deep pass and legitimately looks checked out. I don't know if it's missing Matt Barkley, struggling against bad teams, having his mind already set on the NFL, or something else but his mind is not right at the moment. Lee needs to get himself figured out and the offensive line needs to figure out how to at least give Kessler some time to scan the field and room to throw on his front foot. Things won't get much easier for the Trojans as Arizona State and their ferocious pass rushers welcome USC on the road next week.

#5 Stanford 42, #23 Arizona State 28

All things considered, Stanford may have played the best three quarters of the David Shaw era. The Cardinal shutout the Sun Devils in the first half and led 39-7 after three quarters. With three sessions in the books, Stanford had held ASU to 27 rushing yards on 20 attempts and blocked not one but two punts. Stanford's offense looked great as well when they finally showed off some new wrinkles we had been waiting for. Stanford still used their same old philosophy of substituting backup offensive linemen as tight ends and fullbacks and smashing ASU in the face with a power run game but Shaw also mixed in a few really interesting play calls. Stanford's first drive ended on a beautifully designed screen pass as Kevin Hogan faked a delayed draw play to the left and turned all the way around to throw to Ty Montgomery on the right. Stanford pulled a couple offensive linemen to be lead blockers and they paved the way for the opening touchdown of the game.

Stanford also ran a really cool looking reverse on their second series when they called what essentially amounted to a fake triple option to set up the reverse. I doubt there was a read involved, but Hogan started with running backs on either side of him in the backfield and began the play by putting the ball into the belly of the tailback on his right (Remound Wright). He pulled the ball out and ran to the right with a pitch back option. Suddenly, Stanford's versatile game breaker Kelsey Young ran in between Hogan and the pitch back option (Tyler Gaffney) and Hogan flipped the ball to him for a reverse going back to the left. They used the Wright who was originally involved in the fake hand off as a lead blocker and that cleared the way for a 32 yard run that eventually set up a one yard Gaffney touchdown.

I had a feeling Stanford was holding back against San Jose State and Army and was just waiting to spring some fancy new offensive concepts and boy did we ever see them last night. Unfortunately, the Stanford of the first two weeks of the season isn't entirely dead yet as the Cardinal seemed to relax with their big lead and fell asleep in the fourth quarter. It wasn't as if ASU suddenly found some confidence and mounted a few drives on offense. Stanford surrendered a bunch of big plays that allowed ASU to make the final score look way closer than it ever was. On the Devils' first drive of the fourth, the Cardinal missed a couple tackles to allow a 21 yard catch and run for D.J. Foster. That set up a 45 yard touchdown catch for tight end Chris Coyle two plays later as Stanford completely blew the coverage and left Coyle open by about 15 yards in the middle of the field.

Stanford followed that with a three and out on offense as they banged backup running back Wright into the middle of the defense. After punting the ball back to the Sun Devils, Stanford watched as Foster picked up another 21 yards followed by Jaelen Strong getting open on a fourth and two and scoring a 27 yard touchdown thanks to a terrible tackling angle taken by the Stanford free safety. Stanford followed with another effortless three and out with three runs up the middle and punted the ball back to ASU. Another blown coverage gave Strong a 34 yard catch on a 4th and 19 which set up a six yard touchdown for Marion Grice on a 3rd down swing pass that went for six thanks to more poor angles and lazy backside pursuit.

With the score cut to 39-28, ASU failed to recover an onside kick. Stanford called three more runs and ended up in a 4th and one at the ASU 38. The Sun Devils evidently thought Stanford was going to punt but when Stanford left its offense on the field, that created chaos on the Sun Devil sideline and caused a substitution infraction that gave Stanford a free first down. Stanford was able to bleed most of the clock and kick a field goal to go up 14. However, the Cardinal still left enough time for Taylor Kelly to complete another 30 yard pass before Alex Carter mercifully intercepted a Hail Mary attempt in the end zone to finish this game.

If you try to assess Stanford, I think their true identity is far more similar to what we saw in the first three quarters than what we saw at the end of the game. We know Stanford is great up front, they have some good tailbacks, and their defense is nasty and does not yield an inch. Ty Montgomery is finally starting to realize his potential as a number one receiver and my Nate Longshore-esque fears of a Kevin Hogan sophomore regression appear unfounded. All that said, Stanford can't sit back like that. this is the same thing I killed Washington for last week and it's the reason why I will still have Oregon and UCLA as the top two teams in the conference the next time I do my power rankings. Oregon and UCLA have kept their foot on their opponents throats with both their offense and defense even after lifting their starters. Stanford needs to show a killer instinct and they absolutely cannot give up so many open receivers.

As for Arizona State, I still think they have a very good team but they are nowhere close to being on the level of an elite program. In the first half of their most recent meetings against the class of the Pac-12 (Oregon and Stanford), ASU has been outscored 72-7. My fear for ASU is they are quickly getting physically worn down. After facing physical defensive fronts in Wisconsin and Stanford, ASU will now have to line up against USC, perhaps the best defensive front in college football. Literally adding to ASU's pain is the health of their stout defensive tackle Jaxon Hood. Hood limped off the field late in the first half and returned after halftime on crutches. Backup Jake Sheffield stepped into Hood's spot and was plowed for the rest of the game. USC has a poor offensive line but even they might be able to road grade the middle of ASU's defense if Hood has to miss next week's game.

One final side note, Stanford's All-American safety Ed Reynolds was ejected from the game in the 4th quarter for what might be the most egregious targeting violation I have seen since the NCAA started cracking down on head shots. By rule, if a player is ejected for targeting in the 2nd half he is automatically suspended for the first half of the following game. Reynolds can appeal but he most certainly will lose and sit for 30 minutes against Washington State next Saturday. The Pac-12 does review all targeting ejections and can increase suspensions to an entire game. I don't think they will do it but, there is a case to be made for Reynolds being sat down for the entire Wazzou game. Stanford should beat the Cougars with or without Reynolds but the concern for them now is that officials will be watching Reynolds like a hawk for the rest of the season. Stanford has a ton of depth up front (I bet you haven't even noticed that All-Pac-12 end Henry Anderson hasn't played this year), but they have no one who can replace Reynolds and they can't afford to have him thrown out against a top team like Washington, UCLA, or Oregon. Stanford and Reynolds need to tread very carefully.

Oregon State 34, San Diego State 30

Remember when I said that Oregon State would roll in this game because San Diego State sucks? Yeah, that didn't really materialize. As mentioned above, four games is enough of a sample size to start making conclusions and I'm ready to make a conclusion about Oregon State's defense: they are not good. The box score actually suggests OSU played pretty well on defense as the Beavers tallied five sacks, caught a pair of interceptions, held SDSU to 4-14 on 3rd downs, and 74 rushing yards. But the missed tackles, my goodness they looked every bit as sloppy in the fundamentals as they have all season.

The Beavers offense also struggled for the first time all year. The box score once again suggests that the Beavers were decent as Sean Mannion completed 38/55 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Brandin Cooks was finally held out of the end zone but he did catch 14 passes for 141 yards. So Oregon State was pretty good on offense right?

[looks at Beavers' rushing numbers]

[excuses self to go vomit]

San Diego State had been allowing an average of 215 yards per game but through three quarters yesterday, Oregon State had accumulated exactly zero rushing yards. Oh but don't worry, they did manage to produce 10 yards on the ground in the 4th quarter. The Beavers took an early 14-7 lead but their lack of a run game and aforementioned poor tackling kept SDSU's offense on the field as the Beavers went scoreless in the second and third quarters and fell behind 27-14. I'm not entirely sure how OSU salvaged this game. The Beavers scored to cut the lead to 27-21 and forced a punt to get the ball back. However, two plays into their succeeding drive Cooks made a rare mistake when he fumbled and gave the ball back to SDSU on the Beavers' 17. An unsportsmanlike penalty pushed the ball back to the 32 and OSU managed to hold the Aztecs to a field goal which pushed the game back to a two possession difference.

The Beavers finally managed a big drive as the Beavers took over with 5:18 left and went 81 yards over 10 plays in 2:38 to cut the lead to two. With all three timeouts still available, the Beavers kicked the ball deep and got a big play from their defense. SDSU quarterback Quinn Kaehler made one of the worst passes I have ever seen as he double clutched on a screen passes and ended up throwing off his back foot six yards over his receiver's head and straight to OSU corner Steven Nelson. Nelson returned the pick for a 16 yard touchdown to retake the lead and that was the difference in the game. Now a win is a win but Oregon State should not need a crazy comeback to beat SDSU. before the game, the Aztecs were in the bottom 20 in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense and lost by three touchdowns to FCS Eastern Illinois. There is no excuse for this game being close at halftime never mind the fact that SDSU darn near won this game outright. Mannion and Cooks are still great but the Beavers defense is bad and the Beavers run game sans Storm Woods is worse than anyone could have anticipated. These are still the Beavers and they will always be scrappy and competitive but this is a flawed team that does not belong among the Pac-12's elite.

Utah 20, Brigham Young 13

Utah bludgeoned BYU with its front seven and suffocated the Cougars offense en route to their fourth consecutive win in the Holy War. The Utes absolutely outclassed the Cougars up front as defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard totally dominated the edges and funneled BYU's running game toward the middle of the field where the Cougars' interior offensive line couldn't get any push. Utah did a masterful job of pushing back BYU's offensive line and did not allow the Cougars to get blockers to the second level. That allowed Utah's linebackers to roam around untouched and make easy tackles which prevented BYU from busting any long runs (other than one 41 yard burst) as they did so frequently against Texas. The Cougars torched Texas for 550 rushing yards but managed only 183 on 47 carries (3.9 yards per rush average) against the Utes. Cougars QB Taysom Hill was brutal trying to pass the ball as he completed only 18/48 passes yet somehow managed to raise his season completion percentage.

The Utah offense struggled throughout the night against the Cougars great defense but managed to hit two big plays that proved to be the difference in the game. James Poole has finally become a number one tailback for the Utes but last night he gained only 34 yards on 17 of his carries. However, Poole managed to bust one loose in the 1st quarter as he hit a hole on the left side set by star left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and made one man miss on his way to a 65 yard run that set up a short field goal.

Dres Anderson who has quickly become one of the Pac-12's premier wide receivers made a number of catches underneath the coverage that helped in part to set up a second field goal drive. With the score 6-0 and Utah backed up to their own 20 with under three minutes left in the first half, Utah QB Travis Wilson finally burned the BYU defense over the top. Utah spent the entire first half throwing short and setting up a double move so that finally with about two minutes until halftime, a BYU corner jumped a Wilson pump fake on an Anderson slant route but Anderson pulled a double move and was loose in the secondary for a big play. Wilson hit Anderson with a rainbow over the top and Anderson took the ball all the way to the one yard line for a 74 yard gain. The Utes punched the ball in two plays later and suddenly had full control of the game at 13-0 entering halftime.

BYU cut the lead to seven after a pair of field goals but Utah put together one long drive that spanned the end of the 3rd quarter and the begging of the 4th that finished with a two yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Karl Williams that made the score 20-6 and basically sealed the game. BYU did manage to score a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-13 and had the ball with a chance to tie twice late but they couldn't get it done against a stifling effort from Utah's defense. In addition to the Cougars' two shots to tie late, BYU also blew all their early chances as they failed to score a touchdown on each of their first four red zone attempts before finally scoring on their fifth try.

This was a great win for Utah that gets them to 3-1 and if they could have gotten just one stop last week against the Beavers they would be 4-0 and nationally ranked. Even with the one loss, the Utes look like a very strong team and one that finally belongs in the Pac-12. I thought it would be a struggle for Utah to reach six wins and make a bowl game this year but right now they look like they are in very good shape to qualify for the postseason.

Washington State 42, Idaho 0

The State of Washington has officially annexed the state of Idaho as the two FBS Washington schools combined to go 3-0 against the two FBS Idaho schools and its one FCS school by a total score of 136-6. Yes Idaho, all your potatoes belong to Washington now, deal with it. The one observation you can take out of this game is that Wazzou QB Connor Halliday still does not look good in the pocket. Halliday threw two more interceptions and has thrown at least one pick in all four games this year giving him eight for the year, tied for the most in college football. Halliday's throwing mechanics look particularly bad as he is continuously throwing off his back foot particularly when trying to go deep. It is such an obvious and glaring mechanical flaw and frankly it's something that should have been ironed out in high school.

Not much else happened in the game that was of any note until the postgame handshake:

I didn't watch the end of this game because there is no reason to watch a contest that is 42-0 in the 4th quarter unless you are a diehard fan of one of the teams involved. Mike Leach declined to talk about the incident above and Idaho coach Paul Petrino said it was "Between me and him." But, apparently Leach left his defensive starters in the game all the way to the end likely to preserve Washington State's first shutout since 2003. I have no problem with this but Petrino probably did which led him to say something to Leach during the handshake which led to Leach saying a certain word that you can't say on network television. Oh well, Washington State is now 3-1 and feeling good heading into a match up for first place in the Pac-12 North with Stanford next week.

#13 UCLA 59, New Mexico State 13

What you are looking at above is UCLA's first play from scrimmage against NMSU. Do you notice something wrong? You should because there are only 10 Bruins on the field with a missing man at wide receiver. The reason for this can also be seen in the still frame above as Jim Mora sent his team out a man short for the first play in honor of Nick Pasquale. Pasquale as I'm sure you know by now was killed two weeks ago after being struck by a vehicle in his hometown of San Clemente, CA during the Bruins' bye week. That "Pasquale 36" logo on the field is pretty poignant too as it is placed at the spot on the field where Pasquale lined up for his only career snap three weeks ago against Nevada.

There was nothing to learn form this game. NMSU was a hopelessly over matched team and they played like it as the Bruins ran away with an easy victory. The lesson from the Bruins game is the same as it was last week. Some things are bigger than football, and the UCLA coaches and players understand that better than anyone.

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