Monday, 30 September 2013

The Roundup Week 5: Washington shows some flaws, Stanford and Oregon are a cut above, and Lane Kiffin is a dead man no longer walking

The first full weekend of conference play was supposed to deliver a great slate of games that made an awful week four a distant memory. Through horribly in-climate weather, unfortunate injuries to star players, and top teams asserting their will, week five ended up being a dud in the Pac-12. Despite a handful of forgettable games, we learned a lot about the Pac-12 on Saturday as the top tier of the conference put significant distance between them and the rest of the pack.

Oregon State 44, Colorado 17

For the past four weeks I have been boldly proclaiming that there are no bad teams in the Pac-12. I was wrong. Colorado is unquestionably better now than it was last year and the program is heading in the right direction but the Buffs are long way off from being a competitive Pac-12 team. The Beavers didn't really play all that well as QB Sean Mannion threw 25 incompletions, the Beavers committed a pair of turnovers, and the OSU defense allowed almost five yards per play. The Beavers' sloppy play was bailed out by a sloppier performance from the Buffs who failed to take care of the ball and coughed up four turnovers in the heavy rain that fell all day in Corvallis. The three week lay off seemed to play against Colorado as well as QB Connor Wood seemed a step slow reading defenses and frequently threw to a vacated part of the field likely due to miscommunications with his receivers.

For Oregon State, its defense looked better but still isn't good enough to get through conference play. OSU tackled a lot better and came up with key stops in the right situations forcing Colorado to go 2/15 on 3rd down conversions. Then again, a rusty and largely untalented team tends to make a poor defense look really good. Mannion didn't have his best game from an efficiency standpoint. He finished 27/52 and struggled a lot early completing two out of his first seven throws including an egregious interception into heavy coverage that set up a field goal and kept Colorado in the game. Mannion certainly came around by the end of the game though as he eventually threw for 414 yards and a career high six touchdowns. Brandin Cooks also continued his run of ridiculous numbers and added to his Biletnikoff Award candidacy with nine catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. On the downside, the Beavers still struggled to run the ball as the Beavers finished with 3.5 yards per carry as a team and starting tailback Terron Ward ran for just 55 yards on 19 carries.

For Colorado, they obviously don't have the talent to hang with most of the Pac-12 but there were a few positives to take away from this game. True freshman Michael Adkins made his career debut and emerged as a viable feature tailback with 98 yards on 14 carries. The Buffs looked stout up front led once again by true freshman linebacker Addison Gilliam who was all over the field especially early in the game. Also, once the rain lightened up in the 4th quarter and the offense shook off some of the rust the Buffs put together a few solid drives.

Washington 31, Arizona 13

No one could draw any conclusions about Arizona heading into Saturday's game but I presented an idea of who they were. I figured the Wildcats were good at running the ball, stopping the run, and creating turnovers while struggling to throw the ball and rush the passer. Those traits all came to fruition in a nondescript game that was very telling about the Wildcats and not at all about the Huskies. Arizona fans feared QB B.J. Denker would never develop an ability to throw effectively against good defenses and their worst fears were confirmed by the Huskies. Denker looked utterly hopeless throwing from the pocket especially when attempting to go beyond 10 yards down field. Denker finished 14/35 for a mere 119 yards and a pair of interceptions. Arizona finished with only two pass plays longer than 10 yards and as a result was unable to ever really challenge in this game.

The Huskies never honored Arizona's passing game from the start and were able to load the box against the Wildcats ground game. That game plan worked especially well early as Washington was able to overload the edges and prevented Ka'Deem Carey from reaching the corner and breaking any big runs. However, once Arizona adjusted and tried to move the ball methodically up the middle, Arizona was able to move the ball fairly effectively but could not finish drives. Arizona's defense on the other hand played about as well as they possibly could have. Arizona came in with one of the nation's best run defenses and although they allowed Bishop Sankey to run for 161 yards, Sankey needed 40 carries to get there. By the way, 40 carries is way too much for any player especially one who is that important. There is no reason to give a guy that many touches and risk burning him out before the midway point of the season especially when you have a very good backup tailback in Jesse Callier.

Because Arizona's offense was struggling so much, the Wildcats frequently had to punt from deep in their own territory and hand Washington great field position. Washington had numerous opportunities to go for a kill shot and put this game out of reach early but Arizona stood tall all night and gave the Wildcats at least a faint hope all the way into the 4th quarter.

Washington looked just fine on both sides of the ball. The Huskies got away from their usual balance on offense mostly because the rain and wind made it at times almost impossible to throw the ball effectively. Defensively, Washington was fine although it's hard to say much about them because they were so unchallenged but Arizona's passing attack. My concern for Washington is that we still don't know too much definitively about their secondary and they struggled to stop the run up the middle which is a major problem heading into next week's game against Stanford. never the less, Washington did exactly what they had to do and found a ho hum victory while Arizona left plenty of reason for both hope and pessimism.

Stanford 55, Washington State 17

Here's what you need to know about this game: Stanford mashed the stuffing out of Washington State up front on both lines, Kevin Hogan threw some beautiful passes for Stanford in a way that I had rarely seen from him before, Stanford somehow became even deeper at running back with the emergence of Barry Sanders Jr., and a quarterback controversy might be brewing in Pullman. The much maligned Connor Halliday had a generally poor night going 24/36 for 184 yards and an interception before leaving with an injury in the 3rd quarter. Austin Apodaca replaced him but he was quickly injured at the end of his first series. According to Mike Leach, Halliday would have gone back in the game if Apodaca wasn't able to go but Apodaca was fine and played the rest of the game and threw 15 completions on 29 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. I will say this, Apodaca's raw passing ability looked more impressive than Halliday's but he has some mechanical issues of his own and did not seem to have a great grasp of Leach's offense. That's all you really need to know about a game that was uncompetitive from the start. Now let's talk about the only truly noteworthy thing that happened during this game, popcorn guy.

Just pouring popcorn all over his face and down his body, all alone in a 70,000+ seat stadium in a rainstorm. This man is the true embodiment of the American dream and we should all aspire to live as carefree as him.

Oregon 55, California 16

Oregon is really good, Cal is not. Oregon was totally dominant in the rain as Cal lost four fumbles in its first 15 offensive plays and quickly gave up an insurmountable lead. Oregon's Bralon Addison scored a pair of amazing punt return touchdowns and Marcus Mariota was okay although the slick football wreaked havoc on his accuracy as he threw several wobbly passes and missed open receivers in the 1st half. De'Anthony Thomas hurt his right ankle on the opening kickoff of the game and was eventually seen walking with crutches on the sideline in the second half. Thankfully, Thomas was walking fine in the locker room after the game and was up beat. Oregon doesn't give out injury information and you can never assume anything about injuries but it seems like Thomas will be okay.

The worst part of the rain storm that hit the Paciific Northwest on the weekend reached Eugene right at kickoff of this game and as a result, Cal and Oregon played through driving sheets of rain, standing puddles of water all over the field, and gusts of wind reaching 30 mph. Offense became just about impossible as Oregon tallied just 381 yards of total offense, anemic by their standards. Cal was far worse as the Bears averaged just four yards per pass attempt and 2.9 yards per rush with five turnovers (all occurring in the 1st quarter). True freshman QB Jared Goff who came in leading the nation in total offense per game was benched in this game. That in itself is not all that noteworthy, what is glaring is how quickly he got the hook. Goff was removed late in the 1st quarter after going 3/6 for 11 yards and losing two fumbles. In both cases, Goff cocked his arm to throw and simply dropped the ball. he was replaced by redshirt freshman and former five star recruit Zach Kline who looked very unimpressive with a shot put style throwing motion and a complete inability to throw more than 15 yards down field. Head coach Sonny Dykes confirmed after the game that Goff was not pulled because of an injury and earlier today in practice Goff and Kline split first team reps on a 50/50 basis.

Oregon was fine and I'm not going to bother saying they need to be more efficient and Mariota needs to be more accurate because their problems were strictly because of the weather conditions. Cal on the other hand found out exactly how much distance lies between them and the class of the conference and it is a big chasm. Cal's QB situation has suddenly devolved into a mess overnight and their defense is every bit as miserable as it was before their bye week. Cal has given up more yards and more points through four games than ever before in program history, and the Bears have had some dark days in the past. Cal has easily the worst defense in the conference and if their offense isn't what we thought it was then the Bears could be in for a miserable season.

Arizona State 62, USC 41

Like all things USC, this section will inevitably turn into a referendum on Lane Kiffin, USC's unprofessional administrative practices, and the future of USC football. The focus of this game is squarely on USC because of what happened in the dead of the morning following the Trojans' defeat but that is unfairly burying a great performance by the Sun Devils. Arizona State had it's best day offensively since 2000 with 612 yards and averaged 10 yards per pass attempt and 7.5 yards per rush. Marion Grice scored two more touchdowns, Taylor Kelly got back on track, and Jaelen Strong confirmed his superstar status. ASU was not particularly great on defense but were opportunistic as they forced four turnovers. Overall it was a solid team win for ASU as they dismantled what we thought was a premier defense and established that while they don't belong with premier teams like Stanford, they are clearly above the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. Now about the team that lost and that coach they left in a parking lot.

Lane Kiffin took heat for numerous things and was fired with cause for multiple reasons but the biggest reason he fell out of favor was the drastic failure of his offense and his inability to develop a quarterback. It's ironic then that Kiffin was fired six hours after USC's most productive game of the season complete with a career day from QB Cody Kessler. USC played very well on offense with the aforementioned Kessler completing his first eight passes and finishing 20/29 for 295 yards and two touchdowns. Kessler did throw two interceptions but neither were his fault as his receiver appeared to run the wrong route on the fist one and the second one was off a deflection. the Trojans run game was superior once again as Tre Madden ran for 128 yards and a score while Justin Davis thankfully reappeared in the Trojans' game plan with 122 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. The real problem was that USC's once dominant defense was exposed as a fraud. I openly worried that although the Trojans looked great to start the year, their lack of depth would cause them to fall apart against great up tempo offenses. My fears were realized and then some as the Sun Devils torched the Trojans early and often. Prior to last season, USC had not given up 60+ points in any game during its entire history dating all the way back to 1888. The Trojans have now allowed 62 points twice in the last 10 games.

As you know by now, the ignominious Lane Kiffin era has been mercifully terminated at USC. I say "terminated" because that's the word USC used in a very cold press release announcing the move. At the moment, I'm having a hard time deciding who looks worse between Kiffin and USC. To recap this entire gong show step by step:

1. USC suffers a turnover ridden and defenseless third quarter as Arizona State goes on a 28-0 run and turns a one point deficit into a 27 point blowout. During the run, Kiffin makes one of the most incredulous coaching decisions known to man as he calls a halfback pass from a wildcat formation on 4th and two from his own 41 yard line.

2. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden who normally watches the entire game from the sideline, disappears into the bowels of Sun Devil Stadium for about 40 minutes and reemerges with USC President Max Nikias. Haden and Nikias talk at great length while appearing visibly perturbed and by Haden's own admission, decided right then and there to fire Kiffin during the game.

3. At 3:48 AM, Haden tells Kiffin that he is fired. Instead of letting everyone sleep on it and informing him in a private meeting the next morning like every other athletic director would, Haden fires Kiffin in perhaps the most embarrassing way possible. He allowed Kiffin to get on the team bus but then pulled him off and fired him in an empty parking lot at Los Angeles International Airport in plain view of all the USC players and then instructed the bus to take off and return to campus without him.

Haden's decision to depose his head coach was perfectly defensible, Kiffin was a failure as a coach who sunk the USC program to depths it should never endure. His players had clearly tuned him out based on their body language and the lack of effort they gave for him starting in last year's dreadful Sun Bowl loss and continuing into this season. What is indefensible about Haden's decision is how he did it. Haden said multiple times on Sunday that he had been considering firing Kiffin since week one of this season. If he was ready to get rid of him so early, why did he put out a YouTube video over the summer that all but guaranteed Kiffin would be his coach in 2014? To recap, Haden publicly declared that Kiffin was not on the hot seat and he would remain safe for the entire 2013 season on July 25. On August 30, Haden considers firing Kiffin following USC's season opener just 36 days after claiming he would not consider firing him. Finally, on September 29 Haden fires Kiffin with a winning record on the year, 66 days after shouting for all the world to hear that Kiffin was not even on the hot seat.

Kiffin comes out of this looking terribly bad as well. the fact that Haden felt compelled to fire him in a parking lot at four in the morning tells me that things had become so toxic around Kiffin at USC that Haden couldn't stand to have him around the team one second longer. He was called "the Miley Cyrus of college football" on Saturday morning, he plummeted USC's offense and QB play to levels historically unseen, fans failed to show up to the coliseum in ways they never had before because of him, and they protested his continued employment through less than legal means.

In the end, Haden looks like a cold, heartless, and ruthless liar while Kiffin looks like an inept coach who never deserved to be hired for a high profile head coaching job, never mind three. Out of all this, USC looks like it is in complete chaos. They played only 50 scholarship players against Arizona State and watched star WR Marqise Lee go down with an ugly knee injury and are now left with two scholarship wide receivers on their entire roster. They have promoted defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to be interim head coach. This is because Orgeron is the only person on staff with head coaching experience but it is hardly a line he should promote on his resume. Orgeron went 10-25 in three seasons as head coach at Ole Miss including an 0-8 SEC record in 2007, that was Ole Miss' first win-less conference record in 25 years. In three years, Oregeron won only two games against a team that finished with a winning record.

USC is now a bad team, one that is injury riddled, coach-less, and without a quality offense or defense. That matters little in the big picture as Haden, Nikias, and USC's administration have at least two months to slowly and carefully find the right coach to rebuild the smoldering crater that Kiffin left behind. For now may we stand, remove our hats, and observe a moment of silence in memory of Kiffin Face. It will be missed, may it rest in peace.

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