Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Roundup Week 6: Stanford and Washington give us a classic, Arizona State should never leave Tempe, and Oregon suffers a defeat in victory

The Roundup is a day late this week because of, as Mark Helfrich would say, "circumstances." I'm sorry I fell a little bit behind here but I'm not getting paid for this so quit your whining. Regardless, here's what happened in the four Pac-12 games on Saturday:

Washington State 44, California 22

This was not just an important win but an important performance for Washington State. The Cougars needed to rebound in the worst way after being shellacked by Stanford last week and they came out firing against the Bears and scored their most dominating conference win in years. Myself and a large portion of the WSU fan base has been hard on quarterback Connor Halliday and justifiably so but he put in a masterpiece on Saturday. He did throw another interception as well as 21 incompletions but he threw for a career high 521 yards and three touchdowns and did it all essentially on one leg. Halliday was knocked out of the Stanford game with an apparent hip injury (was never confirmed exactly what body part was injured but it appeared to be his hip) and he seemed to tweak it again early against the Bears. He limped and grimaced all game but played spectacularly and put any talk of a QB controversy to bed. That is at least until he has his next multiple interception performance in a losing effort.

No photographer listed

As for Cal, a bad season is just getting worse and there is absolutely nothing you can point to that suggests things will get better. The Bears were a young rebuilding team to begin with but have suffered injuries on an almost comical level. At this point, all you can do as a Cal fan is laugh at how the Bears' roster has fallen apart because Lord knows the good people of Berkeley have already expressed every other emotion toward their team this year. After losing two starters on defense during the week, Cal lost their best corner Stefan McClure for the season due to an injury sustained during the Wazzou game. Now, saying McClure is the best Cal corner is akin to calling him the most reliable vehicle in a shady used car lot located underneath an overpass. However, with McClure out of the picture, head coach Sonny Dykes claimed that Cal may start using wide receivers in the secondary for the rest of the year. It's better to have a bad car than no car at all.

Cal's offensive line fell apart too as Washington State consistently got pressure on Jared Goff and was often able to do it without blitzing. The Bears are now 115th in the nation allowing 17 sacks in five games thus far but don't worry, the situation on the offensive line has gotten worse as well since starting center Chris Adcock is out for the rest of the year.

You don't want to get too carried away with Washington State's performance considering the sad state of Cal football but this was a game Washington State absolutely had to win if they were going to make a bowl game and they played like they understood that. Halliday was great, the receivers were always open, the offensive line gave good protection, and they even ran the ball with reasonable effectiveness. Washington State still has some defensive issues to fix particularly in the secondary and they got a little lucky as Cal twice fumbled the ball away near the Cougars' 10 goal line. But winning by 20 points in a road conference game is a clear sign of how far this team has come under Mike Leach.

Oregon 57, Colorado 16

It actually seemed like Oregon was in for a bit of a dogfight for awhile in this game. Colorado knew what insurmountable odds befell them and they came out blazing with an onside kick attempt on the opening kickoff. Oregon recovered but failed to capitalize as Marcus Mariota's early game bouts of inaccuracy plagued him again as he rolled out of the pocket on third down and overshot a wide open Bralon Addison who likely would have scored had be been able to run under the ball and catch it in stride. On Colorado's first play from scrimmage, Oregon corner Terrance Mitchell, renowned for his physical style, failed to jam star receiver Paul Richardson off the line. Richardson beat Mitchell cleanly deep and the Ducks were slow bringing safety help over the top and the result was a 55 yard pass completion to set up a field goal. Oregon responded with a touchdown drive but the Buffs came right back with a 75 yard touchdown as Richardson took a reverse and threw a pass to a wide open D.D. Goodson. The trick play was further indicative of Colorado's aggressive mindset and it caught Oregon totally off guard. Suddenly Colorado was up 10-8 and for the first time all year Oregon had trailed twice in the same game.

But of course, as always Oregon asserted itself and began scoring at will. In a flash the Ducks reeled off 21 unanswered points to lead 29-10 at the end of the 1st quarter to take control of the game. Colorado was unable to maintain some measure of hope with a pair of field goal drives that were set up by a high risk-high reward running game. The Buffs ran an inside trap play with a puling guard but instead of having him block the backside defensive end, they had him clear to the second level and take out the middle linebacker. In layman's terms, Colorado created a one-on-one match up with their power running back Christian Powell and Oregon's hybrid linebacker/defensive end (the Ducks called it the "drop end" position") Tony Washington. Either Washington would make a tackle for loss in the back field or Powell would break his tackle and be able to run for big yardage. Powell won the duel a few times in the second quarter allowing Colorado to gain significant yardage. At halftime, Oregon was up big 43-16 but it sure seemed like the Buffs had at least shown the world that the Ducks can bleed like everyone else.

Colorado had used its unconventional running game and a number of big passing plays mostly to Richardson to accumulate 318 yards in the first half. But, Oregon proved their defensive stats were no fluke in the second half as they made a few important adjustments to shut down the Colorado offense. Defensive Coordinator Nick Allioti altered the Ducks alignment up front so that Washington moved a few steps inward giving him a better angle and a shorter distance to reach the running back in the backfield on that trap play. Allioti also shifted the Ducks' linebackers to provide support behind Washington and played more press coverage on the outside to prevent Richardson from getting a clean first step off the line and stop him from dictating his route. The result was 56 yards for the Buffs on 32 second half plays all while Oregon kept scoring on offense. The Ducks mettle was tested for awhile as they likely got caught looking ahead to next week's showdown at Washington and they needed a little time to get into the game particularly on defense. Truthfully, the most noteworthy development for the Ducks came on Sunday afternoon, long after Oregon finished up their win over Colorado.

You have probably heard about it by now but just in case you have been away from social media and major sports new media outlets, Oregon junior tight end Colt Lyerla has decided to leave the team. He was mysteriously absent from the Colorado game as it was disclosed mere hours before kickoff that Lyerla had been suspended for the CU game and did not make the trip. Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said Lyerla would rejoin the team on Monday but on Sunday, Lyerla came out and announced that he was leaving the team and withdrawing from the University and choosing to sit out the rest of the season and focus on the NFL Draft.

Michael Arellano/Daily Emerald

The news is certainly odd but all things considered it is not very surprising and it probably won't have much impact on the Ducks this season. Lyerla certainly has a checkered past but not in a typical way considering Lyerla has never been arrested or failed a drug test which is normally why you see players leave a team mid season. There were numerous rumors (albeit unsubstantiated ones) that Lyerla nearly failed to qualify academically to get into Oregon and since then he has taken a curious leave of absense from the team and stirred up a public relations firestorm on Twitter. Lyerla publicly aired his grievances with Helfrich earlier this year after he was upset with Helfrich's media handling of his missing the Tennessee game due to an illness.

Helfrich said that Lyerla is leaving in good standing and Lyerla stated that he loves Oregon and his teammates and is harboring no ill will toward any one. Who knows what they suspension was for and it doesn't really matter at this point. I think it is fairly obvious that Lyerla and Helfrich were not getting along and Lyerla decided that his suspension for the Colorado game was his sign that he had to go. For Lyerla, he has 1st round NFL talent but his stock was already hurting due to an unproductive season thus far. NFL teams will have doubts about him for bailing on Oregon and understandably so. However, Lyerla by all accounts is a well mannered and pleasant young man who works hard and his talent and overall athletic ability is too tantalizing for too many NFL teams to pass on him. His decision on Sunday probably cost him a spot in the first round and he may well fall out of the second round too but it would be very surprising to see him still on the board heading into the third day of the draft.

As for Oregon, I doubt they will miss him. Whatever was going on between Helfrich and Lyerla it had to be affecting the locker room in some way. A swift resolution to this situation one way or another is probably a good thing for the rest of Oregon's team. Furthermore, the Ducks definitely will not miss him on the field. The Ducks have already played two games without him and scored 59 and 57 points respectively in those two games. Lyerla also played a miserable game against Virgina when he dropped three passes so you could argue Oregon would have been better off if Lyerla had missed that game too. In three games of action so far this year, Lyerla has caught just two passes for 26 yards while gaining 17 yards and a touchdown on three carries rushing. Oregon's new starting tight end, true freshman Johnny Mundt produced nearly three times as much total offense in his first start against Tennessee. The Ducks can easily replace Lyerla with Mundt as well as Pharoah Brown who the Duck coaches hailed as Oregon's most improved player during Spring Practice before Brown suffered a leg injury that cost him most of Fall Camp and the early portion of this season.

This is an unfortunate situation and it is never ideal to see a team and a player part ways for reasons that are not pertaining to law breaking or academic impropriety. In the end though, this divorce will probably bring the best outcome both for Lyerla and the Oregon football team.

Notre Dame 37, Arizona State 34

If only the Arizona State Sun Devils never had to leave Tempe. Arizona State's road woes continued at AT&T stadium in Arlington, Texas as the Sun Devils offense failed to cash in on a great first half from its defense and the ASU defense crumbled in the second half just as the offense was finding a groove. The Sun Devils actually had a reasonably effective performance defending the run as they held Notre Dame to 145 rushing yards after allowing 200+ in each of their previous three games. ND quarterback Tommy Rees was as spotty as expected throwing an interception and completing less than half of his passes. But the key difference was Rees ability to step up under pressure and complete big passes in key moments while ASU's Taylor Kelly who had a great day by the numbers was unable to make the big throws when they really mattered.

Arizona State's defense controlled the first half but Notre Dame's defense took on the challenge and kept the game close. ASU's interior offensive line struggled once again as the Irish controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the night and made it just about impossible to run the ball. That put ASU into a lot of long third down situations and the Sun Devils frequently found themselves completing long passes from deep in their own end but being unable to execute on third down in ND territory when they really needed to. Two long and promising drives ended in field goals in the second quarter and that left the door open for Rees who made several great throws to lead a pair of touchdown drives within the final five minutes of the first half. As a result, the Sun Devils found themselves trailing 14-13 at the break after looking like the superior team for most of the first half.

Robert Franklin/South Bend tribune

Notre Dame's defense continued to give up yards and long drives in the second half but like most of Arizona State's nationally televised short comings, they were done in by their own mistakes. The Sun Devils committed three crippling turnovers the second half. The first of which came from wide receiver Richard Smith after a completed pass that set up Notre Dame at the ASU 20 yard line. The Irish quickly turned the fumble into a touchdown that made the score 24-13 and put ASU into trailing position for the rest of the game. Every time ASU got close they would commit another mistake to fall further away and it was fitting that the Sun Devils were finally put in by another easily avoidable mistake. The Sun Devils defense rose up as Osahon Irabor returned an interception for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter and after forcing a field goal, ASU was down only seven points and had the ball.

The Devils tied the game with a touchdown pass to De'Marieya Nelson but allowed Notre Dame to bleed the clock and retake the lead on the Irish's ensuing drive. A pass interference penalty and very poor tackling on a 29 yard run by ND's Cam McDaniel put a field goal on the board with 3:03 remaining. In spite of all their silly mistakes and failures to seize opportunities the Sun Devils had the ball down only three with plenty of time remaining to drive for a tie or the win. They got neither as Kelly threw an interception on fourth down that should have sealed the game. ASU's defense came up with one last stand to give ASU the ball back at their own one yard line with 1:14 and no timeouts remaining but Kelly blew that chance as well throwing a pass straight to ND linebacker Dan Fox for a 14 yard pick-six that sealed the game.

Arizona State seems to be one of those teams that plays well as long as you aren't watching them. The Sun Devils win impressively against bad teams and they even spring wins over decent teams at home from time to time. But, whenever ASU faces an elite team or ventures away from Sun Devil stadium to face anyone with a pulse they fall flat on their face. It is hard to find upward momentum for this program when their talent is so evident but their performance is not.

Stanford 31, Washington 28

This really was a heck of game and it showed what makes each team so great and also exposed the holes in both squads. Washington came in with a top 10 offense and a top 10 defense and a question mark on special teams. It's not that Washington had raised a red flag in their kick and kick coverage units in their earlier games this season, it's just that we had not yet seen them get tested in the third major element of the game nor had we seen them put into a situation where they needed to make a play in the kicking game. The Huskies were finally put in a spot where they needed to come through on special teams and Stanford exposed the one major flaw on Washington's team. The Huskies kicked deep to Ty Montgomery to open the game and Montgomery burned them on a 99 yard kickoff return touchdown in which he was never touched. Washington's offense came to the forefront looking to respond right away but they demonstrated the biggest red flag that we already knew about the Huskies, penalties.

Keith Price completed two really nice passes on the Huskies' opening drive and had them on the move looking to answer Stanford's drive when they found themselves in a 4th and one on the Stanford 35 yard line. Bishop Sankey picked up the first down but a holding penalty wiped it out and moved the ball back to the 45 with a 4th and 11 that necessitated a punt. Washington's defense rose up and Marcus Peters made a nice play to intercept Stanford QB Kevin Hogan at the UW 18 to keep Stanford from taking a big early lead. However, Washington's drive petered out and the Huskies punt unit took a turn for the worse. Barry Sanders Jr. caught the punt, broke one tackle, and caught a Husky out of his lane and ran to his right for 29 yards. Washington's defense stood up again and forced a four and out (turnover on downs) but you could tell despite Washington's tremendous defensive performance they were not going to be able to hold up forever if their offense and special teams couldn't get things together.

Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest

But three more penalties including a personal foul created a three and out and then Washington finally bent as consecutive runs of 19 and 17 yards set up a field goal to put Stanford up two scores. The teams traded punts until finally Washington made something happen on offense. The Huskies put together a 12 play, 88 yard drive and capped it with a seven yard rushing touchdown by Bishop Sankey. Despite being smothered on offense and making multiple bad mistakes the Huskies were down only 10-7 heading to halftime with the first possession of the second half coming their way. There was one small problem for the Huskies, they had to get to halftime first. There was only 1:03 remaining but that was more than enough time for Washington to commit another special teams error. The Huskies perfectly executed coach Steve Sarkisian's plan but it was a bad plan as the Huskies popped the kickoff up in the air and handed Stanford the ball on the Cardinal 40 yard line with two timeouts still remaining. There is a time and place for pop fly kickoffs but Washington did it in the wrong scenario as the Cardinal were left with more than enough time to drive just 60 yards for a back breaking touchdown and they made the Huskies pay immediately.

The Cardinal quickly made it to the Washington 39 where Hogan threw a perfect deep pass down the right sideline and laid it on Montgomery's right shoulder for a touchdown with 11 seconds left and suddenly Washington was back down by 10 points and the work of their crucial drive was undone. The emotional let down didn't affect Washington's offense to start the second half as the Huskies reeled off gains of 14, 30, and 29 yards to cut the lead back to three but the Huskies' defense did suffer a letdown on their first possession of the next half. The Cardinal's offense line finally asserted itself and ran the ball right at the Huskies for a 10 plays, 67 yard touchdown drive. The Huskies cut the lead down again but yet another special teams miscue set up Stanford's final touchdown of the evening and it was one Washington would not be able to overcome. The Huskies tried an "in between" kickoff where they popped the kickoff high in the air but this time went beyond Stanford's second level and sent it deep to the return men around the 20 instead of the goal line. The point of that kick is to hang it in the air so your coverage team has more time to get down field and also leave it short so they have less distance to travel but it didn't matter as they couldn't defeat Stanford's blocks and Montgomery busted a 68 yard return to set up a Tyler Gaffney touchdown to make it 31-21 late in the 3rd.

Another holding penalty killed Washington's ensuing drive at the start of the fourth and it looked like the Huskies were down and out but to their credit, they owned the fourth quarter and darn near came back to pull this one out. The Huskies forced a three and out and began moving on offense toward cutting the lead back to three. Stanford was determined to keep the Huskies play makers in front of them and Washington had to move the ball slowly and methodically and that resulted in an 18 play drive that ended in disaster. It looked like Washington was trying to run a quick pass (not necessarily a screen) over the middle that required the left tackle to cut down Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy but he whiffed and Murphy got his hands up to deflect the pass for an A.J. Tarpley interception.

Still despite the turnover, Washington was able to get the ball back without incurring any damage on the scoreboard and had possession with 2:38 remaining. Price who was battered around the entire game and finished with a big wrap on his right thumb and a noticeable limp threw two great passes under pressure including a 40 yarder to Kasen Williams and finished the drive with a quick screen to Jaydon Mickens for a one yard touchdown. The Huskies used their timeouts and forced another three and out to get the ball back and suddenly with 1:16 remaining, they had a shot.

Price found Williams for 18 yards and a first down at the Stanford 49 and suddenly all hell was set to break loose. After two incompletions under heavy pressure, Price found Austin Seferian-Jenkins wide open down the middle of the field and threw a perfect pass to hit him in stride but Seferian-Jenkins' miserably disappointing season hit a new low as he dropped the ball and put the Huskies in a 4th and 10. That's when this happened:

First of all before we figure out if that was a catch or not can we just applaud Keith Price. He played through pain and got no protection from his offensive line all night and on that play he shook out of a sack multiple times and made a great throw on the run with a man bearing down on him both from behind and in front. It certainly looked like the back tip of the ball hit the ground although the most definitive camera angle was obscured somewhat by Kevin Smith's body. It's okay for Washington fans to feel upset but by the letter of the law that was an incompletion as the back end of the ball hit the ground without Smith's hand underneath it and therefore it is an incomplete pass. Washington will learn from this and they will try to make something special out of their heartbreak and they get a chance to do it right away when Oregon comes to town next weekend.

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