Oregon Ducks: Max Wittek

Pac-12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
10:00
AM ET
Today we put a bow on the 2013 season (almost -- a few more review posts are coming up, and then probably a few more after that). But today across the blogosphere, we’re categorizing some of the top moments and individuals from the Pac-12 season. These are set in stone and in no way open to argument or interpretation.

Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.

Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.

Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).

Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Kodi Whitfield had a highlight touchdown grab against UCLA.
Biggest upset: Take your pick between Utah topping Stanford or Arizona topping Oregon. Both were road losses for the favorites and both shook up the national and league landscape. Granted, Utah’s win over Stanford came earlier in the season, and early-season losses are easier to rebound from. Oregon’s loss to Arizona came at the end and cost the Ducks all kinds of postseason possibilities.

Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.

Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.

Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
11:00
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 2 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: It was inevitable that Washington State's 10-7 win at USC was going to end up being an archly negative referendum on Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, rather than a celebration of the Cougars' advancement, but the Cougs still had to make the plays to win the game. And they did. Washington State hinted at Auburn in the opener that it would be a tougher out in Year 2 under Mike Leach. At USC, the Cougars showed they are capable of winning Pac-12 games.

Best game: The Cougars' win at USC was devoid of offense, but it was the only game of the weekend that presented a lot of drama. Even California's closer-than-expected win over Portland State owned a note of inevitability once the Bears settled down on defense in the second half. In terms of good football, Oregon and Stanford certainly provided that in dominant victories.

Biggest play: Washington State cornerback Damante Horton provided the Cougs with their only touchdown when he returned an interception of a Cody Kessler pass for a 70-yard TD with one minute left before halftime. That tied the score at 7-7 and seemed to irritate Trojans fans in the Coliseum. Go figure.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsOregon RB De'Anthony Thomas rushed for 124 yards and three TDs against Virginia.
Offensive standout: There were a number of big performances against weak foes, but De'Anthony Thomas' work at Virginia stands out the most, in large part because it answered a question: Yes, Thomas can be a lead running back. His 124 yards on just 11 carries -- 11.3 yards per run -- and three touchdowns were not just flash. There were moments of physicality, too. Heck, he threw a couple of effective stiff arms against far larger defenders. He also caught a 28-yard pass, so he's still a weapon in the passing game when Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost want him to be.

Defensive standout: Horton not only had his pick-six, he also intercepted USC's other QB, Max Wittek, on the Trojans' final possession. That would be enough for a tip of the cap, but he also had two tackles for a loss and four total tackles. It's worth noting that he helped limit the nation's best receiver, Marqise Lee, to seven catches for 27 yards, though some of that may fall on the guy calling plays for the Trojans.

Defensive standout II: Stanford All-American safety Ed Reynolds had 12 tackles and an interception, leading the Cardinal's dominant defensive effort against David Fales and San Jose State. The Spartans had only 251 total yards in a 34-13 Stanford victory. Trent Murphy's two sacks also are worthy of note.

Special teams standout: New Arizona kicker Jake Smith set a school record with 16 points via kicking in the Wildcats' 58-13 win over UNLV. Smith was 3-for-4 on field goals with a long of 41 yards and he was perfect on seven extra points. Those 16 points broke the previous single-game record for kickers of 15 held previously by three players. In addition, Smith kicked off 11 times, with five touchbacks and a 63.3-yard average. The Rebels mustered only 16.5 yards per return on six tries, and Smith registered one tackle to stop a potential long return.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 took care of business and avoided upsets, going 8-0 in the Week 2 nonconference slate. There were some scares, most notably California and Colorado, but winning is the thing. The conference's top two teams, Oregon and Stanford, both posted dominant wins against respectable foes.

Frowny face: Well, this isn't terribly difficult: USC. Not USC as a whole, because the Trojans turned in a sterling defensive performance against Washington State. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has done everything asked of him. Maybe more. But the Trojans' offensive ineptitude against the Cougars is inexcusable. You could make an argument that a purely random selection of play calls would have produced more points and yards than what the Trojans got Saturday as boos rained down in the Coliseum.

Thought of the week: It's measuring stick week, time for the Pac-12 to announce to the country what many started theorizing in the preseason: The Pac-12 this fall is as strong as it has been in recent memory, top to bottom, and should be in the mix when debating the nation's best conference. There are games against three ranked teams: California vs. No. 4 Ohio State, UCLA at No. 23 Nebraska and Arizona State vs. No. 20 Wisconsin. Further, Washington visits Illinois, Colorado plays host to Fresno State, Boston College visits USC and Tennessee is at Oregon. The Pac-12 blog -- and others on the West Coast -- have talked the talk. Now the teams must walk the walk.

Questions for the week: Was Washington State Kiffin's Waterloo? It's not difficult to ascertain what fans at the Coliseum were thinking after the 10-7 loss to Washington State. After booing throughout the game, they chanted "Fire Kiffin" in the fourth quarter. The Pac-12 blog gets no joy from hot seat talk. Being gleefully snarky about a guy struggling at his life's work is pretty lame. But Kiffin is a big boy. Big-time college football is a bottom-line profession -- winning is the thing. And that's even more true at a place such as USC. Things will have to turn around quickly and dramatically, particularly on offense, for Kiffin to retain his job.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:00
AM ET
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

    1. Heavy favorites: The Pac-12 is favored in all eight of its nonconference games this week. In fact, the league is favored by at least 10 points in every game and by at least 20 points in six of the eight. It should be a strong week for the conference. Should being the operative word.

 

  • League play kicks off: The ninth game this week features the first conference showdown of the season with Washington State traveling to USC. The Cougs are coming off a tough loss at Auburn, where Connor Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. Cody Kessler is expected to start for the Trojans, but Max Wittek likely will see time again. USC’s defense had four interceptions and seven sacks in its Week 1 win over Hawaii. WSU's last win at USC was in 2000.
  • Debuts: After spending last Saturday lounging around and watching football, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Stanford coach David Shaw have to get back to work. The Sun Devils open the season on the cusp of the Top 25 and host Sacramento State on Thursday night. Stanford hosts San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy Game. The Cardinal opened the season ranked No. 4 but got bumped down to No. 5 for their Week 1 laziness.
  • Off and running: The Pac-12 had seven players rush for at least 100 yards in Week 1, headlined by Washington’s Bishop Sankey. He and the Huskies are off this week prepping for their game against Illinois on Sept. 14. Three of those seven came from Oregon -- a school record with De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota all eclipsing 100 yards. The other 100-yard rushers were Jordon James (UCLA, which is off this week), Daniel Jenkins (Arizona) and Tre Madden (USC).
  • 2-oh? Colorado snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with its win over Colorado State. The Buffs host Central Arkansas on Saturday with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
  • Crazy eights: Stanford and San Jose State are both riding eight-game winning streaks dating back to last season. That’s the first time in all of the years the schools have played that both have enjoyed simultaneous streaks.
  • Dominating the MWC: The Pac-12 went 5-0 against the Mountain West last week with Utah (Utah State), Colorado (Colorado State), USC (Hawaii), Washington (Boise State) and UCLA (Nevada) all scoring victories. The Pac-12 has three more games against the Mountain West this week with Arizona traveling to UNLV, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and San Jose State at Stanford. It was a rough opening weekend for the West Coast’s little brother league, which went just 3-9.
  • Road warriors: No. 2 Oregon goes on the road for the first time this season and is riding the nation’s best winning streak away from home. The Ducks have won 15 straight road games. Alabama and Northern Illinois are tied for second with nine. Oregon’s last road loss was at Stanford in 2009.
  • Strong debuts: The three new coaches in the Pac-12 went 2-1 in their season openers. Mark Helfrich (Oregon) rolled over Nicholls State (no shocker there). Mike MacIntyre led Colorado to an emotional win over an in-state rival in Colorado State, and Sonny Dykes’ California team put up a gritty effort in defeat against Northwestern.
  • Suspensions lifted: After being suspended for Week 1, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season, will make his debut against UNLV. Daniel Jenkins filled in quite nicely, rushing for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was also suspended for Week 1, is expected to be on the field when the Huskies return to action next week. Cal linebacker Chris McCain had his suspension rescinded after he was ejected per the NCAA’s new targeting rule and will play against Portland State.

 

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
AM ET
A look at what we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 1.

Keith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenWashington's Keith Price dazzled in his 2013 debut, throwing for 324 yards and two TDs.
Washington looks to be legit: Per my co-blogger, Washington quarterback Keith Price was “lights out” in his performance against Boise State. Bishop Sankey picked up where he left off last season, and the defense kept the Broncos out of the end zone. For those nervous about letting their expectations get raised, go ahead and raise them. Oh yeah, and you get the best tight end in the country back next week.

Andy Phillips is now a household name: In his first career game, the redshirt freshman kicker from Utah went 3-for-3, including a 45-yarder on his first career kick -- and executed a perfect onside kick to swing the momentum in the Utes’ victory over in-state rival Utah State.

USC QB TBD: Is it going to be Cody Kessler or Max Wittek at USC? What we learned is we didn’t learn much. Neither looked particularly sharp as USC struggled offensively against Hawaii. Kessler was 10-of-19 for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wittek was 5-of-10 for 77 yards. Both seemed constrained by a conservative gameplan of short throws and swing passes.

Oregon likes to run (well, duh): Three different Ducks eclipsed the 100-yard mark: De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall. In all, the Ducks rushed for 500 yards and a robust 11.1 yards per carry against Nicholls State. It marked the first time in school history three players went for 100 yards in the same game. Yes, it was Nicholls State, but you have to figure rushing records are getting harder and harder to break at Oregon.

DAT the featured back? New Oregon coach Mark Helfrich had been fairly noncommittal when talking about how Thomas would be used. He looked the part of an every-down back Saturday night, carrying 18 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns. The 18 carries were a career high.

Utah’s depth will be tested: For the second season in a row, the Utes lost a big-name player for the year at the hands of Utah State. Wide receiver Kenneth Scott will miss the rest of the season after suffering a leg injury in the first quarter. Others will have to step up. Sean Fitzgerald looked pretty good in relief, catching five balls for 79 yards.

They’re serious about this ejection thing: The NCAA’s new targeting rule, which went into effect this season, can lead to an ejection on the spot if the official deems it a head-to-head hit. The first big-name casualty was Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who makes up half of Oregon’s outstanding cornerback tandem with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Miller was ejected late in the first quarter of Oregon’s win over Nicholls State.

Really, Beavers? Maybe more of the offseason focus should have been on the defense, and less about the quarterback competition. Sean Mannion played brilliantly. The defense, not so much, allowing Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams to throw for 411 yards and run for 107. Not that it bears repeating, but this is the second time in three seasons the Beavers have opened the season with a loss to an FCS team.

We’re not done yet: One more game on the Week 1 docket with Colorado and Colorado State squaring off Sunday in Denver.

The Cougs looked better: A gutty effort in SEC country from Washington State, which went toe-to-toe with Auburn before falling 31-24. Turnovers continue to be a curse and three interceptions from Connor Halliday, including one in the red zone in the fourth quarter, contributed to WSU’s downfall.

Speaking of turnovers: In its nine games (Colorado pending), the Pac-12 won the turnover battle, 15-11. When the Pac-12 tied in turnovers (Utah, Cal, Oregon State, Washington), it was 2-2. When it won the turnover battle (Arizona, Oregon, USC), it was 3-0, and when it lost the turnover battle (UCLA, Washington State), it was 1-1.

Special teams had special plays: See Vincenzo D’Amato’s pass to Jackson Bouza on the fake field goal (one of the more creative give-and-gos I’ve seen). See UCLA’s punt block for a touchdown against Nevada. See Phillips’ performance.

Speaking of special: After posting the worst field-goal percentage in college football last year (67.9 percent) the Pac-12 kickers came out swinging in Week 1, converting on 14 of 17 attempts (82 percent).

SPONSORED HEADLINES

One Thing To Know: Pac-12 Recruiting
Recruiting reporter Erik McKinney discusses the top storyline to watch in 2015 college football recruiting within the Pac-12. Somewhat quietly, Washington State is putting together a potent class.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30