Monday, September 16, 2013
Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 3
By Ted Miller
Taking stock of Week 3 in the Pac-12.
UCLA QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins overcame an emotional week to knock off Nebraska on the road.
Team of the week: A major tip of the cap to UCLA coach Jim Mora, his staff and his players for their work -- most notably in the second half -- at Nebraska. The emotions of the week were brutal with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale, and we're not going to trivialize that by acting like winning a football game heals anything. But there can be no doubt that the emotions at work for the Bruins could have wrecked them. Instead, they came together and played a spectacular half of football. This team showed a lot of backbone on the road, which is just more evidence of the positive culture change in Westwood under Mora.
Best game: Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah was a back-and-forth affair that featured more big plays and momentum swings than any other contest. The Beavers' euphoria over potentially saving their season, which began with a horrid loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team, was painfully contrasted by the stunned look on the faces of Utah coaches, fans and players. The Utes, who have started 0-4 in Pac-12 play their first two seasons in the conference, fell just short of a nice statement win. But keep this in mind, Utes. Your QB, Travis Wilson, is a baller. It's worth noting with his and the offense's slow start that he was dealing with his own emotions as a lifelong friend of Pasquale.
Biggest play: The officiating mess at the end of the Arizona State-Wisconsin game was the biggest misplay, but the biggest positive play -- among many choices -- was Sean Mannion's 6-yard TD pass to Brandin Cooks for Oregon State's overtime win at Utah.
Offensive standout: In the Beavers' thrilling 51-48 victory at Utah, Mannion completed 27 of 44 passes for 443 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. With the Beavers' defense clearly vulnerable and the running game struggling, it's likely Mannion and company are going to need to throw the rock around in order to win games this fall. Through three weeks, he looks up to the task.
Offensive standout, runners up: We've got to give some credit to Mannion's top target, Cooks, who hauled in nine passes for 210 yards and three TDs. That's 23.3 yards per catch. Also, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 23 of 33 passes for a career-high 456 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Ducks' blowout win over Tennessee. He also rushed for 27 yards and a TD.
(I know I know. I left out YOUR GUY. There were just too many good offensive performances this weekend.)
Defensive standout: UCLA All-American outside linebacker Anthony Barr led the Bruins' second-half domination of Nebraska. He collected a team-high 11 tackles, with 1.5 coming for a loss, in the 41-21 road victory. He also forced three fumbles, which is a good thing to do and a big reason the Cornhuskers didn't score a point in the second half.
Special teams standout: Oregon State kicker Trevor Romaine was 3-for-3 on field goals in the overtime win at Utah. His boots included a career-long 49-yard effort, as well as connections of 36 and 20 yards. He's 5-for-6 on field goals for the season and 36-for-45 for his career. He now ranks ninth at OSU for career points with 184.
Smiley face: The Pac-12 went 8-1 in nonconference games, with only California losing to No. 4 Ohio State. That included wins over ranked teams (No. 20 Wisconsin and No. 23 Nebraska) and wins over three automatic qualifying conferences (3-1 vs. Big Ten, 1-0 vs. SEC and 1-0 vs. ACC). We called it "Measuring Stick Week," and the conference measured up.
Frowny face: The officials soiled the ending of Arizona State's win over Wisconsin. However you see the final play -- and the idea that there was easy clarity (other than after the fact) is ridiculous -- the officials dithered instead of acting decisively, and Wisconsin folks have a right to be apoplectic. And, by the way, they are. They also, by the way, should be infuriated by how the Badgers handled things at the end, too. If quarterback Joel Stave had simply gone to the ground in a standard way, it's unlikely the officials would have become The Three Stooges.
Thought of the week: It's now pretty clear that the preseason perception was accurate: The Pac-12 is as deep and as good at the top as it has been for a long time. Oregon is clearly a national title contender, and Stanford, also a top-five team, is not far behind. UCLA and Washington have surged, while Arizona State is now the fifth conference team in the top 25, with Arizona also getting votes. Only Cal has a losing record, and that's because it played two ranked teams in its first three games. There isn't a team that doesn't appear capable of winning six games and becoming bowl eligible. The issue now becomes whether the top teams can avoid multiple blemishes in such a deep conference. A patsy-less conference with a nine-game conference schedule makes it tough to go unbeaten.
Questions for the week: Who makes a statement in the Arizona State-Stanford game? The Pac-12 features its first matchup of ranked conference teams on Saturday, and it pretty much has the stage all to itself because next weekend's schedule is fairly thin after that, other than the Holy War between Utah and BYU. Has Stanford been sandbagging it through a pair of unspectacular wins? Can the Sun Devils beat a top-five team on the road and make a thunderous statement for coach Todd Graham in his second season? Big, physical Wisconsin should have been good prep for the Cardinal.