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Inside the Pac-10, Week 6: Big Plays

In my mind, the three marquee conference matchups came down to those cliched big plays. Small individual moments helped decisively swing each of them one way or the other.

So I didn't take much from the results of these ones about how everyone stacks up, other than, "These last seven games for Cal are going to be real tough."

Washington 36, Arizona 33

Mike Stoops bewilders me. Every now and then his Wildcats lose a game they shouldn't. This is one of them. Although I hardly blame him for the defeat, he did make some questionable decisions down the stretch.

1) Kicking a field goal up 9 (two score game) facing a 4th and 3 at the 7 with 4:45 left. Here's the issue. You kick the field goal, you're up 12 (still only two scores, albeit two touchdowns). If you go for it and make the first down, you have the opportunity to go for the touchdown to make it a two touchdown, two two-point-conversion game to tie (or if you make it and go for two, it's a three possession game).

Even if you don't make it, you leave Jake Locker and the Huskies offense to go 93 yards for a touchdown that would only cut the lead to two, and they'd almost certainly need an onside kick or might've burned a timeout here and there. As it is, the Wildcats curiously poor kickoff team let a return go back to the 45 yard line, and it takes Locker 80 seconds to put them in the end zone and make it a one score game.

2) Coming out and passing on 1st down with 2:50 left. Why. WHY? WHY??? Even if you run three freaking dive plays with Nwoko, you burn those two timeouts Washington have. Worst case scenario, you give the Huskies about two minutes to go, needing to drive a likely 60-70 yards with no timeouts. Even with Locker back there that's a tall order.

Yeah, that was a terribly fluky play, but Arizona shouldn't have been throwing in the first place. While I'm not saying Stoops was the reason they lost (he wasn't), he probably could've made the final decision easier for his Wildcats to escape undefeated in the Pac-10, and likely a ranked team

As for the game itself? Great one, all the way around. Between that fantastic rocking Husky crowd, and Locker and Nick Foles tearing the defenses apart, it was a sweet West Coast shootout. Interestingly, the quarterbacks are a stark contrast in style and method. Locker had about a dozen great long throws that have become his trademark. Although he still struggles with anything intermediate (52% completion rate won't get it done most days), his play-making ability is unparalleled in the Pac-10 (who else can scamper for a 56 yard TD rush?) and keeps his Huskies in ballgames they would probably lose otherwise.

Foles, by contrast, is Willie Tuitama, version 2.0. 39 of 53??? Through his two starts in conference he's now averaging a 72% rate. Although the Huskies defense couldn't stop paraplegics from throwing on them (they were giving up a 63% completion rate and 9 passing yards per attempt BEFORE this game), that's mighty impressive.

It's safe to say a lot of Pac-10 quarterbacks are passing Kevin Riley by these past few weeks. What will be his response in LA?

Despite the clutch QB play from both sides, these offenses have huge weaknesses, notably in the run game. Running backs from both sides were able to combine for barely 100 yards, which just isn't enough to beat stingier defenses. Foles was able to guide the Wildcats down the field several times but the red zone offense stalled from there, settling for four field goals on seven tries. The Huskies scored their touchdowns  by evading the red zone entirely, relying on Locker's arm to get them there.

While the Huskies can get by with Locker doing some of the pounding on the ground, I'm not sure what the Wildcats can do. They probably need Keola Antolin back, because neither Nic Grigsby nor Greg Nwoko were able to penetrate a Husky defense giving up 178 rushing yards a game and 5.4 rushing yards per carry. Next week's game hosting the Furd will be critical, with the loser pretty much out of the Pac-10 race (neither of those teams is sweeping the Oregon-Cal-USC trifecta).

Reactions to Arizona-Washington

John Berkowitz, UW Dawg Pound: "The Wildcats dominated time of possesion 39:19 to only 20:15 for Washington. The Wildcats outgained the Huskies 461 to 256 yards! Jake Locker was only 12-23 with one interception for a total of 140 yards. He did run for a season high of 92 yards. Jake was responsible for over 90% of the Washington offense tonight. What was key for Jake and Washington was a 56 yard TD run in the first quarter plus three TD passes and the pass for that important two point conversion."

Scott Cushing, Seattle PI: "All night long, and I mean ALL NIGHT LONG, Arizona ran that wide-receiver screen play. First to one side, then the other. Play after play after play. And why not? It kept working. Desmond Trufant broke it up once, but it worked to perfection every other time. It's almost as if Seattle was Zaire for one night; UW as Ali Arizona as Foreman and that screen pass was the rope-a-dope. I don't know how else to explain it. It's as if Holt and the defense were baiting Foles into throwing that one errant pass at just the wrong (or right) time because they knew that that the ball would bounce off of Delashaun Dean's heel right into Mason Foster's waiting arms and he would sprint untouched into the endzone. How else do you explain it? They must have known it would happen.

I'm only half kidding, but it's amazing that they decided to, at that time, during that play, blow it up. They knew it was coming and smothered the play, confusing Foles, who had been nearly perfect all night, into making a terrible pass."

Bobby Stover, Arizona Daily Wildcat: "It was (the coaching staff’s) fault for leaving the option on," head coach Mike Stoops said. "Nick was doing what he was supposed to do and it just falls on us as coaches for make a tactical error late in the game...I’m disappointed we didn’t win but I’m not disappointed in the way our kids played tonight...We probably played good enough to win. It just came down to finishing and then that freak play. But that’s just part of college football and the swings of the game."

Oregon 24, UCLA 10

What the hell do I make of this game? Just like Oregon State-Washington, everything changed on one play.

The Bruins had a great chance to knock the Ducks off the pedestal and gagged it away. In terms of offense, it was Oregon 10, UCLA 3 (and even then, that Duck score came off a midfield fumble by Kevin Prince, so it's hard to say). Both sides had a mind-numbing pick-six, and Kevin Craft wasn't even involved.

The only bright spot on other side was the re-emergence of the Oregon run game. Redshirt freshmen LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner (who scored the kickoff return) could be supplanting Best and Vereen as the most potent Pac-10 running back duo. No offense to Blount, who is a physical horse, but he lacks the speed and agility of these two guys to make moves into the holes and cut in the spread offense. James continues to impress with the spinning and the juking, and Barner has pure velocity that can terrorize any defense he faces. Nate Costa wasn't really impressive, although he did make two nice throws on 3rd down on one second half drive, including the touchdown.

However, on defense? These guys are solid. Not sure what happened that morphed Nick Aliotti into Buddy Ryan, but his units are coming out firing. The pass rush schemes are sweet to watch--delayed blitzes with the linebacker looking like he's dropping into coverage, sending the corner from the side, sometimes pure manhandling one-on-one, etc. The UCLA offensive line was one step short, especially with Breahaut came in and Oregon sent pressure on every other play. And that goal-line stand in the first half changed the complexion of the game; Kevin Prince could never play loose enough with the Bruins either playing in a tight matchup or in comeback mode.

As for UCLA? They had a sixteen-play, eight minute drive that ended with Kai Forbath connecting on a 52 yard field goal. I'm guessing they'll be emphasizing ball control in beating Cal next week, since it doesn't seem the Bruins come by their points easily.

Kevin Prince started out the game okay and seemed to get in rhythm in the 2nd quarter against the zone defense, but had all sorts of trouble when his team fell behind, and Richard Brehaut didn't fare much better being thrown in there in the 4th quarter. The Bruins also could not run the ball, putting up around 70 yards on the ground, 22 of those by Prince. Norm Chow also had some quizzical playcalls--two successive QB sneaks at the 1 on 3rd and 4th and goal?

Logically, next week against Cal, they'll explode for 200 yards rushing, Prince will go out and complete 65 percent of his passes and he'll lead the Bruins to four scores. That's how the script goes with us this year, right?

Reactions to Oregon-UCLA

mdjohns4, Bruins Nation: "But it has become all too clear that Brehaut needs to play.  If we have a quarterback making elementary mistakes (like Prince and Craft) why not have the highly recruited, Elite 11 camper that has been bred to be a quarterback learning from them when he makes them?  The fact that our quarterbacks are relatively even in terms of effectiveness right now should show that the one with the potential to turn this offense into one that can make plays downfield needs to play.  We don't need a "game manager."  That is coach-speak for "he sucks too much to make plays himself".  We've got a young team with raw talent and the potential to go to a bowl game this year, as well as prepare for the ensuing dynasty over the coming years.  Coach, stick with Brehaut.  Please?"

jtlight, Addicted to Quack: "I said earlier in the week that this game would tell us a lot about the Oregon defense. And, I think we saw exactly how good this defense can be. After letting the UCLA grind out a 9 first downs and 148 yards in the first half, the Oregon defense brought down the hammer in the second, scoring a touchdown, forcing 3 turnovers, and holding UCLA to 5 first downs and 73 on 2.35 yards per play. Besides one long drive in the first half, the Oregon defense did what it should have done: dominate the Bruins offense."

Chris Foster, LA Times: "[Norm Chow on the quarterbacks]: "I don't know, it's too early to call. I think Kevin Prince gives us the best chance to win. That's one man's opinion."...[Chow on the offensive struggles]: "We have a freshman at left tackle, three sophomores on the offensive line, a junior college transfer, a freshman at running back, a freshman at quarterback and two sophomores at wide receiver.""

John Hunt & Jeff Smith, the Oregonian: "Oregon's defense wasn't about to let this one get away. In these three conference games, the Ducks have yet to give up an honest touchdown. Now having outscored California, Washington State and UCLA by a combined 118-19 score, the two opponents' touchdowns have come on drives totaling one yard.

"I think people are starting to jump on the bandwagon," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "They're as good a defense as I've seen in a long time.""

Oregon State 38, Furd 28



via (Image from Don Ryan, AP)

In the other two marquee matchups, it was about unexpected plays changing the complexion. In this game, it was a surprise play not being converted that made the difference.

First play from scrimmage, Andrew Luck executes a perfect playfake that the Beavers bite on, then throws it perfectly in stride to Chris Owusu. Owusu snares it, looks like he's about to break for the score...then looks ahead a step too early before securing it. Dropped pass, opportunity lost.

If that play converts, the crowd's deflated, the Furd are up 7-0, they can establish Gerhart more thoroughly, etc. etc... Instead? We get a virtual carbon copy of Oregon-Cal (with the caveat that Oregon State isn't quite as potent, and the Furd performed much better in rallying). Jacquizz Rodgers took the role of Jeremiah Masoli, accumulated 134 yards and 3 TDs on the first three drives, putting the Beavers up by 21. Goodnight to the Furd.

On defense Oregon State bottled up Gerhart with seven or eight in the box (rarely nine, they respected Luck's ability to pass). The Beavers always looked a step ahead in the pass coverage, forcing Luck into completing 40% of his passes, including 0% in the first quarter. These are growing pains for the freshman quarterback, although it seemed like he made a valiant comeback effort late. His defense didn't do him any favor, giving up 359 yards of total offense to the Rodgers brothers, including a backbreaking 16 play, 7 minute second half drive where the duo picked up the last 56 of the 80 yards.

So Oregon State's now 2-1 in the Pac-10, 2-0 in October, rolling toward a showdown with USC at the Coliseum in two weeks. Can Mike Riley and Quizz do it again?

Reactions to Furd-Oregon State

Jake Bertalotto, Building the Dam: "Danny Langsdorf brought the Oregon State rendition of the trendy Wildcat formation out of the lab Saturday afterno on.  On it's debut play, it produced sophomore tailback Jacquizz Rodgers' longest rush of his OSU career-- a 61-yard scamper that set the Beavers up for their second touchdown of the game. Jacquizz would score four touchdowns on the afternoon and account for 271 yards of total offense-- almost certainly his best game since the Beavers downed USC last season."

Elliott Almond, San Jose Mercury News: "But more than anything, Stanford just couldn't recover from a devastating 21-0 deficit by the second quarter. Jacquizz Rodgers, who had been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in the three previous outings, slipped underneath defenders in the middle, or wiggled out of the grasp of tacklers in the open field. He looked capable of breaking a big gain almost every time he touched the ball. "We weren't making tackles," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said."

Arizona State 27, Washington State 14


via (Image from Dean Hare, AP)

The Sun Devils fumbled the ball six times. They turned it over six times in total. Their starting quarterback Danny Sullivan got rotated in and out of the game with Brock Osweiler (only for a series though). And they still had a 20 point lead going into the 4th quarter, with the Cougars needing a 99 yard TD pass to cut it to the respectable two touchdown margin.

Key stat #1: -54 yards rushing for Wazzu. Key stat #2: Their punter was the leading rusher (on a fake punt for 15 yards).

Sigh. Is this what the Tom Holmoe era was like at Cal?

Reactions to Arizona State-Washington State

Grady, Coug Center: "In the end, this game played out the way most of us expected. Two anemic offenses and one stellar defense giving us an ugly game, but also a closer game than we're used to seeing. As one would expect, the stellar defense won out. ASU was too much to handle, with Vontaze Burfict, Mike Nixon, and co. dominating this game from the opening snap. The Cougs faced one of the best rushing defenses in the country, and boy did it show - between numerous tackles for losses, broken plays and sacks, the Cougars ended up with negative 54 yards rushing. Negative 54."

Pitchfork Nation: "[Dennis Erickson] was nailed pretty good on the sideline by Gerell Robinson midway through the 3rd quarter. Originally, the ASU radio broadcast designated a WSU player had run into him. Tim Healey, Jeff Van Raaphorst and Doug Franz described the scene as Erickson laying on the sideline and then being directed to the bench by the team doctor. He got up and stood on the sideline for one play a few moments later, then retreated to the bench once again. However, in classic DE fashion, he basically told the doctors, in no better way, to screw off."


Only Cal fans care about these

Minnesota 35, Purdue 20

The Daily Gopher: "The Mulligan Offense still reared it's ugly head with some occasional plays called that made you scratch your head.  But the offense committed just one penalty after the first quarter, the OL played their best game of the year and Adam Weber threw one pick but completed 4/6 with a touchdown run.  He wasn't asked to do much (and he didnt') as the Gopher ground game really took over."

Wake Forest 42, Maryland 32

Testudo Times: "Outside of an 85-yard kickoff return from Torrey Smith and a minor emergence by Gary Douglas, there was basically nothing positive for Maryland. Sure, there was a slight comeback, but the game was well over at that point. Wake won 42-32, but the score isn't anywhere close to how one-sided this game was. Want to know how bad it was? Wake had 381 yards of the FIRST HALF. Maryland barely broke 100. They were on pace for 762 yards!"

Also a hilarious animated image of Debbie Yow (Maryland's AD) looking distressed on the sideline.