I was excited about last week's slate of conference games. Oregon, finally getting tested! Cal, carrying over momentum against a weakened USC! Utah's defense vs. Arizona State's offense!
Three blowouts later, and I reached the inescapable conclusion that my Saturday was wasted because I didn't spend it watching Colorado and Washington State play an instant classic . . . if, you know, you just ignore that it was between arguably the two worst major conference teams in the country this year.
Colorado 35, Washington State 34
While I was busy watching Oregon State and UCLA, I glanced at the scoreboard and noted that Washington State was 'only' winning 21-7 at the half and thought to myself "Gee, good for Colorado, at least they're not getting blown out by the air raid." Then Wazzu went up 31-14 and I figured the game was turning into the inevitable.
Then: Boom! 21-3 out of nowhere 4th quarter run from the Buffs! Man, I wish I watched that over the Cal game.
This game was irrelevant. Neither Colorado nor Washington State will get anywhere near a bowl game. Neither team will notch a victory over another team with meaningful aspirations the rest of the way. Hell, some people would argue that both teams won't win another game the rest of the way. But this game might have meant a hell of a lot to Colorado fans:
Five wide receivers, empty backfield. Jordan Webb runs the quarterback draw up the middle to give Colorado their first win of the 2012 season. To give Colorado a 1-0 record in the Pac-12 South. To give Colorado a return to respectability and Buffaloes fans everywhere one hell of a Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, CougCenter faces the harsh truth:
Will Colorado or Washington State win another game over the rest of the season?
Oregon State 27, UCLA 20
The only game of the weekend that combined talented teams with some semblance of a close competition, although Oregon State was in control most of the way. The Beavers maintained that control with a spectacular effort from their front seven, who held Jonathan Franklin to 45 yards and contained Brett Hundley. UCLA did eventually start moving the ball through the air, but three long 4th quarter drives only resulted in 10 points.
Sean Mannion was the star on offense, showing impressive touch and accuracy on a pair of long first half touchdowns that broke the game open. My theory that Mike Riley punted the 2011 season in an effort to give his young players experience in preparation for 2012 only gains steam.
After holding Wisconsin's Montee Ball, the leading returning rusher in the country from last year, to 61 yards, Oregon St. proceeded to shut down 19th ranked UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who started (but didn't end) the day as the leading rusher in the nation to just 45 yards. And the Beavers only allowed the Bruins to convert 2 of 15 3rd down situations.
But here is what I am sure of. How this team responds next week will be very revealing. Was OSU an aberration? Or was Nebraska the aberration? Time will tell if Oregon State was a speed bump on the way to better days for this program, or if Oregon State was the game that exposed the pipe dream of culture change in Westwood. It's not time to jump off the bandwagon yet. But maybe we should spend less time gloating and more time making sure we are as good as we can be.
Which game is more reflective of UCLA's true abilities - their loss to Oregon St. or their win over Nebraska?
Do you buy my Mike Riley/2011 season theory?
Oregon 49, Arizona 0
Weird, weird game. It was never going to end in anything other than an Oregon victory, but it was still shocking to see a RichRod offense throw up a goose egg despite six trips into the red zone. Rodriguez's offense is known for a prolific rushing attack, but Arizona's problems at running back and along the offensive line are likely too tough to fix in one year, which means that the Wildcats will continue to struggle to score against tougher defenses.
Arizona only averaged 3.83 yards per play on Saturday night. The Duck defense forced five turnovers. What was really impressive was that it was a complete defensive efffort. Arizona never could get their running game going, gaining only 89 yards on 32 carries. This forced the Wildcats to pass--a lot--with 52 attempts in the game. Their strategy was to try and pick on Ifo Ekpre-Olomu by throwing it to a taller Dan Bucker--and Ifo responded with two interceptions--one in the red zone, and a pick six late in the game.
The more concerning factor in UA's loss was about mistakes and missed opportunities. We knew coming in Arizona would need more possessions. The fantastic defensive effort gave Rodriguez's team just that, and that's why it was so painful; a bad-looking loss was actually a far cry from Oregon's domination that showed at the scoreboard by game's end.
Arizona State 37, Utah 7
I have to admit that I didn't see this one coming. I really thought Utah had a defense that could match up with anybody, let alone a rebuilding ASU. But maybe I was blinded by a great performance against a BYU team that turned in one of the worst offensive performances I've ever seen on Friday against Boise St. Regardless, Arizona State ripped right through Utah's secondary en route to 372 passing yards in a game that was over by the end of the 1st quarter.
Jon White was back in the lineup after missing the Holy War with an injury, but he was not at all effective. Jon Hays didn't do much either and Utah only managed 209 total yards in a game with 30 minutes of garbage time. Until Utah gets a new QB capable of taking pressure off the running game there's a ceiling on how much the Utes can accomplish.
Back at home, Kelly perhaps ended any and all "game manager" talk once and for all. He set a career high with 326 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a masterful performance. Kelly was cool, composed and sharp, threading the needle on several key throws.
BlockU tried to diagnose what's wrong with the Utes:
Stanford at Washington, 6:00 pm, ESPN
Arizona State at California, 1:00 pm, FX
UCLA at Colorado, 3:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Oregon St. at Arizona, 7:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Oregon at Washington State, 7:30 pm, ESPN2
Only two games strike me as especially intriguing. After last year's debacle, Oregon State will have to continue proving that they are for real with another road test against Arizona, who themselves will be looking to gain back some respectability after what happened in Eugene.
But all Cal eyes should be on the Stanford/Washington game on Thursday night. If nothing else, we all want to beat Stanford and Washington. Well, this game will give us a preview, and one of the two teams will lose, which will make me happy as I ignore the joy of whichever fanbase wins.
UCLA and Oregon should win in easy fashion, and I guess I don't need to convince you to watch the Cal game, do I? I know they've hurt you, but I'm sure they've changed!