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Pac-12 Review: Stanford beaten comprehensively

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Is the Shaw/Harbaugh dynasty finally coming to an end?

These guys are not used to losing.
These guys are not used to losing.
Christian Petersen

You probably read the headline above and figured that I might be enjoying Stanford's defeat a little too much. And how! But there is something important going on underneath the schadenfreude: Stanford has not been comprehensively beaten like this in . . . 4 or 5 years. This might have been a watershed game in the Pac-12

Arizona State 26, Stanford 10

Jim Harbaugh took over at Stanford in 2007, and in his first year the Cardinal lost six games by more than a possession (i.e., a 9+ point defeat). In 2008, Stanford only suffered 4 such defeats. Then, Stanford went a total of FIVE AND A HALF YEARS with only three losses by more than one possession. Two of those losses came to top 10 Oregon teams, and in one of those games Stanford actually outgained Oregon but coughed up 5 turnovers. Basically, Stanford has gone half a decade without being completely outclassed on a football field.

On Saturday night in Tempe, ASU raced out to an early lead, then simply sat on it while an impotent Stanford offense struggled to move the ball. The final stats don't really portray how much ASU controlled the game, which was over early because Stanford is completely incapable of playing comeback football.

A few weeks ago in this column I said this:

One day David Shaw will have a team with a talent level that is roughly average compared to the rest of the conference, and he will lose games because of stone age strategy, and Cal fans will laugh, and Stanford fan won't care because he doesn't really care right now either.

When I wrote that, I was thinking next year, when they lose (I think - Stanford's depth chart is weird) six starters on defense along with Ty Montgomery. But Stanford can't find a solution at running back, the offensive line is surprisingly mediocre, Kevin Hogan isn't a downfield passing threat, and they can't figure out how to take advantage of Montgomery while he's still around anyway. Stanford is 4-3 with three tough road games left on the schedule. Stanford's contender window appears to be swinging shut very, very quickly.

Oregon 45, Washington 20

Oregon's win streak over Washington is really stunning, not because of length but because of decisiveness. Eleven straight Oregon wins, all with at least a three possession margin of victory. Even a Brock-Mansion-led Cal team managed to at least give Oregon a challenge, but Washington just can't figure it out. Perplexing.

Going in it seemed exceedingly likely that Washington would struggle to score, so the question was if Washington's defense would slow down Oregon at all. Oregon's first seven drives resulted in five touchdowns and one missed field goal, so no. Washington's pass rush did manage three sacks of Marcus Mariota, but two came when the game had already been decided. Meanwhile, Washington's Cyler Miles was pulled after averaging a sorry 5.3 yards/pass attempt. His replacement, Troy Williams, managed 3.7 per attempt. Rough times in Seattle.

Utah 29, Oregon State 23

At this point Utah is practically running an offense in the style of Georgia Tech or the service academies. 18 passes vs. 46 rushing attempts, with a long pass of 15 yards, and the Utes won. It takes an excellent collection of offensive linemen and running backs to so clearly telegraph your intentions and still make it work. Color me skeptical that the Utes can pull it off against USC, Oregon and Stanford, amongst other teams still left on the schedule.

Let it be noted that Oregon State marginally outplayed Utah in regulation and would have won were it not for a missed 49 yard field goal as time expired. (I'm dumb. OSU's missed field goal was in overtime, and although the Beavers gained more yards, the yards/play averages were basically idential. This was a pure coinflip game that happened to go Utah's way.)  Oregon State Sean Mannion clearly lacks for consistent targets and a run game to take the pressure off of his arm. Oregon State needed this game for a bowl spot, and like Cal their margin of error is now very thin.

USC 56, Colorado 28

It was 42-7 before a long, extended period of garbage time allowed Colorado to tack on some meaningless touchdowns. Cody Kessler deserves more respect than he is generally given, but you still shouldn't let him throw for seven touchdown passes, a USC single game record. USC appears to be rounding into mid-season form, and if they go on the road to beat Utah they will expect* to carry a five game winning streak into their back-to-back rivalry games against UCLA and Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, Colorado is 2-5, with 4 ranked teams still to come on their schedule. Jon Embree's final year was worse than this one, but MacIntyre is in the ballpark. Suppose Colorado's administration wants to add another buy-out onto the payroll?

*Yes, I would imagine that most USC fans tend to chalk a home game against Cal as an easy win. Sigh.

Next Week

Friday

Oregon vs. California at not-Memorial-Stadium, 7:00, Fox Sports 1

Saturday

UCLA at Colorado, 11:00, Pac-12 Network
Oregon State at Stanford, 12:30, ESPN2
Arizona at Washington State, 2:00, Pac-12 Network
USC at Utah, 7:00, Fox Sports 1
Arizona State at Washington, 7:45, ESPN

Honestly, not the greatest slate of games this week. I fully expect Stanford's defense to smother a weaponless Sean Mannion in excruciatingly boring fashion, and nobody really wants to watch Colorado play anybody these days. I'm desperately hoping that Utah gives USC a tough time but I kinda expect the Trojans to romp.

The most entertaining game will probably be Arizona at Washington State, where the loser might score in the 40s or 50s. Of course it's consigned to the Pac-12 Network so that nobody can see it. THE PEOPLE WANT TO WATCH MIKE LEACH FOOTBALL, LET THEM SEE IT!