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Pac-12 Review: Stanford starts on offenZZZZZZ

Conference play started in earnest last week, with crazy comebacks, amazing blowouts, and Stanford's personal version of football torture.

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Solving America's insomnia epidemic, one Saturday at a time.
Solving America's insomnia epidemic, one Saturday at a time.
Steve Dykes

Now that non-conference play is mostly done (DAMN YOU NOTRE DAME JOIN A CONFERENCE OR BECOME A SERVICE ACADEMY) we can start recapping each game in full. Please note that said recapping is being performed by a man who saw literally zero live college football this weekend other than Cal because he is a passionate devotee of Sacramento minor league soccer (a bit of NSFW audio in that link).


Stanford 20, Washington 13

I find Stanford so fascinating under David Shaw. They have the potential to be such a good team. Hell, a national title contender. It is entirely possible that they have the very best defense in college football. They have gobs of talent on their offensive line. Their skill position players are fast and reliable. They have a stable of solid running backs.

Basically, they have a dream team. If Jim Harbaugh were coaching them, they would probably win the national title.

But they are being coached by David Shaw, which means that they are at risk of losing every game not being played against a cupcake, because David Shaw makes Jeff Tedford look like the most liberal hippie to ever get nostalgic about Berkeley in the 60s.

Twice now Stanford has been involved in a down-to-the-wire thriller despite dominating on a play-by-play basis thanks to a neanderthal pace and play-calling designed to remove all risk of anything exciting ever happening. USC and Washington both have talent, but they both have less talent than Stanford, both played Stanford at home, and both are breaking in new head coaches. Stanford should beat both teams easily. Instead Stanford is 1-1 in this conference, and will probably pick up a few more losses thanks to a strategy that virtually guarantees any half-decent team will stay close if they can avoid awful mistakes.

Stanford was literally twice as efficient as Washington! They gained 5.5 yards/play vs. Washington's 2.6! And yet they continually fail to put teams away because they are allergic to even trying to make big plays (one gain over 20 yards, ZERO gains over 30), they decide to rely on a kicker who is inconsistent at best, and because they reduce the game to so few plays that fluky plays like Shaq Thompson stripping a guy who had his forward momentum stopped can have a disproportionate impact on the final outcome.

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.

UCLA 62, Arizona State 27

UCLA scored four touchdowns in this game in excess of 80 yards. That's crazy. And I know it's a little idiotic to pretend that at 35 point win had any doubt to it, but I wonder: If ASU finishes off their drive at the end of the 2nd quarter with a touchdown rather than a 95 yard interception return, and entered the half with a 4 point win, might the game have gone totally different?

Yeah, yeah, we're heavily into if-my-aunt-had-balls-she'd-be-my-uncle territory, but all I'm really saying is that if Taylor Kelly was healthy, I think there's a decent chance this game would have been a shoot-out, with UCLA winning 52-42, or something like that.

In other news, my lord is ASU's defense bad. We Cal fans assumed that it was better that the Bears got Arizona this year rather than ASU, but if Taylor Kelly is hurt then Arizona is probably the tougher team to beat. Figures.

Washington State 28, Utah 27

You want to know why offensive systems that constantly put 4 or 5 pass catchers on the field are so popular and dangerous? Because if just one dude slips, or makes a coverage error, or otherwise screws up, it's a touchdown.

It's interesting how rapidly we can reevaluate teams early in the season. Last week, Utah just decisively won a game at the Big House to remain undefeated. Then Michigan went and made a compelling case for being one of the worst Power 5 teams in the country before Utah lost to Washington State at home by blowing a 21-0 lead. It turns out that maybe we should have been a little more skeptical of a team that went 5-7 last year.

Hey, did everybody enjoy watching Sefo Liufau drop back to pass 67 times, and proceed to throw 67 short, high percentage passes? I hope you did, because Connor Halliday does that every game.

USC 35, Oregon State 10

Sean Mannion was B.A.D BAD. 3.8 yards/pass attempt with a 0/2 TD/INT ratio bad. Do we credit the Jekyll and Hyde USC defense, or shall we wonder if the talent surrounding Mannion isn't nearly good enough for the quarterback to make plays? I'd miss Brandin Cook too.

Meanwhile, after a slow start Cody Kessler was very efficient, anybody who received a handoff gained steady yardage, and USC recorded a relatively routine win over an Oregon State team that might not be very good at all.



Arizona at Oregon, 7:30, ESPN


Stanford at Notre Dame, 12:30, NBC
Oregon State at Colorado, 1:00, Pac-12 Network
Arizona State at USC, 4:30, Fox
California at Washington State, 7:30, Pac-12 Network
Utah at UCLA, 7:30, ESPN

I see lots of intriguing games on the schedule this week, starting on Thursday. Do I think Arizona will beat Oregon? Nah. But Oregon's defense is currently 9th in the conference in yards allowed/play, and I don't need to tell you that Arizona's offense can occasionally be pretty good. This one might be another crazy game.

Meanwhile, I'll begrudgingly root for Notre Dame because Stanford is evil and a 2nd loss would almost certainly kill off their playoff chances, even though a Notre Dame win would kick off way too much 'Notre Dame can make a playoff run!' chatter.

Colorado/Oregon State might be a battle to decide which team is the worst in the conference, and right now I'd put money on Colorado winning at home.

If Taylor Kelly plays (looking iffy, unfortunately) then you should expect another fun game in the prime time slot with USC on upset alert.

And finally, UCLA will probably wax Utah, which means Pac-12 fans should tune in for the inevitable mind-bending shootout in the Palouse. Get your heart medication ready early, Cal fans.