Cal goes undefeated in the bye week, but let’s take a look around the conference and see what the start of conference play looked like.
Stanford 38, Oregon 31
This is really an all-time loss for Oregon with multiple crazy plays all needing to go in Stanford’s direction just to get to overtime. And I want to talk about one of those plays specifically. Many people have criticized Mario Cristobal and the Ducks for their late-game management that allowed Stanford to score and I think the mini-controversy does a good job of illustrating a wildly frustrating aspect of college coaching.
You’re Oregon. You have the ball on first down, but there’s just enough time left on the clock that you can’t just kneel three times. You have choices. You can run basic plays to try to get that game-ending first down or you can kneel three times and punt. Either course of action results in victory 99.9% of the time. The problem is that, no matter which option you choose, you’re counting on college athletes to execute that course of action. Has punting in that situation gone wrong for a team before? OH HOLY MOSES YOU BETCHA. In multiple ways, even! Has a player ever fumbled the ball during clock-killing run attempts? Stupid Stanford benefited from this exact same scenario last year because of-freakin’-course it’s Stanford, which is probably conducting unethical experiments in a locked basement somewhere involving the torture of three leprechauns and a unicorn.
Now, if I were an Oregon fan, I’d have hoped that a coach pulled aside CJ Verdell and told him that the single most important thing was to not fumble. I’d also hope that such an obvious message wouldn’t even be necessary. But the point is that eventually the responsibility has to fall on the players on the field to execute basic football actions without doing the only thing that can result in potential defeat. The fact that 18–22-year-old players frequently fail to do so is one of the reasons that college football is so wildly compelling/maddening in equal measure and why it’s super fun to know that control-freak coaches have to process this reality week-to-week.
Arizona 35, Oregon State 14
Arizona just basically said to OSU “we’re going to hand the ball off to our running backs on every play and we don’t think you can stop that.” And OSU most certainly didn’t, allowing Arizona’s two running backs to average an obscene 10 yards/carry over 40 carries. You know how every once in a while there’s a game where the opposing team can’t even stop an offense’s basic, base plays? This game was that sort of scenario.
So really, your main takeaway is that Oregon State’s defense is so bad that it virtually precludes the Beavers from playing competitive football against Pac-12 opposition. Meanwhile, Khalil Tate still isn’t running, although this time around a nagging injury might be the reason. Certainly this was the rare game in which his talents weren’t really needed anyway, which almost certainly won’t be the case next week against USC.
Washington 27, Arizona State 20
Exactly like last week, if you watched this game there probably wasn’t a moment where you really thought ASU had a chance to win, even though ASU spent most of the game within a score of the Huskies. ASU went 54 minutes of game time between their first touchdown (aided by interception-related field position) and their second touchdown (aided by punt return related field position). It’s really, really hard to sustain multiple scoring drives against this UW defense—and that will probably be enough to protect an offense that isn’t nearly as explosive now that Dante Pettis is in the NFL.
USC 39, Washington State 36
What a game to kick off the week. This game was back-and-forth the whole time and a really fun game to watch on Friday night. JT Daniels was once again spectacular with three touchdowns on 17/26 passing with 241 yards. Washington State did do a solid job stopping any one receiver from breaking out. On the other hand, they gave up an insane amount of explosive plays. A 50-yard run from Stephen Carr, a 50-yard reception from Michael Pittman Jr., a 44-yard reception from Velus Jones Jr., a 30-yard reception from Amon-Ra St. Brown, a 21-yard run from Vavae Malepeai, and a 21-yard reception from Tyler Vaughns. AND YET. The game came down to a field-goal attempt that USC blocked, thus keeping Wazzu from tying it with under two minutes to play. If we get games like this every weekday, I’m all for weekday games. As long as its not Cal playing, that scheduling works out just fine for us!