John Sperry, 247Sports

Oregon's Explosiveness Sets the Tone for a Wild Week 11 Pac-12 Whiparound

The chaos and carnage continued in the Pac-12, where five teams still have a shot at Levi's Stadium December 6.

The Pac-12 Conference delivers more consistent carnage than Sam Peckinpah, Robert Rodriguez, and Eli Roth combined.  Once more, the Pac-12 played to its nature, devouring its college football playoff aspirations and throwing any conclusions we thought we’d formed into a maelstrom of chaos.  Both division leaders lost devastating games, while others let significant opportunities slip through their fingers.  Life is pain, but as Al Swearengen will remind us at our conclusion, pain ain’t the end all.  So let’s embrace it and look back at the week that was, shall we?

USC 27, Colorado 24- That Pac-12 didn’t wait until Saturday to get crazy after dark.  Had Buffaloes quarterback Sefo Liufau not been injured in the second quarterback, the Trojans may have been in big trouble in Boulder.  Instead, they were able to eke out of Folsom Field with a win.  Receiver Jaleel Pinner caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter to cap off a 13-play, 83-yard drive, and then Delvon Simmons forced a Powell Christie fumble on the Buffs’ first play.  Antuan Woods recovered, SC was in the end zone 34-yards later, and the margin of victory had been secured.   The kept USC very much alive for a shot at the Pac-12 South leading into Saturday….

Arizona 37, Utah 30- …..where Rich Rod and Wilbur caught Utah in a #Pac12 AfterDark ambush on Saturday night.  Credit theWildcats for not crumbling under the massive amounts of injuries they’ve suffered this season.  Anu Solomon had a great day passing (10.3 YPA) and did just enough rushing (86 yards on 10 carries) to give Arizona the balance it needed to attack a stout Utah defense.   The Utes no doubt rue scoring only two touchdowns on five trips to the red zone, and affliction that hurt the other presumptive division winner in the Pac-12…..

Oregon 38, Stanford 36-…Stanford left points on the board early against an Oregon offense that absolutely torched the Cardinal defense.  All five of Oregon’s touchdown drives were explosive (avg. 10+ YPP), and a slew of uncharacteristic miscues (two fumbled exchanges, a crucial personal foul call, interception, and a missed FG) were too much to overcome, despite a valiant effort coming back.  When Kevin Hogan’s two point conversion pass to Austin Hooper hit the ground, the Pac-12’s playoff hopes were all but finished, though #Pac12AfterDark had only just begun…

Washington State 31, UCLA 27- WSU won this game averaging 1.7 YPC, while the Bruins lost it averaging 6.7.  It’s a mad, mad, mad world when things like that happen in Pasadena.  The Chosen Rosen flung it around 57 times, and Jordan Payton caught 14 of those for 152 yards, but it wasn’t enough to match Luke Falk, who drove the Cougars 75 yards in seven plays and hit Gabe Marks with a 21-yard touchdown with just three seconds remaining to give Washington State the victory and deliver an exasperating loss to Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins, who could have risen to the top of the Pac-12 South charts by their lonesome with a win.

Arizona State 27, Washington 17- The Sun Devils picked themselves up off the mat after a disappointing performance in Pullman.  ASU used a 17-0 fourth quarter to pull away from the Huskies.  Once more in the Pac-12, big plays made all the difference, as Devin Lucien hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass from Mike Bercovici and Kalen Ballage finished off Washington with a 48-yard touchdown run.  Washington outgained Arizona State 547-397, but 60 Husky penalty yards and two trips to the red zone that failed to produce touchdowns ultimately propelled Coach Todd Graham’s Scholar-Ballers to victory.

The Big O and the Value of Going Kaboom

Team

Explosive Drives This Week

Explosive Drive Season Total (P-12 Rank)

OFEI (Pac-12 Rank)

Points Per Drive

Cal

6

23 (T-2nd)

.48 (5th)

2.50

Oregon

5

26 (1st)

.76 (3rd)

2.79

Arizona State

3

19 (4th)

.05 (8th)

2.07

Arizona

2

17 (5th)

.62 (4th)

2.57

Washington State

2

15 (7th)

.36 (6th)

2.92

Oregon State

2

8 (12th)

-.53 (12th)

1.40

USC

1

23 (T-2nd)

.92 (2nd)

2.93

Washington

1

15 (7th)

-.52 (11th)

1.70

UCLA

1

21 (3rd)

.35 (7th)

2.73

Stanford

0

16 (6th)

1.03 (1st)

3.53

Utah

0

12 (8th)

.01 (9th)

2.40

Colorado

0

12 (8th)

-.44 (10)

1.99

 

 We live in a “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” World, and for this week the link between explosiveness and winning was never more evident.  Oregon, thanks to its scorched earth routine at Stanford Stadium, is now the most explosive team in the Pac-12, ascending to the top for the first time all season.  Teams that were more explosive than their opponent went 6-0 this week.  Cal and Oregon put up the two most explosive drives of the season.

Stanford and Utah have fallen back towards the pack thanks largely to a dearth of explosive plays.  In fact, Utah hasn’t had a single drive that averaged 10+ yards per play in two weeks.   Perhaps no stat illustrates Oregon’s resurgence and reestablishment of itself as the best offense in the conference than this metric.  Duck fans have to be wondering what may have happened if only the Ducks had had Vernon Adams, Jr. for an entire year.  As it stands, the Rose Bowl is still a very real possibility, with explosive Cal visiting sputtering Stanford this Saturday.

Next Up

Arizona at Arizona State 12:30 PM – Two teams who have struggled through injuries and very disappointing seasons meet with little more than pride at stake in Tempe.  However, when you consider that these two coaches openly loathe each other, and the animosity between the two fan bases before Rich Rod and Graham ever even made it to the Grand Canyon State, this still shapes up as a ferocious fight worth watching.  Unfortunately, an out of balance TV schedule this week makes this the least compelling of the three 12:30 matchups.

USC at Oregon 12:30 PM ESPN- Pac-12 fans highlighted this one way back when the schedules were released, and it could still be a Pac-12 Championship preview, though the more likely scenario is that it’s one of two elimination games being played in this time slot.  An Oregon loss clinches the Pac-12 North for Stanford, while USC would be all but eliminated with a loss and a Utah win in the final 12:30 game….

UCLA at Utah 12:30 PM FOX- The Bruins travel to Salt Lake City with their Pac-12 South destiny firmly in their hands, but it’s win or die for the Utes.  A loss would put them behind the Bruins and/or the Trojans with both L.A. schools holding the trump card of a head-to-head victory over the Utes.   UCLA brings the more explosive offense into the game, while Utah would appear to have the upper hand on defense.  Utah’s rush defense has been a yard per carry better than UCLA in Pac-12 play, so expect Paul Perkins to have a much tougher time than DeVontae Booker getting yards.  The quarterbacks have played to a statistical stand still w/r/t QB rating, and both teams sport excellent kickers in Andy Phillips and K’aimi Fairbairn for UCLA.  These are two of the top three teams in the league in turnover margin as well.  That leaves venue (Rice-Eccles Stadium) and penalties as potential X factors.  Utah has only been a middling team (6th) in penalties, while UCLA is the most penalized team in the conference.   Those latter two factors could very well be the difference.

Washington at Oregon State 3:00 PM Pac-12 Networks- I don’t know what to say about this one except that if you’re not a Husky or a Beaver fan and you still make time to watch this game, you are maybe the biggest Pac-12 fan ever.

Cal at Stanford 7:30 PM ESPN- The 118th Big Game affords Stanford a second and final chance to clinch the Pac-12 North, and it affords Cal a chance to seriously dent Stanford’s season and propel themselves up the bowl pecking order.   The Bears are bowl eligible, but which bowl gets them is way up in the air.  Stanford’s beleaguered secondary will have to contain Jared Goff, who found the magical Beaver elixir last Saturday and regained his previously missing form.  Cal has gained ground on the Cardinal at the line of scrimmage compared to previous matchups, and the biggest question is how big is the hangover from Stanford’s devastating loss to Oregon last Saturday?  If Stanford shows up unfocused, Cal has a legit chance to make its season Saturday night.

Colorado at Washington State 7:45 PM ESPN2- The Buffaloes continue to be a regular, if tougher, out in conference play, and the Cougars are primed to pad what has become a very strong season under Mike Leach at Martin Stadium late Saturday night.   Temperatures are expected to hit 38 degrees at game time, though no wind or rain are currently part of the forecast. Colorado’s pass defense is up against it with Luke Falk, Gabe Marks, and Co.  With Buffalo Quarterback Sefo Liufau lost for the season, this shapes up as a long night on the Palouse for Coach Mike MacIntyre and company.

So with two weeks to play there are still five possible Pac-12 Championship participants.  That says a lot about the parity in this conference, and as usual the carnage has left the Pac-12 on the outside looking in at the college football playoff for now.  Some have suggested that the solution is for the Pac-12 to blink and just schedule eight conference playoff games like other gutless conferences (COUGH!!! SEC.)

You don’t dilute the product so that you can weasel your way into the playoff.  Larry Scott said the Pac-12 champion had the toughest road to the playoff, but that’s only a reality because the other conferences won’t step up and commit to nine conference games and a conference championship.  Alabama has Charleston Southern on the docket this week, which is shameful and should be grounds for elimination from any playoff but the FCS.  College football needs more games like Utah-Michigan to start the season and Stanford-Notre Dame to end it, not more games involving the best games dress rehearsing against directional schools.

And so this weekend we reach the penultimate week of Pac-12 play, and the calamity that’s still to come would have Jane Canary beaming.  We end though with steeling words from entrepreneur Albert Swearengen that the remaining Pac-12 contenders would be wise to embrace:

“Pain or damage don’t end the world.  Or pain.  Or f***ing beatings.  The world ends when you’re dead. Until then, you’ve got more punishment in store.  Stand it like a man, and give some back.”


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