(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
Pac-12 Pickings is a weekly update of the Pac-12 conference through the eyes of the WCSN football staff.
There were plenty of people turning off their TVs on Sunday night, resigned to the fact that UCLA, down 34 points late in the third quarter against Texas A&M, was going to be the first, and only, Pac-12 team to lose on opening weekend.
Aggies' mood at the half pic.twitter.com/y6OnK58oI3
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 4, 2017
Instead, this happened:
WHAT A COMEBACK.
UCLA defeats Texas A&M in dramatic fashion. pic.twitter.com/XrqcjEIcSd
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 4, 2017
In a perfect summation of how Pac-12 teams did on Labor Day weekend, the Bruins overcame stretches of awful play with moments of brilliance to win, albeit in an unconvincing fashion.
USC did something similar, as they needed a 50-yard touchdown run and pick six in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter to hold off Western Michigan. Washington would have been down at the half at Rutgers if not for a 61-yard punt return score. Oregon State avoided an 0-2 loss thanks to a late missed field goal from Portland State. Even ASU needed two touchdown passes of over 50 yards and a pick six of their own to overcome New Mexico State.
Yes, the Pac-12 achieved a perfect record this weekend (11-0). But, the play of its teams would be more accurately as imperfect.
There was the odd impressive performance this week too. Washington State won their first home opener in six years by shutting out Montana State. Oregon took the opening kickoff to the house and never looked back against Southern Utah. Colorado kept their rivals from scoring a touchdown.
But, the conference’s top teams—USC and Washington—looked flawed and very beatable. Maybe it was just a case of opening week jitters, where even the most talented teams needed time to knock off some summer rust. Then again, maybe it is the first sign of a disappointing year from the Pac-12 powers.
Either way, one thing is for certain after Week One of the season. This conference is as unpredictable as ever, and unless the clock is at 0:00, you’ll run the risk of missing out on something special if you tune out early.
Do I regret turning this game off at 38-10? Yes.
— Max Olson (@max_olson) September 4, 2017
GOAT of the Week: Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
When UCLA’s hero quarterback checked his phone after the Bruins stunning comeback Sunday night, his notification center will be looking night and day. Prior to 7:13 p.m. (when UCLA scored their first of five straight touchdowns in the second half), he might want to look away.
But, the junior quarterback helped engineer one of the great comebacks in Pac-12, and college football, history. He ended the night with 491 passing yards, 4 scores, and a fake spike to touchdown toss to cap the historic game. Since his freshman debut, Rosen has suffered from the inevitable, and unstainable, hype train. But in the final twenty minutes of Sunday night’s game, he came pretty close to looking like the five-star, top NFL prospect, he has been built up to be.
*Honorable Mention: Jake Olson (LS, USC)
Many people didn’t know Jake Olson’s name before Saturday. Few people don’t know his name now. USC’s blind, yes blind, long snapper delivered a snap on a successful extra point in USC’s 49-31 win over Western Michigan. It is hard to imagine how many times Olson must have been told his dream of playing football was impossible. His moment on Saturday is a triumph of epic proportions that far transcend the world of college football. Congrats to him.
Scape-GOAT of the Week: Oregon State
Yes, the Beavers won this week. But through two games, Oregon State could be one of the worst teams in the country. In those two games, against a Group of Five team and FCS team, the Beavers were outscored 90-62, outgained 1040-845, and out-possessed 70:41 to 49:19.
They have turned the football over seven times in their two games, and if not for a late missed field goal by Portland State, would be winless. The Beavers will host Minnesota next week, before embarking on a five game stretch that will see them face ranked teams Washington State, Washington, USC, and Stanford. The school has won just seven games since the departure of long time head coach Mike Riley, and if they don’t pick up their level of play, it might be a long time until they add to that number.
Play of the Week*: Jaleel Scott’s One Handed TD Catch (WR, NMSU)
*-Note: The real play of the week was obviously Rosen’s fake-spike, game-winning touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley. But, since that has been cover ad nauseam here, let’s focus on Scott’s incredible grab on Thursday in Tempe.
OK, that was pretty cool, @NMStateFootball.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 1, 2017
Not only did Scott do his best Odell Beckham Jr. impersonation to haul in that throw, but later snagged a pass along the sideline despite being grabbed by Arizona State’s Kobe Williams. In addition, on the last play of his team’s loss to the Sun Devils, NMSU’s senior receiver came up with another touchdown catch through heavy traffic. But it is his one-hand heroics that caught the attention of the college football world on Thursday night, and make him the early frontrunner for having 2017’s “Catch of the Year.”
- USC (1-0): Even though they struggled against Western Michigan, the Trojans got big performances out of quarterback Sam Darnold and running back tandem Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr. There are issues to be cleaned up on special teams, and with ball security, but the USC defense only allowed two true touchdown drives on Saturday. They are still the class of the conference.
- STANFORD (1-0): The Cardinal were off after their rout of the Rice Owls in Australia two weeks ago. Head coach David Shaw looks like he has a solid replacement for graduated quarterback Kevin Hogan in senior Keller Chryst, who had a nice game to open the season. Bryce Love will be the team’s work horse running back this year; he went for 180 yards on only 13 carries in the 62-7 victory.
- WASHINGTON (1-0): The Huskies had to make a long trip to face Rutgers, and looked very sluggish in the first half. The Jake Browning-led offense went three-and-out on four of their first five drives. The second half was a different story though, as Chris Petersen’s squad scored on four of five drives, and held Rutgers to just 309 yards of total offense on the day.
- WASHINGTON STATE (1-0): The Cougars are 1-0 for the first time in the Mike Leach era. Ranked in the preseason AP Poll for only the third time in school history, Washington State broke their two game losing streak to FCS schools with a 31-0 win over Montana State. Quarterback Luke Falk made opened his case for being a dark horse Heisman contender, completed 33 of 39 passes for 311 yards; the senior has thrown for more than 4400 yards in each of his last two seasons as well.
- OREGON (1-0): The Willie Taggart era in Eugene began with a bang, as the Ducks showed off their potent offense in a dominant victory over Southern Utah. The Ducks will face much stiffer competition in their next two games (vs Nebraska, at Wyoming), but looked like the Oregon of old in their season opener.
- COLORADO (1-0): The Buffaloes knocked off in-state rivals Colorado State at Mile High Stadium this weekend, keeping the Rams’ offense out of the end zone in a 17-3 win. Steven Montez threw two picks in his first game replacing Sefo Liufau as Colorado’s quarterback. Running back Phillip Lindsay also had a big day in Denver, rushing for 140 yards on 19 carriers.
- UTAH (1-0): For as solid as Utah has been since moving to the Pac-12, they left much to be desired in a 37-16 win over North Dakota. The Utes began the game with an interception and missed field goal, and were held scoreless until late in the second quarter. Transfer receiver Darren Carrington looked sharp in his Utah debut, making 10 catches for 127 yards; the San Diego native spent the last two years in Oregon, collecting more than 600 yards in each campaign.
- UCLA (1-0): Yes, UCLA had the “signature” win of the weekend. But it was only signature because of how poorly the team played in the first half. Rosen told reporters after the game that his team was “an inch away from losing that game 10 times.” While the Bruins looked like a different team in the final 20 minutes, so did Texas A&M, who suddenly forgot how to stop Rosen or move the football at all. If not for the miracle comeback, #FireMora chants would be raining down from the Rose Bowl crowd.
- CALIFORNIA (1-0): The Golden Bears were not supposed to be very good this year. They were picked last, by some margin, in the Pac-12 North media poll. But, facing a tall task at North Carolina on Saturday, head coach Justin Wilcox guided his new team to an impressive 35-30 win. Quarterback Ross Bowers threw for over 360 yards, including a 20-yard strike early in the fourth quarter to put his team ahead for good.
- ARIZONA STATE (1-0): The Sun Devils are 1-0. For head coach Todd Graham, that is enough to be happy for now. But, ASU looked very shaky for long stretches against a New Mexico State team that won three games last year. There were flashes of dominance from Manny Wilkins and company, but allowing seven sacks to a Sun Belt basement-dweller is not a positive sign. A good measuring stick game awaits the team this week, when they face a solid San Diego State team at Sun Devil Stadium on the night they honor their late legendary head coach, Frank Kush.
- ARIZONA (1-0): The Wildcats had one of the more amazing stats of the weekend: the team did not have one single player rush for 100 yards individually, yet totaled more than 500 rushing yards as a team. Over their last two games (Saturday vs Northern Arizona and last year’s Territorial Cup game), Arizona has more than 1000 yards on the ground.
- OREGON STATE (1-1): See “Scape-GOAT of the Week” above.