Oregon ushered in the Super Mario(-ta) era as Marcus Mariota led the Ducks to 50 points before halftime, in their 57-34 win over Arkansas St. that was the most spectacular of the wins that gave the Pac-12 an 8-3 record on opening weekend. (Photo by Bruce Ely, The Oregonian.)
One thing not having an Oregon St. game did was afford an opportunity to take in a tremendous amount of football action. Despite the dismal failure of the Pac-12 network at getting carriage (more of their content was watched on "secondary" rebroadcast streams than by those allowed to pay for access), it was still possible to get an extensive look at half of Oregon St.'s opponents this season, and 5 Pac-12 teams, as well as several other nationally relevant teams.
The quick take is the talent gap between at least the few very elite programs and the rest of the field hasn't narrowed, its widened. Many of the opening weekend games were mismatches that shouldn't have been made, with everyone better served by more game like Clemson-Auburn, and for that matter, UT-San Antonio and South Alabama, where teams of similar talent played competitive football for the entire game.
But Alabama, USC, and Oregon didn't play nobody, and the blowouts that resulted aren't so much about how bad Michigan, Hawaii, and Arkansas St. are as they are about the talent level the Tide, Trojans, and TurboDucks have.
Alabama puts most of their best players on the defensive side of the ball, and as a result, they are NEVER on the ropes. USC is simply an explosion play waiting to happen at almost every position. And it appears Oregon has further upgraded their team speed.
The Trojans remain at risk of key injuries, but if that doesn't happen, few opponents will contain them. Its also still unclear how Chip Kelly will handle situations where he doesn't have the vastly superior talent, but there will be very few occasions where that circumstance will even come up.
Looking at Oregon St.'s confirmed non-conference opponents, it was Wisconsin that had the greater amount of trouble, as the Badgers had a fight to the finish from FCS Northern Iowa before the Badgers finally downed the Panthers 26-21, while BYU put a 30-6 beat down on Washington St.
It should be noted that Northern Iowa, a top 10 FCS team, has more team size on the line than Oregon St., (there are people playing linemen in the corn belt that are just larger than almost all human beings in the corn valley), and that had a lot to do with their ability to hang with Wisconsin. But there are both reasons for encouragement and concern for Oregon St. that can be taken from yesterday's performance.
Wisconsin's secondary isn't particularly fast, and is prone to play soft zone schemes designed to contain, not shut down, an opponent. An accurate passing game aimed at receivers with both speed and quickness can get some work done if employed patiently in the available openings.
But there isn't much margin for error. Montee Ball is 100% after the concussion he suffered right before camp started. Ball had 32 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown, and added 3 catches out of the back field for 31 more yards. As importantly, on the game's final possession, with the game still on the line, it was all Ball. Four consecutive carries for 24 yards and 2 first downs put the game away.
The other big question mark besides whether Ball was back physically and mentally about the Badgers was how well their latest transfer quarterback from the ACC would do. Danny O'Brien did just fine.
O'Brien completed 19 of 23 passes, for 219 yards and 2 scores, and with no interceptions. That's 83% accuracy.
O'Brien is not another Russell Wilson, in that he's not the multiple threat Wilson was and is. But he does have the ability to keep plays alive, and he's highly accurate. For Beaver who didn't see the game, envision something between Ryan Katz and Jake Locker, both in terms of on the field style and demeanor as a team leader.
Oregon St. has an opportunity, but they will have to avoid the game coming down to Ball running behind his wall of big (and I mean REALLY big; the Badgers have 15 offensive linemen on the roster that are well over 300 lbs., led by tackle Rob Havenstein, who is 6'8", and 348 lbs.) blockers.
BYU will be another kind of challenge.
The Blue Cougars became only the third team that has ever kept a Mike Leach coached team from scoring a touchdown Thursday night in Provo. Washington St. losing wasn't a big surprise, but the "Air Raid" being ineffective was, especially after the Crimson Cougs actually looked good on some of their initial plays.
The keys were astute adjustments by BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall (why some people continue to discount his coaching ability amazes me), and the fact that the BYU back 7 is really good. There were a number of times when Washington St's experienced quarterback Jeff Tuel actually had plenty of time to do something, but there was simply nothing open. Tuel took some lumps, but if you want a textbook example of coverage sack, you can find it in the video of this game.
An eerily similar experience as happened last year in Corvallis could well await the Beavers in Provo.
It was expected that the Washington St. defense would still struggle this season, but it became apparent Thursday night that Leach has a lot of talent recruiting still to do to make both scheme and enthusiasm effective on a consistent basis.
The same thing can be said for Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, whose 'Cats needed overtime, and a spectacular performance from Matt Scott, to finally pull out a 24-17 win over Toledo.
Scott completed 30 of 46 passes for 387 yards and 2 touchdowns, though he did serve up 1 interception. And Scott scooted around for another 74 yards on 14 carries. It's hard to see Scott surviving a full season of that, but the Arizona offensive line wasn't expected to be able to keep Nick Foles healthy last year either, and he managed to turn in a full season.
The other impressive stat for the 'Cats came from Ka'Deem Carey, who came up with 147 yards on 20 carries.
But watching the second half of the game against Toledo (the Ducks had long since benched all of their starters after opening a 50-3 lead over Arkansas St. barely past the midway mark in the second quarter), it was interesting to see Arizona as the team that was gassed in the Tucson heat at times. Rich Rod will also need to do some more recruiting before the full affect of his high-octane approach can be achieved.
Special teams is another area Arizona needs to work on; multiple missed field goals, including one that would have won the game in regulation that instead caromed off the upright, came close to spoiling the night for the 'Cats.
The problem isn't confined to Tucson either, as special teams mistakes, including 3 failed extra points and a blocked punt, were a huge problem for UCLA Thursday night. The Bruins still beat an out-manned Rice team 49-24 in Houston, behind 4 huge rushing touchdown plays, 3 of which were runaways of over 70 yards behind an Owl secondary that showed no evidence of grasping the concept of run support.
Johnathan Franklin ran for 214 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 15 carries, and quarterback Brett Hundley went 72 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game. But the lofty rushing numbers the Bruins posted were mostly accomplished on 5 plays; 33 other runs netted only 99 yards.
And the UCLA defense yielded a 17 point Rice rally in a matter of about 8 minutes, as the game was in doubt until the 4th quarter.
Reasonable UCLA fans have to be satisfied with Hundley's first outing, as he completed 21 of 28 passes for 202 yards, and 2 touchdowns, but it will take a much sharper overall performance for the Bruins to contend with Nebraska, who posted a 49-20 win over Southern Mississippi as Taylor Martinez threw for 354 yards and 5 touchdowns, next week when them meet the Huskers in the Rose Bowl.
More recruiting is required in Boulder too, as the Buffs inability to generate a rushing game, getting only 58 yards, and just 43 from Tony Jones, was a major factor in Colorado dropping a 22-17 decision to Colorado St. in Denver.
Transfer quarterback Jordan Webb's accuracy wasn't adequate either, as he only completed only 22 of 41 passes, for only 187 yards.
There were mixed reviews from the Farm on Friday night as well. Stanford barely held off San Jose St. 20-17 in the first game of the post Andrew Luck era, as the Cardinal struggled in the trenches on both sides of the ball, where their strength supposedly lies.
Josh Nunes' first outing resulted in 16 completions out of 26 throws, for just 125 yards, but he didn't commit any turnovers, and neither did the rest of the Cardinal, which was a trademark of theirs last year, and a big reason they were able to hold off the Spartans.
Stepfan Taylor turned in a 26 carry, 116 yard night, with 1 touchdown, but there aren't any other impressive numbers on the stat sheet. The Cardinal have one more week to tune up, against Duke, but they have a LOT of tuning up to do with USC and Washington coming up after that.
Washington got a challenge from San Diego St., and former Oregon St. quarterback Ryan Katz, and had to contend with the early loss of RB Jesse Caillier to a bruised knee, but the Huskies prevailed 21-12 behind Keith Price's 222 yard passing night, on 25 completions on 35 throws.
Washington also got a key defensive touchdown early in the third quarter, and the best news is the new defensive coaching staff headed by Justin Wilcox held Katz and company to 327 yards, 1 less than their own offense mustered. That's significant progress. The Huskies will need a lot more progress in generating a rushing game next week in Baton Rogue if they hope to hang with LSU, who hammered North Texas 41-14, though.
California was either the most disappointing Pac-12 team after opening weekend or else Nevada is better than a lot of people wish were the case. The Wolfpack continued to be a thorn in the side of the Bears, and pulled out a 31-24 win with a touchdown with 36 seconds left.
The Bears benched quarterback Zach Maynard for most of the first quarter for missing a summer term tutoring session, and only gave the ball to Isi Sofele 5 times. Once Maynard got in, he threw for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns, but only completed 17 of 30 throws. And the Nevada Pistol offense held the ball nearly 10 minutes more than Cal had it.
Cal's return to the remodeled Memorial Stadium was hardly memorable.
What was memorable was the first appearance in a game by Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who completed 16 of his first 17 passes for 171 yards and 3 tds in just over 17 minutes, and went on to complete 18 of 22 passes for 200 yards before Brandon Bennett took over in the second quarter.
De'Anthony Thomas helped make Mariota's debut a success, with 3 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown, and 4 catches for 55 yards and 2 more scores. Kenjon Barner also chipped in 66 yards an 2 touchdowns on his 9 carries.
It was a fitting counter statement to USC's 49-10 rout of Hawaii earlier in the afternoon. Marqise Lee went 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game, and added a 100 yard+ kickoff return for a touchdown to his 197 yards on 10 catches. Matt Barkley also threw 2 touchdown passes to Robert Woods, and finished with 372 yards and 4 scores on a 23 of 38 effort.
With nothing but the stat sheet to consider, its hard to conclude much from either Arizona St.'s 63-6 rout of Northern Arizona or Utah's 41-0 blowout of Northern Colorado on Thursday night. But its clear Todd Graham wanted to set a tone in Tempe. Sun Devil fans also have to be satisfied with the accuracy Taylor Kelly demonstrated in his first start, completing 15 of 19 passes, for 247 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.
Beating up the Bears was expected in Salt Lake City, but the one thing that jumped out at me was the balanced passing attack Jordan Wynn provided. We knew the Utes defense is solid, and that John White IV, who ran for 119 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, is one of the best backs in the Pac-12. But Wynn got 10 catches from the duo of Jake Murphy and Dres Anderson, and DeVonte Christopher only had 2 catches.
It will be interesting to see if Wynn can continue to generate a balanced passing attack against actual opposition, but if he can, look out for Utah.
Now, lets get ready for the Beavers to [finally] get into the action! Spending opening weekend watching other people play football is fun, but not nearly as much fun as participating in a game day! So much so that numerous Oregon St. fans who had planned for an opening day tail-gater showed up at Reser and parties anyway, even with nothing but a practice to watch!