Welcome back for this week’s Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s weekly trip around the Pac-12.

Read below for news, notes and quotes from the opening week of fall camp…

Arizona: De Laura has wide array of targets in new role

The Arizona passing game lost its two most productive receivers from a year ago, Stanley Berryhill III (NFL UDFA, Atlanta Falcons) and B.J. Casteel (transfer, Nevada), while returning three players who had between 297 and 301 yards, in Dorian Singer, Tayvian Cunningham, and Michael Wiley.

Add to the mix UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing, arguably one of the top incoming transfers in the Pac-12, and Tetairoa McMillan, one of the league’s premier recruits.

With new quarterback Jayden de Laura, the new-look Wildcat passing game is getting production out of the lot of them, and giving Jedd Fisch some options on the perimeter.

Wiley and Cowing stepped up on Friday, according to the Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev, but de Laura certainly has his fair share of targets.

And don’t count out former local star quarterback recruit Jamarye Joiner, who is fully transitioned from his former position.

Arizona State: Inconsistencies stalling QB decision

Herm Edwards has a tough decision to make.

Go big, or go home?

Early reports out of Tempe are that the team’s three-way quarterback competition between Florida transfer Emory Jones, Alabama transfer Paul Tyson, and returning redshirt junior Trenton Bourguet hasn’t exactly been thrilling, with accuracy issues abounding.

The problem is, Edwards doesn’t have an easy call. Go with Jones, who was woefully inconsistent with the Gators last year, throwing 10 of his 19 touchdown passes against Samford (six) and Vanderbilt (four)? Yes, he’s absolutely the best athlete out of the trio and the most dynamic. Or go with Tyson, great-grandson of the legendary Bear Bryant, who threw all of 16 passes as the Tide’s backup quarterback behind Bryce Young last year? Bourguet is arguably the most accurate of the three, but he doesn’t have the arm that Tyson possesses or the versatility that is Jones’ hallmark.

You’d have hoped one of the three would truly step up early in fall camp, but it hasn’t happened quite yet.

From Arizona Sports’ Jake Anderson:

“Jones — who did not transfer to Arizona State until after spring ball — has boasted the best arm out of the trio, as the dual-threat QB has had a noticeable zip in his short and intermediate passes during practice. However, accuracy has been inconsistent from all three quarterbacks.”

That doesn’t bode well for the Herminator.

Cal: Plummer pulling away from Millner already?

Of all the ostensible quarterback “competitions” in the conference, the one with the most “quotation marks” is up in Berkeley.

This felt like Jack Plummer’s to lose all along, but according to BearInsider, Kai Millner’s shaky start is going a long way toward sealing the former Purdue starter’s status as Chase Garbers’ heir apparent. Millner had an interception and some poor passes in team drills, while Plummer is getting talked up by Justin Wilcox.

From Bear Insider:

“I would say his comfort level and how vocal he is and his leadership he provides being brand new and learning the playbook (is impressive),” noted Wilcox. “You saw it some in the spring and in the summer, his demeanor and how he leads the team -both those guys (Plummer and Milner), it’s just a natural progression.”

Great job couching that answer, Wilcox, but we see right through you.

Colorado: Fontenot finding 2019 form once more

Over the offseason, the Buffaloes’ running back room was dealt one blow after another. Two-time reigning leading rusher Jarek Broussard, the conference offensive player of the year in 2020, bounced for Michigan State; 2020 four-star recruit Ashaad Clayton took off for Tulane; and FCS second-team All-American Ramon Jefferson committed and then-decommitted from the Buffaloes, only to end up at Kentucky.

But the cupboard isn’t completely bare, and Alex Fontenot is doing everything he can to remind Buff backers that he’s still around.

Back in 2019, Fontenot led Coloado with 874 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. In 2020, he injured his hip and missed the whole season, and last year, he had 326 yards while serving as Broussard’s backup.

Fully healthy and back in the saddle once more, Fontenot could be a bellcow, with an outside shot at leading the conference in yardage.

From Neill Woelk of CUBuffs.com:

“(Fontenot) is back to his 2019 form,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He looks really good, confident, strong, making great decisions … The same thing with Deion (Smith). He’s completely healthy.”

Oregon: Could Ducks’ loss be Buffs’ gain?

It’s fair to say that former 4-star linebacker Adrian Jackson Jr. did not have the kind of projection he would have hoped in four years at Oregon. Jackson totaled just 33 tackles and one sack during his Ducks’ tenure, which officially came to an end on Thursday when he announced that he’d entered the transfer portal. Jackson’s departure had been widely expected in late-July as he was left off the team’s roster this year and reportedly was set to exit the program.

Could the former lofty recruit return to where it started? In 2018, he was the top recruit in all of Colorado and one of the top-rated linebackers in the country.

A move down to Boulder with the Buffaloes makes all kinds of sense.

Taking a look at the comment section below his announcement, it’s clear that Colorado fans covet him.


Oregon State: Beavers emboldened by big early performance

One of the best parts of the first week of fall camp is seeing guys almost emerge from nowhere.

It can be forgiven if you missed Beavers wideout Silas Bolden last year. The 5-foot-8 spark plug played in 10 games but caught just three passes for 25 yards while rushing three times for 13 yards.

But early reports this year have Bolden playing a bigger role, and it’s exciting to think of the Beavers using another diminutive player for every inch of his ability. Any Pac-12 fan should remember the remarkable Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, who played well above their size at 5-8 and 5-6, respectively. Bolden’s older brother, Victor, was also one a Beaver star. Now lil’ bro appears set to join him.

From BeaversEdge’s Brendon Slaughter:

“Silas Bolden was definitely a standout playmaker today as he made several impressive catches that stole the show. The highlight play came near the end of practice when Bolden took a crossing route pass over the middle from Ben Gulbranson before completely stopping, changing direction, and outrunning all defensive backs for a touchdown. Bolden’s athleticism was on full display as the catch really showcased how well he can operate in space with the ball in his hands. The Beavers utilized Bolden in various ways…

If Bolden is even half as good as two of the best Beavers in program history, OSU has a gem this year.

Don’t forget: He also dominated the spring game.

Stanford: Cardinal happy, healthy in first training camp post-pandemic restrictions

Not many programs were as affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than Stanford, which faced strict rules and regulations for months.
You could hear the relief in David Shaw’s voice on Friday after the first Cardinal practice of training camp.

“It’s been two years since we felt normal,” Shaw said. “And we’re also coming off a normal offseason, where guys got winter, spring and summer to train. We’re a bigger, faster, more explosive football team right now than any time in the last two years, and it’s great. We’re gonna be smart, we’re gonna compete and see if we can get to Game 1 healthy.”

Of primary importance is keeping quarterback Tanner McKee healthy, and Shaw said he entered fall camp the healthiest he’s been in a long time.

“He’s had a great offseason, he’s 230 now, put on weight, stronger,” Shaw said. “If we can keep that group healthy around him, he should have a good year.”

UCLA: Ale ailing in early going

Perhaps the biggest thing going against UCLA this year is depth on the defensive side of the ball, and from the beginning of fall camp, the Bruins are missing a key contributor in special teams and in the linebacker corps.

Ale Kaho, a key transfer from Alabama last year, missed the team’s first practice and was on a scooter with a boot on his left foot on Saturday. Kaho is very talented—he was rated one of the top inside linebackers in the class of 2018 recruiting cycle, rated the No. 32 overall prospect in the nation, and No. 2 inside linebacker in the country by 247sports. He hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations, but I think he’ll grow a ton under Ken Norton Jr.

Once he gets back on the field, that’s it.

USC: Organizationally, Riley off to a great start

I’ll be writing more about this during the preseason, but one thing really stuck out to me at USC’s Media Day on Thursday.

Sometimes you’ll hear coaches talk about a team, sometimes a program. The great coaches, though, talk about organizations, not unlike any other Fortune 500 company. In an organization, sales is no more important than operations, which is no more important than marketing, and so on and so forth. Same with a great football program. It’s more than the play on the field or a win-loss record.

So when numerous USC coaches used the word organization to describe their outfit—including Lincoln Riley to kick off the event—my ears perked up.

Well my eyes perked up on Friday with the announcement that former Big 12 honcho Ed Stewart was taking a key role within the Trojans athletic department, becoming USC’s executive senior associate athletic director for football administration. That’s a big-boy role in a big-boy organization, and one that will be very important to what Riley is building. I’ll try to grab him for an interview about his new role.

Utah: Utes kick off their season with a big need—to address their punting game

One of my goals with this weekly journey around the Pac-12 is to highlight some of the great writing, reporting, and analysis that comes from our collective media. On a regular basis, the league’s closest followers bring to light something that I’d never heard of, thought of or even really considered.

Take Utah’s kicking game, for example. Always good, right? Often elite.

Not so more, apparently.

Entering what could be a College Football Playoff-type season, the Utes need to be stellar in all facets. And, well, they haven’t been.

From UteZone writer Jared Lee’s fascinating deep dive into Utah’s kicking game:

“During their Ray Guy winning seasons, Tom Hackett and Mitch Wishnowsky were typically 10 to 15 percent better than an average college punter. The next two seasons with Wishnowsky punting were weaker but still above average. However, since 2019, Utah has had 5 different players kick punts at a below average level. Last season, only 14 of Utah’s 39 punts were better than what would be expected from an average college punter, and 2 of the top 10 punts were actually kicked by QB Cam Rising.”

Lee taps into some groundbreaking and fully geeked-out punting metrics from Puntalytics, which is going to be a go-to site for me from now on. It’s worth a read if you’re especially into special teams.

Washington: Kirkland exits early, leaving Huskies on alert

While Washington might not be in quite as precarious a position up front as state-mate Wazzu (foreshadowing!), everyone in the conference—and in the NFL—is paying close attention to the Huskies’ offensive line because of dominant senior Jaxson Kirkland. The same Kirkland whose weathered ankle kept him from staying in the NFL Draft a year ago.

Kirkland enters the season as one of the conference’s elite players, but word out of Seattle Saturday wasn’t good.

From the Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel:

“Less than halfway through practice, Kirkland — a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer — walked off the field flanked by a couple of trainers, without having suffered any obvious injury. The 6-7, 340-pounder walked on his own power without any noticeable limp and did not return, perhaps as a precautionary measure. But given the sixth-year senior’s recent ankle surgery, it’s something worth monitoring when UW returns to practice Sunday.”

Here’s hoping the Huskies were indeed treating their mammoth lineman with kid gloves. He was a joy at Pac-12 Media Day, and Washington can ill afford to lose his presence.

Washington State: Early OL injuries cast pall on Cougars’ camp

In our upcoming Top 25 Burning Questions series, I noted one big worry for Washington State heading into Jake Dickert’s first full season as head coach: An inexperienced offensive line. This is something our Derek Peterson dived deep into last month, and I made a note to keep tabs on the Cougars’ hogs early in fall camp.

Welp, so much for that.

On Day 3 of practice on Friday, Wazzu’s biggest fears came true.

From the Spokesman-Review:

“Right tackle Ma’ake Fifita sustained what appeared to be either a foot or ankle injury when he found himself at the bottom of a pileup. The sophomore from Everett, a starting guard last year who shifted to tackle this spring, sat on the turf and spoke with trainers for about 5 minutes before being helped upright. Fifita put some weight on his foot for a moment, then sat on the back of a cart and was transported off the field. Jack Wilson, the 6-foot-11 former Idaho and Oregon State basketball player, replaced Fifita in the Cougs’ first unit.

“Rodrick Tialavea, a sophomore who is competing for a backup role at guard, went down with an unspecified lower-body injury shorty after Fifita. Tialavea was also carted off the field. Dickert did not speak with the media after practice, so it’s uncertain how serious the injuries are.”

So, in short order: One of only a few Cougars linemen with starting experience goes down, only to be replaced by a former basketball player with limited reps in a new sport. Then, a key backup goes down.

This really is terrible news for WSU. Order No. 1 this year is keeping Cameron Ward healthy—lest we forget, the only player on Wazzu’s roster who threw a pass for Washington State last season was wideout Lincoln Victor. Incomplete, by the way.