Gold Nuggets: Trio of Pac-12 squads ready to face familiar nonconference faces
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 following Week 1 of the 2023 season …
Arizona: Cats eager for rematch with Mississippi State defense
Saturday will provide a litmus test for the Arizona offense, which gets a do-over against the Bulldogs, albeit on the road this time. Last year, the Wildcats’ offense had its worst day of the season against the aggressive MSU defense, which harried Cats quarterback Jayden de Laura all game in a 39-17 win. MSU picked de Laura off 3 times and totaled 9 passes defended.
Coming off a successful opening week against a weak Northern Arizona opponent, Saturday will be like an early midterm.
“They had a very good understanding of their defense,” star receiver Jacob Cowing told reporters, according to AZDesertSwarm’s Brian J. Pederson. “Last year, for a lot of us it was our first year in that offense, so it was kind of difficult for us to kind of get on the same page with certain things.”
Arizona State: Sun Devils get a second poke at the ‘Pokes
Given Drew Pyne’s hamstring injury somewhat simplified things for Kenny Dillingham, it wasn’t so much of a surprise to see him pick his QB of the future — true freshman Jaden Rashada — and ride with him the whole against a Southern Utah squad that put up more of a fight than they expected.
On Saturday, the Sun Devils will see the other side. Oklahoma State played 3 quarterbacks 4 series each in its similarly uninspiring 27-13 win over Central Arkansas, with none of them looking particularly effective. Garret Rangel (10-for-15, 118 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), Gunnar Gundy (7-for-9, 106-0-0) and Alan Bowman (13-for-24, 89-0-0) left plenty to be desired, but Dillingham is not taking them lightly.
“I think they’re all 3 somewhat similar players,” Dillingham said. “They have 30 new scholarship players, and I think they’re trying to figure out who can do what with the live bullets. You can say practice is going to simulate that, but there’s a reason veteran quarterbacks have success. There’s a reason Year 2 of starting quarterbacks the jump is so drastic. I think part of that is them trying to figure out their own roster, and I think the only way you can do that is practice multiple players in a game. I think that’s just Coach Gundy being, I believe, a 19-year vet, knowing how to win football games. Knowing what’s needed to be done down the road to win football games and putting his team in the best position to win football games in the future.”
Cal: Sam Jackson V dodges a bullet
Just a few days after leaving the Bears’ terrific 58-21 win over North Texas with an upper-body injury in the second quarter, Jackson returned to practice to the delight of the backup who took over for him on Saturday.
“I’m glad Sam’s healthy right now, and he’s out at practice,” Ben Finley told reporters Tuesday, according to FanNation’s Jeff Faraudo. “And whatever way they can utilize me for this Saturday, I just want to win and help the team win in any way.”
After stepping in with the score tied at 14, Finley completed 24-of-34 passes with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. More important, the Cal offense outscored the Mean Green from that point, 44-7.
Colorado: Travis Hunter is the Energizer bunny
Immediately following Colorado’s 45-42 win over No. 17 TCU — a win that vaulted the Buffaloes into the Top 25 at No. 22 — Travis Hunter was asked how he felt after playing both ways nearly the entire game. Turns out, he was ready to go play another 60.
That’s no surprise to head coach Deion Sanders, who has had to pump the breaks with his superstar Swiss Army Knife.
“I told him last week, ‘Look man, you’re resting. I don’t want to see you practicing until Friday. Until we get to Fort Worth,’” Coach Prime told Undisputed’s Michael Irvin and Skip Bayless on Monday. “Travis was on the field Thursday trying to go both ways. I said, ‘Now didn’t I just tell you I don’t want you practicing.’ So, this week I said, ‘Dude you’re out until Wednesday. You’re not practicing until Wednesday.’ You know we had Sunday. We practice on Sunday, if you didn’t play 60 snaps. Monday is a day off. We have film study and reports. We practice Tuesday, but I don’t want to see him on the field until Wednesday because I understand the toll and what it takes to go to play both ways consistently and mentally and psychologically and physically. I understand that. So, I give him a couple days off, because I know what I could count on Saturday. He’s gonna be there.”
Oregon: Ducks getting healthier entering Week 2
Oregon scored 81 points on Saturday despite missing several of its top offensive players. Just imagine how the Ducks will do at full strength.
They’re getting closer to that reality, as a handful of contributors who missed Week 1 returned to practice this week, according to The Oregonian’s James Crepea.
According to Crepea, nearly a dozen downed Ducks returned to practice Tuesday, including receiver Kris Hutson and running back Noah Whittington.
Oregon coach Dan Lanning was a bit evasive about Whittington’s status following the game.
“I’m not going to talk about anyone who didn’t play,” Lanning said in his postgame press conference. “Noah has done everything right for us and he’s doing a good job. We’re just going to be smart with our players.”
Oregon State: Offensive line draws QB’s praise
The Beavers boast one of the finest offensive lines in football, something DJ Uiagalelei learned first-hand on Sunday in the Beavs’ big win over San Jose State.
The former Clemson quarterback said “I could’ve made a sandwich back there,” after getting plenty of time in the pocket on a touchdown ball to Jeremiah Noga.
But according to OSU guard Heneli Bloomfield, it’s all in a day’s work.
Guard Heneli Bloomfield talking about this play:
"It was fun but you can't give us too much props for doing our job."
— Trevor Denton (@trevordenton37) September 6, 2023
Stanford: Cardinal QB of the future shines
Stanford 4-star commit Elijah Brown had himself a day on Saturday in a major matchup between Brown’s top-ranked Mater Dei squad and Creekside High in Georgia.
Brown went 19-of-22 for 372 yards and 7 touchdowns in a 62-0 win.
“I felt great, but everything goes out to the offensive line and the receivers making plays. I couldn’t do anything without them,” Brown told the Orange County Register’s Michael Huntley. “I think we’ve gotten better each week and hopefully we keep growing from here.”
7 touchdowns for Stanford commit Elijah Brown this past week 👀 https://t.co/LYbOYwFcWy
— CardinalCountry (@AllCardinal) September 5, 2023
Between Brown and Ashton Daniels, who impressed in Stanford’s debut Friday at Hawai’i, it appears the Cardinal may have the position locked up for the foreseeable future.
UCLA: Laiatu Latu rewarded for his dominance
One of the more surprising players to return in the Pac-12 given his likely spot in the first 3 rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, UCLA edge Laiatu Latu said in August that he had unfinished business.
Open for business Saturday against Coastal Carolina, Latu barely closed the register.
I’m just 31 total pass rush plays, Latu had:
- 10 total pressures
- 3 sacks
- 3 QB hits
- 4 QB hurries
- 3 tackles for loss
As a result, Pro Football Focus gave him its highest pass rushing grade of Week 1, a stellar 93.9 grade.
— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) September 5, 2023
USC: Lincoln Riley isn’t counting out Raleek Brown
One of USC’s most talented and productive true freshmen last season, Raleek Brown flashed some major jets in limited action last season.
His potential redshirt this year was a surprise, but perhaps less so, given the former Mater Dei star running back’s shift to wide receiver.
But after news broke that Brown is considering a redshirt season this year, USC coach Lincoln Riley said he still things the sophomore figures into the Trojans’ plans this year.
“I still believe he’s got an outstanding skill set that fits us in a lot of ways,” Riley said, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Thuc Nhi Nguyen. “You see guys make big changes and the transition for him was and is a big change. It’s not always perfect in the beginning, and I think a chance to continue to improve and work on those skills and get better as a player, he’s got to make the most of this time and then when opportunity presents itself, whether it’s this year or next year, be as ready as he possibly can be.”
Utah: Kyle Whittingham explains Ja’Quinden Jackson’s usage
Redshirt sophomore running back Ja’Quinden Jackson was 1 of the Pac-12’s more intriguing players entering the 2023 season. Jackson finished the 2022 campaign running straight downhill, closing with 4 games with 89 yards or more in the Utes’ final 5 contests, including the Pac-12 title game and the Rose Bowl.
But he had just 5 rushing attempts for 15 yards in Thursday’s opening win over Florida. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham shed some light on the situation this week.
“He got kind of nicked up,” Whittingham said. “It was something that was bothering him in spring and fall camp showing up again. We planned to have him be more involved, but he was slowed down by an injury and hopefully he’s going to be available this week.”
Washington: Kalen DeBoer hoping running game gains ground
It’s hard to nitpick a 56-21 win over a potential Mountain West champion like Boise State, but Kalen DeBoer is none-too-pleased with a running game that stalled out against the Broncos.
It didn’t matter in the opener, but being able to convert a 3rd down on the ground will come into play at some point. With leading running back Cam Davis out for the year and the Huskies rushing for just 78 yards on 19 carries against BSU, DeBoer knows he must act fast.
“We’re just not quite there yet as a whole group (with the ground game), everyone in sync,” DeBoer told reporters. “I don’t feel like it’s anything we need to be alarmed about yet. Obviously you can’t keep making the same mistakes, but it was one thing here, one thing there.”
Washington State: Cougars facing unfamiliar Badgers team
Facing a new coaching staff — including a new Air Raid offensive coordinator in Phil Longo — Washington State knows that this Wisconsin squad is a very different team than it faced last year in a surprising 17-14 Cougars win.
Gone is quarterback Graham Mertz (off to Florida, by the way, where he was throttled by Utah last Thursday), who had 227 yards and 2 scores with an interception in the loss last year. In his place is Tanner Mordecai, who completed 24-of-31 passes for 227 yards in a 38-17 Week 1 win over Buffalo, but also threw two picks.
Thirty-one pass attempts might not sound like a lot, but that was the first time since 2019 that the Badgers won a game while throwing that often.
Much was made about Wisconsin’s potential shift to the Air Raid, but returning running backs Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen also combined for nearly 300 yards in the beatdown of the Bulls.
“This is not the Wisconsin team that I know growing up,” Dickert told reporters this week, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Greg Woods. “So biggest thing, new staff, they brought in new schemes and systems that they’re still getting comfortable with. But the identity of Wisconsin football is there: Big, fast, tough, play aggressive, play with tons of effort. So the core of what’s always been perennial top-15 program is there, and they’re getting used to new roles, new coordinators.”