Gold Nuggets Week 6: Oregon, Arizona State looking to shut down opposing quarterbacks
Welcome back to Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s weekly trip around the Pac-12.
Read below for news, notes, and quotes heading into Week 6 of the 2022 campaign.
Arizona: Big recruit paying off for Wildcats
One of Arizona’s most important — and coveted — recruits from the Class of 2022, offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea, is coming along nicely. After being graded at replacement level (typical for a freshman) in the first 4 games of the season by Pro Football Focus, Savaiinaea graded at 63.0 overall in Saturday’s win over Arizona.
Most importantly for the Wildcats, though, was his consistency: Against the Buffaloes, Savaiinaea played 86 snaps, 20 more than his previous career high.
“Big Jonah, we’ve talked about him really since he’s arrived how fortunate we are that we got big Jonah here early so he can be a starter for us, and he’s proven that,” coach Jedd Fisch said heading into the Colorado game last week, according to Arizona Desert Swarm’s Brian Pederson.
Arizona has not had a great track record with all-conference offensive linemen. Savaiinaea should snag honors later in his career.
Arizona State: UCLA shut down Michael Penix Jr. — can Sun Devils follow suit?
Faced with their 4th ranked opponent in 5 weeks, the Arizona State Sun Devils have a Herculean task in shutting down Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
That task was made slightly more manageable after watching UCLA limit the league’s best quarterback in a 40-32 Bruins win on Friday night. Penix was intercepted twice and contributed to a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a UCLA safety.
“This guy can stand in the pocket and deliver the ball,” ASU defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson told reporters, according to ArizonaSports.com’s Jake Anderson. “He’s got a strong arm and you know where he’s going to be at — he’s going to be in the pocket. He can stand back there and deliver that throw all around the field and he knows exactly where to go with it.”
The Sun Devils will also have their hands full with running back Wayne Taulapapa and an offense that ranks 7th nationally in total yardage.
“We’re going to have to stop the quarterback,” Sun Devils coach Shaun Aguano said. “They have a transfer running back, as well, we’re going to have to make sure that we contain him and then not give up the big plays. I think this quarterback loves to go vertical more than anybody else and so we have to make sure that we do not give up those big plays.”
Cal: Inconsistent running game surprises HC Justin Wilcox
Talk about pulling a 180.
One week after Cal smashed Arizona, 49-31, behind more than 350 rushing yards as a team and 274 yards from sensational freshman Jaydn Ott, the Bears regressed in a big way in a 28-9 loss to Washington State.
Ott finished with just 69 yards on 16 carries and 1 touchdown in his sequel, and the Bears finished with just 31 rushing yards, as quarterback Jack Plummer was sacked 4 times for 32 yards.
“Thirty yards,” head coach Justin Wilcox said, according to Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report. “You don’t give yourself a chance when you do that. You wouldn’t think you would run the ball that effectively last week and come in and do this today. Not that we expected to run for 350 yards every week, but we expected to be better (than what we did today).”
Colorado: Sanford takes the reins — in a hurry
New Buffaloes head coach Mike Sanford was given just 11 minutes to prepare for his first team meeting as the Buffs’ interim head coach, according to Buff Stampede’s Adam Munsterteiger.
Was that enough time to erase the stink and shame of one of the worst starts in college football history?
No, certainly not. But a first impression is exactly that — but a brief glimpse for a moment of time — and long enough to start changing some heads and hearts in the Colorado locker room.
“We wiped the first 5 games. Literally on our schedule in the meeting room, we put a black paper over those first 5 games and this is a fresh start,” Sanford said. “It’s a fresh start for players to have an opportunity that weren’t in the position they want to be in with regards to playing time to go out and play. And we’re going to look for players that are the most bought in, that are the most fired up, and the most selfless individuals to represent this fine university.”
Oregon: Pass defense has hands full with Arizona up next
Ranking 119th out of 131 FBS programs in passing defense was probably not the start that first-year head coach Kenny Dillingham anticipated.
And it’s not as if things get any easier this weekend, with Arizona’s impressive passing game coming into focus.
Arizona star QB Jayden de Laura passed for 484 yards and 6 TDs against Colorado, finding Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer a combined 21 times for 343 yards and 2 TDs.
“I think this is maybe the most talented team we’ve played so far at wideout,” Lanning told reporters on Monday night. “They have really, really talented wideouts.”
Freshman Tetairoa McMillan also had a strong day with 5 grabs for 90 yards and a score.
Oregon State: Should the Beavers take a Chance or make a temporary change?
As Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan recuperates from a strained neck, Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith deemed “day-to-day” with the injury heading into Saturday’s game at Stanford.
Nolan has started 17 consecutive games, including Saturday’s 42-16 loss to Utah, when he sustained the injury late in the first quarter after starting the game 2-for-7 with 2 interceptions. Freshman Ben Gulbranson filled in for Nolan, and Smith said he’d get the start if Nolan can’t go. Gulbranson also threw 2 picks, but he was 12-for-21 for 177 yards.
“He did some solid things,” Smith said, according to the Oregonian’s Nick Daschel. “That’s not an easy environment for your first true quality reps with a game still in the balance. Just can’t have the critical errors. That comes with the position.”
Stanford: Cardinal rule — stop turning the ball over
With their starting running back sidelined and their offensive line struggling to protect quarterback Tanner McKee, Stanford is doing itself no favors by becoming one of the most generous teams in college football.
Stanford is tied for 3rd-worst in the country with 12 turnovers, including another fumble against Oregon on Saturday in a 45-27 loss. This one came from normally reliable tight end Ben Yurosek on a designed run, something that coach David Shaw wasn’t expecting.
“The turnover bug got us again,” Shaw told reporters after the game. “You know, it is some of our top players. Ben Yurosek has the ball and we give him some opportunities to catch the ball and run it. He fumbled the ball. So much like Casey (Filkins) a week ago and EJ (Smith) the week before that. Too many fumbles. Too many turnovers. Too many bad plays for us.”
UCLA: Chip Kelly’s offense finally delivering as advertised
Regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game for more than a decade, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly headed to Westwood with major expectations when he arrived in 2018.
For most of his tenure, the Bruins have not delivered on their head coach’s huge reputation.
Now, though, UCLA seems to have turned the corner.
And forget the Pac-12 — the Bruins rank among the nation’s best offenses.
UCLA ranks in the top 15 nationally in yards per play (11th, 6.9); yards per game (8th, 511.8); points per game (11th, 40.5); 3rd-down conversions (6th, .547) and rushing yards per attempt (15th, 5.5).
Those are the kind of results that UCLA fans expected long ago.
USC: Trojans looking to shore up line in time for Cougars, Utes
Off to a 5-0 start and up to No. 6 in the Top 25 rankings, there aren’t many specific areas of concern for the USC football team.
Offensive line health and play, however, are on Lincoln Riley’s radar.
Against Arizona State on Saturday, the Trojans were forced to turn to third-string left tackle Mason Murphy in the fourth quarter, with Courtland Ford hobbled and Bobby Haskins needing a spell.
And that’s on the outside.
USC is even more hobbled at right guard, where starter Justin Dedich has been the walking wounded in recent weeks. The Trojans started fourth-year sophomore Gino Quinones against the Sun Devils on Saturday, but Quinones struggled with a Pro Football Focus rating of just 56.4, with a 36.6 pass blocking grade.
“We’ll keep evaluating Dedich. He’s been a little banged up for us so the hope was to be able to get through tonight and be able to buy him a little bit of time, which he needs,” Riley told reporters, according to USCFootball.com’s RJ Abeytia. “Tough to say on the interior. It was a big challenge. Ideally, if you’re gonna try to rest a guy/play a guy, this was the best interior pair that we played against and not by a little bit, by a lot. It’s probably the strength of their defense, so there was a big challenge in there.”
Utah: Whittingham rues coach firings
Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham has seen dozens of FBS football coaches come and go over his 19-year tenure at Utah, which ranks the 2nd-longest in the country behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.
Now, with the firing of two Pac-12 coaches so far — Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and Colorado’s Karl Dorrell — and the recent news that successful Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst was fired after a 2-3 start — Whittingham reacted Monday with resigned indifference.
“When the (Early) Signing Day got moved up (to December), that was one of the things that … could happen because it’s all about recruiting. If you wait until the 11th hour and fire a guy, and you’ve got signing day coming up 2 or 3 weeks later, that puts you in a spot,” Whittingham told reporters, according to Jeff Call of the Deseret News. “I think really that’s the main impetus for early dismissals. It’s two-fold — No. 1, recruiting and secondly, to start your search right away and beat someone to the punch on another guy that might be available.