Monday Out West: Forget a passing fancy -- this is some fancy passing
Weekly takeaways, trends and technicalities from the opening weekend of Pac-12 action.
In this week’s edition of Monday Out West …
- Prime’s bet pays off … for now
- Did Ethan Garbers lose his job after one week?
- The Road Las Vegas
- Gold Stars of the Week
… and more! But first:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
There is cruel, there is unusual, and then there is what is going on with the Pac-12 right now.
If you’re George Kliavkoff, watching the league that you helped implode become the toast of college football for one weekend, you have to feel conflicted. This is all they ever wanted — the platform, the players, the coaches — and it’s all coming together just as the league is coming to an end.
It’s a Greek tragedy. It’s Shakespearean. It’s almost Freudian.
This is a league that hasn’t been to the College Football Playoff since 2016. Just twice ever.
And here it is, the lone undefeated conference in college football. You can’t write this! It’s too good!
It’s also a direct product of the transfer portal, as no conference in the country has benefited more from the newest wrinkle in roster construction. Horace Greeley once said “Go West, young man,” and college football players are paying heed.
If the conference goes undefeated again next week, we’re entering bonkers territory. And it very well could happen.
Where does it end?
We expected greatness out of Caleb Williams, Michael Penix Jr. and Bo Nix. We hoped for it from DJ Uiagalelei, Jayden de Laura and Cameron Ward. We doubted it from Shedeur Sanders, Ashton Daniels and Sam Jackson V (and Ben Finley, for that matter), as well as Jaden Rashada, Bryson Barnes and Ethan Garbers (and Dante Moore for that matter).
But what we saw on Saturday (and Sunday) was something altogether new.
In total, Pac-12 passing games connected on 308-of-424 passing attempts for 3,981 yards, 37 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
Question: Was Week 1 the most prolific collective passing performance in Pac-12 history? It just may have been.
Sanders (510 yards, 4 TDs) was the biggest revelation of them all, but lets not discount Ward going off for 451 yards — 2nd-highest in the conference and 76 more than his previous Wazzu career high — Uiagalelei totaling 5 touchdowns for the Beavers and Daniels handling Hawai’i a hearty loss in his first career start.
PAC-12 quarterbacks put on a CLINIC in Week 1 pic.twitter.com/fd6sHrATPe
— Barstool Gambling (@stoolgambling) September 3, 2023
Put it this way — when 11 of the 12 main passers have ratings above 140.0 and 6 are at 199.9 or better — that’s a pretty incredible weekend.
Coach Prime makes believers of us all
If you watched Coach Prime’s pregame speech before Colorado’s remarkable 45-42 win over TCU, you might have thought it was Sunday morning and not Saturday morning.
Prime took his Buffaloes to church and then took the Horned Frogs to school, dragging the national and local media along with them. I was one of the most bullish pundits in the game, calling 5 wins for Colorado, and even I thought his words were directed at me.
And I loved them.
He questioned the non-believers, those who tactlessly took Prime to task for his overhaul of the Colorado roster, as if Karl Dorrell and Co. even left cupboards partially filled. What Dorrell did to the program in short order was akin to neglect, termites in the walls and rats under the floors. This was a complete teardown if there ever was one, and Prime should have been lauded for creating a team from thin air, rather than castigated for it.
But I, like many if not all, wondered if it were possible for the football equivalent of a “Hi, my name is ___” tag to congeal in a way that the Buffaloes would field a team and not 22 individuals.
Then I watched the game, and my optimism was realized. This team is good. Possibly really good. Sure, TCU may be bad, but the Buffs have talent with a capital T. And not just Shedeur Sanders, who thrust himself into the national conversation with 510 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. Not just Travis Hunter, who became the talk of college football after playing both ways almost the entire game and coming up with a 100-yard receiving game and a touchdown-saving interception. Not just star freshman running back Dylan Edwards, who scored 4 total touchdowns. Colorado has some major skill talent and a competent offense line.
But that was just watching the game. Watching Prime’s pregame speech showed why this was all possible in the first place.
“Usually God gives me a word long before this, but he’s been holding it,” Sanders said. “It’s not about them. This is about us. This has nothing to do with the team that’s opposing us. This is about us. This ain’t got nothing to do with the naysayers, the non-believers, the haters, the doubters. This is about us.
“When we started this journey, we told you it was going to be trying, it was going to be tough. But you endured because it’s about us. That man next to you is a miracle. That man next to you is a believer. That man next to you is a go-getter. That man next to you is a dog. That man next to you is someone who wants this thing. That man next to you is somebody who believes. That man next to you is somebody that’s got to have it today.
“We ain’t got tomorrow. We got now. We ain’t got next. We got now. We ain’t coming no more.”
He has the Buffaloes believing. And belief is mighty powerful.
Is less Moore? Or is UCLA ready for more Moore?
The pressure was on UCLA head coach Chip Kelly to go with true freshman 5-star Dante Moore at starting quarterback fresh out of the gate, particularly after Arizona State head coach Kenny Dillingham went with true frosh Jaden Rashada over veterans Trenton Bourguet and Drew Pyne.
It was commendable, then, that the unorthodox Kelly went with 2022 backup Ethan Garbers in Week 1 against Coastal Carolina. If Garbers earned the gig, he earned the gig.
But earning the gig going into the game and coming out of the game are two different things.
Garbers’ 114.5 passer rating was the lowest among Pac-12 starters and his 19.3 QBR ranks 114th. Moore’s 196.8 passer rating is among the best, and his 81.0 QBR was, too.
Is one big 62-yard touchdown from Moore to J. Michael Sturdivant the difference? It could be.
The Road to Las Vegas (Around the Pac-12)
No. 14 Utah 24, Florida 11
Of course, you’d rather be at full strength throughout the year, but Utah’s win over Florida will put some hair on its chest — and give some reserves some valuable early film. The Utes were without as many as 8 starters in the matchup, including quarterback Cam Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe and defensive linemen Junior Tafuna and Connor O’Toole.
Yet they were far-and-away the better team against a Florida team that might be among the dregs of the SEC. Kyle Whittingham has taken strides in the recruiting world to get his 2nd and 3rd units up to snuff, and it’s paying off.
Arizona State 24, Southern Utah 21
Any momentum that Arizona State had built up early dissipated along with the storm that delayed their eventual 3-point win over SUU. If you were to judge the Sun Devils, you call it an A for the 21-7 first half and an F for a second half in which they were outscored 14-3. Against Southern Utah, that should never happen.
Such are the growing pains for a team with a brand new young head coach and a brand new young starting quarterback. Someday, Kenny Dillingham and Jaden Rashada will look back on Thursday and laugh.
Stanford 37, Hawai’i 24
A quarterback battle that prominently figured Ari Patu and Syracuse transfer Justin Lamson resulted in sophomore Ashton Daniels getting the Week 1 nod. So far, so good. Facing a Warriors team that put up a nice fight in a Week 0 loss to Vanderbilt, the Cardinal weathered the storm that was Brayden Schager, as the Hawai’i quarterback threw it 53 times, connecting on 30 of them for 355 yards and 3 scores.
But Stanford had a much more balanced attack. Daniels passed for 248 yards and 2 scores while adding 42 rushing yards, helping the Cardinal go for 158 yards on the ground. Hawai’i had negative-5 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Colorado 45, No. 17 TCU 42
There’s not much more to say about what was nothing short of a Game of the Year contender, but the scary thing is Colorado has plenty of room for improvement. The ground game produced just 55 yards in 34 attempts, by far the worst running game returns in the league.
That should turn around quickly. Freshman running back Dylan Edwards had 135 receiving yards and 3 scores. He should get going on the ground next week against Nebraska.
No. 10 Washington 56, Boise State 19
Judging solely by the zip on the ball coming off of Michael Penix Jr.’s fingertips, Pac-12 defensive backs are going to absolutely hate playing the Huskies this year. Washington’s passing attack poured all over the hapless Broncos, who aren’t all that hapless. They’re actually pretty good. The Huskies are just at another level.
Penix threw for 450 yards and 5 scores with 0 picks, setting the stage for a monster season. His 3 Wise Men — Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk — were as advertised, combining for 18 receptions, 328 yards and 4 scores, and tight end Jack Westover got in the mix with 5 grabs, 59 yards and a score.
No. 6 USC 66, Nevada 14
The bar is set so high at USC, that a 52-point win didn’t feel all that special. The Trojans still don’t have a 100-yard receiver this year, they’re not plucking the ball from the air at will like they did last year and they had 8 more penalties.
On the other hand, Caleb Williams was typically fantastic with 319 passing yards and 5 touchdowns, the defense held the Wolf Pack offense to just 49 rushing yards on 38 attempts and USC moved to 2-0.
Not bad. But also, like, not that good?
No. 15 Oregon 81, Portland State 7
The Ducks flew through this one, scoring 11 touchdowns while allowing 1. At one point, they went for 2 in a game in which they scored 81 points. It doesn’t get more cutthroat than that. Talk about no mercy.
In fact, Bo Nix probably played more than he needed to, but he was just so darn good. Nix connected on 23-of-27 attempts for 287 yards and 3 scores. And talk about maximizing his time: Bucky Irving went for 119 yards on just 4 rushes, with 2 scores.
Cal 58, North Texas 21
If the Bears play like this all year, they might just preserve Justin Wilcox’s job. Despite the loss of starting quarterback Sam Jackson V to an injury before the half, the Cal offense clicked under backup Ben Finley. Cal had 669 yards of total offense, including 357 on the ground, while allowing just 225. It was truly one of the best Week 1 performances in the conference.
The most pleasant surprise was seeing Cal sophomore running back Jaydn Ott regain his mojo with 188 rushing yards and 2 scores.
Washington State 50, Colorado State 24
After a quiet year in his Palouse debut last season, Cameron Ward shook off the cobwebs, and let it fly against the Rams. Ward had 451 passing yards and 3 touchdowns and added 13 carries for 40 rushing yards and a score, numbers that were more reminiscent of his Incarnate Word days. He found a nice rapport with wideout Lincoln Victor, who stayed despite a max exodus at the position and was the biggest beneficiary. Victor had 11 catches for 168 yards, with 8 of those catches going for first downs.
The lack of a pass rush — plus CSU’s 21 4th-quarter points — are concerning. The Rams stink. Where were Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr.? The Cougars had just 1 sack, with none for the bash brothers.
Arizona 38, Northern Arizona 3
It’s not often that Arizona’s defense is the story. Yes, Jayden de Laura and the offense were solid, tallying 478 total yards, including 292 through the air. But the Cats’ D was consistent and thorough, allowing just 264 yards, 4th-fewest in the conference. Jedd Fisch will take that balance any day.
UCLA 27, Coastal Carolina 13
It wasn’t the most convincing win on the docket — and the Bruins may have come away with more questions than answers — but it was a win, and that’s what matters for a young team with a young offense. Garbers got the start, but Moore was clearly the better quarterback, and it’ll be interesting to see if Kelly makes the switch. Garbers completed 10-of-17 passing for 121 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, while Moore went 7-of-12 for 143 yards, 2 scores and 1 pick. The key difference: 11.9 yards per attempt for Moore, 7.1 for Garbers.
The Bruins’ defense did look terrific, with 4 sacks, 10 tackles-for-loss, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble.
Oregon State 42, San Jose State 17
Oh, so that’s why. Two answers were made clear Sunday afternoon against the win against the Spartans: why Oregon State needed Uiagalelei and why Uiagalelei needed Oregon State. The Beavers, who had double-figure wins last year but some close calls, left no doubt in this one. Uiagalelei had 5 total touchdowns (3 passing, 2 rushing) and connected on 80% of his passes (20-of-25) for 239 yards. His 199.9 quarterback rating was better than any game in his Clemson career.
With Uiagalelei under center, the OSU offense clicked, particularly the ground game as sophomore running back Damien Martinez picked up right where he left off with 145 rushing yards.
Gold Stars of the Week
Welcome to the Week 1 edition of Gold Stars, my weekly look at the Pac-12’s best individual performers. We’ll keep a running track of the Gold Stars of the Week, all leading up to the Gold Stars of the Year column in December. It’s exactly like the Heisman Trophy, only there’s no ceremony, no trophy, and no one puts this on their résumé. As a note: 1st-place finishers get 3 gold stars, 2nd-place get 2 and 3rd-place gets 1.
Also, I’m on the voting committee for Pac-12 weekly awards, and I’ll include my ballot below Gold Stars.
On to the Gold Stars of Week 1 …
1. Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders (3 stars)
We have no idea how the TCU defense will turn out, but even if they’re patsies, that takes nothing away from Sanders’ stellar performance. To come in and quiet the naysayers who questioned his jump from HBCU Jackson State and the SWAC to Colorado and the Buffaloes, setting a new program record with 510 yards in his first start? Four touchdowns? Four 100-yard receivers? Silly!
2. Colorado WR/DB Travis Hunter (2 stars)
If you watched Hunter on Saturday, you watched a generational talent at work. You just don’t see things like this. He didn’t just play both ways, he excelled. The 11 catches on offense were special, the interception on defense was fantastic, but the fitness, discipline and talent to play the whole game at that level? Before the interception, he ran across the field to prevent a 74-yard run from becoming a TD. Otherworldly.
3. Cal RB Jaydn Ott (1 star)
I’m convinced the questionable use of Jaydn Ott is what necessitated a coaching change, and it was clear against the Mean Green that new Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is going to feed Ott the rock while also giving him some nice spells.
The sophomore delivered with the 3rd 100-yard game of his career. It was his first since rushing for 274 yards in Week 4 last year, just his 4th career game. Ott sure likes to start well: He had 104 yards in last year’s season-opener.
All gas no brakes for Jaydn Ott 💥 pic.twitter.com/BKsheBpb4G
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) September 2, 2023
Onto my Pac-12 Weekly Awards ballot:
Defensive Line POW: UCLA edge Laiatu Latu
Get used to seeing this name here. The favorite for Pac-12 DPOY, Latu opened his season on the strongest possible terms, totaling 3 sacks and a forced fumble against Coastal Carolina.
Defensive POW: Stanford LB David Bailey
Bailey was fantastic as a true freshman last year but has clearly taken his game to another level. He had 5 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 sacks against Hawai’i. He had 2.5 sacks all of last year.
Honorable mentions: UCLA edge Laiatu Latu, Colorado DB Travis Hunter, Utah DL Jonah Elliss, Utah S Cole Bishop
Freshman POW: Colorado RB Dylan Edwards
A longtime protege of Coach Prime, Edwards displayed electrifying speed against TCU, finishing with 5 catches for 135 yards and 3 TDs and 24 rushing yards and a score. Talk about a debut.
Dylan Edwards scored FOUR touchdowns in the FIRST GAME of his college career.
What was on his mind immediately after putting the nation on notice?
“We gotta do it next week… We gotta do it next week. We gotta do it next week.”
— RK (@RyanKoenigsberg) September 3, 2023
Offensive Line POW: Cal OL Brian Driscoll
With college football’s unluckiest player, Matthew Cindric, once again going down and leaving a gaping hole at center, Driscoll shifted over from left guard and was part of a line that paved the way for 357 yards rushing and 312 yards passing, just the 2nd time in school history Cal has had those numbers in a game.
Offensive POW: Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders
You don’t break a school record for passing yards and lead the country and not get my vote.
Honorable mentions: Washington QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington State QB Cameron Ward, Cal RB Jaydn Ott
Special Teams POW: Utah P Jack Bouwmeester
The Utes punter consistently flipped the field on Florida, averaging 51.8 yards per punt and twice pinning the Gators deep in their territory.
Obscure stat of the week
Oregon State’s win over San Jose State capped the 3rd undefeated Week 1 for the conference since 1980. That makes the league the only undefeated Power 5 conference. The 2 previous times (1992, 2017), the league had a Week 0 loss.
Week 2 Game I’m Most Looking Forward To
Colorado vs. Nebraska, 9 a.m., Sept. 9, FOX