Monday Out West: Sifting through the rubble of a devastating Pac-12 weekend
Weekly takeaways, trends and technicalities from the weekend’s Pac-12 action.
In this week’s edition of Monday Out West …
- UCLA stubs its toe…again
- USC loses a leader but has reinforcements
- Gold Stars of the Week
… and more! But first:
Dan, my man, what were you thinking?
Nearly 24 hours later, and it makes even less sense to me now than it did Saturday night.
It’s not that Dan Lanning and the Oregon Ducks went for it on 4th-and-1 on their own 34-yard line with 1 minute, 26 seconds in a season-deciding matchup with a tougher-than-expected Washington Huskies squad on Saturday night. I’m all for pushing the envelope, and punting it to a Husky offense that had moved the ball at will with under 90 seconds left isn’t exactly an ideal scenario, either.
But Lanning committed coaching malpractice in multiple ways after deciding to go for it.
1. Not calling timeout: Ty Thompson, the greener-than-Oregon-green redshirt freshman, has less seasoning roasted chicken at a cheap buffet. If Bo Nix is jumping up and down and telling you he can go in, how do you not call a timeout here? Even if you ultimately decide to go with Thompson, you owe it to your Heisman candidate quarterback — uh, the one who happens to lead the nation in rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks — to at least let him give you his full pitch.
Dan lanning cost Oregon the game .. had 2 timeouts 4th and 1 from your 30 and you ignore Bo nix and let the backup play with your playoff hopes on the line lmao pic.twitter.com/YXWR8f5029
— John (@iam_johnw) November 13, 2022
2. Sticking with Thompson: Yes, Nix had sought medical attention after getting injured on Oregon’s previous drive, but he looked well enough to sneak the ball 3 feet forward to at least get the 1st down. If you want to put Thompson back in for 1st and 2nd down, fine. Nix is no ordinary dual-threat quarterback, though. He’s truly a gifted runner, and he has a real feel of the offensive line. He knows where the creases are, and he’s proven it all year long. I don’t care if Washington is stacking the box, I’m going with my best guy, even if he’s on crutches.
3. Shotgun? You’re going shotgun? I don’t blame Noah Whittington for slipping and falling. Players slip and fall. It happens. But the fact that Kenny Dillingham called the most important 4th-and-1 of the season as a shotgun handoff with your backup quarterback and No. 2 running back is utterly perplexing. This is just not the right call in the right circumstance, and that is frankly shocking, given the maturity and creativity that Dillingham has displayed this season
Oregon went for it on 4th down from their own 34… and didn't get it!! Whittington slipped! pic.twitter.com/OZnoDckcnq
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) November 13, 2022
So there it is. The game, decided by one play.
After the game, Lanning took the blame, but it felt like a hollow admission, almost like a husband admitting to letting the dishes stack up just so he can get past the punishment stage. Not that I do that.
“We were able to run the ball there in the second half, I don’t know that they stopped us much there, that’s probably the only negative play of the entire second half in the run game,” Lanning said. “We felt like we were going to fall forward. We’ve been a team that can get a yard or 2 yards consistently this year and we didn’t get it done there.”
As a result, the Pac-12 is likely out of the running for a CFP berth and might be left with just one NY6 nod. What a disappointment. It’s hard to imagine feeling so blue about a conference that has 5 teams ranked in the top 16 and 6 teams in the top 25, but we’re now going on 6 years with nary a playoff bid.
Having 5 very good teams and one really good team feels like little consolation compared to a couple of great teams. One of these days, the Pac-12 is going to realize that.
Bruins do as Bruins do
The long national nightmare that is UCLA fandom reared its ugly head once more Saturday night, as a season’s worth of progress and emotional growth regressed in a heartbeat. This is so Bruins of them. So utterly UCLAble. We’re talking, like, 5 decades worth of this stuff.
- 2014: 4-0 UCLA creeps into top 10, loses to Utah.
- 2013: 8-2, lose to Arizona State
- 2005: 8-1, up to No. 7 in the rankings, lose at Arizona
- 1998: Miami. ‘Nuff said.
- 1988: 7-0, ranked No. 1, lose to Washington State at home.
- 1987: 9-1, ranked No. 5, lose at unranked USC.
- 1982: 4-0, ranked No. 8, tie Arizona.
- 1976: 9-0-1, ranked No. 2, lose to No. 3 USC at home, squandering a chance at potential title.
And then there’s Jalen Suggs. And then there’s Joakim Noah.
Decades of anguish, all rolled into one! It’s like an infomercial.
Do you love everlasting pain, annual anguish and a foreboding sense of doom? Do you want to get your hopes up, only to see them dashed, time and time again? Be a UCLA fan! But wait, there’s more! You’ll love-hate basketball, too!
It really does feel like the Bruins are cursed to be also-rans for eternity, especially when a running game that is clicking on all cylinders becomes an afterthought. Had UCLA just kept pounding away at Arizona, we might not be having this discussion, and the Bruins might be headed toward a season-defining rivalry game with USC. Instead, bragging rights are all that are up for grabs next Saturday. Not exactly all-the-marbles territory.
But, hey, kudos to Jedd Fisch and the Arizona coaching staff on one of the most impressive 1-season turnarounds in recent memory. Kevin Sumlin didn’t just leave a bare cupboard, he stripped the parts raw on his way out. A good junior college team boasted more talent than the Wildcats over the past few years. But Fisch has absolutely devoted himself to talent acquisition, and it shows.
Arizona didn’t just beef up its skill-position talent. The Wildcats scored one of the league’s top freshman offensive linemen in Jonah Savaiinaea, who has had scattered moments of utter domination this year, in addition to the typical freshman offensive line learning curve. Freshman linebacker Jacob Manu — one of several impact freshmen from Servite High of Anaheim, Calif. — had 10 tackles against the Bruins; another, wideout Tetairoa McMillan, had a touchdown and has looked like a future star this season. Another freshman from Southern California, Ephesians Prysock of Bishop Alemany, was second on the team with 6 tackles and yet another, Ta’Ita’i Uiagalelei of Mater Dei, had a sack on Saturday.
Remember, these are all recruits from UCLA’s backyard.
It was a striking contrast from the veteran- and transfer-heavy Bruins, who’ve all but abandoned recruiting on the high school trail under Chip Kelly, something that only adds insult to UCLA fans’ angst.
Arizona currently has 19 commitments for its 2023 class. UCLA has 9.
As scary as the present was for the Bruins on Saturday, the future may be even murkier. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet and Jake Bobo are gone. There’s talent returning and certainly more to come in the transfer portal, but not enough to afford getting lapped on the recruiting trail.
Trojans lose an emotional leader
Speaking of the recruiting trail …
Hide ya’ kids, hide ya’ wives, Lincoln Riley is coming for all y’all.
Two things happened in almost successive fashion on Friday night in USC’s win over Colorado that struck a chord with me.
First, the reaction of both teams to Travis Dye’s injury.
The USC running back has been a Pac-12 staple for years, first with the Oregon Ducks, where he starred last season, and now with the Trojans, where he was among the league’s top 3 running backs once more. Thrust into a leadership role amongst a transient team with veterans who were wounded from the Clay Helton era, Dye became one of the most important veterans in the USC locker room that was getting to know its coaching staff as well this season.
When he went down with what is now deemed a season-ending leg injury in the 2nd quarter of the Trojans’ eventual blowout win, the energy was sapped from both sides. It was quite a scene: What looked like 200-plus players, coaches and support staff huddled at midfield together to wish Dye well as he was propped up on a cart and taken off the field.
What happened next was also an eye-opener for me.
Austin Jones and Raleek Brown, two players who could’ve chosen to go elsewhere and would not have been faulted for it, stepped in and performed without a drop-off.
So much ink has been spilled about Lincoln Riley’s ability to recruit superstars to USC — Dye, Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison, Mario Williams — but someone explain to me how Riley was able to bring in guys like Jones and wide receivers Brenden Rice and Terrell Bynum, when they knew they would be leaving stats, production and valuable college reps on the table.
Imagine a Bynum, who had a great season for Washington last year, playing for someone like UCLA or Arizona State and getting touches and looks. Imagine Jones moving on from Stanford — where he led the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns in 2020 — to somewhere in the Big Ten or Big 12.
The fact that Riley was able to offer the chance to be part of something special at USC, and not just offer playing time and targets, should strike fear into opposing coaches. It’s not like this successful season is going to scare players away from coming. Now they’ll feel like even if they’re not starting from Day 1, their time will come.
And then there’s Brown. Raleek the Freak. I’m sorry, but you can’t watch this kid and tell me you don’t see a future star.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 12, 2022
Look at that burst! That acceleration! The plant he made at the 21-yard line, digging into the ground and hitting the jets, is something that can’t be taught. I’m not the only one who seeds shades of Reggie Bush in the young buck.
We’re going to see a lot of creative usage of Brown the next two weeks, and potentially in the Pac-12 title game as well as a NY6 bowl. I’m excited.
The Road to Las Vegas (Around the Pac-12)
The Trojans have the simplest path to Las Vegas — win and they’re in. By virtue of playing a Week 2 conference game against Stanford, USC already stands at 7-1 in conference play. A win over UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl would put the Trojans at 8-1 and a lock for the title game, regardless of what happens in Week 13 against Notre Dame.
It may be simple, but it won’t be easy. Yes, there is perhaps no team in the country that made itself over like USC did over the offseason, but the Bruins scored their biggest win over the Trojans in decades last season, a 62-33 thrashing at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Bruins were perhaps caught looking ahead to USC in their loss to Arizona, but don’t get it twisted — this is a very good UCLA squad with talent on both sides of the ball.
Luckily enough for the Trojans, their matchup with a resurgent Notre Dame squad won’t matter for Pac-12 purposes.
Oregon must win its final 2 games, and that is no easy task. Not only do the Ducks have to get past the defending Pac-12 champions Utah — which beat them twice last year en route to the conference title — but then Oregon must fend off a hard-charging Oregon State squad in an always-feisty Civil War. The math is simple, though: Win both and they’re in.
It will be interesting to see how the Ducks bounce back emotionally from such a taxing loss to the Huskies. Oregon had the weight of an entire league’s expectations on its shoulders, and now that any national ambitions are crushed, perhaps the Ducks can refocus and regroup on the task at hand — securing a title game berth.
UCLA needs to beat USC and needs Oregon to beat Utah to really feel good about its chances. That would give the Bruins a tie-breaker advantage over a 2-loss USC, Utah and Washington.
It really can’t be overstated how damaging the loss to the Wildcats might be for the Bruins’ psyche, though. UCLA coaches and players had to feel like they were more mature than this, that they’d gotten through the days of landmines and trip-ups with a seasoned quarterback and one of the country’s best running backs. But, no, instead, UCLA did what it always does, and now the Bruins must scratch and claw to make it to the conference title game.
With only 1 conference loss so far — to the same UCLA team that lost to Arizona — the Utes have a pretty clear path forward: Beat the Ducks and Buffs and they’re in. One of those matchups is easier said than done, though.
Of course, we’re talking about Oregon. The Ducks may be down, but they’re not out, and Utah doesn’t exactly matchup up well against Bo and Co. That Week 13 reprieve is a gift from the scheduling gods, though, even if they must take on Colorado in Boulder. Big deal.
The Utes better to go all-in on the Ducks next Saturday.
The Huskies need a lot of help, basically improbable upset losses. The path forward looks pretty slim, but they are not mathematically eliminated. Owning a tie-breaker over Oregon won’t help much considering they lose a tie-breaker to UCLA. The Huskies need to win out and hope the Bruins and Utes tumble.
Gold Stars of the Week
Welcome to the Week 11 edition of Gold Stars, my weekly look at the Pac-12’s best individual performers. We’re folding this into Monday Out West going forward, but we’ll keep up with our 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.
|Michael Penix Jr.||Washington||Quarterback||9|
|Jacob Cowing||Arizona||Wide Receiver||3|
|Jaydn Ott||Cal||Running Back||3|
|Daiyan Henley||Washington State||Linebacker||3|
|Zach Charbonnet||UCLA||Running Back||3|
|Kitan Oladapo||Oregon State||Safety||2|
|Dalton Kincaid||Utah||Tight End||2|
|Jayden de Laura||Arizona||Quarterback||2|
|Jordan Addison||USC||Wide Receiver||1|
|Tuli Tuipulotu||USC||Defensive Lineman||1|
|Ja'Lynn Polk||Washington||Wide Receiver||1|
|Alex Austin||Oregon State||Cornerback||1|
|Nikia Watson||Washington State||Running back||1|
On to the Gold Stars of Week 11 …
1. Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. (3 stars)
Penix dethroned Bo Nix/Caleb Williams duo and in the process, knocked the Ducks out of the College Football Playoff.
It’s difficult to accurately judge Penix’s season on the whole, considering he has 3 games above 180.0 in passer rating, including Saturday’s fantastic performance against Oregon, and 2 games under 110.0.
What he did against the Ducks in knocking them off their perch was a sight to behold, particularly his absolute dime on the sidelines to Taj Davis for a 62-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter.
Penix to Taj for the tie 👀
— BetRivers Sportsbook (@BetRivers) November 13, 2022
On the day, he finished 26-of-35 passing for 408 yards and 2 scores with 1 interception that could have proven costly, a mistake on the 1-yard line that cost Washington 7 points.
His 74.3 completion percentage was the 2nd time this season that he finished around the 75 percent-or-better mark.
2. USC QB Caleb Williams (2 stars)
On the one hand, Williams threw his 2nd interception of the season. On the other hand, he had his 4th straight 5 touchdown game.
Can you really argue with that? Williams went 14-for-26 for 268 yards and 3 scores and added 2 more touchdowns on the ground. He now has 37 total touchdowns on the season against just the 2 picks. What a ratio!
Williams helped the USC offense top the 40-point mark for the 8th time in 10 games, and the Trojans finished with 531 yards and 9-of-12 on 3rd-down conversions.
3. Arizona QB Jayden de Laura (1 star)
Michael Wiley had a season-high 97 yards and a touchdown and Jacob Cowing had his first 100-yard game since Oct. 1, catching 9 passes for 118 yards.
But it was de Laura who deserves the most credit for driving the Wildcats’ biggest upset in years.
This really was a program-defining win for Jedd Fisch, who has added such an infusion of talent that Arizona is now a legitimate threat going forward. Especially with his QB of the future already in house.
Finishing the day 22-of-28 passing for 315 yards and 2 scores, de Laura helped Arizona to 22 1st downs and more than 430 yards of total offense.
Onto my Pac-12 Weekly Awards ballot:
Defensive Line POW: USC DL Tuli Tuipulotu
Tuipulotu is making a big late-season push for some national awards, as he tacked on 2.5 more sacks on Friday in a big win over Colorado. He now has a commanding lead in the national sack rankings with 11.5, 2 more than his closest competitors.
— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) November 12, 2022
Defensive POW: USC DL Tuli Tuipulotu
Tuipulotu’s sack numbers are impressive, but so are his tackles for loss. He has 17.5 TFL on the season, which ranks 2nd nationally.
Honorable mentions: Washington State Edge Brennan Jackson; Arizona LB Jacob Manu.
Freshman POW: Oregon State RB Damien Martinez
It’s pretty impressive what Martinez is doing up in Corvallis. Martinez hit the century mark for the 4th straight week, seizing the momentum in the conference freshman of the year race. He had 105 yards on 23 carries in a big win over Cal.
Offensive Line POW: Washington OL Corey Luciano
Luciano helped Washington pile on over than 500 yards against Oregon, with 9.2 yards per play. The Huskies kept Michael Penix Jr. healthy and upright and allowed just 2 tackles for loss.
Offensive POW: Washington QB Michael Penix Jr.
Penix has thrived in Ryan Grubb’s up-tempo passing game, and he’s created a nice little cushion in the national passing yardage race after throwing for 400 yards for the second time this season. Penix’s closest competition, Western Kentucky’s Austin Reed, has 90 fewer yards (3,640-3,550) despite playing one more game.
Honorable mentions: USC QB Caleb Williams; UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet; Washington State RB Nakia Watson; Arizona QB Jayden de Laura.
Special Teams POW: Washington K Peyton Henry
Henry nailed a clutch game-winning field goal with the clock winding down for the second straight week, this time on the road in hostile Autzen Stadium to beat Oregon. Henry went 3-for-3 on field goals and 4-4 on extra points to finish with 13 points.
October 13, 2018: Peyton Henry misses a game-winning field goal at Autzen Stadium.
November 12, 2022: Peyton Henry buries a game-winning field at Autzen Stadium.
— Jake García (@Jake_M_Garcia) November 13, 2022
Obscure stat of the week
Stanford’s offense has been bad for nearly a half-decade, but it fell to new depths on Saturday in a 42-7 loss to Utah. The Cardinal managed just 177 yards of total offense and finished just 3-of-14 on 3rd-down conversions. An anemic running game totaled just 22 rushing yards to go along with 155 passing yards on 12-of-25 completions by Tanner McKee.
But the number that really sticks out is 9. As in 9 1st downs, the lowest number for Stanford since at least 2019.
Things have rarely if ever been worse for David Shaw and Co. Nothing is working whatsoever.
Week 12 Game I’m Most Looking Forward To
How can this one not be a tie?
Utah at Oregon (Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN)
USC at UCLA (Nov. 19, 5 p.m. PT, Fox)