Pac Mentality Week 1: Is Cal headed back to relevancy?
Week 1 is in the books in the Pac-12.
Every team in the conference was in action against a non-conference foe, in really what was a lackluster week of scheduling to be quite honest. Only three schools — UCLA, Washington State and Cal — had games against Power 5 conference institutions.
In all, Pac-12 teams went 10-2 in their openers.
Each Sunday, I’ll provide a look back at what transpired in the “Conference of Champions.”
• Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona – Rich Rodriguez was about as deliberate as a coach can be in making a decision on who would be his starting quarterback in the 2014 opener against UNLV. He named Anu Solomon, a redshirt freshman from Las Vegas, but listed three other QBs with the word ‘or’ next to them on the depth chart. There was no need for an ‘or’ Friday night. Solomon completed 25-of-44 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-13 romp. That number could have been well over 500 yards if not for some deep missed throws early in the game. Even so, the average length of Solomon’s TD passes was 51.8 yards. Each went to a different receiver. In all, Arizona rolled up a school-record 787 yards of offense.
• USC – In the last week, one player made up a story about saving his nephew from drowning to explain his two sprained ankles and another player quit the team, alleging the head coach is a racist. Welcome to L.A., Steve Sarkisian. None of that mattered Saturday though, as the 15th-ranked Trojans dismantled the Fresno State Bulldogs 52-13. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns while the USC defense forced four turnovers in the win. USC crossed over into Oregon territory, running a school-record 105 offensive plays in the game.
• California Golden Bears – Sonny Dykes’ team went on the road to Evanston to play a decent Big Ten opponent, and came away with their first win over an FBS foe since Oct. 13, 2012 when they beat Washington State 31-17. That’s a span of 17 games and 686 days. With a visit from Sacramento State on the schedule next, Cal could do the unthinkable — start the year 2-0!
What was that?
• UCLA’s offense – Brett Hundley, Brett Hundley, Brett Hundley. That’s what everybody was talking about in the offseason when it came to UCLA football. Hundley had eschewed the NFL Draft to return for his redshirt junior season. The decision has UCLA as a popular pick to win the Pac-12 and head to the first-ever College Football Playoff. The Bruins’ offense didn’t look at all like a championship contender in a season-opening win over Virginia. The Cavaliers sacked Hundley five times and kept him under constant pressure. If not for the Bruins scoring three, yes, that’s right, three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter, this would have been an easy win for UVA, who won just two games in 2013. By the way, it was the first time since 1986 UCLA has had three defensive scores in one game.
• Colorado – Things were looking pretty good for the Buffs in their season-opening tilt against in-state rival Colorado State. CU led 17-7. Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau had already hit his top target, Nelson Spruce, with two touchdown passes. The Rams used a punishing running attack, gaining 185 yards on the ground in the second half on their way to 24 unanswered points and the win.
• Washington Huskies – New coach. Starting quarterback suspended. You’re in Hawaii. I get all that, but man, the 25th-ranked Huskies didn’t look so hot in their opener against the Hawaii Warriors, a team that went 1-11 last season. Hawaii actually had the ball in decent field position — at their own 44-yard line — but opted to punt on 4th down with under three minutes to go. Washington did do something right, they were able to run the clock out behind the running of Lavon Coleman.
Players of the Week
Offense: We’ll go with Solomon. See above. And not only did the redshirt freshman thrive through the air, he added 50 yards on the ground in the Wildcats’ devastating attack.
Honorable Mention: RB D.J. Foster (ASU), QB Connor Halliday (Washington State), QB Cody Kessler (USC), RB Byron Marshall (Oregon), WR John Ross (Washington)
Defense: Jalen Jefferson, LB, California – Jefferson was all over the field against Northwestern. The junior had 16 total tackles and came up with a sack and an interception on consecutive plays on the Wildcats’ last drive to preserve the win.
Honorable mention: LB Eric Kendricks (UCLA), LB Nate Orchard (Utah), S Mitchell Peterson (Washington State), DE Leonard Williams (USC), S Ty Zimmerman (Oregon State)
Special Teams: Kaelin Clay, KR/PR, Utah – Clay returned both a punt (46 yards) and a kickoff (100 yards) for a touchdown in the Utes’ win over Idaho State. He’s the first conference player to accomplish that feat since 1999.
Honorable mention: K Garrett Owens (Oregon State)
“For too long around this university, expectations have been too low. It’s not going to get changed from the outside. Everybody is going to have 20 pats on the back before they get back to their house. We have to expect more of ourselves and we’ve got to get more out of ourselves — starting with the coaches.” — WSU head coach Mike Leach on changing the culture in Pullman
“We got a victory. We did that right, but there are a lot of things in this game that we have to take away and we have to learn from them. I think we just have to come out and play our game, and that’s the key to this thing. I think we may have come out there a little too juiced and had a lot of mental lapses and mental mistakes. We just have to fix them and come back next week and play a better game.” — UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley
“It’s kind of something new to me and it sounds crazy and you never want to say this but I think most of the second half, we got outplayed in all phases. That rides on the captain’s shoulders. I’m going to put that on us, especially myself being offensive captain and quarterback so I just think we got outplayed most of the second half.” — Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau
“I had a little jitters and I think you could see them with some of my bad passes. Overall, I felt more anxious than nervous.” — Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon on his first collegiate start
Game of the Week
It ended in a loss for the conference, but Rutgers’ 41-38 win over Washington State was a thriller that featured 1,034 yards of offense and five lead changes in the second half.
Looking ahead to Week 2
It’s another pretty weak slate of games in the second week of the season, but we’ll get our first conference game of the year — and it’s a good one. The USC Trojans head to “The Farm” to take on Stanford in a battle of South vs. North. But the game of the week will take place in Eugene as the Oregon Ducks host the defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans.
Washington will have to play much better than they did against Hawaii to beat Eastern Washington in Seattle. The Eagles, who advanced to the FCS semifinals a year ago, are powered by quarterback Vernon Adams. The junior quarterback threw 58 touchdown passes a year ago, and has nine in EWU’s first two wins of 2014.