Pac Mentality Week 4: A comeback for the ages in Tucson

Sep 21, 2014, 5:58 PM | Updated: 5:59 pm
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I can only imagine how many Arizona Wildcats fans shuffled off to bed during the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s Pac-12 opener against Cal, muttering something under their breath about how many days there are until the beginning of basketball season.

I’m not saying I blame them, either.

Cal led 31-13 entering the fourth quarter and was seemingly in complete control of the game. Seemingly, of course, is the key word.

Arizona, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon and redshirt sophomore receiver Cayleb Jones, exploded for 36 points in the fourth quarter and stunned Cal with a 49-45 victory.

The win was capped by a 47-yard Hail Mary pass from Solomon to Austin Hill on the game’s final play. Four Bears defenders surrounded Hill, yet none of them really even attempted to knock the ball down.

Normally, furious fourth-quarter comebacks are defined by the team in the lead shutting down the engines and trying to coast to a victory, but that’s not what Cal did. The Golden Bears had 153 yards of offense and two Khalfani Muhammad touchdown runs in the fourth quarter alone, but that still wasn’t enough to hold off the Wildcats, who are now 4-0 for the first time under head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Adding insult to injury for Cal was the fact that its official team shop Twitter account had sent out a message telling Bears fans that because of the win over Arizona, all New Era headgear was 25 percent off. Oops. Then they had to send out this.

That was just part of another entertaining week in the Pac-12, which included Utah’s dominating win at Michigan and Washington State giving the Oregon Ducks (yes, you read that right) all they could handle in Pullman.

What else transpired

• Utah 26, Michigan 10 – The Utes used four turnovers and another solid special teams performance to knock off the Wolverines at “The Big House,” which really turned into just a large building with about 100,000 fans booing in the late stages of the game. Kaelin Clay had a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown — his third return TD of the season — and Andy Phillips kicked four field goals in the win for Utah.

• Colorado 21, Hawaii 12 – Nelson Spruce had 13 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown for the Buffaloes as they evened their record at 2-2 on the season.

• Washington 45, Georgia State 14 – The Huskies trailed 14-0 after a woeful first-half performance. Cyler Miles threw three touchdown passes and Jeff Lindquist ran for two more in the second-half rally for Chris Petersen’s undefeated team.

• Oregon State 28, San Diego State 7 – The Beavers won on the strength of four touchdown runs — two each by Terron Ward and Storm Woods. It broke an 18-game streak with at least one TD pass by quarterback Sean Mannion. OSU’s defense forced two turnovers and held the Aztecs to just 215 yards of total offense.

• Oregon 38, Washington State 31 – “We have Marcus Mariota and you don’t” could have very well been the chant Ducks fans were spewing on their way out of Martin Stadium. The Heisman candidate went 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns in Oregon’s win. Mariota now has 13 TD passes and no interceptions this season.

Who Impressed?

• Anu Solomon – Arizona’s quarterback was battered in the early stages of the game by Cal’s defense. At one point, after Solomon got up holding his knee and walking gingerly, Jesse Scroggins started warming up for head coach Rich Rodriguez. But Solomon stayed in and went on to complete 47-of-73 passes for 520 yards and five touchdown passes. In the fourth quarter alone, he threw for 245 yards and four TDs.

• Wildcats receivers – There were plenty of questions about who was going to throw the ball to Arizona’s talented group of receivers this year. Solomon, of course, has answered those. But the receiving corps has been as good as people expected. Jones, a Texas transfer, is already one of the top wideouts in the Pac-12. Austin Hill had his best game of the season, as did sophomore Nate Phillips. Trey Griffey and DaVonte’ Neal both made plays in big spots. And the Wildcats didn’t even have Samajie Grant, who missed the game after suffering a concussion. That’s a lot of depth for opposing Pac-12 teams to face week in, week out.

• Dom Williams – The Washington State receiver didn’t put up huge numbers, but did beat Oregon All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on two touchdown passes. That doesn’t happen very often, and to do it twice in one game was certainly impressive.

• Utah’s special teams – Yup, they’re special alright. Kaelin Clay is the only player in the country to have a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown this season. Phillips has become almost automatic in the kicking game. The former U.S. Ski Team member has made 20-of-26 field goal attempts over the last two years and is perfect from 50 yards or more. And the Utes have one of the best punters in the country in Tom Hackett, who downed two punts inside the Michigan 15-yard line Saturday.

• Travis Wilson – It wasn’t the smartest decision in the world to launch himself for extra yardage on a scramble, especially considering Wilson almost had to retire from football because of a brain injury. But anybody that can come back from an ugly-looking hit/fall like the one below, is OK in my book.

What was that?

• Washington’s first half performance – We’re a third of the way through the season and I think it’s safe to say that UW is a strange team. Yes, they’re 4-0, and that’s ultimately what matters. But they’ve put together only one strong start-to-finish performance during the non-conference portion of their schedule, and that was the win over Illinois last week. Saturday, the Huskies put up 73 yards against a Georgia State team that came into the contest 2-24 in their last 26 games.

“I thought first half was just about as bad as football I’ve been around, maybe ever,” Petersen said after the game. “I want to give Georgia State credit. I think they were executing and doing a nice job. But it wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and for whatever reason, the kids didn’t show up to play in the first half, and that’s all me.”

• Arizona’s start – We’ll all look at the finish, and rightfully so, but the way the Wildcats started Saturday night, it looked like their whiteout uniforms would include them waving a flag of the same color. Cal had 14 points and 155 yards of offense on its first five offensive plays.

Marotta’s Players of the Week

• Offense: Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona – (See above).

Honorable Mention: WR Nelson Spruce (Colorado), WR Cayleb Jones (Arizona), QB Marcus Mariota (Oregon), WR Devon Allen (Oregon), QB Jared Goff (California), QB Connor Halliday (Washington State)

• Defense: Gionni Paul, LB, Utah – The Miami transfer had quite the season debut for the Utes, registering 14 tackles, one fumble recovery and an interception of Michigan QB Devin Gardner early in the fourth quarter stamped out any threat of the Wolverines coming back.

Honorable Mention: LB Scooby Wright (Arizona), DL Danny Shelton (Washington), LB Kache Palacio (Washington State), LB Jared Norris (Utah), DE Nate Orchard (Utah)

• Special Teams: Kaelin Clay, Utah – His punt return TD early in the second quarter really changed the complexion of the game.

Play of the Week

Talk about your no-brainers…

Quotes

“Our kids played extremely hard, Fought, fought, fought. I was really pleased with every phase of our game. Offense got it going, defense played well and we did what we’ve been working on. And thank goodness it kind of came to fruition; we kind of made them kick field goals.” – Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre

“It was a good road win for us, which have been hard to come by the last few years, so it was good to get a road win.” – Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham

“Did you just see what I saw? I know we’re not ready for Stanford.” – Washington head coach Chris Petersen

”I thought we played very hard. I thought we took a step in the right direction today.” — Washington State head coach Mike Leach

”Well, 4-0 and a big win on the road. We faced a ton of adversity, some self-inflicted, some not. I thought our guys did a great job of just seeing it through. Like I told those guys in the locker room, a road win in this conference is hard. People just expect it to happen.” — Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich

“Winning on a Hail Mary is so improbable. At first you are exhilarated and then you’re thinking, ‘How did that just happen?’ I’m so happy for Austin Hill, who is a senior that bounced back. You’re happy for Anu Solomon, who was off tonight but kept battling and executed the last play. I’m happy for the people who stayed and watched the game. It’s a good day to be an Arizona Wildcat.” – Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez

“Well, you know you have to get over it. Get over it and look forward to down the stretch. Football games are 60 minutes for a reason.” – Cal head coach Sonny Dykes

“That was a good win. We had a speaker last night talk about perseverance, and that came into play today. We had to stay with it because it didn’t look very good early.” – Oregon State head coach Mike Riley

Noteworthy

• Oregon State’s Mannion now has 11,339 career passing yards, good for third place on the Pac-12’s all-time list.

• Washington State sacked Mariota seven times. Mariota had never been sacked more than three times in a single game in his career.

• Royce Freeman started at tailback for Oregon. He’s the first true freshman to start at that position for the Ducks since Derek Loville in 1986.

• Washington State wore all-white uniforms (including helmets) for the first time since 1963.

• Nelson Spruce set a CU school record with 13 catches against Hawaii.

• Cal had nine plays of 40 or more yards against Arizona.

• Arizona’s streak of having a running back with 100 or more yards in a game ended at 20.

• Utah’s win at Michigan was delayed in the fourth quarter by lightning in the area. The delay lasted two hours and 24 minutes.

• The Utes’ win in Ann Arbor was the first non-conference home loss for the Wolverines under head coach Brady Hoke. They had been 11-0.

Looking Ahead to Week 5

It’s all conference games on the slate in Week 5, highlighted by a matchup of top-15 teams in Tempe. UCLA will take on Arizona State Thursday night at Sun Devil Stadium with all eyes on the quarterbacks. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is recovering from an elbow injury suffered in the Bruins’ win over Texas in Arlington, while Mike Bercovici will make his first collegiate start in place of the injured Taylor Kelly.

Elsewhere, we’ll see how Cal bounces back from a painful loss at Arizona when the Golden Bears host Colorado. Stanford hits the road to visit Washington, Washington State is at Utah, and Oregon State takes its unbeaten record south to Los Angeles to face USC.

Oregon and Arizona have the week off.

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