Stiff competition in this category this week. Utah got its first conference win in style with a blowout of Cal, Washington got a desperately needed win, in their upset of #7 Oregon State, and UCLA won a shootout with ASU to come even with the Devils in the South division.
But no win this weekend was bigger than the big BearDown in Tucson. Arizona won last week’s matchup of good, but desperate teams against Washington to register only their 2nd Pac-12 win. But at 1-3 in conference, they weren’t supposed to be able to beat USC — especially not on a day when Marqise Lee set every known Pac-12 receiving record and Matt Barkley broke his own USC single-game passing yards record (which he set the last time USC played Arizona).
However, the Trojans kept the Wildcats in the game with five turnovers and 117 penalty yards. Arizona is an opportunistic team, leading all Pac-12 teams in scoring offense and trailing only Oregon in yards per game. Most teams would have been buried in the avalanche of Marqise Lee spectacularness, but the Wildcats kept coming back.
USC went ahead 28-13 early in the third when Lee turned a short pass from Barkley into a ridiculous 44 yard touchdown run, and it looked like USC was ready to pull away. But late in the 3rd, Arizona’s offense caught fire and the Cats bookended a DJ Morgan fumble with two rapid scoring drives of 5 and 4 plays respectively. Suddenly, Arizona had turned a laugher into a 2-point game by the start of the 4th quarter.
In the first three quarters, USC’s offense could best be described as having Matt Barkley dump the ball to Marqise Lee while the entire Trojan team yelled, “Save us Marqise!!”
In the 2nd half, Arizona acquiesced and increasingly oriented its entire defense around stopping the incredible sophomore. By the 4th, it was full-on Lee Lockdown and USC’s response left much to be desired.
The Trojans’ entire 4th quarter was summed up in its first series when the Cats took Lee away downfield and Barkley threw back to back incompletions on 2nd and 3rd down to little-used Soma “don’t let the 31 on the jersey fool you, I’m no Stanley Havili” Vainuku.
On fourth down, the Trojans just decided to cut out the middleman and handed the ball directly to Lee in the backfield. But even the shouts of, “Save us Marqise!!” were to no avail. Lee ran for only a yard and the Wildcats took over.
Arizona got the ball at midfield and drained 4 minutes off the clock in with a 9 play, go-ahead scoring drive, and never relinquished control of the game.
The win was Arizona’s 2nd consecutive victory against a quality conference opponent and launched the Cats into the top 25. It’s hard to believe, but the team that opened 0-3 in the Pac-12 actually has a chance to win the South division.
Arizona could be favored against all four of its remaining opponents. If USC loses to Oregon this week and Arizona wins in the Rose Bowl, all three teams will have three conference losses and the Wildcats will have the tiebreaker and inside track to go to the Pac-12 Championship Game. What a difference two weeks can make.
Let’s stay with the Trojans who came in to the game still charting a path to the BCS Championship Game, and left barely even controlling their own destiny to win the Pac-12 South.
USC’s dependence on Lee on Saturday is hard to overstate. The Trojans called twice as many passes as runs, and passed to Lee as many times as all other Trojans combined. Lee doubled the rest of USC’s receiving output and the Trojan rushing attack didn’t even notch as many yards Arizona gave them in penalties.
But in the 2nd half, Arizona adjusted and, that became difficult. In the 4th quarter, Lee was targeted only once prior to USC’s last-minute desperation drive. Not coincidentally, USC’s offense shut down. The Trojans only score in the last 25 minutes was on a drive that began (thanks to a Lee kick return) at the Arizona 24.
Lane Kiffin scoffed at questions from alums this week at why he didn’t run the ball more on Saturday, and reminded everyone that he was peppered with questions two weeks ago about why he didn’t pass more against Washington. “Ah shucks guys. I just can’t win with you! Make up your mind!”
Clever, coach. But the real question for Kiffin isn’t why the Trojans don’t run, or why they don’t pass, it’s why every game has to have a gimmick. Why is there an offensive dogma every week that Kiffin won’t let go of, even after the opposition adjusts?
Against Washington, Kiffin called twice as many runs as passes. UW has a good pass defense, it’s true, but even as the Huskies crowded the box in the 2nd half, begging USC to pass, Kiffin stuck to the run and the offense didn’t score a point in the final 40 minutes of the game. Only a punt block TD saved the Trojans from the upset.
On Saturday, USC faced the #8 run defense in the Pac, yet called twice as many passes as runs. Yes Marqise Lee was on fire, but Kiffin held a two-touchdown 2nd half lead, on the road against the #4 offense in the country who happened to have a lousy defense playing their safeties 22 yards off the line of scrimmage. A lot of coaches in this situation would RUN THE FREAKING FOOTBALL AND SHORTEN THE GAME!
Not Lane Effing Kiffin, Bro. He keeps throwing for that record book, and then has the gall to spend all weekend complaining about the fact that his defense got tired playing 95 snaps. Hey coach, where were all those power-I formations you were bragging about after you ran for 300 yards against Cal?
“The visor doesn’t see wins and losses, Bro. All The Visor sees is 345 yards. #FTFO”
Honorable mention in the Worst Loss Category to ASU who fell back into the middle of the South Division Race with a critical home loss to UCLA (“ASU is collapsing in late October? Dude! No way!”), and to Cal who was boat raced by a Utah team that hadn’t won in the Pac all season.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
We’ve probably talked enough about the USC @ Arizona game, but Marqise Lee just keeps finding ways to be amazing. It used to be, there was a simpler time on Pac-12 Roundup when we’d freak out over 200 yard receiving games. 345 yards is just unreal. Lee had 469 all-purpose yards, which was the 2nd highest total in NCAA history.
Lee’s incredible mix of body control, route running and breakaway speed are truly special and he vaulted himself into the Heisman discussion on Saturday.
Honorable mention to Arizona’s Marquis Flowers who swung Saturday’s game for the Wildcats by forcing three USC turnovers.
Also, Utah’s Reggie Dunn had a day that would have won him the award most weeks with two kick returns touchdowns of 100+ yards in Utah’s rout of Cal.
The biggest upset of the week in the Pac was unranked Washington’s 20-17 win over #7Oregon in Seattle. The Beavers were a perfect 6-0 and the Huskies were only 1-3 in conference. But how big of an upset was it? Oregon State had played a much easier conference schedule than the Dawgs and the longer you looked at the game, the more it looked like a bad matchup for the Beavers.
Oregon State was very impressive lighting up BYU’s #5 defense on the road with a backup quarterback, but the Beavers’ offense is one-dimensional. They are #15 nationally in passing yards, but back in camp, Mike Riley kept telling the press how concerned he was about “finding 1500 yards” somewhere in his RB corps. Halfway into the season, a feature back has not emerged and the Beavers rank #114 in rushing yards.
Enter Washington who boasts one of the better pass defenses in the Pac-12 with All-Conference Corner Desmond Trufant and freshman sensation Safety Shaq Thompson playing great. Playing in Seattle on a rainy night, Washington seemed to have the perfect recipe for beating the Beavers.
Sure enough, the betting line on the game dwindled all week, and by kickoff the #7 team in the country was only a 3-point favorite against their unranked foe.
By the end of the game, Washington had intercepted OSU quarterbacks as many times (4) as the Beavers’ six other opponents COMBINED and overcome a mountain of killer penalties to earn the upset.
It could be the start of a bowl run for the 4-4 Huskies. They are only 2-3 in conference, but their first 5 opponents have a combined Pac-12 record of 15-5. Their four remaining opponents (Cal, Utah, Colorado and Washington State) are a combined 4-17. Washington could win eight games this year. Now, that may not sound great, but it would be their highest win total since the Neuheisel Era.