Sep 21, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Steven Manfro (33) runs with the ball during the game against the New Mexico State Aggies at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Like last week, I learned a lot this weekend in watching the games. Among them, UCLA football is the truth, and Stanford may be in trouble.
And even though it was kind of a let down week overall (not to many thrillers this week like we were treated to the last few weekends), I found out more about what this year’s Pac-12 is about this weekend (against no-ones) than I did last weekend against a gaggle of good opponents..
I, of course, will have a full Pac-12 weekend review later on this week, but these to games felt like they needed to get some special attention. Not to mention, watching a full slate of Pac-12 games is a lot more eye opening when you have no rooting interest that week, than when you’re in the midst of preparing for your own game.
Arizona State at Stanford
Sep 21, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) rushes for a first down during the fourth quarter against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Stanford Stadium. Stanford won 42-28. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
The highlight of the night, at least based on pre-game hype, was the Stanford/Arizona State match-up of ranked opponents. ASU entered the game 3-0 for the first time since 1982, when the Sun Devils started the year 9-0. That 1982 team would end the season 10-2, en route to a Fiesta Bowl victory over twelfth ranked Oklahoma. ASU was coming off an emotional (and questionable) win over Wisconsin last weekend.
Stanford, meanwhile, started the season steady (albeit a tad lackadaisical) with wins over San Jose State and Army. The thing was, in both games, Stanford had opportunity to end the game, and yet they didn’t. However, from a statistical perspective, Stanford is one of the best in the nation (deserving of their top-5 ranking).
I was looking for this game, the only game between ranked opponents (and one of the only games between Pac-12 teams) to tell me if either: a) Stanford is as good as the statistics, rankings and hype says they are; or, b) Arizona State is for real.
Arizona State seems to always have a good enough team to compete in the Pac-12, but somehow they don’t put it together. In 2011, the team had a 6-2 record and were ranked 20th in the nation before heading into Pasadena and losing a one-point game against eventual south division champion UCLA,. The game led to a five game losing streak and a 6-7 record. In 2012, the team went 8-5, but had a 5-1 record before running off four straight losses and letting eventual champion UCLA back into the race late in the season.
In all honesty, I don’t see Cal playing for a Pac-12 Championship this year. I know, shocker. But, that doesn’t mean other teams don’t interest me. ASU is one of those teams that draw a lot of interest from me. They’re fast, play an offensive style that is like the poor man’s version of Oregon’s offense. Stanford, whose defense is supposed to be amazing and who has looked decent but not like a world-beater, had not seen anything this potent yet.
Sep 21, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) looks for a receiver during the second half against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Stanford won 42-28. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
39-7 at the end of the third quarter, which wasn’t the biggest surprise of the night. The biggest surprise was that it was Stanford who has up rather than the killer offense from Tempe. Mind you, Stanford hadn’t scored more than 34 point in their first two games…
Arizona State would mount a nice little comeback, scoring 21 straight points and putting it to with 11 with about six to play in the game. But, Arizona State would blow the game (as only the Sun Devils could) by having too many men on the field on 4th down, with Arizona State having a shot to get the ball back.
Kevin Hogan went 11-for-17 with 151 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also added 45 rushing yards.
Taylor Kelly had a good game, going 30-for-55 with 367 yards and three touchdowns. The problem was, Kelly also accounted for both of Arizona State’s turnovers.
This game taught me that Arizona State is good, but Stanford’s methodical, hyper-protective offense is tough to beat. But, David Shaw is going to have to change his line of thinking in order to keep this team at the top end of the BCS polls. David Shaw overthought himself in the fourth quarter, and that over-coaching nearly cost him the game. They had a 32-point lead and, had there not been a bad penalty on Arizona State, they could have lost as the momentum was clearly swinging towards the Arizona side.
New Mexico State at UCLA
Sep 21, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley (17) stiff arms New Mexico State Aggies defensive lineman Kalvin Cruz (91) during the game at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a hard thing to win a game by a lot of points, and look unimpressive. It’s even harder to win by a large margin, play an unimpressive game and still look impressive. UCLA did that tonight, and I think it might be the first time in history that I’ve seen a team play a bad game, win by a lot and still look like a legit team.
UCLA only scored once in the first quarter, yet they turned the ball over twice in the red-zone. I found myself wondering if UCLA/New Mexico State was going to be the next in a long line of upsets that have gone down this year. I was getting the whiskey ready, when UCLA scored on this crazy Steven Manfro touchdown reception. Then, after quickly making myself a sandwich, UCLA (and Manfro) scored again. At half, it was 31-0.
It was to the point that the Rose Bowl, which started half-full, was a quarter-full by the middle of the third.
UCLA would give up 13 points, all of them in the fourth (well after the starters began sipping on their cups of Gatorade and laughing about the ensuing parties they’d be attending as soon as they headed back to Westwood).
UCLA has always looked impressive to me. Last year, they showed the kind of poise that a veteran team has. They also presented us with glimpses of talent that could one day be the foundation to a Pac-12 Championship team. And even though they assed into the Pac-12 Championship game in 2011 and they really looked underwhelming in last years championship game, this game (along with the Nebraska outing) tells me that this team has potential.
I can’t say that I think they can beat Oregon, the presumptive champion of the north. I also have to concede that other schools have had good enough games thus far to prove to me that the south division is very much in doubt. That said, this UCLA team (at least at this point) may be the only real threat to Oregon winning the Pac-12 Championship.
Sep 21, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins running back Steven Manfro (33) celebrates after a touchdown during the game against the New Mexico State Aggies at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Hundley had a game, going 23-of-35 for 280 yards, three touchdowns and 33 yards rushing. However, the guy who really looked amazing tonight, offensively, was Steven Manfro, who sped his way to 140 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore was an absolute burner, slashing through the entire New Mexico State defense.
Here’s the thing, these two games were the perfect primer for me going into next weekend. Cal will head into the Pac-12 season, with no kind of expectations. I think they’ll be at the bottom of the north all by themselves. But, the title races this year are going to be fun to watch.
Plus, at the end of the day, if Cal is the worst of this conference…that means this is a damn good conference. Cal is formidable. This conference also seems like the most dominate conference I’ve seen in a while. It isn’t top-heavy like the SEC, it doesn’t have a lot of low-end teams like the ACC has, and it looks to be full of visionary game plans (unlike the Big Ten).
Going forward, this is going to be a fun season…even if Cal isn’t involved in it the way we want them to be.