National college football columnist. FWAA Super 16 voter. Travel virtuoso.
Oregon and Stanford have combined to produce some of the most memorable and nationally relevant Pac-12 games over the past few years. On a weekend filled with upsets and improbable results, could the two get together for one more?
No. 23 Stanford did just about whatever they wanted on offense and powered to a 49-7 victory over their Pac-12 North rivals to win a fourth straight and look a lot like the team many thought could win the division in the preseason.
Running back Bryce Love was once again the star of the show, breaking off a 67-yarder that adds to his highlight reel and finishing a rather ho-hum night with 147 yards and two scores. More pressing for the Heisman candidate is how he’s feeling, as he didn’t play much in the second half after limping off with what looked to be an ankle injury. Though it could just be precautionary, the issue is something to monitor for one of the most explosive runners in the country.
Surprisingly though, the running game wasn’t the only threat for the Cardinal offense. Quarterback Keller Chryst was an efficient 15-of-21 for 181 yards, three touchdowns and one interception before giving way to backup K.J. Costello. Most of those yards and scores were thrown toward massive wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who was an uncoverable threat in the red zone and finished with 112 yards and two touchdown catches.
The nearly 500 yard effort also overshadowed another quality defensive job by Stanford as well. Oregon running back Royce Freeman did manage to rush for 143 yards but the Ducks scored only once and were little to no threat with their backup quarterbacks in action once again. Braxton Burmeister started behind center but completed just four passes for 25 yards and threw two interceptions. Taylor Alie replaced him in the second half but didn’t fare much better.
It marked a rough return to the Farm for new Oregon coach Willie Taggart, who was a former assistant with David Shaw under Jim Harbaugh at the school several years ago. Shaw probably won’t apologize however, as the impressive outing by the Cardinal may — combined with other upsets — make them the team to beat in the Pac-12 given how well they’re playing at the moment.
Things got weird as the sun set on the Bay Area on Friday and Cal pulled off the upset of No. 8 Washington State on Friday night. A day later and much further South, things were equally strange even if the ranked team didn’t look like it was quite on upset alert.
No. 23 Stanford wound up with a 28-7 lead into halftime over Oregon down on the Farm, but the locale lived up to its nickname in Palo Alto as a jackrabbit found its way onto the field late in the first quarter in one of those incredible moments that could only happen late into the night out West:
In actual game action though, Cardinal running back Bryce Love was once again adding to his Heisman highlight reel by ripping off a 67-yard touchdown run early on and finishing the half with 142 yards and a total of two scores. Wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside added another score through the air as Stanford’s normally hectic offense seemed to do what it pleased against the Ducks.
That also included special teams, as Brandon Simmons scooped and scored off a punt block in the second quarter.
The lopsided score was a little surprising considering how well Oregon ran the ball in the half. Royce Freeman wound up with 121 yards on just 12 carries and three others managed at least 25 on the ground too. The flip side was backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister managed just one completion for four yards.
Things figure to get even tougher for the young signal-caller as Stanford gets back two of its best defenders for the second half in Harrison Phillips and Peter Kalambayi after each returns from a targeting penalty from their last game.
On Saturday night, the many faces of Sam Darnold in 2017 were on display.
There was the dazzling of course, throwing for 358 yards and three scores. There was the head-scratching, such as a trio of fumbles. All things considered, the bottom line might be the most important aspect of the star quarterback’s outing against Utah as No. 13 USC used a thrilling second half comeback to win 28-27 on Saturday night.
All three of those fumbles from Darnold, one that was returned for a touchdown, occurred in the first half where not much could go right for the cardinal and gold. Luckily a trip to the locker room proved to be just the remedy for the team’s struggles as three of their four second-half drives resulted in 88+ yard scoring drives. Playing a big role in that turnaround was the USC offensive line and running back Ronald Jones II, who finished the game with 111 yards and the go-ahead points on a front flip touchdown into the end zone.
Making a return to Los Angeles not far from where he grew up, Utah QB Troy Williams started once again in place of the injured Tyler Huntley. The senior wound up throwing for 262 yards and a touchdown but tossed an interception and was stopped just short of the goal line on a two-point conversion with 42 seconds left that would have won the Utes the game. Running back Zach Moss, who bruised his way to 141 yards, but it was just not enough in the end.
Everybody in Salt Lake City will now be forced to bemoan the second half slump that led to a blown loss and the decision by Kyle Whittingham for go for two instead of the tie with under a minute left. Those second guesses won’t be easy to take as the team now has lost two straight in the conference but this still seems like the second best squad in the division.
The best? Well that is the school they narrowly lost to. The incredible momentum swings that resulted in a Trojans’ victory gives them a significant leg up in the Pac-12 South race and also keeps them in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. In addition to securing the tie-breaker over the Utes, a pair of bounce-back wins since that tough loss up in Pullman could be big for USC as they head to South Bend next for a huge game against rival Notre Dame next week.
On a weekend where a ton of top 15 teams looked shaky, surviving and coming out with a win is certainly a step in the right direction for Darnold and company given how things played out earlier.
No. 2 Clemson went down. No. 8 Washington State fell. No. 10 Auburn blew a big lead and lost. Could top-ranked Alabama see a scare as well?
Not. A. Chance.
The Crimson Tide looked like an emphatic choice as the best team in the country on Saturday, rolling over Arkansas 41-9 in a game that was never in doubt for the home team on a lovely night in Tuscaloosa for Homecoming.
Not everything was perfect for Nick Saban’s squad though, as the team struggled to field punts and saw quarterback Jalen Hurts toss his first interception of the year. Of course, it’s not like it really mattered in the end, as the signal-caller finished with 155 yards and a touchdown through the air and another 41 yards and a score on the ground in a runaway.
Perhaps the biggest development for the Tide was that tailback Damien Harris might start to get a little Heisman love going forward. He started the game by ripping off a 75-yarder to the house (for the second straight time) and wound up with 125 yards and two scores on the ground all told. Harris did make a trip to the injury tent late in the second half but it’s possible he could have returned had the score not been out of hand. Either way, backups were in fairly early in the second half to spell the starters.
Razorbacks quarterback Cole Kelley did what he could in making his first start in place of Austin Allen, but it’s not exactly easy to face this Alabama defense. The big gunslinger passed for an even 200 yards with an interception and a TD, but was pressured on just about every dropback and took five sacks. It would have helped if he had a running game to lean on but Devwah Whaley could muster just 18 yards on five carries against that tough front seven.
In the end, another ho-hum Alabama victory. Considering what happened elsewhere around the country in a wild week for college football, it’s at least good to know you can rely on some things that never change.
We’ve seen numerous top 15 teams lose, or come close to losing, and it might be time to add another squad to the upset alert.
Utah has been making plays on both sides of the ball and jumped out to a 21-7 lead over No. 13 USC at halftime in a critical game that could determine the Pac-12 South champion down the road.
At the heart of the first half was not surprisingly Trojans star quarterback Sam Darnold — in both good and bad ways.
The signal-caller fumbled for a second time in the first quarter, allowing Marquise Blair to return it all the way for an 18 yard touchdown that put the Utes on the board with seven. The one-time Heisman favorite bounced right back and tossed a 52-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Tyler Petite on the next drive to tie things back up. But that wasn’t the end of the up’s and down’s for the cardinal and gold, as Darnold added another fumble to his stat line off a backwards swing pass that was grabbed once again by the Utes. While that one wasn’t really on the quarterback, it did lead to points the other way and USC’s largest deficit of the year.
On the other sideline, Los Angeles area native Troy Williams relished playing his old hometown team and threw for 134 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Most impressively, the dual-threat quarterback also looked like a pretty nifty receiver in diving for the pylon from five yards out to score another time off a trick play. Running back Zach Moss ran for 113 yards before the break and could be a big factor in helping the Utes bounce back from their first loss with a rare win in Southern California that would give them a big leg up in the division race.
The game isn’t over however and we’ve seen wild comebacks already this weekend. The way things are going though, it might be time to keep an eye on preseason darling USC as they are in some serious trouble to a dangerous Utah team primed for the upset.