Bruins must beat Arizona State to stay in contention
By Mitch Light
They’ve lost four games, the last three by an average of 30.3 points. They gave up 254 yard rushing to a team (Arizona) that was averaging 71.8 yards on the ground. They don’t have a win vs. a team with a winning record.
The first season of Pac-12 play has been a struggle for the Utes.
It has been quite a successful decade for the Utah football program. The Utes have made a bowl game in every season except 2002 over the last 10 years, including undefeated seasons in 2004 and 2008. Under Urban Meyer and current coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah became the classic “BCS buster” as it challenged schools like Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Alabama in the postseason and won. But those were one-game scenarios, and life in a BCS league has been rough on the Utes.
Utah and Colorado are two proud programs that were both welcomed with open arms to the new-look Pac-12. With two BCS Bowl appearances in the past seven years, Utah was regarded as one of the elite non-AQ conference teams in the nation. And while Colorado has fallen on hard times in recent years, the Buffaloes won four Big 12 North Division titles from 2001 through 2005 and won a national title as recently as 1990. Clearly, this is a program that has proven it can win at a high level.
The transition to a new league, however, has not been kind for Colorado or Utah, which are a combined 0–8 in the Pac-12. Utah has some solid wins in non-conference action, most notably a 54–10 victory at rival BYU and a 26–14 win at Pittsburgh, but the Utes have been alarmingly uncompetitive against Pac-12 teams. They are getting outscored by 17.8 points and outgained by 117.7 yards per game. It’s been worse for Colorado, which is really struggling under first-year coach Jon Embree. The Buffs have lost their four league games by an average of 29.0 points have been outgained by a staggering 244.3 yards per game.
“It is hard,” said Embree, a 1986 CU alum, after the Buffs’ 45–2 loss vs. Oregon last week. “I’m smiling because you have to smile to keep from crying. It is hard because I feel that we have missed opportunities.”
Colorado missed a huge opportunity back in early October in its first Pac-12 game. The Buffs led Washington State in Boulder, 27–17, late in the fourth quarter but gave up two touchdowns in the final 2:35 of the game en route to a 31–27 loss.
CU plays the top two teams in the North Division, Arizona State and USC, the next two weeks, but the schedule softens a bit down the stretch, with Arizona, UCLA and Utah over the final three weeks.
Utah, despite its struggles, is still in position to reach a bowl game for the ninth straight season. The Utes, at 3–4 overall, will need to go 3–2 against the following slate: Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Washington State and Colorado, and three of the games (OSU, UCLA, CU) are in Salt Lake City. The key will be the play of quarterback Jon Hays, who was inserted into the starting lineup three weeks ago after Jordan Wynn went down with an injury. Hays played well in the win over Utah, but has a 1-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio in his other two starts, losses to Arizona State and California. If Hays can limit his mistakes, which he should against weaker competition, the Utes should be able to win at least three of their remaining five games and end their first season in their new league with yet another trip to a bowl game.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• True freshman Malcolm Agnew has only played in three games this season but still leads Oregon State in rushing by more than 200 yards. Agnew has rushed for 375 yards on 66 attempts for a healthy 5.7-yard average.
• Prior to last week, Arizona had given up at least 37 points in every game vs. a FBS opponent. The Cats, however, held UCLA to 12 in their 36-point win over the Bruins in the first game under interim coach Tim Kish.
• Only one of Stanford’s seven wins have come against a team with a winning record. The Cardinal, however, did beat that one team (Washington) by 44 points.
• Colorado has punted 52 times. Stanford has punted 16 times.
• Stanford is 9-of-9 on fourth down this season.
• Washington State and Oregon share the Pac-12 lead with five plays from scrimmage of at least 60 yards. Oregon is one of only four teams nationally that has two plays of at least 80 yards.
• Arizona’s Nick Foles leads the Pac-12 and ranks third nationally with 45.7 pass attempts per game.
• Andrew Luck has completed 80 percent of his passes on first down this season.
Backup quarterback is leading the charge at Washington State
By Mitch Light
You can remove the name Paul Wulff from the list of coaches on the hot seat. For now, at least.
Wulff entered his fourth season at Washington State, his alma mater, with a 2–25 record in league games and an overall mark of 5–32. And the Cougars weren’t just losing — they were getting pounded, with regularity. Of those 32 losses, 15 came by at least 30 points. Washington State, simply put, was beyond bad.
The Cougs showed some signs of progress late last season, most notably in a 31–14 win at Oregon State in mid-November, but it was clear that Wulff needed to win some games in ’11 to save his job.
Consider his job saved. Washington State is now 3–1 after rallying from 10 down in the final minutes to knock off Colorado, 31–27, in Boulder on Saturday. The Cougs haven’t exactly faced a grueling slate — they own wins over Idaho State, UNLV and CU — but when you have averaged 1.7 wins over the previous three seasons, any win is a good win.
“Honestly, I think this was the best win of my life,” cornerback Daniel Simmons said after the game. “We’re moving in the right direction, and we’re very excited about what we’re going to do We kept working and kept believing, and that’s what it’s about. We worked so hard over the summer and this is the end result.”
The Cougars’ hot start is even more impressive when you factor in that they have been without starting quarterback Jeff Tuel for the last three games. Considered to be one of the few true Pac-12-quality players on the Washington State offense, Tuel suffered a broken clavicle in the opener against Idaho State. With Tuel sidelined, Marshall Lobbestael, who had six career starts heading into this season, has been sensational running the Cougars’ attack. He has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,335 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. In the win at Colorado last week, Lobbestael threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the final three minutes.
“Practice pays off, and you have to practice these types of situations like we’ve practiced these past two weeks and how we practiced fourth quarters,” Lobbestael said following the game.
Tuel has been cleared to return to action, but Wulff indicated earlier in the week that Lobbestael will remain the starter — for now.
“We’re just going to give (Tuel) some quality reps and let him work himself back into shape,” the coach said.
Lobbestael expects Tuel to regain the starting assignment in the near future. And the fifth-year senior sounds like he is more than okay with the move, when and if it happens.
“Wait until you see this offense with Jeff,” Lobbestael said. “I’m not ragging on what I’ve done … but I’m excited to see what he can do this year. Everyone else should be too. That’s all I’m saying. I’m just going to keep preparing like I have been and my goal is just to be ready to play, whether that’s the first snap or second or third string.”
Whether it’s Tuel or Lebbestael running the show, Washington State will need to scratch and claw to get to six wins and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006. This week, the Cougars are a 3.5-point underdog at UCLA, one of the weaker teams in the league. There is a chance that Washington State will be favored only one more time the rest of the season, when struggling Oregon State visits Pullman on Oct. 22.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Keith Price is getting a lot of pub at Washington — and deservedly so — but tailback Chris Polk has also been a huge part of the Huskies’ success on offense. The one-time USC commitment has rushed for 100 yards in four of the five games this season, with a high of 189 yards on 29 carries in UWs’ 31–14 win at Utah.
• Stanford has won 12 straight games dating back to last October, and all but two of the Cardinal’s wins during that stretch have come by at least 10 points.
• Stanford has only committed one turnover all season. That ties Northwestern for the fewest in the nation.
• USC has given up 40-plus points in back to back games for the first time in school history.
• Oregon State has only scored seven touchdowns this season. Only UAB (six) and FAU (five) have scored fewer.
• USC’s Robert Woods leads the Pac-12 with 55 receptions, 23 more than the league’s No. 2 receiver, Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton.
• Arizona is the only team in the league that has given up over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Opponents are averaging 7.3 yards per play against the Cats’ defense, by far the most in the Pac-12.
• Opponents are only converting 23.9 percent on third down against Arizona State. That number leads the nation.