Oregon beat Arizona State 42-31 in the desert heat of Tempe. Oh boy, so much learned in this one. Lets start with Oregon, then move to ASU.
With the Ducks (4-0 overall, 1-0 in the Pac-10), we learned:
- The team has guts and won't give up under a stiff challenge.
- That their offense is, while still potent, perhaps (surprise, surprise) not as prolific as we took for granted after games against poor competition early in the season. I think they were really challenged and slowed by the very athletic and hard hitting ASU defense. Oregon offensive line coach...get to work this week!
- QB Thomas is growing and becoming better each game. ASU shut down the Oregon run for big chunks of this game...daring Thomas to beat them with his arm. Well, he did pretty good throwing for a couple TDs and some other nice gainers. Now, consistency will need to be his focus as there were other times where is throws were off...especially down field...creating quite a few "three and outs" that if converted really would have changed the game.
- On the road is not a good time for WRs to get a case of the "drops."
- Oregon as a REALLY good punter. That guy saved their bacon again and again with deep, precise punts.
- The Oregon defense is suspect. It cannot effectively bottle up the run AND defend against the pass at the same time. When the UO started stopping the run, the ASU QB killed the Ducks...KILLED them...with his passing over the middle and to the sidelines. When they seemed to cover ASU receivers well, the ASU running backs had big gains up the middle.
- Despite everything I just said, the Oregon defense is also very fast, very athletic and VERY opportunistic...grabbing up 7 turnovers. Believe me, they needed virtually all of them to win this game. Gotta give them credit! This saved the game for the Ducks in my book. Put it this way, the Oregon defense scored 12 points itself, and the Ducks won the game by 11 points.
- Oregon kick returners have a problem holding onto the ball. If not fixed, this will cost them a game at some point.
- And finally, we learned that the Ducks better get ready and go out hungry next week because a mighty impressive Stanford team is coming to town.
- They are a team to be reckoned with in the Pac-10 race. This is a much better squad than last year. Fast, hard hitting, motivated and skilled...the Sun Devils are far better than the 9th place finish predicted for them by many. Teams assuming an easy "W" against them better think again.
- They have a VERY GOOD QB who is going to haunt the rest of the Pac-10 for quite some time. Look out! This guy is good. I know he threw a bunch of interceptions, and you cannot look past that as it did impact the outcome of the game, but hey...this guy is good now and is probably going to be great. As mentioned above, he was absolutely KILLING the Ducks for stretches of this game by throwing pinpoint passes into zones and to the corners.
- They have a really fast, athletic defesne that can run with the Pac-10s best offenses.
- They are turnover prone and commit a lot of penalties. This will hurt them if not addressed. It certainly did this past weekend.
- They are not above faking injuries to slow down an opponents offense. Time and time again, players on the ASU D would go down, roll around like their leg had just been amputated...barely make it off the field, causing a delay in the Oregon pace...only to magically re-appear in the next play or two just as healthy as ever. Hmmm. Number 7 ASU linebacker....I'm thinking of you most.
Stanford (4-0, 1-0) beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame by the score of 37-14. We learned that Stanford is the real deal. Excelling QB play, stiff defense and, well, they won impressively on the road....again. These guys will need to be reckoned with by the likes of Oregon and Arizona if those teams want to win the league this year. We also learned that next week's Stanford vs. Oregon game will be HUGE.
Oregon State (1-2, 0-0) lost to Boise State 37-24. I did not see this game, but from the score I would say we learned again that, yes, Boise State is good and, yes, Oregon State starts a season slow. I do not think the loss will derail the Beavers' season.
USC (4-0, 1-0) beat WSU (1-3, 0-1) 50-16 in Pullman. We did not learn much here other than despite whatever troubles USC is having this season, they certainly are nothing to worry about when playing the Cougars. We learned once again that WSU is a bad team.
UCLA (2-2, 0-1) beat Texas 34-12 at Texas. Wow, we learned that UCLA is on the rebound. Texas ain't what it has been over the past few years, but still...beating them by that score at their stadium. Impressive. So, I think we learned that UCLA is improving and is not to be overlooked. They did get beat pretty handily by Stanford earlier, so you have to wonder if they'll be able to hang with the top Pac-10 teams, but...they beat Texas at Texas! That's something to remember.
Arizona (4-0, 1-0) beat Cal (3-1, 0-1) 10-9 at Arizona. We learned that Arizona, like other teams, can play a "letdown" game. Coming off their big win against Iowa, the Wildcats did not play well...scoring only three points until the very, very end of the game. So, they appear not to be a monolithic juggernaut (like, say, Stanford has so far this season) and more like a talented but erratic contender. We learned that Cal, despite losing, can play with the better teams in the league. Question though: losing now to Nevada and Arizona, will they fold up the tent and pack it in as they have in other seasons when losing a couple in a row?
Finally, in the big picture, this week we learned that Stanford, Oregon and Arizona are the contenders for the crown...in that order at this point...with UCLA and ASU lurking just below that and ready to strike when given the opportunity.