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Pac-12 After Dark


All things Pac-12 football
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Pac-12 Football Breakdown: Week Two

Nov 12, 2020
 
Welcome back, Pac-12 fans! While I won’t be calling games this fall on Pac-12 Network, I will be studying just as much film, and the goal of this weekly newsletter is to share my lens on Pac-12 football, as well as offer analysis for fellow broadcasters, writers and fans. 
 
Week 1 provided a Saturday that none of us saw coming, with four teams not playing, key players watching from home, and unknown athletes becoming household names by the time the Pac-12 Networks new show, Pac-12 After Dark, began.
 
USC’s Drake London proved to be a matchup issue for everyone, and on film, his willingness to block, take two defenders in a route, and make plays with the game on the line was clinic-worthy. Colorado’s Jarek Broussard, coming off of two years lost to ACL surgeries, was incredible in head coach Karl Dorrell’s Buffalo debut, and Sam Noyer proved himself right, as I don’t know if there was a QB in the conference that looked like they were having more fun than he was.
 
As I rewatched the film, Oregon’s Tyler Shough and what new OC Joe Moorhead was doing were both so impressive. 
 
Speaking of impressive offenses, a shout out needs to go to WSU OC Brian Smith and Co-OC/QB Coach Craig Stutzmann. Both were my assistant coaches of the week, as Jayden de Laura did not look like a freshman. What stood out the most, watching it in real time and on film, was his confidence. I don’t know if I’ve seen a QB in this conference play with that much confidence in his first game as a true freshman with zero spring ball. Keep an eye on him against the Ducks defense this week.
 
If you watch Pac-12 Networks, you know that ‘PACE’ is one of my favorite acronyms in football - it stands for Plays After Critical Errors. When calling a game, I track this and study it as the season goes on. Basically, after an interception, poor decision, sack or fumble, I track how a QB bounces back. What does the OC call for him? What is his body language saying? Does he flinch when facing the next critical down? UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson spoke in the preseason about his desire to minimize turnovers this year, and while the first half of his 2020 opener was not ideal, he bounced back in the second half. I think his team will bounce back and play much more efficiently over the course of the season.
 
The biggest surprises of the weekend were Stanford’s Davis Mills and Washington State’s Max Borghi being out, but on the field, it was all about the running backs. Broussard went off and was the Offensive Player of the Week. The Sun Devils might have as deep a core of running backs as anyone in the conference with Chip Trayanum and Rachaad White. Oregon State’s Jermar Jeferson looked like the back we fell in love with two years ago, and Stanford’s Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat combined for almost 200 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Oregon’s CJ Verdell is a legit All-American candidate and Wazzu’s Deon McIntosh put the Run in Run N Shoot.
 
This weekend already has a few schedule changes, and none more interesting than Cal at UCLA on Sunday morning at 9am PT! Among the games played, my eyes will be on the Oregon defense, specifically Noah Sewell and Kayvon Thibodeaux coming off the edge and the secondary against WSU, as safety Verone McKinley III will have to miss the first half due to targeting.
 
For the rest of my game notes, see below and check out the new ‘Dear Football’ documentary series and this week's short film installment, ‘The Path Back’ at the top of this page. This will be a weekly series highlighting the spirit of this conference and what is truly happening in the Pac-12, as we have to help out our friends on the East Coast who can’t hang all night like we can on the West Coast!
 
Coach to Cure M-D
In addition, when you are watching games this weekend and notice coaches wearing the logo of “Coach to Cure M-D” it’s in support of a national charity initiative of the American Football Coaches Association to raise awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most prolific genetic killer affecting young men. To learn more about this cause, visit CoachToCureM-D.org
 
For all of Saturday’s coverage tune into Pac-12 Network at 11:30pm PT as we bring you #Pac12AfterDark and full insight, interviews and analysis of Pac-12 football.
 
Enjoy!

Game-by-Game Deep Dives

#20 USC @ Arizona: 12:30 p.m. PT / 1:30 p.m. MT on FOX

USC Trojans
 
The Top WR in the Pac-12?
The biggest miss of the Preseason All-Pac-12 team was Drake London not being mentioned. When I watched him on film last year, it was clear that he was a match-up issue for nickel defenders and outside linebackers in the slot. In Week 1, it was more of the same, as his game-tying touchdown reception was the play of the week in college football. But when I watched him on film, it was clear that his ability to block, take two defenders on crossing routes and make plays was elite. And to the parents out there, he is a dual-sport athlete, something that is a rare occurrence in sports today, but the thing that I believe can truly train athletes to gain spatial awareness.  
 
Week 1 to Week 2
It’s an old adage, but I think it proves true, that the largest improvement comes from game one to game two. And for the USC run defense, that will get tested again vs. Gary Brightwell of Arizona.
 
What to Watch
Talanoa Hufunga was all over the field against ASU and his instinctiveness stood out the most to me on film. Rarely hesitating and always around the ball, he is the most talented player on the USC defense, and against the RPO (Run/Pass Option) element of Arizona and Grant Gunnell, he must have disciplined eyes on early downs. Expect a big game from him again as he had 10 or more tackles against ASU for the 8th time in his career.
 
Arizona Wildcats
 
The face of Arizona football:
It’s clear that sophomore QB Grant Gunnell has next-level ability. He finished last year completing 65% of his passes (an Arizona freshman record) and, amid sharing reps with Khalil Tate, he remained incredibly poised. His coaches rave about him and he impressed me during my off-season film study, as he is much more than a pocket passer. Take a look at two of his most impressive plays last year. His second and third reaction game will be something to watch, meaning when the pocket collapses or he has to avoid rushers, his decision-making will be what you want to track.
 
New defensive staff:
Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads is one of four new defensive coaches for the Wildcats and is one of the most intelligent minds in the game. In addition, I consider him a top-five motivator in college football, as I was able to witness his style of coaching first-hand as a player at Pitt when he was our DC and called a handful of his games when he was head coach at Iowa State. While his personnel has shifted since he arrived in Tucson, the scheme and intensity has not. If I was calling this one, there would be a camera on Coach Rhoads all game long. 
 
LBs must cause havoc:
Captain Anthony Pandy - keep an eye on this linebacker. In this new 3-4 defensive scheme, his athleticism will be what to watch. He will be counted on to make Utah’s new QB rush decisions. In addition, Jalen Harris moves to outside linebacker in this scheme and that role is as vital as any in Coach Rhoads’ plan.
 
Joyner can tilt the field:
I was often asked by Pete Carroll when I was working for him at USC if a certain player could ‘tilt the field.’ Meaning, can one guy truly change the game? For Arizona, I think it could be wide receiver Jamarye Joiner. A former QB and dynamic athlete, I expect the craft of wide receiver to elevate this year and he will be counted on to make momentum changing plays.
 
Don’t forget:
Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone have built long careers of incredible offenses, and how they deploy Gary Brightwell will be a blast to watch. A former WR as a freshman, he has legit NFL ability and him vs. Utah LB Devin Lloyd will be a match-up to watch.
 
Colorado @ Stanford: 12:30 p.m. PT / 1:30 p.m. MT on ESPN

Colorado Buffaloes

TE theme in 2020:
Remember TE being a theme in the Week 1 newsletter? It showed up again, and this time for Colorado and Brady Russell in Week 1 with his five receptions for 77 yards (both career highs) and a TD. He is always putting himself in the proper alignment and his experience allows him to be patient while running routes. The TD on the tight end delay was a great example of that. Add in that he was targeted 10 times and had never been targeted more than 5 times ever in his career! 
 
The most fun on film:
Rewatching the games confirmed what I thought on Saturday night—Sam Noyer was having a blast! And he should. This fifth-year senior’s story was told all game and is worth noting again. He arrived at Colorado as a quarterback recruit and after being a back-up QB in 2017 and 2018, moved to safety last year. He found himself in the transfer portal before being asked to return to the QB room by OC Darrin Chiaverini and QB Coach Danny Langsdorf. What came across was his command of the system. When he made a throw, he let it rip. When he made a read in the zone read scheme, he trusted his eyes. When he should have slide, he kept running. Overall: for someone who had not taken a meaningful quarterback snap since high school, this young man made sure to soak it all up in the opener.
 
What to watch?
Jarek Broussard burst onto the Pac-12 scene in Week 1 with the most rushing yards by a Buff in their collegiate debut on his way to winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, but his talent will not surprise Stanford. How he handles success and how Stanford defends the various run schemes of Colorado will be something to watch with last year's leading rusher Alex Fontenot still out with injury.
 
The middle of the defense is key:
While UCLA hurt themselves with turnovers, credit needs to also go to the Buffs defense. I’ve always felt that the best defenses were talented up the middle. The defensive line, linebackers and safeties must fit gaps and minimize explosive plays. Colorado was not perfect, but the experience of Mustafa Johnson and Nate Landman showed up to me. They must play well against the talented offensive line and running backs at Stanford to win their road opener. 
 
Stanford Cardinal
 
Who plays QB?
Stanford head coach David Shaw stated that they have four COVID-19 related situations awaiting resolution. Among them is quarterback David Mills, who missed the opener.
 
QB evaluation:
Jack West showed impressive command in Stanford’s system and Coach Shaw confirmed that this week, saying he was 100% with his decision-making at the line of scrimmage. While the timing throws were not perfect, if he gains the majority of the reps this week with the first team wideouts, I’d expect him to complete those throws. In addition, Tanner McKee looked like the star that we expected him to become when he signed at Stanford. All in all, the Stanford QB room is in good hands from my lens.
 
Bounce back:
I loved that David Shaw said this week that they will ‘never be satisfied for playing a good team close.’ They moved the ball with over 400 yards of offense without their best QB and one of the most talented passers in the nation. I think this team, while young, will be one of the most dangerous teams in the Pac-12 this year as they gain experience and of course, health.
 
Love their run game:
For a decade, Stanford has been known as a physical team that loves to run the football to set up the play action game. While their offense has evolved over the last few years, it was evident that the Cardinal OL and running backs were getting back to the level that many have come to expect. Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat combined for almost 200 yards (Stanford’s most rushing yards in a game since November 2018 vs OSU) against one of the most talented defensive fronts in the Pac-12, if not the most talented. Keep an eye on them this week, as they can spell each other to be as fresh as possible.
 
Tunnel Workers Union:
Mentioned last week, I was most anticipating the Stanford offensive line, and they did not disappoint. Walter Rouse, Barrett Miller, Drew Dalman, Branson Bragg and Foster Sarell moved the line of scrimmage and expect them to continue to evolve as the year goes on.
 
What to watch?
Stanford’s LB: with possible injuries, keep an eye on Stanford’s front seven against the RPO and QB run game of Colorado.
 
#11 Oregon @ Washington State: 4:00 p.m. PT / 5:00 p.m. MT on FOX

Oregon Ducks
 
A household name:
From the day he signed at Oregon, I’ve felt that Tyler Shough had the ability to be a national star, and while it’s only one game, I believe he is on his way. The scheme of Joe Moorehead and the ability to use Shough’s arm, legs and decision-making was impressive and should only grow with game experience.
 
A new life for D.J. Johnson:
The last time Oregon had a spring game, I recall watching practice and seeing DJ Johnson move. Add in his size and my antenna went up. Since then, he moved to the offensive side of the ball and was a true threat at TE, leading the Ducks with 5 catches on 6 targets and Shough’s only TD pass.. How WSU defends him and the movement of Oregon pre-snap will be something to watch.
 
Trust me:
When you see Noah Sewell on the field, just focus on him. If I was broadcasting this game, I’d ask our director to put an isolation camera on him every time he lined up for the Ducks.
 
What I’m watching:
With Verone McKinley out for the first half due to targeting, be sure to watch how the safeties and linebackers deal with the WSU offense. The RPO and Run N Shoot combination puts those defenders in a bind and is challenging to stop. We will be sure to ask Nick Aliotti about it on our post-game show, Pac-12 After Dark, on Pac-12 Network. 
 
Washington State Cougars
 
On campus:
I was on the WSU campus earlier this week and was able to speak to players and coaches of the Cougar program. Without any prompting, the common theme discussed was the unity of the program. From the opening moments when they stood arm in arm on the sideline pregame to the final whistle, this team seemed to be on the same page. No confusion. No hesitation. Against the preseason Pac-12 favorite, I’ll be watching how they handle the perceived pressure.
 
Jayden de Laura’s confidence
Freshman QB Jayden de Laura’s opening performance was obviously impressive as the 1st true freshman in program history to start the season opener at QB, but what stood out to me was far beyond the X’s and O’s — it was his confidence. It looked legit on TV and, after talking to a few of his teammates, they agreed — he has something special about him and seems to adjusting nicely from Hawai’i to the Palouse. Against the front of Oregon, be sure to watch him during challenging moments, as they will surely be there. I’ll be tracking his PACE (Plays After Critical Errors) all game long.
 
Is the defense back in Pullman?
It was only one game, but what was crystal clear is that this defense plays as one heartbeat. I’ve always felt that the best defenses do not have to be the most talented ones regarding individual play, but must fly to the football and have very few missed assignments. It was not perfect, but the movement in unison by Jake Dickert’s side of the ball stood out on film.
 
Culture:
When the back-up running back goes for a career-high 147 yards on 18 carries like Deon McIntosh did, it must be recognized. I love these stories because McIntosh could have mailed it in, as it is clear that Max Borghi is the face of this program. McIntosh out of the backfield will be what I’ll be watching against the athletic edge players of Oregon. And fun fact: the Oregon State game was the first time that WSU had more rushing yards (229) than passing yards (227) since 2010!
 
Track Effort Plays:
Time and time again, effort plays stood out on film. This weekend, allow your eyes to follow everything but the ball, as I think the Cougs effort will stand out.
 
Oregon State @ Washington: 8:00 p.m. PT / 9:00 p.m. MT on FS1

Oregon State Beavers
 
Jefferson is back
For the first time since his freshman campaign, Jermar Jefferson looked like his old self, as he ran for 120 yards and three TDs on 21 carries. It was clear that his off-season workouts and new diet were successful, as he ran strong and with a burst that we had yet to see. His running style against the front seven of UW will be a match-up to circle this Saturday.
 
What to watch:
Tristan Gebbia is known for his competitive spirit and, while the first half of the opener was not his best half of football, he did find some rhythm in the second half. He spoke this week about starting fast and I’d expect OSU to try and get the ball out early, as Gebbia and his receivers will be challenged by one of the most talented secondaries in the nation. I expect him to make high percentage decisions--as he has 98 straight passes without an interception, the second longest active streak in the Pac-12--but he must also know when to take a chance downfield. That skill is something that develops with game reps and I look forward to watching his decision-making in this one.
 
Must-have for Saturday:
For the Beavers to get into the win column, they must get the UW QB off of his spot. Meaning, can they force whoever starts at quarterback for Washington to move in the pocket? The man who must lead that charge is Hamilcar Rashed Jr. His explosiveness is evident on film and he needs to be a ‘game wrecker’ for the Beavs defense. I have a hunch that he will have a big game after not registering a TFL or a sack vs. WSU.
 
Defensive adjustments will be critical:
OSU has no idea (neither do we) what Washington will look like on offense. I’ll be watching what adjustments they make after the first few drives and at halftime. 
 
Washington Huskies
 
QB1?
I have to say, I loved Jimmy Lake’s response when asked if he was going to name a starter before the first game of the season: “Yeah, great question. Great question. We will find out at about 7:34pm PT, right around there, on Saturday night.” While that game against Cal was canceled, I imagine we will find out around 8:04pm PT this weekend who takes the first snap at QB in the opening game of Coach Lake’s coaching career. With that said, I think it’s critical to remind fans that UW has recruited quarterbacks at a very high level over the last few years. Each QB who came from high school (Ethan Garbers, Dylan Morris, Jacob Sirmon) had unique traits that showed me during my time with them at the Elite 11 that any of them could start. Add in grad transfer Kevin Thomson and UW has a QB with great experience to lean on as well.
 
Best WR core in a while:
With a healthy Ty Jones, experienced Terrell Bynum, Jordan Chin and the big play ability of Puka Nacua, who should be an all-everything player by the time he leaves UW, among others, this core has legit depth. Due to that, this team has the ability to stretch the field in new Offensive Coordinator John Donovan’s system.
 
Coach Lake has the ‘It' factor:
As a broadcaster, we get to meet with coaches each week before games and the first time our crew met Jimmy Lake, we turned to each other when he left the room and said, ‘THAT’S a head coach.’ Now, he is. I’m so happy for him and this program, as he is primed to lead this team. The unknown is how he will handle specific situations, and I am most anticipating 4th down calls, trick plays, etc. this weekend.
 
DBU:
Simply put, this secondary is loaded with talent and experience. Everywhere you turn there are playmakers and incredible depth. Their expectations are high and they should meet those expectations in 2020. If you want to nerd out, watch how they move in unison all game, identify concepts and rally to the football.
 
Cal @ UCLA: 9:00 a.m. PT / 10 a.m. MT on FS1 (Sunday, Nov. 15)
California Golden Bears
 
New Offense:
Bill Musgrave returns to college football and the players have raved about his system. You’ll see a huddle, possibly hear more verbiage from the line of scrimmage, and I expect it to be more of a pro-style system based on his pedigree and background. Like every team, if they can run the football, it will open up the play action game and put Chase Garbers in a position to dissect defenses.
 
Garbers just wins: 7-0
As Cal alum and colleague Roxy Bernstein often reminds me, the Bears were undefeated (7-0) when Chase Garbers finished the game in 2019. When I went back and watched him on film last season, it was so clear how confident he was in critical situations. Whether it was making spot throws vs. Washington in the delayed game or the final drive against Stanford, he seemed comfortable in chaos. That needs to happen again, as I imagine most games in the North will be close this fall and his decision-making on those critical downs and distances will be vital to Cal’s title chances.
 
Best running back you don’t know:
Every time I turn on the film to watch Christopher Brown Jr., I am reminded that he is one of the best big backs in the Pac-12. His downhill style, ability to find small spaces and fall forward make him a back, when healthy, that I think could elongate drives and be a major difference-maker for the Bears in this new system. 
 
Don’t sleep on their DBs:
Captain Cam Bynum opted back into the program and is an elite defender who is extremely versatile for the Bears, let alone a special human being. Elijah Hicks, who moved to safety, provides experience as well in the back end. 
 
Best Interview you should request:
Ask for Center Michael Saffell - trust me. He has a future in the media and after one response from him, you’ll agree.
 
UCLA Bruins
 
“We’re going to figure this out.”
QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson expressed his focus on eliminating turnovers in the 2020 season and it did not begin as he hoped, with multiple turnovers in the first half. But what was impressive was how he bounced back, becoming the 1st player in UCLA history to have at least 300 pass yards and 100 rush yards in the same game. He’s seen adversity at various stops in his athletic career and he has yet to flinch when it gets challenging. This weekend will be the same against the Utah front seven. I expect him to get the ball out quickly and to find a rhythm early, or as he said on Instagram, ‘We’re going to figure this out.’
 
What I’ll be watching:
Tackle Sean Rhyan against the edge pressure of Utah. Since Rhyan signed at UCLA, I felt he had the ability to be the best tackle in Westwood in quite some time, and still do, as he’s started all 13 games since lining up at OT in the 2019 opener as a true freshman. The most challenging test of his second year comes Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
 
My top story from Week 1:
Greg Dulcich, a one-time walk-on who only wanted a chance to prove himself. Chip Kelly gave him that chance and he delivered in Week 1, as the only Pac-12 player with multiple plays of 40+ yards and had more receiving yards last week (126) then he did all of last year (105)! As a former walk-on, I’m biased, but I will stand by the statement that it is much more challenging to earn a scholarship in college than to earn one in high school. Read this article by Ben Bolch of the LA Times for more context on Dulcich.
 
Veterans and UCLA:
While the Bruins may not have a lot of vets on the field, as they played 10 true freshmen in the opener after playing just 9 true freshmen all of last year, Chip Kelly is a strong advocate of giving veterans of the armed forces a role within his program. Currently, he has three members of his staff who served in the U.S. Marine Corps: Chief of Staff Bryce McDonald (served in the Pacific Theater); Coaching Analyst Joe Speed (Africa and Pacific Theaters); Coaching Analyst Marcus Thomas (Okinawa, Japan).
 
2020 Pac-12 Football Breakdown Archives