The league has always tended to be about Los Angeles, and it was that way on opening football weekend.
What we learned
UCLA seemed to leave the door open. The Bruins, thought to be the class of the Pac-12 South, looked lifeless offensively with a couple of linemen missing in their 28-20 win at Virginia. That was a stout Cavalier front — except it allowed 219 points in a late five-game stretch of 2013, when it didn’t win an ACC game.
“We want to compete with the offense, try to score more than them,” defensive back Randall Goforth told the Los Angeles Times, in a good news/bad news observation. The Bruin returned three turnovers for touchdowns.
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Coach Jim Mora didn’t have his best day, either. Ahead 21-3 with a minute left in the half thanks to all the defensive largesse, Mora opted to call two timeouts to try to get the ball back as Virginia subbed in a new quarterback. That gave the Cavaliers enough time to throw for an uplifting touchdown, and in the final minutes, UCLA was hanging on.
Steve Sarkisian looked completely at home. Putting a trying week behind him, Sarkisian had a redemptive debut in USC’s 52-13 romp over Fresno State, play-calling his way to 105 snaps and 702 yards.
Wrote Bill Plaschke in the LA Times, “He hugged helmets, smacked shoulder pads, leaped into the thick air, crouched on the warm grass, fittingly rollicked along the Coliseum sidelines Saturday as if it were the backyard of his youth. The players loved the emotion that has been missing from this program since Pete Carroll left town five years ago.”
700 is the new 500. Remember when 500 yards of total offense constituted a benchmark day with the ball? That’s so Keith Jackson. Not only did USC explode for 702, Arizona rocked for a school-record 787 against UNLV, and Oregon had 673 against FCS South Dakota, even while trimming the playbook with Michigan State ahead this week.
Washington’s 17-16 win at Hawaii could be alarming, or just a gnat on a windshield. Honolulu traditionally lulls visiting football teams to sleep, and Washington has a forgiving schedule to sort out its quarterback question.
But aside from a 91-yard touchdown pass, the Huskies had a mere 245 yards of offense, and there will be days in this league when you’ve got to score big numbers just to hope to keep up.
As usual, Oregon State played its opener in a fog. At least the Beavers didn’t lose to an FCS team this time, something they’ve done twice in recent years, managing to beat Portland State, 29-14.
The Vikings were hampered by a faulty phone line to their coaching booth at OSU, which meant only one connection — their choice of defensive or offensive coaches communicating — was operable.
“We were guessing personnel,” PSU coach Nigel Burton told the Oregonian. “It was like trying to fly a plane blind. You know how to fly it, but if you have no radar it’s a little interesting.”
Cal rejoined the ranks of football-playing collegians. The Bears won at Northwestern, 31-24, which seems to mean that nobody in the league will be truly dreadful, as the Bears were in 2013. Linebacker Jalen Jefferson had a clinching interception tipped by fellow ‘backer Michael Barton, after which Jefferson told the Oakland Tribune jovially, “We actually had a bet of, whoever had the first pick would get each other’s per diem, so I get his per diem now.”
Expect the NCAA to drop 25 gumshoes into Berkeley this week to investigate.
Big picture, only two things really matter this weekend: USC is at Stanford (12:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC), followed by Michigan State at Oregon (Fox, 3:30). Washington State visits Nevada on Friday night, and the Huskies host Eastern Washington Saturday at noon.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org