Pac-12 teams need not tune into a horror movie marathon to be terrified this Halloween season. They have the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in their conference.
Oregon's average margin of victory through seven games is 34.4 points per—a downright horrifying figure for opponents. Even more bone-chilling is that head coach Mark Helfrich sees plenty of room for improvement.
"In every phase we can be better, starting with me," Helfrich said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "We're always getting better."
Helfrich praised the play of his running backs and linebackers, two uncertain areas for the Ducks heading into the season that have become decided strengths.
"You can never have too many of either one of those positions," Helfrich said.
The Ducks lost Michael Clay and NFL breakout star Kiko Alonso from the linebacker corps, but Boseko Lokombo, Derrick Malone and Joe Walker have stepped up to help lead the nation’s No. 22 rushing defense.
Sophomore Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner have shared the load left from 2012 leading rusher Kenjon Barner.
Marshall has 746 yards and Tyner 360 to pace the nation’s second-ranked rushing offense. Most recently, the duo haunted Washington State with 291 yards and five touchdowns combined.
Their play has eased the sting of losing multipurpose-back De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas told Jason Quick of The Oregonian he is “ready and hungry” to return for this week’s matchup with No. 12 UCLA.
Where Thomas fits in the lineup? Helfrich said Oregon must "wait and find out from a game plan standpoint.”
The electric Thomas has worked as a running back, receiver and returner for the Ducks, but the team’s depth doesn’t ensure him immediate touches upon rejoining the lineup, Helrich said.
That depth is precisely what makes the Ducks so frightening.
“The balance they have on offense is the best that they’ve been,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “The speed out of the backfield…and the depth at the wide receiver spot, the ball can go anywhere.”
Kyle Whittingham Uncertain but "Optimistic" on Quarterback Travis Wilson
Utah lost quarterback Travis Wilson midway through its 35-24 loss at Arizona Saturday when the quarterback injured a finger on his throwing hand.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham was not 100 percent certain on Tuesday's conference call but said he's "optimistic" Wilson will play this week at USC.
"We hope to have him," Whittingham said. "That's to be determined."
Wilson has thrown for 14 touchdowns and rushed for another five in the Utes' 4-3 start, but has been intercepted 12 times. Reserve quarterback Adam Schulz went 12-of-23 for 142 yards passing with a touchdown against Arizona.
Washington's Record Is Indicative of Schedule, Sonny Dykes Says
Washington suffered a 53-24 setback at Arizona State Saturday, its third consecutive loss. The Huskies are 4-3, just 1-3 in the Pac-12 and out of the Top 25 for the first time since opening week.
But Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said Washington's record did not tell the full story.
"If [Washington] had other peoples' schedule in the country, they're probably an undefeated football team," Dykes said.
The Huskies were within a score of Top 10-ranked Pac-12 North opponents Stanford and Oregon in the second half of each game but came out flat at Arizona State.
"They were surprised we didn't go out and play the way we're capable of playing," Sarkisian said. "We played three really good teams the last couple weeks.
"We've done some soul-searching in the last 48 hours, and we'll be ready to go," he added.
Washington's record is a testament to the Pac-12's strength this season. The Huskies should bounce back hosting sputtering Cal, but they won’t overlook the Golden Bears.
"If you don't come ready to play every week in our conference, you'll get beat," Sarkisian said.
Mike Leach Isn't a Fan of Passer Efficiency Metrics
Washington State head coach Mike Leach was asked about the passer efficiency rating of junior quarterback Connor Halliday, who is coming off a 557-yard, four-touchdown performance in Saturday's loss at Oregon.
Halliday set an NCAA Div. I record with 89 pass attempts. He has 2798 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season but has also thrown 17 interceptions—most in the nation.
As a result, his passer efficiency rating is 124.6. ESPN’s QBR scores him at 56.4.
Leach dismissed the equations for their confusing nature.
“Occasionally I’ll ask around and ask a guy if he understands how [pass efficiency] is calculated and it’s seldom that he does,” Leach said.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.