Ted's Takes on the Pac-12: Cal Overshadows USC and UCLA in Week 1

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Ted's Takes on the Pac-12: Cal Overshadows USC and UCLA in Week 1
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USC had the most impressive win of the first Pac-12 weekend, while UCLA wracked the most nerves. 

But the most important win belonged to California. A program not far removed from Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson was buried under a landslide last year.

The fallout from low football player graduation rates that then-athletic director Sandy Barbour (now at Penn State) cited upon firing coach Jeff Tedford, wobbly recruiting and player defections resulted in a disastrous 2013: 1-11, 551 points allowed.

Nothing helps Cal's financial battle to pay off refurbished Memorial Stadium more than football success. In this area in 2013, a coach hired for his offense fielded a woeful defense.

No coach in America needed a win more than Sonny Dykes.

Cal delivered. On defense, it allowed only one play of over 25 yards and made a final stand in the closing minutes.

There wasn't one moment last season when you looked at the Bears and envisioned their defense making any stand, anywhere, at any time.

New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is the star conference assistant of Week 1.

No coach in America enjoyed a win more than Dykes.

Was anyone shocked to see Steve Sarkisian on College GameDay Saturday morning? Hours before his first USC game, Sark did a satellite interview that, to no one's surprise, had nothing to do with the game.

Trojans supporters had to smile as Sark calmly answered the ritual questions about Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown. Who among us could be so poised when addressing being labeled a racist on Twitter?

Later that afternoon, the Trojans mimicked Sark. They hammered Fresno State, showing not one sign of "distraction."

USC operated at a fierce tempo and, most importantly, looked like it loved playing, something that's been missing the last few years.

Depth issues will continue to hover over USC this fall, but positive first impressions of the Sarkisian era will linger.

UCLA, meanwhile, needs an eraser. The Bruins couldn't protect Brett Hundley. And Hundley did not react well to pressure.

The 2014 hype has focused on Hundley more so than Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It is Hundley on the SI coverIt is Hundley, calmly but firmly, telling an ESPN interviewer recently on SportsCenter that he believes himself to be the country’s best QB.

At Virginia, Hundley tucked the ball and fled the pocket at first pressure. The Cavaliers fed on that and ramped up their rush. Bruins fans had to have memories of Arizona State sacking Hundley nine times last year.

ESPN's Matt Millen zeroed in on Hundley's lack of pocket presence during the TV broadcast. Not until the third quarter did Hundley step into the pocket and deliver a pass with pressure in his face.

For Hundley and UCLA to reach their goals, he must deliver on the very QB trait he worked on most to improve.

More notes from around the Pac-12:

 

Five "New" Impact Faces

Player, Position, School Week 1 Stats
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State 10 REC, 146 YDS
Austin Hill, WR, Arizona 3 REC, 100 YDS
Travis Wilson, QB, Utah 13-18, 265 YDS
Cody Kessler, QB, USC 25-37, 394 YDS, 4 TD
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA 16 TKL

Official stats

ASU's Jaelen Strong could be this year's impact receiver in the conference. He was good last year (1,122 YDS) despite not having a full offseason to prepare. His 2014 start is more impressive given he only played the first half.

Arizona's Austin Hill missed 2013, but his return gives freshman quarterback Anu Solomon an experienced wideout.

Utah's Travis Wilson, a medical question after last year, was accurate and consistent. USC's Cody Kessler looked as if he had been born to run the fast-paced offense.

The Bruins' Eric Kendricks is a rock for this year's UCLA defense, which needs to replace Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt in the front seven.

 

Continuing Trend

The Pac-12 ran the most plays per game in 2013. Week 1 shows that is unlikely to change:

School Plays Yards Average YDS/Play
USC 105 701 6.6
Arizona 94 787 8.4
Cal 84 414 4.9
Arizona State 84 570 6.8
Oregon State 82 504 6.1

Official stats

Also of note: Stanford ran the fewest plays in the conference last year and in Week 1 of 2014 (62).

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