Week Seven of Pac-10 football is now in the books and what a week it was. As advertised, the USC-Notre Dame clash came down to the final second...literally. However, elsewhere in conference play, several schools showed that they weren't quite ready to rollover this year.
The following are my initial reactions to Saturday's Pac-10 games.
No. 6 USC @ No. 25 Notre Dame —Result: 34-27, USC
This game easily lived up to its billing as one of college football's greatest matchups. Despite jumping out to a fairly substantial lead, USC allowed Notre Dame to scratch and claw it's way back.
After some clutch plays by Notre Dame's offense, the Irish had the ball on the USC four-yard line with four seconds to play. After a quick slant failed to connect, the Trojans ran on the field in celebration. However, after a brief review, it was ruled that there was actually one second remaining in the game (which there absolutely was, not a tough call).
This gave Jimmy Clausen one last shot at immortality. However, it will have to wait as his final attempt sailed incomplete.
The Irish have to hold their heads high after this game, however. USC was clearly the more dominant team, but Notre Dame never quit. In fact, on their final drive, thanks to several heads up plays—most by receiver Golden Tate—the Irish had a shot to take down a team that has haunted them for the better part of a decade.
Jimmy Clausen's two passing touchdowns (both to Golden Tate) marked the first two given up through the air against the Trojans all year.
USC freshman Matt Barkley continued to shine as he made a multitude of great throws and displayed the poise and maturity that made him the starter in the first place.
The freshman had the most prolific day of his young career Saturday, throwing for 380 yards and two touchdowns on 19 of 29 passing.
Walking away from this game, it is clear that USC is back on track and will only get better as Barkley becomes increasingly used to the speed of the college game.
Notre Dame has no need to hang their heads though, especially Southern California native Jimmy Clausen. He may not have won the game, but the man is a player. And he showed a lot of heart.
Cal @ UCLA —Result: 45-26, Cal
Despite the huge victory by USC in South Bend, I think the team that is most relieved from week seven is the California Golden Bears.
After being held to an abysmal six total points in their first two Pac-10 games, Cal bounced back in a big way on Saturday.
The scoreboard doesn't tell the whole story, however, as this game was decided by a number of big plays.
California star running back Jahvid Best had two of the game's most important plays as he scored on a run of 93-yards and a reception of 51-yards. Subtracting the total from that run, the UCLA defense limited him to just nine yards on 17 carries.
Unfortunately for UCLA, Best isn't the only running back on Cal with some talent. Backup running back Shane Vereen had a spectacular day on the ground, totalling 154 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown.
UCLA's offense looked largely pedestrian on the day despite a 74-yard touchdown run from running back Jonathan Franklin. However, like Best, aside from Franklin's big play he was held to just 27 yards on 10 carries on the day.
The game's final big play came late in the fourth quarter, with the score a still-competitive 38-26. UCLA had moved the ball to the Cal 34-yard line with just over five minutes remaining. However, it was at that point when UCLA freshman quarterback Kevin Prince chose to throw his first (and only) interception of the day. And if that wasn't enough, it was returned for a demoralizing, back-breaking touchdown by sophomore linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
Just like one B/R, Pac-10 prognosticator predicted , Cal responded on Saturday with a big win in Los Angeles. Going forward, I think this was a huge win for the team, not just in the standings, but in the locker room. Sometimes all a slumping team needs is a good game with some lucky breaks to get them back on track.
Stanford @ Arizona —Result: 43-38, Arizona
Would you look at that. The Arizona Wildcats are starting to fall into that category of a team with an average opening record that look at in the middle of the season and realize are just a few plays away from being really good.
You hear this all the time in the NFL. The fact that the Bengals are one-play away from being 5-0 has been beaten to death this week so I hate to add fuel to the fire at the college level. However, when you look at what Arizona has done this season it is clear the same issue applies to the Wildcats.
Ever since Nick Foles took over as the starting quarterback early in the fourth quarterback of the Iowa game (week three), the Wildcats have been a dangerous offensive team.
Arizona lost that Iowa game, which, given the Hawkeyes 7-0 start, is starting to look more and more respectable. It's interesting to think if the outcome would have been different had Matt Scott not laid an egg through the first three quarters of that game and Foles had had more than a quarter to work.
Arizona's only other loss this year came on an incredible fluke of a play last week against Washington. They have nice wins over a tough Central Michigan team and a very talented Oregon State team, on the road in Corvallis.
Back to the game at hand, this matchup of the Pac-10's two highest rated passers definitely did not disappoint. Foles finished the day with spectacular numbers—completing 40 of his 51 attempts for 415 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side, Stanford's freshman quarterback, Andrew Luck, put up equally impressive numbers. Aside from throwing his first interception in Pac-10 play this season (a pick-six on Stanford's first possession), Luck threw for 423 yards on 21 of 35 passing and three touchdowns.
Despite the spectacular play from the quarterbacks in this game; its biggest play would come from Arizona running back Nic Grigsby. On a 3rd-and-17 from their own 43 yard line with 2:57 to go, the Wildcats called on their tailback. Grigsby, who is still nursing a nagging shoulder injury, took the ball and raced 57 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart, the country's leading rusher, also managed to have a good day on the ground despite all the ariel attacks. Gerhart finished the day with 123 yards on 28 carries and added two touchdowns (bringing his season total to 12).
When the dust cleared in Tucson, the Wildcats are walking away from this game with more than just a win. In fact, this could be a defining game in coach Mike Stoops' effort to turn around this program. Watch out for the Wildcats this year.
Washington @ Arizona State —Result: 24-17 ASU
ASU quarterback Danny Sullivan may have just cemented his starting job for the rest of the season on Saturday. With the game tied and five seconds remaining, Sullivan threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Chris McGaha to give the Sun Devils a much needed conference win.
Credit has to go to ASU coach Dennis Erickson for sticking with Sullivan to this point, despite mounting calls for freshman Brock Osweiler.
One has to wonder if karma was coming back around to kick Washington this week after their epic victory last weekend. At the very least, Lady Luck was not on the side of the Huskies on Saturday night.
Jake Locker, whom I have been immensely impressed with thus far, finished with another solid game. Locker threw for 279 yards on 22 of 38 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions (albeit one was on a desperation heave, which I feel shouldn't count).
Aside from the memorable ending, this game was fairly low-key and riddled with minor mistakes and penalties.
Personally, I expected more out of the Huskies in this game and am surprised the Sun Devils were able to rise to the challenge. It'll be much more interesting to see how they perform next week, on the road against a Stanford team that will be looking for revenge.
But tonight, one thing is for sure...it's good to live in Tempe.
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