Pac-10 salvages decent weekend
TUCSON, Ariz. – Momentum firmly with the opponent across the field, Arizona desperately needed a rally to avoid what would have been a huge letdown.
A blocked extra point followed by a gut-check scoring drive, the Wildcats got it.
“Man, everything came together and guys made big plays,” defensive end Brooks Reed said after Arizona’s 34-27 win over Iowa on Saturday night.
Same could be said for the Pac-10.
With nine games against BCS opponents, including four ranked teams, the conference headed into the weekend hoping it would be a gauge of where it stands against the nation’s other top conferences.
Considering the way it started, it turned out to be a decent couple of days for the Pac-10.
Rallying from four losses in its first five games, the conference finished a respectable 6-4 in its how-we-stack-up weekend, capped by Arizona’s gutty win over then-No. 9 Iowa, UCLA’s bounce-back victory over then-No. 23 Houston and Stanford’s surprisingly easy rout of Wake Forest.
“We’re coming along nicely,” Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck said after the 68-24 win. “But I don’t think anybody is satisfied. This program hasn’t been on a high too long. Guys have been around here when it’s not been on a high, me included. We know that tides can change like that.”
It sure did on Saturday for the Pac-10.
The weekend got off to a rough start Friday night, when Cal was overrun by Nevada’s Pistol offense in a 52-31 loss.
It wasn’t looking any better on Saturday, starting with Washington State’s perhaps predictable 35-21 loss at Southern Methodist, the Cougars’ 11th straight setback against a FBS program and the Mustangs’ first win against a BCS conference school since 2000.
A little more surprising was Washington’s performance against No. 8 Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers ran over, through and around the Huskies’ defense, and Washington quarterback Jake Locker’s Heisman Trophy chances took a huge dent with a 71-yard, two-interception performance that was the worst of his career.
The result was an ugly 56-21 loss for Washington and an 0-3 start for the Pac-10.
“I know we’re a better football team than what we put on the field today in all three phases,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The Pac-10 finally got some signs of encouragement from Arizona State and USC.
The Sun Devils, despite numerous missed scoring opportunities, kept it close with No. 11 Wisconsin, eventually losing 20-19 on, of all things, a blocked extra point.
The Trojans still didn’t put together the whole package, but outmuscled Minnesota on the way to a 32-21 victory.
After the day games, the Pac-10 was 1-4 with a slate of mostly tough nightcaps.
In other words, it wasn’t looking good.
The one easy game under the lights went about the way it was supposed to: No. 5 Oregon dismantled FCS school Portland State 69-0.
Less than an hour north of Eugene, No. 24 Oregon State overcame its defensive deficiencies to hold off Louisville 35-28 at home.
Arizona, Stanford and UCLA then closed the weekend out in impressive fashion.
The Wildcats jumped on the Hawkeyes early with a string of big plays, blew all of a 20-point lead and held on for what could turn out to be a program-defining win, one that moved Arizona up 10 spots in the AP poll to 14th this week.
Stanford was expected to beat Wake Forest, just not the way it did.
Luck enhanced his Heisman Trophy credentials by throwing for four touchdowns and running for another score, and the Cardinal overwhelmed the Demon Deacons in nearly every aspect in the rout. It was the most points Wake Forest had given up in 15 years and moved Stanford to 3-0 for the first time since 2001.
UCLA capped the comeback weekend with rebound of its own.
The Bruins were facing the possibility of an 0-4 start if they couldn’t beat the Cougars after opening the season with losses to Kansas State and Stanford and a trip to seventh-ranked Texas next.
UCLA knocked down quarterback Case Keenum – he’s done for the season with a torn ACL – and knocked out the Cougars with an impressive and possibly season-saving 31-13 win.
“We felt our backs were against the wall,” UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers said. “It was either come out swinging or lay down.”
Just like the conference.