Utah topples Stanford to shake up the Pac-12; more late Week 7 Snap Judgments
• Utah 27, No. 5 Stanford 21: The Pac-12 may have been weak at the bottom in years past, but that’s not the case anymore. Utah, which had never beaten a top-five opponent at home in program history and gave UCLA a scare last Thursday, toppled a shaky No. 5 Stanford team that couldn’t get things going on offense. The Cardinal frequently stalled and struggled to make big plays as the Utes took a halftime lead and never looked back, winning 27-21.
Over the past season-plus, Stanford has often resembled a machine on both sides of the ball, with powerful linebackers, a tough secondary and a dominant offensive line repeatedly wearing down opponents. The Cardinal have talent all over the field and outlasted a tough Washington team in Palo Alto last Saturday.
This week’s game against Utah was never a gimme, but plenty of viewers weren’t paying attention (or couldn’t watch the game on Pac-12 Network) as Penn State and Michigan failed their way to four overtimes on ESPN. The assumption was always that Stanford would pull it together and win, something it has done with regularity under former coach Jim Harbaugh and current headman David Shaw.
The Cardinal almost did; with less than two minutes to play, Stanford was deep in Utah territory trailing by six points. Quarterback Kevin Hogan had two chances to get two yards for a first down or put the ball in the end zone, but his first pass fell incomplete, and his second pass sailed through the back of the end zone and had no chance of being caught.
This was the most vulnerable Stanford has looked in a long time, and that’s partially a credit to Utah and offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson, who used a mixture of looks and different tempos to keep the Cardinal off balance. It was clear Stanford was uncomfortable on both sides of the ball, and it wasn’t just a matter of the team playing an imperfect game. The Cardinal never woke up for long enough to take control, and the Utes, behind 89 total yards and two scores by Dres Anderson, successfully completed the upset.
The Pac-12 is quickly becoming a league in which it might just be impossible to escape a season undefeated. Oregon was impressive in its 45-24 win over Washington on Saturday, but the Ducks still have to play UCLA and at Stanford. The Bruins have Stanford and Washington left, in addition to the game in Eugene. And the rest of the teams, including Utah, Arizona State and a rejuvenated USC under interim coach Ed Orgeron, could sneak up on anybody on a given week.
This isn’t a gimmicky league; it’s a power conference with varied offensive and defensive looks and a lot of bright football minds. Winning it is going to take a marathon effort, no matter how many sprinters are on a particular team. [RECAP l BOX]
• No. 1 Alabama 48, Kentucky 7: The outcome was never in doubt, but the Crimson Tide certainly got off to a slow start against the Wildcats on Saturday. This was a scoreless game until Cade Foster converted a 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and whether Alabama was disinterested or Kentucky just got up for the challenge early (probably a little bit of both), this can’t be a proper execution of Nick Saban’s process.
The Tide eventually rushed for 299 and five scores, and both T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake surpassed the 100-yard mark. Mark Stoops’ team is going to continue to take its lumps until his recruits arrive, but the Wildcats can take a bit of solace in the fact they played toe to toe with ‘Bama for nearly 20 minutes. [RECAP l BOX]
• No. 9 Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 38: Punch for punch, this one was fun for pretty much the entire game. The combination of quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti for the Rebels was almost enough to negate the performance of Johnny Manziel, who continues to extend plays and make exciting things happen. Manziel finished 31-of-39 for 346 yards with one interception, but he added 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a six-yard run with 3:41 remaining that tied the game at 38. After forcing a quick punt, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner led the Aggies down to field goal range, and Josh Lambo gave Texas A&M the win.
Ole Miss was in a battle and did not come out without incident. Star freshman Robert Nkemdiche went out with a hamstring injury chasing down Manziel early in the game, and junior linebacker Serderius Bryant had a scary collision with the Aggies quarterback and was down on the field motionless before having the stretcher brought out. (He would later give a double thumbs up.)
Texas A&M still has all sorts of problems with its defense, but that offense behind Manziel, that great line and those talented receivers give the Aggies a shot in every game. A&M survives to win its 10th straight on the road, and returns home to play Auburn next week. [RECAP l BOX]