It’s halftime in the 2022 college football season and while there have been some exciting moments: Tennessee beating Alabama, and that whole Appalachian State Hail Mary thing, we’re still probably in line for some sort of SEC powerhouse (or two) in the CFP championship game.
Unless, maybe, someone out west has something to say about it.
The Pac-12 is a four-team race at this point: UCLA, Oregon, USC and Utah with the top two teams (no divisions anymore) advancing to the conference title game on Dec. 2.
We will get some clarity Saturday when UCLA faces Oregon in Eugene. It’s UCLA Coach Chip Kelly’s return (again) to Oregon and even ESPN College GameDay will be there.
UCLA is 6-0. USC is 6-1. They will meet in a few weeks.
Let’s hand out the grades for each team while we take a halftime break.
Listen, I will start right away by saying I am a hard marker. You don’t just hand out A’s in my world, but this UCLA offense has done nothing wrong. The Bruins rank 12th nationally in yards per game at 505, 20th in rushing, 23rd in passing and 12th in scoring.
So, yeah, they can move it.
A lot of attention on DTR, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, with good reason, but the fifth-year senior has been sharp. He’s second in the nation completing 74.8 percent of his passes. Zach Charbonnet has become a serious threat out of the backfield. The offensive line has been great.
Kelly said at the start of the season the experience the Bruins had would show. He was right. The Bruins have only punted nine times this season.
Ok, maybe a B-plus. You can look at it and say the Bruins defense by nature gives up a lot of yards and points because it is on the field so much based on the tempo of the offense. I can allow that. Still, the Bruins have allowed 22.7 points a game, which is a hair much. JonJon Vaughns has two interceptions, Laiatu Latu had three sacks against Colorado and leads the team with 6.5.
Darius Muasau leads UCLA with 38 tackles and had a big forced fumble in the win over Utah. The Bruins are +13 in turnover margin. These are all good signs moving forward.
Special Teams: B
Yes, UCLA started the season with three cupcake teams, but was in serious trouble against South Alabama until the Jags tried a fake field goal for some reason and then DTR led a game-winning drive capped by a 24-yard field goal by Nicholas Barr-Mira with no time left. Hey, that’s what you want your special teams to do. Come through when you need them.
Barr-Mira is 8-11 on field goals, not the greatest, he missed a 21-yarder against Utah. UCLA is averaging 43.1 yards on punts.
UCLA is ranked No. 9 in the nation heading into Eugene. They have wins over four teams with winning records, hey, even South Alabama is 5-2 right now, so that close win doesn’t look so bad anymore. DTR has 76 touchdown passes, which is a UCLA record. It’s the Bruins best start to a season since 2005. The way the schedule sets up, even with a loss to Oregon, the Bruins can still make the Pac-12 title game with a win over….you guessed it, USC.
Speaking of the Trojans…..
The Trojans offense has largely been a one-man show. Quarterback/transfer from Oklahoma Caleb Williams has been outstanding. He is 13th in the nation with 1,971 passing yards. Travis Dye is averaging 6.4 yards a carry and wide receiver Jordan Addison has 585 receiving yards.
Overall, the Trojans offense ranks 20th in the nation with 475.3 yards (yes, behind UCLA). People thought Williams would be good, but man, he’s been Real. He’s thrown for 19 touchdowns and one interception.
The one flaw, however, is that the whole offense has relied on Williams to make plays. No one has figured out a way to stop him yet, but you have to be worried that if he goes down, the whole Trojans ship sinks.
I toyed with a B-minus here, but the numbers show that the Trojans defense is middle of the pack. They’re allowing 381 yards per game and 22.1 points. Those 22.1 points are more than Rutgers gives up. In other words, Rutgers is better at something in college football than USC is.
That should never happen.
Tuli Tuipulotu is tied for the lead in the country with seven sacks. Eric Gentry has 52 tackles, but you look through the list and it’s troubling. Defensive backs are third and fourth on the team tackles list. That shows the Trojans are getting pushed off the ball. They couldn’t stop Utah at the end of the game.
One thing saving USC is they lead the nation in turnover margin at +15. If/when that starts to even out, it could be trouble.
Special Teams: C
Ok, really, the Trojans special teams have been solid. Denis Lynch is 8-10 on field goals. He made three against Washington State, so he’s become a reliable weapon. Aadyn Sleep-Dalton has punted 17 times and averaged a decent 41 yards, but this is USC…where is the juice in the return game?
You always expect the Trojans to have some deadly defensive back or running back capable of returning every kick for six, but it hasn’t happened this year. The Trojans longest return of the season was a 42-yard kickoff return by Tahj Washington. I haven’t seen enough big plays on special teams for USC.
The Trojans are still in good shape to make the Pac-12 championship game. They don’t play Oregon this year in the regular season. After this bye week, they get the scrubs of the Pac-12 for three weeks: Arizona, Cal and Colorado which sets up a showdown at the Rose Bowl against UCLA on Nov. 19.
Both teams could have one loss by then in the league, but no matter what the loser of that game will probably be out. We’ve been through half the season, but the final exam looms large for both USC and UCLA and it’s against one another.