Weber State could have, maybe even should have, beaten a University of California football team that’s unbeaten and is the only Pac-12 school with two nonconference wins over Power Five opponents this season.
Cal’s close call against the Wildcats, who posted 571 total yards and were threatening to tie the game in the late stages of a 33-20 loss, is part of the Bears’ mystery. They’ve beaten North Carolina (35-30) and Mississippi (27-16), but figuring where to place them in The Salt Lake Tribune’s Pac-12 rankings is tricky. Let’s just say Cal is playing better than anyone imagined, after a season when the Bears allowed an average of 42.6 points and coach Sonny Dykes was fired.
More clear answers about Cal’s degree of improvement should come Saturday, when USC visits Berkeley.
Cal linebacker Devante Downs said coach Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter are making good halftime adjustments, and that’s readily apparent. The Bears held Weber State and Mississippi scoreless after halftime, and North Carolina’s 13 second-half points included a meaningless touchdown on the game’s final play.
The coaches “brought a really great scheme,” Downs said on the Pac-12′s weekly teleconference. “They put players in a position to make plays, and we’re playing with confidence.”
The Bears’ defensive work has been surprising to outsiders, but not to Wilcox, a former defensive coordinator at Boise State, Washington, USC and Wisconsin. “We set pretty high standards in our building,” he said. “We feel like we can play a lot better and we need to play a lot better.”
Having accompanied Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC, Wilcox was not retained when USC interim coach Clay Helton was awarded the permanent job. That history adds another layer to Saturday’s game, although Wilcox says he understood how Helton wanted to bring in his own defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast.
Nothing new for Huskies’ Pettis
In his continuing candidacy for Pac-12 special teams player of the week, Utah kicker Matt Gay will need some help from Colorado’s punting team. Gay keeps being topped by Washington punt returner Dante Pettis, even while kicking four field goals each against BYU and San Jose State — including two kicks of 50-plus yards Saturday.
That’s because Pettis returns a punt for a touchdown every week. He has gone 61 yards vs. Rutgers, 67 yards vs. Montana and 77 yards vs. Fresno State. Pettis, who returned a punt for the winning touchdown at Utah last October, is the third player in NCAA history to do so in three straight games. With eight career punt-return TDs, he has tied the NCAA record shared by Texas Tech’s Wes Welker and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins.
Pettis’ first TD return came as a freshman in 2014 at Colorado, where the Huskies will play Saturday. The Buffaloes’ strategy: “Kick it good and cover good,” said coach Mike MacIntyre. “We’ll just do what we’ve always done. Hopefully, we can cover it.”
Oregon State’s Gary Andersen was Utah State’s coach when Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was a Logan High School senior. Beginning in 2014, the season before Andersen moved from Wisconsin to OSU, Falk has done a lot of damage against the Beavers.
Falk threw six touchdown passes in the Cougars’ 52-23 victory last week, giving him an NCAA record for TDs (22) against one opponent. Andersen has absorbed 17 of those scores in three defeats.
WSU coach Mike Leach briefly benched Falk the previous week against Boise State, and then Falk was knocked out of the game after returning. He looked like his usual self against OSU, completing 37 of 49 passes for 396 yards. Asked what Falk did differently, Leach said, “The quick answer is he didn’t try to do too much, just kind of kept things simple.”
Pac-12 power rankings
1. USC (3-0) • Trojans have posted 400-plus total yards in 13 straight games.
2. Washington (3-0) • Huskies visit Colorado in rematch of 2016 Pac-12 title game.
3. Washington State (3-0) • Program’s most recent 4-0 start came in 2001.
4. Utah (3-0) • Utes start their seventh Pac-12 schedule with 25-29 conference record.
5. Oregon (3-0) • Defense held Wyoming to 183 total yards.
6. UCLA (2-1) • Bruins allowed six TD passes in loss at Memphis.
7. Stanford (1-2) • Cardinal recorded 18 minutes of possession time at San Diego State.
8. California (3-0) • LB Devante Downs already is two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the week.
9. Colorado (3-0) • Buffs could be higher, but nonconference schedule was weak.
10. Arizona (2-1) • QB Brandon Dawkins is team’s leading rusher.
11. Arizona State (1-2) • Sun Devils didn’t quit after trailing Texas Tech by 18 points at three stages.
12. Oregon State (1-3) • Beavers need this week’s break, with Washington and USC ahead.