Unpacking The Pac-12: Hard-nosed Utes And High Flying Cougars

Photo: Sep 29, 2018; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew (16) throws the football during a game against the Utah Utes in the 2nd half at Martin Stadium. The Cougar won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

You might play to win the game, but you coach to stay married to a contrived ideal of the path to winning that is tenuously tethered to reality -- if at all.

Arizona State HC Herm Edwards punted twice, on fourth and less than two, from inside midfield. On the road. Against an undefeated, conference opponent. Both times, the game was tied in the second half.

Stanford HC David Shaw trailed by two scores for 40 minutes of game clock. By the time Utah took a 37-21 lead late in the fourth quarter, Shaw had called 31 passes and 27 runs. Sources confirm he knew coming into the game that RB Bryce Love was not active with an injury.

Oregon HC Johnathan Smith...actually coached a really good game. No complaints there. Go Beavers.

Cowardly coaching is offensive to watch.

Stanford v. Utah

I'm trying as hard as I can to avoid it: but I think I'm falling for Utah RB Zack Moss.

Here's the thing: if you're sober and honest about what Moss is at the next level, it's totally okay to love his game. Moss is an absolute bruiser of a back who lives for contact; he seeks it out like a dang bloodhound. The 217-pounder was responsible for multiple third down conversions on which contact greeted him a few yards before the line to gain. I can distinctly remember a run on which Sean Barton, a 233-pounder, met him with velocity in the hole -- and Moss just dropped his shoulder and steamrolled over him to make the line to gain. Woah Nelly.

Now, the other shoe: Moss' athleticism really limits his translation to the next level. He is not quick, he is not flexible, and he has marginal explosiveness. As such, every game of his is a war of attrition -- and his health has already suffered this year because of it. The hole has to open where he expects it, and if he has to react to penetration, it's not pretty.

So what is Moss in the NFL? He's part of a committee, and I'm not even sure he can be a 1A. The concern there is health: I don't know how many carries you can trust him with across a season, given his running style. That said, he is an active receiver and successful pass-protector, so he can fill multiple roles within your committee; as a short-yardage guy, you won't find anyone more reliable.

Also noteworthy:

  • Stanford QB K.J. Costello is still young, and it shows in games like this. In the red zone, he couldn't get on the same page with WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who had an up-and-down outing, and threw a 100-yard pick-six; on the ensuing possession, he threw up a prayer when getting sacked and that got picked off, again in the red zone. He accounted for three total turnovers and generally lacked presence and sound decision-making. He'll continue to grow at school.
  • I highlighted Stanford TE Kaden Smith v. Utah LBs Cody Barton and Chase Hansen as a match-up to watch; Utah elected to put safeties on Smith instead, much to their detriment. Smith modeled physicality and grip strength at the catch point down the seam, again demonstrating that he warrants more targets. His body control in the air is bananas. Hansen was in coverage on him occasionally, and struggled to read the QB in his zone drops to intersect throwing lanes. Not a great showing for him.
  • Utah iDL Leki Fotu continues to breakout in this, his junior season. Fotu has a long, angular frame that generates a lot of power from the ground up. He straight rolled through C Jesse Burkett on multiple reps, but he also seems to have the requisite quickness to penetrate and disrupt as a one-gapper as well. That's great to see.
  • Future sixth-round selection Matt Gay had a flawless night. (He's Utah's placekicker.)

Oregon State v. Washington State

Well, let's talk about a real person named Gardner Minshew II.

Gardner Minshew II plays quarterback for Mike Leach up in Pullman, which means it can be a bit tricky to evaluate Gardner Minshew II. The Air Raid system is all the rage in NFL thinkpieces, in that young, exciting NFL quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, and Baker Mayfield all came from such systems. But that doesn't change the fact that Air Raid quarterbacks typically enjoy a different degree of open windows and pre-snap reads than quarterbacks from other systems. We have to respect that.

Gardner Minshew II, an Air Raid quarterback for other schools, has clearly found new success with one of the forefathers of the system: He's got a 19-4 TD-INT ratio (13-1 in his last four games) and is sitting pretty at 7.3 YPA. A game hasn't yet gone by in which Gardner Minshew II didn't pass for 300 yards.

What has impressed most with Gardner Minshew II is his willingness to test coverage and give his receivers one-on-one opportunities. Perhaps it's just the juxtaposition against Luke Falk's Cougar tape from 2017, but Gardner Minshew II has the placement and velocity to attack windows between zones, and he puts a nice arc on the ball when going deep down the field.

Gardner Minshew II believes a bit too much in his arm -- he'll attack windows most level-headed, sober quarterbacks would never test. His velocity into the far sideline down the field isn't great, but he can throw nicely on the move, and his escapability adds a dimension to his bravery with the football.

Gardner Minshew II isn't a top NFL quarterback prospect by any stretch of the imagination. But, given that he'll play at a Power 5 program for only a season, be incredibly productive, and be a bit of a mystery shrouded in the Air Raid system, expect Gardner Minshew II to parade through the bowl circuit for Draft prospects. Shrine Game is a given; Senior Bowl just may happen as well. We'll be able to riddle out a lot of his question marks during those weeks of practice.


Also noteworthy:

  • Oregon State might actually have some legit prospects! WR Trevon Bradford showed out with explosiveness on a 56 yard run; his routes looked clean and his hands consistent down the field. Timmy Hernandez, a senior, looks like a slot jitterbug who tracks the ball really nicely down the field.
  • Oregon State might actually have some more legit prospects! LG Gus Lavaka is going to get the watch from me this week after a strong game run blocking for freshman RB Jermar Jefferson (name to watch going forward: he leads the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns). LT Blake Brandel also looks like a positive run blocker, but he worries me in pass protection.
  • Washington State OT Andre Dillard remains far too passive for my liking. I view his hype this season similarly to that of Cole Madison, the Cougar offensive lineman that proceeded him into the 2017 Draft: it'll taper off once folks really get deep into the film.

Colorado v. Arizona State

Evan Worthington will be a riser during the Draft cycle in this safety class.

On a Colorado defense that has been playing well all season, Worthington is the best Draft-eligible player. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Worthington is an absolute load as a box safety -- but unlike a lot of big safeties, he's not obsessed with taking people's heads off. Worthington tracks the near hip really nicely when he's coming downhill and has the range to make plays into the sideline from his box alignment.

NFL teams will like that a good deal. His ability to play the run aggressively, and in a timely fashion, lets you play him in a high alignment to defend RPOs, but still count him as a defender in the box.

In coverage, Worthington impressed again. He's high-waisted, so his change of direction skills will never overwhelm. But he's physical through the contact window (and even downfield, but don't tell the refs!) and uses his impressive length to disrupt the catch point.

Worthington is a complete player who also offers special teams ability -- again, I just cannot understand why folks are so quiet on him right now. He can play anywhere from a high split safety to a force player on the line of scrimmage. His size profile is better than most of the other top safeties in the class. Any teams that regularly switch up their coverage shells will have Worthington in their crosshairs come April.

Also noteworthy:

  • The battle of the trenches was fun to watch and pretty evenly matched. Casey Tucker, the Stanford transfer, has disappointed for Arizona State thus far, but center Cole Cabral stood out with some great power in the running game. On the opposite side of the ball, I was impressed with junior iDL Javier Edwards for the Buffaloes, who is super squat with great lower body power.
  • Colorado LB Drew Lewis, a stellar athlete, was tasked with playing as an overhang/EDGE guy more this season with the emergence of Nate Landman and established role of Rick Gamboa. He looks more comfortable there; when Landman was ejected for targeting, Lewis' struggles taking on blockers as inside 'backer were once again exposed.
  • I was kinda interested in Manny Wilkins, the Sun Devils quarterback, coming into the season -- but I'm off of the train now. Wilkins really needs to see his receivers open to hit them, and that simply won't cut the mustard at the NFL level.
  • Colorado WR/RB/Superhero Laviska Shenault remains one of the most exciting players in all of college football.




Written By:

Benjamin Solak

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Deputy Editor of Bleeding Green Nation. Undergrad at UChicago.