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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Pac-12 Football Enhances Passing Game

Evan Budrovich |
September 23, 2012 | 9:09 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer


In 18 career games De'Anthony Thomas has recorded 12 receiving touchdowns to go with 11 rushing TDs. (Matthew Visinsky/Creative Commons)
In 18 career games De'Anthony Thomas has recorded 12 receiving touchdowns to go with 11 rushing TDs. (Matthew Visinsky/Creative Commons)
The landscape of college football is changing, and Pac-12 teams have caught on with the trending offensive age. 

The days of complacency and horrendous offenses are far out the door in this conference, and it has resulted in a much better showing in non-league action.  

Offenses are breaking conventional wisdom and firing four or five-wide receiver sets, with dual-threat quarterbacks that give defenses nightmares. 

Pac-12 football has been traditionally viewed as soft and has played subpar ball against the more physically elite conferences. Teams are looking to use offense to change that perception, and none have been more successful then Oregon. 

In order to attract athletes to the Nike Paradise that is Oregon, this team needed an explosive offensive identity. Chip Kelly has practically perfected the spread offense during his tenure. Nicholas Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner run the ball with ease, using their speed and quickness to control the tempo of the game.

With Andrew Luck gone, Stanford looks like the only real ground-and-pound Pac-12 team. (jgirl4858/Creative Commons)
With Andrew Luck gone, Stanford looks like the only real ground-and-pound Pac-12 team. (jgirl4858/Creative Commons)
No matter what you say about the Ducks’ style of play, it gives opponents match-up nightmares all over the field. In Eugene, the Ducks are practically unbeatable, proving for numerous years that this type of offense works and should be fundamental to success at the collegiate level.  

This team may not be strong in the physical sense, with size and girth, but it packs a punch with speed and athleticism. The Ducks laid the foundation that many teams are starting to develop. 

Meanwhile, teams like the Stanford Cardinal are using their recruiting limitations as a positive for their programs. They recruit blue-collar athletes that are not only smart, but strong players. 

Coach David Shaw has continued the legacy of Jim Harbaugh and is playing a brand of football currently like the professional team by the Bay. The Cardinal pound the rock consistently, controlling the time of possession with an aggressive yet smart offensive game plan.

The Cardinal offense, whose line reminds many college football fans of the Wisconsin mashers, dominates every week. It’s intriguing to note that Stanford is the one of the few schools that has taken this approach in the Pac-12. 

Then, you juxtapose the Cardinal ground-and-pound approach with that of the USC Trojans, who exemplify toughness in a completely different manner. The Trojans use the short passing game as a means to assert their control of the football game. Matt Barkley stands in the pocket, when protected, and distributes the ball with ease to his dynamic receiving core highlighted by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. 

All three of these elite programs exemplify toughness and complexity on offense in completely different manners. Traditional football pundits have considered toughness a 1940s rendition of football that teams like Alabama and LSU have used for years. 

Maybe for a moment, toughness could be redefined as the ability to control the game on offense and make life miserable for the opposing defense. 

Last year's passing attack was explosive with Matt Barkley under center. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
Last year's passing attack was explosive with Matt Barkley under center. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
College football finds itself in a place where athleticism and depth at skill position pay humungous dividends, allowing for smaller schools to compete with the nation’s elite. The Pac-12’s focus on spread quick-hitting offenses has allowed it to compete with the elite conferences, SEC, Big-12 and Big-10, on a weekly basis. 

Meanwhile, as the elite Pac-12 teams have developed, the middle of the pack is adopting this mentality on offense and is beginning to field dynamic offenses. These teams have developed a unique brand of toughness that is key in developing their programs. 

Let’s discuss the teams that have made coaching changes over the offseason. Arizona, ASU, UCLA and WSU, all considered lower-tier teams for the past few seasons, are using their offenses to win games this season.  

Let’s start with the new darlings of the conference. The nationally ranked Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins have exceeded expectations and can now be considered legitimate challengers to USC in the Pac-12 South.  

Last season, both suffered from inconsistent offensive play. The Wildcats went 4-8 last year, with two of their wins coming against rival ASU and Louisiana Lafayette. Sadly, they only scored more than 30 points five times last season, plaguing their chances to win. That season was a blip compared to the years of offensive firepower produced by Arizona. 

Arizona fired its defensive-minded coach Mike Stoops, and brought in the gun-slinging Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez found his quarterback Matt Scott to replace Nick Foles under center. Scott has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards in his first three games and boasts a tremendous seven-to-one TD:INT ratio. 

The Wildcats are finally starting to run the ball consistently with Ka’Deem Carey who has rushed for over five yards per carry this season. This team has decided that balance and high passing attempts will win football games. 

The Bruins wanted any sign of life from their quarterback position last season and have gotten their wish with Nick Hundley in 2012. UCLA has transformed itself from a slow-paced, monotonous offense to a high-tempo, electric team that puts points on the board. 

Jim Mora has done an excellent job of calling plays to get the ball to his team’s weapons through the short passing game. This makes Hundley comfortable in many down-and-distance situations, allowing his dual threat abilities to prosper. The Bruins have actually used their offense to control the tempo of the game this season, resulting in increased success.  

The Bruins dominated the Houston Cougars, Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Rice Owls. Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin have dominated opposing defenses using their speed and athleticism to create matchup problems all across the field. 

The common theme across all these Pac-12 teams is possession offense. Whether by pounding the rock or using the short passing game, the Pac-12 has challenged conventional wisdom in football and is winning because of this radical change. 

Although the SEC has dominated the landscape of college football for the past seven years, the Pac-12 is using offense and lots of it to compete with teams all over the nation. 

The west coast has a large reservoir of skill, and if Pac-12 teams can begin to tap into this athletic crop to produce high-octane offenses, they will continue to redefine the landscape of college football.  




Reach Staff Writer Evan Budrovich here, or follow him here.



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