Last weekend was exhibit A in why I like college football better than the NFL and it started with the two local teams.
On Sept. 20, in a must-win game against the University of Utah, the USC Trojans lost their second-string quarterback to a concussion on the second play of the game. You could almost hear the “Fire Helton” cries from the Trojans boosters at the Coliseum.
No worries. Third-string quarterback Matt Fink, getting his first extended action since he was playing high school for Glendora High in 2015, came off the bench to complete 21 of 30 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns as the Trojans stunned the 10th ranked Utes, 30-23.
The next night, the UCLA Bruins found themselves trailing Washington State, 49-17, with five minutes left in the third quarter. In one of the best 20 minutes ever played in any football game, the Bruins came back to win, 67-63, despite Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon throwing for a Pac 12 record nine touchdowns in a game.
I would like to say that I stayed up and watched the entire comeback, but I didn’t. I quit watching when it was 42-17 Washington State. At that time, the Bruins had scored 59 points in three-plus games so far this year. They scored 50 in the next 20 minutes to keep from falling to 0-4 on the season and get coach Chip Kelly off the hot seat for now.
It was an entire team victory
The offense that had sputtered in the first three games suddenly came to life. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw for 507 yards and five touchdowns and scored two touchdowns carrying the ball.
Demetric Felton caught 7 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns and scored a third time on a 100-yard kickoff return.
Kyle Phillips returned a punt for another touchdown as the special teams stepped up as well. The defense forced six turnovers, including a fumble recovery in the final minute of the game that prevented the Cougars from mounting one last scoring drive.
After trailing by 32 points, the Bruins scored 28 straight points to close the gap to 49-45. The Cougars scored twice more, but the Bruins scored three times and held on for the win and a wonderful plane flight home.
The Trojans victory the night before over Utah wasn’t as exciting as the Bruins win, but it was equally needed. Coming off a loss to BYU and with games against ranked opponents Washington and Notre Dame on the horizon, the Trojans needed a win against Utah to regain momentum and optimism for the season.
Then freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis got him by Malik Haynes after completing a short pass to Amon-ra St. Brown and was slammed to the ground hard. He writhed in pain as the Trojan faithful held their collective breath.
He was slowly helped to his feet and led to the sideline as Fink entered the game. A highly recruited high school quarterback four years ago, Fink had thrown 18 passes in three seasons at USC, playing behind Sam Darnold and then JT Daniels.
His first pass was incomplete. The next four were complete, the last one to Tyler Vaughans for a 29-yard touchdown and the Trojans were off to a quick lead.
Utah quickly tied the score, but Fink rose to the occasion, completing four more passes on a 74-yard drive that ended with St. Brown pulling in a 31-yard scoring pass.
Fink threw his third touchdown pass on the opening drive of the third quarter, with Michael Pittman Jr. doing most of the work on a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
That gave the Trojans a 21-10 lead and the defense did its part the rest of the way, scoring two points on a safety early in the fourth quarter when Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley was called for intentionally grounding while in the end zone.
USC took the ensuing free kick and put the game away with a 69-yard drive in five plays, capped by Markese Stepp’s 4-yard touchdown run.
Utah added a field goal with four minutes to play but USC ran out the clock for its second impressive Pac 12 win of the season.
The Pac 12 is considered the weakest of the five major conferences, a perception the whole conference would like to change. One of the problems is that games like UCLA against Washington State are televised when most of the nation is sleeping.
If you stayed up watching that game back east, it was almost 2:30 Sunday morning when it ended.
Hopefully more of the country was watching earlier in the day when undefeated Cal handed Ole Miss a 28-20 defeat in Mississippi.
The SEC will argue that Ole Miss isn’t a conference power, but Cal hasn’t won a conference title since 2005 when Marshawn Lynch was playing there.
The SEC was further tainted by a West Coast team when Arkansas lost to San Jose State, 31-24. That, too, was a road win for the West Coast.
The problem with the Pac 12 is they play nine of 12 games each season against conference opponents. Southeast Conference teams play eight conference games and usually schedule lower divisions schools that serve almost as end-of-season bye weeks prior to rivalry games.
No Pac 12 team has managed to crash the college football title game in recent years because Pac 12 schools beat up on each other during the conference season.
But for one weekend, the Pac 12 held its own and showed the rest of the country it can play football. And the two local teams found redemption in different ways. All in all, a good week.
RUSTY STARTS: I dislike the NFL exhibition season. No team needs four games to get in shape and to figure out who can play and who can’t.
That being said, this trend of having most NFL teams not play regulars during the preseason is starting to hurt some teams, who don’t seem sharp heading into the regular season.
The Rams and the Chargers both fit into that category.
The Rams didn’t play many starters in the preseason and it has shown in the first three weeks of the season.
Jared Goff and Todd Gurley don’t seem sharp yet.
It hasn’t cost the Rams anything. They are 3-0 heading into the Sept. 29 game against Tampa Bay at the Coliseum.
But it may be the reason the Chargers lost to the Houston Texans, 27-20, Sept. 21. The Chargers led 17-7 at halftime, but scored only three points in the second half. DeShaun Watson threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns and outplayed Philip Rivers who threw for 318 yards and two scores.
The Chargers obviously miss holdout running back Melvin Gordon. They gained only 72 yards on the ground against Houston and that is putting too much pressure on Rivers.
That and key injuries to defensive personnel are the reason the Chargers are 1-2 after three weeks. The Chargers get a break in the schedule this week. They play the Miami Dolphins at 10 a.m. Sept. 29.
By Don Wanlass