Defenses Lift Bay Area Teams, Pac-12 Rebounds, 49ers Fall, Serena vs. Ump

News of note from around the sports world…

It’s still very early, but the biggest surprise on the Bay Area college football scene this year has been the performance of the Stanford and Cal defenses.

Both teams are 2-0, and both teams are unbeaten largely because of their ability to shut down the opposition.

Stanford stifled USC, 17-3, on Saturday night, holding the vaunted Trojans to their lowest point total in over 20 years and moving up to No. 9 in the national rankings.

Going into the season, everyone expected Stanford to have an explosive offense and a mediocre defense. The theory was, a lot of 41-38 games were on the horizon.

Wrong. To date, the offense hasn’t been as potent as advertised and the defense has been far better than anticipated.

Stanford limited San Diego State to 10 points in the opener and now, after two games, has allowed just 13 points in two games to rank among the nation’s leaders. Linebackers Joey Alfieri and Bobby Okereke have been the lead dogs, but a number of others have stepped up, including safety Ben Edwards, cornerback Paulson Adebo and linebacker Sean Barton. Jake Bailey’s punting has also been key in maintaining field position.

Over in Berkeley, second-year coach Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, the former Fresno State head coach, have transformed a defensive unit that was the laughingstock of college football under previous coach Sonny Dykes.

The Bears edged North Carolina 24-17 in the season opener, then held on against BYU 21-18 on Saturday night. One of BYU’s TD’s came on a fumble return, the other with a minute to go.

Inside linebacker Evan Weaver has been a revelation, with 26 tackles in the two games. Defensive backs Traveon Beck and Jaylinn Hawkins have made key interceptions, and always-impressive linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk has been all over the field.

Pac-12 Rebounds: Although the conference’s two big-name coaching hires were embarrassed once again, (see below), the Pac-12 had a much better time of it in week 2. In addition to the Stanford and Cal victories, Colorado upset Nebraska and Arizona State upset No. 15 Michigan State. Elsewhere, Utah held off always-tough Northern Illinois, and Washington, Oregon, WSU, and OSU all romped over directionals and cupcakes.

The pollsters have noticed. In addition to Stanford at No. 9, the AP poll includes No. 10 Washington, No. 20 Oregon, No. 22 USC, and No. 23 Arizona State. Among those receiving votes are Utah (26) and Colorado (31).

More Trouble: The two exceptions were Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins, destroyed 49-21 by Oklahoma, and Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona Wildcats, crushed by Houston, 45-18.

For the second week in a row, Arizona looked disorganized and poorly coached. Houston led 38-0 at one point, rushed for 300 yards and threw four touchdown passes. On two of the scoring passes, no Wildcat defenders were within 10 yards of the receiver. Offensively, Khalil Tate had his second straight sub-par performance.

If this continues, Sumlin’s seat may get warm.

Set the Alarm: This week’s Stanford-UC Davis game has an 11:00 a.m. kickoff. That’s not a typo. It’s just another example of what happens when the TV lords rule the college football universe. The failing Pac-12 Network (to quote our favorite president) is televising four games Saturday to their massive viewing audience of under 20 million. Kickoffs are at 11, 2, 5 and 8. Given that games average over three hours and 20 minutes, there will be considerable overlap.

There’s almost everything wrong with this time slot and, for that matter, this game. First, there will probably be only 10,000 people in the stands at Stanford Stadium. Second, it’s too early to have a reasonable tailgate. Third, Stanford has nothing to gain and everything to lose against an inferior FCS opponent. (You may recall the Aggies' stunning 20-17 upset in 2005). Fourth, a promising Davis team that already has victories over San Jose State and San Diego will be vastly under-sized and may return home with, yes, a big paycheck, but also a big list of injured players.

49ers' Reality Check: After a year of hype, the alarmists are out in full force after the 49ers' 24-16 loss to Minnesota, marked by Jimmy Garoppolo's three interceptions.

Settle down, everyone. Minnesota is an excellent team. Garoppolo, while far from perfect, was victimized by several drops—including three on potential TD passes. His No. 1 back, Jerick McKinnon, is out for the year and replacement Alfred Morris fumbled on the Vikes' one yard line.

So relax. Better days are ahead…like next week vs. the Lions.

Verbal Abuse? Umpire Carlos Ramos penalized tennis legend Serena Williams three times in the U.S. Open Final, costing her a pivotal game. To most observers, including this one, the penalties levied—for coaching (receiving a signal from her coach), smashing her racket, and verbally abusing the umpire—seemed excessive. There were no "soft warnings" given to Serena, which are customary in these types of situations. There was no profanity used. And many male players who rallied to Serena's defense have done far worse without being sanctioned.

Perhaps Ramos forgot that no one—no one—is there to see the guy in the chair.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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