If your Pac-12 quarterback seems unusually frisky and optimistic this week, we have a theory why. He probably has looked at the conference's sack numbers, which are way down. Waaaaay down.
In 24 games though two weeks, the Pac-12 has accumulated just 34 sacks. In 2014 through 24 games in two weeks, the conference rolled up 55. In 2013 through 21 games in two weeks, the conference recorded 56.
No Pac-12 team presently has more than five sacks, the number recorded thus far by California and Arizona State. Three teams have just one sack and six have recorded two or fewer. Five teams had six or more sacks through two games in 2013 and four teams had six or more last year. The top two teams in sacks the previous two seasons after two games combined for 20 sacks, while this year the top two teams have 10.
Last year, Utah and Washington ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the nation in sacks per game, while five other teams ranked in the nation's top-38 in sacks. At present, no Pac-12 team ranks among the top-36 in sacks.
Yes, it's a small sample size. Sure, the numbers could pick up as we hit the meat of the Pac-12 schedule. But here's a prediction that won't happen.
For one, it wasn't difficult to see this coming. Seven of the top-10 sack men from 2014 are gone, and two others -- Arizona's Scooby Wright III and Utah's Hunter Dimick -- have missed time due to injury and it is uncertain when they will return to action.
Nor are fans and media the only folks who've noticed.
“We probably need to dial up a little more pressure," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, slightly frustrated mayor of what was once called "Sack Lake City."
"I think we may have been a little conservative in the first couple of ball games as far as bringing more than four.”
A few Pac-12 coaches took note of a handful of near-misses, including USC's Steve Sarkisian and UCLA's Jim Mora. While the Bruins have just one sack, Mora feels his defense has been getting good pressure. It's worth noting the Bruins are yielding just 9. 5 points per game and rank third in the conference in pass efficiency defense. Opponents are completing just 46.6 percent of their throws.
“We have been getting to the quarterback, we just haven’t been sacking him," Mora said.
There might be another explanation for the lack of sacks. Nonconference foes, after reviewing film of the Pac-12 over the summer, probably realized that conference defenses are perhaps more aggressive than other conferences when it comes to getting after quarterbacks. They then planned accordingly.
“The ball is coming out quick," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team has just two sacks. "Our reputation proceeds us. You don’t see them hanging back there very long.”
Mora, Sarkisian and Whittingham agreed.
Said Whittingham, "Teams are aware of what we’ve done in the past and are cognizant of getting the ball out of their hands quickly and making sure they go to a more quick game, getting the ball out on time.”
Football, of course, follows Newton's Third Law of Motion: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
Pac-12 defenses will adjust to both the quick passing game and their own downgrade in pass-rushing talent and/or effectiveness. We could see more stunts and more rushers or we could see defenses countering quick passes with more bodies in coverage.
As things are now, Pac-12 QBs couldn't be happier.