Recapping the Saturday action across the Pac-12 …
Theme of the week: L.A. story
USC and UCLA are both 6-0 and alive in the College Football Playoff chase after dispatching Washington State and Utah, respectively, by double digits. (Each team can afford one loss, as long as it’s not in the conference championship game.) This is the first time the crosstown rivals have been 6-0 in the same season since 2005. That year, the Bruins won eight games before their first defeat (at Arizona) while the Trojans carried a perfect record into a Rose Bowl matchup against Texas that, if we recall correctly, was somewhat entertaining.
Theme of the season I: Bowl math
USC and UCLA are already bowl-eligible while Oregon is one victory away and four more teams (Utah, Washington, WSU and Oregon State) are just two wins from clinching bids. And we give Cal (3-2), which plays both Colorado and Stanford, a solid chance to reach the six-win threshold, as well. Not since the 2017 season has the conference placed eight (or more) teams in the postseason.
Theme of the season II: Coaches getting cute
We have witnessed repeated cases of head coaches outsmarting themselves with drastic personnel and formation changes at crucial times — only to see the moves backfire. The last one of Week Six came courtesy of Stanford, which removed its best player, quarterback Tanner McKee, on a crucial third-down late in the game and failed to convert with the Wildcat formation. Other teams impacted lately include Arizona and Utah. It’s not complicated: Stick with what works.
Game of the week: Arizona State 45, Washington 38
The Sun Devils led this wild affair by 14 points on three occasions, including late in the third quarter. The Huskies pulled even with 12 minutes remaining, but ASU responded with what became the winning touchdown. The teams totaled 83 points, 855 yards and 55 first downs. Oh, and there’s this: ASU backup quarterback Trenton Bourguet replaced the injured Emory Jones and threw three touchdown passes.
Finish of the week: Oregon State 28, Stanford 27
The Beavers escaped thanks to an improbable catch-and-run by receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison, who grabbed a sideline pass from Ben Gulbranson and raced down the right sideline for a 56-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining. The pass was slightly under-thrown, forcing Harrison to leap high, turn his body and pluck the ball off the back of the defender who was facing him. And with Stanford’s safety out of position, there was no one between Harrison and the end zone. The game itself wasn’t riveting, but the finish was very #Pac12AfterDark.
Team of the week: Arizona State
The Sun Devils snapped a four-game losing streak and gave interim coach Shaun Aguano his first victory with their upset of the Huskies (as a 14-point underdog, no less). Clearly, the Devils haven’t given up on their season despite the coaching change and possess a chance to generate real momentum with upcoming road games against Stanford and Colorado. By the end of the month, ASU could be 4-4 and fighting for a bowl berth.
Offensive player of the week: UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet
The best tailback in the conference hammered Utah for 198 yards and averaged 9.8 yards-per-carry. The offensive line carved its fair share of running lanes, but many of Charbonnet’s yards came as a result of him running over, or scooting past, Utah defenders. He’s 220 pounds but has the nimble feet of a 185-pound scat back.
Defensive player of the week: USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu
The 290-pound tackle had three sacks, four tackles-for-loss and spent most of the game in Washington State’s backfield. At this point, Tuipulotu is our frontrunner for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He could produce the best season for a USC defensive lineman since Leonard Williams.
Coach of the week: UCLA’s Chip Kelly
With a veteran quarterback who understands the playbook and exactly the right complementary pieces, Kelly has entered his best play-calling rhythm since the Oregon era. He had an answer for everything Utah tried on Saturday afternoon as the Bruins produced 299 yards passing and 203 yards rushing and scored more points against the Utes than any conference opponent in almost a year.
Stat of the week I: Ejections
We counted at least four players who were ejected for targeting on a day that featured physical games, poor decisions and mass confusion on social media about exactly what is, and what is not, considered targeting. Hint: It doesn’t have to be helmet-to-helmet, folks. A shoulder pad to the head or neck counts, too, as long as a series of indicators are met.
Stat of the week II: Washington
The Huskies have now lost eight consecutive games at Arizona State, with their last victory in Tempe coming in 2001.
Stat of the week III: Stanford
The Cardinal has not defeated an FBS opponent since Oct. 2, 2021, when it stunned Oregon in overtime. Only three times in the 11-game losing streak has the margin-of-defeat been in the single digits.
Stat of the week IV: Washington State
The Cougars had almost as many penalty yards in the loss to USC (106) as they did total yards in the second half (117).
Stat of the season I: Oregon
Since the season-opening face plant against Georgia, the Ducks have won five consecutive games and averaged 49.8 points in the process. Quarterback Bo Nix has 12 touchdown passes and one interception in that stretch.
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Stat of the season II: Utah
The 42-32 loss at UCLA was the Utes’ first defeat in conference play since Oct. 23, 2021, when they lost at Oregon State 42-34.
Stat of the season III: Stanford, Arizona and Colorado
Only four of the 65 teams in the Power Five are allowing more than 200 yards rushing per game, and three of them can be found in the Pac-12. The Cardinal is yielding 207 yards per game on the ground, which is awful by most standards but looks good in comparison to Arizona (228.8) and fantastic when compared to Colorado (294.2). The fourth member of the 200-yard club, if you’re curious, is Oklahoma.
Game of next week: USC at Utah
Utah’s loss at UCLA tempers the anticipation, but only slightly. The undefeated Trojans are in playoff contention with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback while the Utes remain in the hunt for the conference title. (Win out, and they’re in great shape for a spot in Las Vegas.) The showdown will be televised in primetime on the East Coast by Fox (5 p.m.) and will feature a packed house at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Game of the following week: UCLA at Oregon
Both teams have two weeks to prepare for Chip Kelly’s return to Eugene. This won’t be his first visit to Autzen Stadium as UCLA’s coach, but this is, by far, his best team. We’re positive that Kelly will be delighted to spend two weeks talking about it.
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