Pac-12 rewind: Great escapes, breakout performances, October regressions and title race clarity dominate Week 7

Stanford and UW produced improbable endings against Colorado and Oregon

Recapping the Pac-12’s Week 7 action…

The first theme of the week is conference clarity.

The first weekend of the second half of an epic Pac-12 season did not disappoint, with Stanford and Washington winning thrillers, USC being exposed, Arizona proving its worth, UCLA and Washington State falling out of the top tier, and Oregon State and Utah quietly advancing. When we compare the current standings to the second-half schedule, one thing becomes abundantly clear: every contender faces at least one difficult road game. Oregon and UW, in our opinion, are best equipped to navigate hostile terrain.

Plot twists are this week’s theme.

Stanford and Washington won games in which their win probability, according to ESPN’s analytics, was less than 5% in the final minutes and/or overtime over a 20-hour period. (Two jaw-droppers, albeit with different details.) Also, Arizona won by 38 points as an eight-point underdog on the road, while USC lost by 28 points to an opponent, Notre Dame, who had just lost to Louisville.

Stanford 46, Colorado 43 (2OT): Game of the Week

The astonishing outcome occurred late Friday night in Boulder. Colorado, a double-digit favorite, cruised to a 29-0 halftime lead before going to bed just as Stanford was waking up. The Cardinal scored early in the third quarter, continued to score, and eventually tied the game on Joshua Karty’s last-second field goal. After intercepting a poorly thrown pass by CU quarterback Shedeur Sanders, it completed the fourth-largest comeback in Pac-12 history with another field goal in the second overtime.

Washington 36, Oregon 33, game of the year

The Pac-12’s most anticipated game did more than meet expectations. It was a work of art, a back-and-forth battle between bitter rivals that featured only one turnover, ten penalties, and enough Red Zone defensive stands, big plays, and perplexing decisions to last a decade. Washington led by 11 points late in the third quarter before the Ducks scored twice in four minutes. The finish was tense, as Oregon failed on fourth down at midfield, Washington capitalized, and the Ducks missed a tying field goal as time expired. An all-time favorite.

Stanford wide receiver Elic Ayomanor was named offensive player of the week.

The redshirt freshman from Medicine Hat, Alberta, had the best individual performance by a non-quarterback this season, hauling in 13 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns, most of which came in the second half against Colorado’s star cornerback, Travis Hunter. Stanford’s comeback was sparked by Ayomanor’s 97-yard catch-and-run touchdown and a 30-yard scoring strike in overtime. It was right up there with Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate’s breakout performance in Boulder in 2017.

Oregon State cornerback Ryan Cooper Jr. was named defensive player of the week.

Cooper made the most impactful defensive play of the weekend, grabbing a sideline pass from UCLA’s Dante Moore and darting 67 yards for a Pick Six, giving the Beavers a two-touchdown lead at halftime. The Bruins never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way as OSU maintained its championship lead. We also considered Utah defensive end Jonah Elliss, who had 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble and is the conference’s top defensive player.

Utah S/RB Sione Vaki is Travis Hunter’s player of the week.

Hunter isn’t the only two-way player in the conference, nor was he the weekend’s best. Vaki, who normally starts at strong safety, also played running back for the Utes on Saturday, and he was excellent. In addition to four defensive tackles, he rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns in Utah’s 34-14 win over Cal. Expect more opportunities for Vaki at USC next weekend… Who wouldn’t want to be the one to carry the ball against USC?

Troy Taylor of Stanford is this week’s coach of the week.

The Cardinal arrived in Boulder on a four-game losing streak and walked into halftime with a 29-0 deficit. Taylor delivered a more measured version of Knute Rockne’s speech. “It wasn’t a very good first half,” he said of his message to the players, according to ESPN. I’m curious to see how you compete.’ That was the end of it.” And with those simple words, the Cardinal staged one of the most dramatic comebacks in conference history.

Coach of the Week II: Jedd Fisch of Arizona

Following a taxing, frustrating triple-overtime loss at USC the previous Saturday, the Wildcats had a difficult assignment with a long trip to Pullman. But Fisch had his players ready as Arizona jumped out to a big first-half lead and dominated WSU the rest of the way. In Fisch’s crucial third season, the 44-6 victory was a huge step toward bowl eligibility. To make the playoffs, the Wildcats (4-3) must win two of their final five games.

Dan Lanning of Oregon is this week’s gambler.

Lanning made a risky, if not reckless, decision to try a fourth-down conversion late in a close game against Washington for the second year in a row. Last year, with just over a minute remaining in a tie game, he directed the offense to stay on the field for fourth-and-1 at Oregon’s 34. What occurred? UW thwarted the conversion attempt and scored the game-winning field goal. This year, Lanning kept the offense on the field for a fourth-and-3 at Washington’s 47 with two minutes remaining and a four-point lead. Nix’s pass was incomplete, and UW scored the game-winning touchdown.

The week’s shambles: USC’s offensive line

After facing weak competition for the majority of the season, the Trojans’ front five finally faced a top-tier defensive line… and was completely overwhelmed. Notre Dame’s pressure schemes sacked quarterback Caleb Williams six times, and he lost his cool with three interceptions. The 48-20 defeat resembled a Clay Helton-era performance, and it was USC’s fifth consecutive loss in South Bend. The Trojans will face Utah’s tenacious defensive front next.

Washington State is the month’s regression.

The Cougars were undefeated and had one of the most prolific offenses in the country not long ago, in September. However, October has been a cruel month, with two losses and only two offensive touchdowns. Cam Ward has lost his stride, and the coaching staff appears to be at a loss for answers against the defensive fronts used by UCLA and Arizona. The season could end if playcaller Ben Arbuckle does not find a solution soon.

Seasonal reality: Colorado

Despite the pomp, circumstance, and attention coach Deion Sanders and his team received in the early going, Colorado is exactly what many expected: Much better than last year, but still not exceptional. Following the epic collapse against Stanford, the Buffaloes are 4-3, facing a difficult climb into the postseason with four wins over mediocre competition. Furthermore, their loss to USC appears to be worse given how the Trojans have performed in the two games since.

Next week’s game: Utah vs. USC

The final scheduled meeting between these former South division rivals lost some luster after the Trojans were annihilated at Notre Dame, but it remains important in the Pac-12 race: USC is undefeated in conference play, while the Utes have one loss (and can’t afford a second). Meanwhile, another Week 8 game that seemed to warrant high-level attention, Washington State’s visit to Oregon, has lower stakes following both teams’ losses this weekend.

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