Pac-12 rewind: Oregon rolls as USC, Washington escape to set up Nov. 4 showdown

Week 9 features several wild finished and wins by home underdogs

Recapping the Pac-12’s Week 9 action…

This week’s theme is “close calls and home dogs.”

Over the course of a thrilling Saturday, three games involving ranked teams were decided in the final minutes. Only one of the six games was decided as the fourth quarter began: Oregon’s rout of Utah. Five games featured home underdogs, which was a betting anomaly. Two teams won outright (Arizona and Arizona State), while two others (Stanford and Cal) pushed their ranked opponents to the final seconds.

Theme of the Week II: The race gets closer

Utah and Oregon State both lost for the second time this season, effectively eliminating them from contention for the College Football Playoff. The Pac-12 now has only two teams in contention (i.e., less than two losses), Washington and Oregon. The ACC and Big 12 each have two, while the Big Ten has three and the SEC has four.

The season’s (emerging) theme is feigning injuries.

Jalin Conyers of Arizona State became the latest player to suffer a questionable injury when he stood up, took a few steps, looked to the sideline, and crumpled to the ground just as ASU needed the clock to stop. The Hotline avoids making accusations, but Washington State coach Jake Dickert was unequivocal: “We all know what happened… We need to look into it as a league.” This is neither a Conyers nor an ASU issue. It’s a Pac-12 issue. And, unfortunately, the conference office has little clout these days… with anything.

Week’s game: USC 50, Cal 49

A game that was delayed twice — first by protestors prior to kickoff, then by an officiating blunder at the end of the second quarter — was well worth the wait for both spectators and television viewers. Early in the fourth quarter, the Bears led by 14 points before USC responded with three consecutive touchdowns, only for Cal to cover 79 yards in nine plays to pull within 50-49 with one minute left. Coach Justin Wilcox attempted a two-point conversion, but it was unsuccessful, and USC escaped with a crucial victory.

Oregon is this week’s team of the week.

The Ducks’ 35-6 victory over Utah remains one of the conference season’s most surprising results, as well as the single most impressive performance. They dominated from the start, jumping out to a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter. Utah hasn’t been treated like that in a long time, let alone at home. Despite a loss at Washington a few weeks ago, the Ducks appear to be the best team in the conference… by a long shot.

Kenny Dillingham of ASU is this week’s coach of the week.

Dillingham earned his first conference victory as head coach of his alma mater, as the Sun Devils defeated WSU 38-27. (This is far more points than we expected given both teams’ offensive struggles in recent weeks.) After several heartbreaking losses, ASU became the last team to win a conference game. Despite the bowl ban, the Devils have continued to play hard.

USC quarterback Caleb Williams was named offensive player of the week.

Williams delivered three touchdown drives and a victory when the Trojans needed him the most (down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter). He finished 23-of-40 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns (two passing, two running). As a result, USC is still in the conference race, trailing Washington and Oregon by a half-game over the next two weeks.

UCLA’s Grayson and Gabriel Murphy were named Defensive Players of the Week.

As the Bruins defeated Colorado 28-16, the linemen combined for four tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, and four quarterback hurries. Consider the Murphy brothers to be a proxy for UCLA’s entire defense — one of the best in the league and the engine of a team that’s quietly well positioned to compete for a championship berth.

Stanford’s narrow miss of the week

Late in the fourth quarter, the Cardinal trailed Washington by two points and faced fourth-and-two from its own 28 yardline. Coach Troy Taylor wisely chose to go for the first down rather than punt, calling a spectacular trick play involving receiver Tiger Bachmeier and receiver Jayson Raines. The Huskies were duped, but the throw was a little low, and Raines couldn’t hold on. UW took possession and went on to win 42-33.

Cal coach Justin Wilcox made a wise decision this week.

Wilcox could have kicked the extra point with 58 seconds left to (possibly) force overtime, but instead went for the win — and he made the correct decision. The chances of stopping USC in the final minute or overtime were slim. By that point, the Trojans had scored 50 points and gained nearly 500 yards, and Williams was in a groove. Wilcox needed to be aggressive in this situation.

Jonathan Smith made the worst decision of the week.

When the Beavers faked a 34-yard field goal at the end of the first half in Tucson, one of the conference’s best coaches called it one of the worst trick plays of the season. Kicker Atticus Sappington took a pitch from the holder and attempted a long run to the end zone but was stopped short. Those three points could have been crucial in a game that the Beavers lost 27-24. “I just rolled the dice on that one and in hindsight, it was not good,” she said. We despised the call but appreciated the candor and accountability.

Shedeur Sanders, QB for Colorado, was punished this week.

Sanders was pounded throughout CU’s 28-16 loss to UCLA (seven sacks and 13 knock-downs), as the Bruins’ stout front seven outmatched CU’s weak offensive line. Sanders reportedly required an injection at halftime to alleviate the pain from the punishment. Not surprisingly, the Buffaloes didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided.

Arizona as a surprise in October

After narrow losses to USC and Washington and back-to-back victories over Washington State and Oregon State, the Wildcats are playing as well as anyone in the conference (except Oregon). With UCLA, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona State on the schedule, they only need one victory in their final four games to secure a bowl berth.

Washington State’s demise in October

The Cougars were 4-0 in September and had one of the best stories in the country (given their fight for survival in the realignment game). But October was brutal: four games, four losses, two of which came as heavy favorites (Arizona and ASU), and massive breakdowns on both sides of the ball. They are now in a desperate situation: the Cougars must win two of their final four games to qualify for a bowl game, and nothing appears to be easy.

The bizarre scene of the week: Berkeley

When halftime rolled around, the teams dispersed and the Cal band marched onto the field. However, USC coach Lincoln Riley argued that one second remained on the clock, giving the Trojans enough time to attempt a 33-yard field goal. The officials eventually agreed, escorted an irate Justin Wilcox out of the locker room, and determined that the post-halftime action would begin with the final play of the second quarter. The Trojans missed the field goal, but the sequence was memorable — and a bad look for Pac-12 officials.

Next week’s game: Washington vs. USC

The Huskies and Trojans avoided upsets in the Bay Area, setting up a high-stakes clash at the Coliseum: In addition to conference standings (UW is undefeated in league play, while USC has one loss), the game will provide clarity in the Heisman Trophy race, with the Huskies’ Michael Penix jr. attempting to secure his place as the Pac-12’s frontrunner. The game begins at 4:30 p.m. on ABC.

November 11 games include Utah at Washington and USC at Oregon.

Saturday’s Pac-12 showdown features two huge games in the Pacific Northwest. While the majority of the Nov. 11 schedule is expected to be released on Monday, we expect ESPN and Fox to place the Eugene and Seattle games on six-day holds, which means the start times won’t be announced until next weekend.

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