Pac-12 rewind: UW and Oregon dominate, WSU meets the moment, Utah and USC survive in telling Week 4 action

The Cougars edged Oregon State in the ‘Pac-2’ showdown behind QB Cam Ward

The best and worst of Week 4 across the Pac-12…

Drama is this week’s theme.

Three of the six conference matchups (Utah-UCLA, Arizona-Stanford, and WSU-OSU) were in doubt in the final minutes, and a fourth (USC-Arizona State) was still undecided midway through the fourth quarter.

Seasonal theme: Northwest dominance

The balance of power in the conference is heavily skewed to the upper left corner, with Washington and Oregon all ranked and a combined record of 15-1. None of the other regional quartets (the Four Corners and California schools) come close to matching the Pacific Northwest’s overall strength.

Washington State 38, Oregon State 35, game of the week

The ‘Pac-2’ showdown exceeded expectations with a slew of big plays, momentum shifts, and outstanding individual performances. The schools left out of the realignment game were determined to demonstrate to a Fox primetime (East Coast) audience that they are worthy of Power Five status. The mission was completed.

Oregon is this week’s team of the week.

The Ducks annihilated Colorado in the weekend’s marquee matchup, jumping out to a 35-point halftime lead before settling for a 42-6 victory. Oregon finished with 522 yards, held the Buffaloes to 199 yards, and sent a clear message across the conference that it will be a major player in the conference title chase.

Washington State quarterback Cam Ward was named offensive player of the week.

Ward delivered a near-perfect performance with all eyes on Pullman and an undefeated opponent in town, completing 28-of-34 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. (He attempted a fifth). The former Incarnate Word transfer isn’t as well-known as USC’s Caleb Williams, Oregon’s Bo Nix, or UW’s Michael Penix, but he’s played just as well through the first month.

Utah’s defensive player of the week Mr. Jonah Elliss

The junior spent the majority of Saturday afternoon in UCLA’s backfield, tallying five tackles for loss — yes, five — and three sacks in the Utes’ 14-7 defensive triumph. The last name should ring a bell: Elliss is the son of former Utah All-American Luther Elliss, who is now the defensive tackles coach.

Jake Dickert of Washington State is this week’s coach of the week.

The second-year coach tapped into WSU’s frustration with the realignment game with first-rate strategy to produce a stellar product. The Cougars controlled the game against Oregon State, just as they did against Wisconsin in Week 2. Dickert’s emotions were on display during the postgame news conference, when he called out ESPN analyst Lee Corso for disparaging the Cougars. It was excellent theater with the added bonus of moral rectitude.

Kyle Whittingham of Utah is the month’s coach.

The Utes are 4-0, with three victories over Power Five opponents, and starter Cam Rising has yet to play a down. No other conference program could have faced an equivalent schedule without its on-field leader and come out unscathed. This month, as with everything else about Utah’s success, was all about the program’s culture.

Oregon’s Dan Lanning delivers the weekly address.

Lanning gave ABC cameras access to a pregame speech in which he took direct aim at Colorado’s flash and splash approach, saying, “They’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins.” There is a distinction. There is a distinction. This game will not be played in Hollywood; it will be played on grass.” Clearly, the game was personal for Lanning, but his speech followed the standard motivational ploys employed by head coaches across the country. The distinction: we were able to witness it.

Quote of the Week I: Lincoln Riley of USC

Riley took the R-rated route when asked to explain USC’s sloppy play (10 penalties) in the closer-than-expected win at Arizona State: “Sh**** coaching.” We applaud your candor.

Quote of the Week II: Deion Sanders of Colorado

Sanders was open and patient with the media following the most humiliating loss of his coaching career. “Good old-fashioned butt-kicking,” he remarked. “No excuses, nothing.” When a CU official reportedly attempted to call the press conference to a close, Sanders opted to stay and answer additional questions. He receives high marks for responsibility.

USC 42, ASU 28 is the week’s best loss.

Following a blowout loss to Fresno State, the Sun Devils mustered a tremendous effort and pushed USC deep into the fourth quarter with their third-string quarterback (Drew Pyne) and a shaky offensive line. They simply could not stop the Trojans’ high-powered offense when it mattered most, but their effort was outstanding.

Week’s worst win: Arizona 21, Stanford 20

We’ll begin with the caveat that bad losses don’t exist, especially in conference play. However, as 11-point favorites against a struggling opponent, the Wildcats were not impressive on the road. They needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to avoid a loss that would have haunted them for the rest of the season after a series of lead changes.

Week One Play of the Week: Utah’s Pick Six

The first play of Utah’s seven-point win over UCLA proved decisive, as linebacker Karene Reid intercepted Dante Moore’s pass and raced 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Oregon’s fake punt is this week’s play of the week II.

Early in the second quarter, with a 14-0 lead and unwilling to give up any momentum, the Ducks executed a flawless fake punt from their own 17-yard line, with defensive lineman Casey Rodgers rumbling 18 yards for the first down. Oregon was in the end zone nine plays later, with a 21-point lead.

Noah Fifita of Arizona is the week’s backup quarterback.

The redshirt freshman took over for injured starter Jayden de Laura, led the game-winning touchdown drive, recorded the game-clinching first down, and completed all four passes. There is no quarterback controversy for the Wildcats. However, we can see one forming on the horizon with binoculars.

Washington is this week’s statistic.

The Huskies defeated Cal 59-32, becoming the first team since 1944 to score at least 40 points in four consecutive games. Their overall record is six straight 40-point games, which they set at the end of the 2015 season and the start of 2016.

Rice-Eccles Stadium is the decade’s graveyard.

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore joined a long list of freshman quarterbacks who have been defeated in Utah’s home stadium. Justin Herbert of Oregon was the last rookie to win there in 2016.

Next week’s game (Friday): Utah vs. Oregon State

With a short-week trip to the site of a 42-34 loss two years ago in which the Beavers rushed for 260 yards, the undefeated Utes face a difficult assignment. This time, expect OSU to take the same ground-and-pound approach. Whether or not injured quarterback Cam Rising returns, Utah will need more than 14 points to stay in the game.

Next week’s game (Saturday): USC vs. Colorado

Despite Colorado’s rout in Eugene, the 9 a.m. showdown on Fox has plenty of intrigue. Is the Buffs permanently exposed? Can they recapture their early-season magic? And will the Trojans execute more efficiently than they did in their underwhelming performance at ASU?

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