Last week, it felt like the chaos gods of college football forgot to visit the West Coast for the first time in a long time. This week, while the lower parts of the conference saw some churn, and the Midwest and South saw plenty of weird stuff happen, the top of the Conference of Champions remained immune to the chaos.
It took just seven weeks for the Pac-12’s playoff contention to be whittled down to one, maybe two teams. After eight weeks, those two are still barely in the hunt, while the rest of the conference keeps chugging towards its ultimate goal of every team going 6-6. Here’s the roundup of Week 8’s Pac-12 games.
UCLA 34, Stanford 16
UCLA and Stanford were both disappointing heading into this game, but there was no doubt that the Cardinal were favored heading into the matchup. Somehow though, UCLA ended up dominating the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
Stanford appeared to be stabilizing a bit under the leadership of backup quarterback Davis Mills, and with the hard part of their schedule behind them seemed to be headed towards an average season. Unfortunately, Mills was not available, and Stanford visibly struggled. Third-string Jack West only went 15-for-32 for 143 yards, although he was safe with the ball and didn’t turn it over. The run game was utterly shut down as well, with Cameron Scarlett only getting 34 yards on 13 carries, plus a touchdown and a fumble. Stanford’s offense ended with only 198 total yards.
UCLA, meanwhile, had looked terrible on offense except for one of the weirdest nights in college football’s recent memory in Pullman. They cooked a solid Stanford defense on Thursday. Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked pretty good, going 21-for-34 for 192 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to a pick and a rushing touchdown. Kyle Phillips pulled in 10 of those 21 completions for 100 yards, as well as both scores. The real star was running back Joshua Kelley, who took only 18 carries for 176 yards and another score.
Both teams are obviously struggling this year, but it’s hard to tell which is struggling more. UCLA is now somehow .500 in conference play and will host ASU at the Rose Bowl next Saturday. Stanford is 3-4 (2-3) getting ready to host Arizona.
Oregon State 21, California 17
One of the less talked about storylines of the Pac-12 season has been Oregon State’s quiet improvement in Jonathan Smith’s second year. Thanks to a road win in Berkeley, the Beavers should be talked about a little bit more.
Jake Luton, the sixth-year senior, has been one of the most injury-plagued players in recent Pac-12 memory. He’s stayed upright though, and OSU has looked solid as a direct result. Luton finished 18-for-34 Saturday, for 174 yards and two scores. He usually has a lot of help from his run game, and while it Oregon State could still run a little bit, star Artavis Pierce only earned 80 yards on 23 carries. BJ Baylor scored the game-winning toichdown for the Beavers. Despite only 282 yards (which is actually pretty good against Cal’s defense), OSU’s offense moved just enough to win the game.
It’s pretty clear that Cal misses fallen quarterback Chase Garbers a lot, as their already questionable offense has fallen down a peg. Devon Modster continued to complete a disappointing amount of his passes, going 12-for-27 in this game while racking up 151 yards. He was also Cal’s bets running option, running 19 times for 76 yards including sacks. After going down 14-0 early, Cal battled back to a 17-14 lead in the first quarter. Unfortunately for them, their ironclad defense let up one more OSU drive, and the end result was a close loss.
Oregon State will still probably miss a bowl, as it's remaining schedule is rough. They have a bye next week before coming to Tucson. Cal is now 0-3 in their last three after starting 4-0, and will have a hard time turning that around; they got to Utah next Saturday night.
Oregon 35, Washington 31
One of the better rivalries in the conference in the last few years was billed this year as a battle of future NFL quarterbacks. It lived up the billing, but the more experienced team won in Seattle.
Justin Herbert has long been talked about as a future franchise quarterback at the pro level. He’d been underutilized this year, and Mario Cristobal let Herbert off the leash to great success. Herbert went 24-for-38, with some of those passes being lasers, for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns. The usually reliable Travis Dye and CJ Verdell went for only a combined 99 yards on 19 carries, but were helped out by an 81 yard performance with a touchdown by Cyrus Habibi-Likio. After a slower start, Oregon really got it going in the second half, and won the game thanks to it.
Herbert looked great, but Washington quarterback Jacob Eason matched his production and perhaps surpassed him in his technique. Eason went 23-for-30 for 289 yards and three scores, including a near perfect play-action touchdown in the first half. UW also had help in the form of a strong 140 yard performance by Salvon Ahmed on 24 carries. Most of their success in Oregon’s side of the field came in the first half, and before long the Ducks had erased the Huskies’ 14-point lead and UW missed out on a chaotic win.
Oregon has now all but clinched the Pac-12 North title at 6-1 (4-0). They host Washington State on Saturday. Washington will finally get one of their two byes next weekend, before they host Utah at 5-3 (2-3).
Utah 21, Arizona State 3
This game was billed as a battle of favorite versus upstart to help decide the Pac-12 South. Turns out, the upstart Sun Devils weren’t there yet, and got wiped out in Salt Lake City.
The crazy thing about how summarily ASU got defeated is that Utah probably played it's worst game of the season. Tyler Huntley, usually absurdly accurate, was a milquetoast 12-for-19 for 171 yards, doing alost all of his damage in the first half. After back-to-back turnovers via a strip sack and an interception, Huntley was actually pulled late in the half. Zack Moss also looked average, going for just 99 yards on 25 carries. Moss was electric in the passing game though, catching 3 passes for 78 yards, although he fumbled his longest catch. Utah ended with four turnovers, but their defense was so dominant it didn’t matter.
Tyler Huntley, Justin Herbert, and ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels were the most accurate passers in the conference entering Sunday. After Saturday, Daniels has been definitively dropped from that list. To be totally fair, he’s still a true freshman who was facing a good defense on the road. Still, he had already done that against Michigan State and Cal, and had looked alright. Against Utah though...wow. Daniels went 4-for-18 for 25 yards and an interception. That’s a Rutgers statline. Eno Benjamin was able to provide some relief with 15 carries for 104 yards, but ASU just couldn’t do anything other than that.
Utah hosts Cal next weekend, and will enter the game 6-1 (3-1). ASU 5-2 (2-2) heads to face the most confusing team in a confused conference next weekend when they face UCLA in Pasadena.
Washington State 41, Colorado 10
Two teams that faced brutal losses last week matched up this weekend, and it’s clear that the frustrated Cougars were ready to play, vaporizing Colorado.
After three straight rough losses, including a wacky loss to UCLA and a last-second loss in Tempe, Washington State needed a win. They proved that they’re still a solid team with this one. Quarterback Anthony Gordon didn’t waver during the losing streak, and he looked great again. He finished 35-for-51 for 369 yards, four scores, and a pick. Running back Max Borghi had been quiet for the Cougs, but chipped in with 105 yards on 12 carries, incluidng a 47-yard touchdown. This game was over at halftime, and Wazzu is back above .500.
After getting pulverized in Eugene last Friday, Colorado probably needed a win as badly as Washington State. It didn’t go their thanks to another defense shutting down Steven Montez. Montez went a disappointing 16-for-30 for just 129 yards, turning the ball over twice and eventually getting benched. Star Laviska Shenault was quiet as well with just four catches for 46 yards. The one bright side is that CU’s underperforming run game looked good, with Alex Fontenot reaching the 100-yard barrier on 11 carries.
Washington State is 4-3 (1-3) and happy to be back with a winning record, but will face a challenge at Oregon next week. Colorado is alone at last in the Pac-12 South, and will host USC this Friday at 3-4 (1-3).