For the first time in a few years, the Pac-12 is squarely in the College Football Playoff hunt in November. It’s all thanks to Oregon and Utah.
Heading into this weekend, both teams were facing their hardest remaining test, road games against very talented teams that had suffered some close losses. Both games were going to be close according to Vegas.
It didn’t matter. Both UO and UU got those pivotal wins, and now both have free rein to get to the Pac-12 Championship, which may turn in to a play-in game for the CFP, should some teams ahead of them lose.
Those two games, plus a fun UCLA-Colorado game, are summarized below in the Pac-12 roundup. As always, head to our football section for coverage of the Arizona Wildcats’ loss to the Oregon State Beavers.
No. 9 Utah Utes 33, Washington Huskies 28
With quarterback Tyler Huntley still nursing a bit of an injury, and with the Utes heading to a tough place to play to face a talented team, there were plenty who saw Washington springing the minor upset. The Utes were too composed, and left Washington with the Pac-12 South in their grasp.
Huntley may have been a little bit hobbled today, and Jason Shelley actually played a few snaps, but Huntley looked like his normal surgical self. He finished 19-for-24 for 284 yards and a touchdown. His ability to get Utah yardage was key on a day when Zack Moss was held to under 4 yards per carry, although Moss still hit the 100-yard mark. The real hero has to be defensive back Jaylon Johnson. Johnson returned a UW pick for a touchdown to bring the Utes within striking distance after a rough first half, and the Utes had a great fourth quarter to get the win.
As for Washington, this year has to be considered a massive disappointment. Even with all the new faces, a 5-4 record has to be disappointing, especially with Jacob Eason at quarterback. Eason went 29-for-52 for 316 yards and four scores, although his two picks were crippling. Eason’s arm was Washington’s entire offense, and thanks to Utah’s very strong defense, that wasn’t enough in the end. All but one of Washington’s losses have been by one score, and it will return almost all of their defense in 2020. Still, for 2019, this is a disappointing season, even if the Huskies win out.
At 5-4 (2-4), Washington has a short week before they head to Corvallis to face a surging Oregon State team that will be hungry for the upset. An 8-1 Utah team gets a bye week before they face another surging team in UCLA.
No. 7 Oregon Ducks 56, USC Trojans 24
While Utah had to sweat its way through a road test with a mildly injured quarterback and a mediocre performance by its running back, Oregon was throwing its weight around in Los Angeles, coming back from an early deficit to dominate the Trojans.
Oregon’s dominant defense spotted the Trojans 10 points early, and the offense sputtered in the first quarter. By halftime, though, the Ducks were in control and never looked back. There was a rough start, but Justin Herbert was dominant yet again. He finished 21-for-26 for 225 yards and three touchdowns, plus the early interception. It was a performance eerily like Huntley’s in Seattle: imperfect, but accurate and showing that senior leadership. Combined with a decent night by Travis Dye and a brilliant night receiving for Juwan Johnson, Oregon rolled.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis has been the epitome of a true freshman this season, going from high highs to low lows. By the time Slovis turned the ball over for the fourth and final time tonight, Oregon was up 35-17 and cruising. He finished 32-for-57 for just 264 yards, and his three touchdowns were counteracted by three picks and a strip sack. USC’s early lead was completely evaporated by three straight turnovers in the second quarter, and Graham Harrell’s Air Raid against the UO defense wasn’t enough to get the victory back. Will this be the end of the Clay Helton era and the beginning of the Urban Meyer era in LA? We’ve been speculating about that for a long time, we’ll see if Helton’s time is up and who will be the next leader for the Men of Troy.
Oregon (8-1, 5-1) will get a bye week before they host the reeling Wildcats of Arizona. They should be in the top six or seven of the initial CFP rankings, likely barely above Utah. USC, at 5-4 (4-2), will go to Tempe next Saturday to try and lock up a bowl bid.
UCLA Bruins 31, Colorado Buffaloes 14
Utah might be the newly coronated king of the South, but there’s another team lurking in LA with their Santa Clara destiny in their own hands...and they have a losing record. Welcome to the Pac-12.
In all seriousness, the Bruins have gotten obviously better in October and November. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, once an inaccurate turnover machine, has turned into a pretty solid quarterback. DTR went 21-for-28 for 226 yards, throwing two touchdowns to only one pick. Of course, it helps that his running game has come alive this month. Senior Joshua Kelley is finally putting up big numbers, including 23 carries for 126 yards Saturday night. The Chip Kelly era started turbulent in Pasadena, and might still be doomed, but for 2019 there is clear progress for this team.
As for Colorado, this loss pretty much ensured that this season will be treated as a “Year Zero” for Mel Tucker. It’s a shame, as soon-to-leave stars Steven Montez and Laviska Shenault Jr. could have made something special in Boulder. Montez was unimpressive, going just 21-for-38 for a meek 195 yards, plus a score and an interception. Shenault was thoroughly shut down by an improving UCLA defense, getting only four touches for 31 yards. With three games left to go and a lot of production leaving this spring, it will be a while before Tucker has Colorado competing again.
Strange as it sounds, UCLA, a 4-5 (4-2) team, controls its destiny to get to the Pac-12 Championship (don’t tell Chip Kelly that though). After a bye week, they’ll head to Utah as massive underdogs to essentially decide the division. Colorado, at 3-6 (1-5), hosts Stanford next weekend.