Week 1 was far from pretty for the Pac-12. UCLA lost to Cincinnati, Oregon State lost to Oklahoma State and Oregon lost its big chance to make a statement against Auburn, falling in the final moments.
Week 2 went ever so slightly better for the conference, winning six of eight games against other leagues. Additionally, the first two Pac-12 games were both surprising.
Here’s how things went down on Friday and Saturday:
Arizona State 19, Sacramento State 7
It looked like the Pac-12’s rough reputation was about to take another hit for a while on Friday, before ASU managed to pull away from FCS Sacramento State.
Jayden Daniels looked pretty solid against inferior competition last weekend, as he helped the Sun Devils beat Kent State. Against Sacramento State, Daniels still put up solid numbers, going for 17-for-27 for 304 yards, but had a huge problem finishing drives, reaching the red zone five times and turning it into a measly 12 points. Luckily for ASU, the defense was solid, forcing seven punts and two turnovers.
The real saving grace was star back Eno Benjamin, who scored the game’s only touchdown on a reception from 72 yards out in the fourth quarter to secure victory. On the ground, Benjamin was utterly stuffed, going for only 69 yards on 24 carries. If ASU is going to have to a successful season, Daniels and Benjamin will have to keep the Sun Devils rolling much better than they did Friday.
No. 13 Utah 35, Northern Illinois 17
In another example of a slow start, the Utes took a long time to put away a mediocre Northern Illinois team. In the end, though, Utah jumped to 2-0 and kept up its hype.
The return of quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss from injury was highly anticipated, and while they’ve not been super impressive, the Utes are still clicking. The super-efficient Huntley finished 14-for-19 for 214 yards and a touchdown apiece on the ground and through the air. Moss, meanwhile, touched the ball 18 times on his way to 80 yards and two scores.
Utah’s vaunted defensive line did a phenomenal job against the run, allowing 67 total rushing yards to the Huskies. However, it gave up a few too many chunk plays deep, including a 74-yard TD pass for NIU. Still, the Utes are looking like the best team in the South Division, and they’ll get a chance to prove that in two weeks at USC.
No. 22 Washington State 59, Northern Colorado 17
Another week, another domination of a small school for the Cougars, who put away the Bears of Northern Colorado without trouble.
Anthony Gordon looked like a perfect air raid quarterback against New Mexico State late week, and that continued in this game. Gordon finished 31-for-39 for 464 yards and four touchdowns. The running game wasn’t used much, as is typical for Leach, but Gordon carried the load himself, with some help from Brandon Arconado and Easop Winston Jr. both putting up 100 yards receiving.
WSU also got help from forcing four fumbles, recovering all four. The Bears had a few chances to keep the game close in the first half, but two of those chances ended with fumbles. It’s true that Washington State hasn’t faced anything close to a challenge yet this year, but if their domination are any indication, this is another exciting year for Wazzu.
Colorado 34, No. 25 Nebraska 31
Perhaps the game of the weekend in terms of excitement and prestige for the Pac-12 was Colorado’s thrilling retro-rivalry victory over 25th-ranked Nebraska.
The game started brutally for the Buffaloes, as CU fell behind 17-0 in the first half and mostly looked lifeless. That continued partly in the third quarter, before CU scored twice in quick succession, once on a 96-yard flea flicker. The two teams traded exciting drives and scores until they finished the fourth quarter tied at 31. A Colorado field goal in the first frame of overtime allowed the Buffs to win, as NU shanked a field goal that would have sent the game into double OT.
Despite the ugliness of the game, Colorado’s offense came up clutch. Steven Montez went 28-for-41 for 375 yards and two touchdowns. The running game struggled, but the receivers were buoyed by KD Nixon, whose 152 yards included the 96-yard flea flicker.
Does this win mean Colorado is a threat in the Pac-12? Probably not, but it means CU went 2-0 in its home-and-home with hated Nebraska, and that must mean a lot to the Buffs faithful.
San Diego State 23, UCLA 14
In terms of rough losses to the Group of Five, one team couldn’t get over the hump. UCLA played another sloppy game against a G5 opponent, and yet again lost.
Last week, the Bruins looked horrific in a slugfest with Cincinnati, and this game played out very similarly. Luckily, Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked mildly better throwing the ball, going for 199 yards on 24-for-35 throwing, a score, and no pick. Unfortunately, he was careless with the ball, fumbling twice for the second week in a row, with one lost.
On top of that, bell cow back Joshua Kelley barely got the ball again, with only 15 carries. He was inefficient with those carries, going for only 53 yards and a score. Perhaps even more damning, a San Diego State team that scored only 6 points against Weber State managed 23 on UCLA’s more talented defense. It may only be Chip Kelly’s first season, but his rebuild does not look to be in healthy shape early in 2019.
No. 16 Oregon 77, Nevada 6
It’s pretty clear that Oregon was mad about that wasted opportunity to impress the nation last week, as they eviscerated a good Nevada team.
Justin Herbert played great against Auburn, but looked even better against the Wolf Pack. He finished with a statline of 19-for-26 for 210 yards and five touchdowns, just about the best day a quarterback can have. He came out of the game in the third quarter, and backup Tyler Shough picked up the pieces just as well. The running game wasn’t used too much, but both CJ Verdell and Darrin Felix went for a fair amount of yards on a few carries each.
Coming off a heroic comeback victory over Purdue, Nevada probably expected itself to give the Ducks a fight in Autzen. Instead, the Ducks’ frustration led them to a dominating win to get back to 1-1.
California 20, No. 14 Washington 19
In a mirror of last season’s defensive slugfest in Berkeley, Cal and Washington played another low-scoring rockfight into the wee hours of the night...and the Bears came away with victory yet again.
Last year, Cal’s offense was one of the worst in the nation, and it took a pick-six by Evan Weaver for them to escape the Huskies. The Bears offense still needs work, but they were able to beat UW straight up in Seattle, which is quite a feat. After a long lightning delay, Washington leaped to a 10-0 lead before halftime, but Cal’s offense looked sharp from the end of the second through the third, scoring 17 points to take the lead going into the fourth.
Two UW field goals later, and Cal was faced with a two-minute drill down two points. Quarterback Chase Garbers got the team all the way to UW’s goal line, before a game-winning field goal by Greg Thomas sealed the upset.
Garbers wasn’t overtly impressive, going 11-for-18 for 111 yards and no scores. Still, he matched Jacob Eason’s production for Washington, and thanks to running backs Christopher Brown Jr. and Marcel Dancy, Cal was able to finish enough drives to beat UW. These teams looked pretty evenly matched up, and while Washington made plenty of mistakes and failed often in the red zone against an amazing Cal defense, this loss will seriously mar the Huskies’ goal of a division title and a New Year’s Six bowl.
USC 45, No. 23 Stanford 20
In the first conference game of the season, Stanford and USC engaged in a fun battle of back-up quarterbacks that ended with a dominant Trojans victory.
Unfortunately, two of the best quarterbacks in the conference were sidelined Saturday night. KJ Costello suffered a head injury last weekend, and JT Daniels is out for the season with a ligament tear in his knee. While that is a shame, both backups looked good. Stanford’s Davis Mills was passable, going 22-for-36 for 237 yards, plus one touchdown and one pick. True freshman Kedon Slovis looked incredible for USC though, going 28-for-33 for 277 yards and three touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.
With both running games struggling and both defenses playing averagely, Slovis provided the difference. When Daniels went down, it looked like USC might be in trouble and Clay Helton could be fired. With Slovis though, the Trojans look back in the hunt. As for the Cardinal, despite Mills playing well, it still feels like they’ve steadily declined every year since at least 2015. Hopefully Mills can guide them back.
Hawaii 31, Oregon State 28
Another week, another Pac-12 upset for Hawaii by the skin of its teeth. This time, it was a surprisingly low scoring affair against the Beavers, and the Warriors won on a game-winning field goal.
After his four touchdown-four interception performance against Arizona that resulted in his benching, quarterback Cole McDonald looked much sharper against an even more porous OSU defense. McDonald ended the night 30-for-52 for 421 yards and four touchdowns, this time throwing only one pick. His counterpart Jake Luton looked much less exciting, going 15-for-32 for 162 yards and just one score. It turns out McDonald needed all four touchdowns, as after a thrilling first half both teams were repeatedly stymied on offense after the break.
OSU’s skill positions still looked amazing for a team that’s struggled as much as they have. Both Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce looked great out of the backfield, especially Jefferson, who finished with 189 yards on 31 carries. Receiver Isaiah Hodgins was Luton’s favorite target again, dragging in seven catches, one of which was a touchdown. Despite a promising defensive performance for a team in desperate need of that though, the offense fell just short, and it looks like it’ll be another year of rebuilding in Corvallis.