Gold: 1 thing I learned from every Pac-12 team in Week 9
Pac-12 favorites held serve in Week 9, with all 4 ranked teams — plus Arizona State — pulling off rather easy wins.
The only conference leader to remotely struggle was No. 14 Utah, which was without the services of its starting quarterback, starting running back and more. For a league that so often struggles to avoid landmines, the conference coming out unscathed was a good thing. Now the league has 3 1-loss teams and 3 more 2-loss teams heading into the final month.
We could very well be looking at a Pac-12 that includes six 8-win teams for the first time since 2019.
But for now, here’s one thing I learned from every Pac-12 team in Week 9.
Arizona: Wildcats must rediscover their pass rush
The Arizona defense was at one time one of the most fearsome units in the country, known as the Desert Swarm defense. The Wildcats would have full-on raging parties in opposing backfields.
But this year, it’s been quieter than a museum.
Arizona was once again unable to register even a single sack for the 4th time in 5 conference games in a 45-37 loss to USC. And forget sacks: The Wildcats managed just a single tackle-for-loss.
For all the improvement has made on both sides of the ball, Arizona most needs to generate some pressure up front.
Arizona State: Sun Devils get it right at quarterback
Sun Devils interim head coach Shaun Aguano opened up the quarterback competition this week after Emory Jones had yet another pedestrian performance in Arizona State’s Week 8 15-14 loss to Stanford.
Enter former ASU walk-on Trenton Bourguet. Aguano gave Bourguet a chance to win the position 2 months into the season, and Bourguet responded with a fantastic showing in the Sun Devils 42-34 win at Colorado. Bourguet completed 32-of-43 passes for 435 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception. This, after leading ASU to a come-from-behind 45-38 win over then-No. 21 Washington on Oct. 8. He also had 3 scores and 1 pick in that game.
Those six combined touchdowns are 1 more than Jones has had all season at the helm of the ASU offense, which hadn’t scored more than 25 points in any other game since Week 1.
Aguano is certainly going to go with the hot hand moving forward.
Cal: Kai Millner gives Bears some hope in lost season
Things are quickly spinning out of control for a Cal team that has lost 4 straight after starting the season 3-1. And things don’t look much rosier from here as the Bears have to tangle with both USC and UCLA in the season’s final month, as well as Stanford and Oregon State. A 3-9 season looks very realistic, and that 8-game losing streak would be hard for Justin Wilcox to explain to Cal’s decision-makers.
But if Wilcox turns the offense over to Kai Millner — and if Millner delivers like he did in the 4th quarter against the vaunted Oregon Ducks on Saturday — he might just quiet some of the criticism.
With Jack Plummer out after suffering a big hit late in the game, Millner saw his most extensive action for the Bears this year, helming 2 scoring drives that were capped off by touchdown passes. One of Millner’s scores went for 55 yards, one of the most dynamic offensive plays of the season for the reeling Bears. Wilcox would be served well by leaning on the young Millner and selling a vision for the future.
First-career TD pass for @kai_millner 👏
First-career TD catch for @monroeyoung11 👏
— Cal Football (@CalFootball) October 29, 2022
Colorado: Buffaloes finally return to ground game to turn things around
Things weren’t all doom-and-gloom for the Buffaloes despite a 42-34 loss to Arizona State.
Colorado had its best offensive performance of the season, racking up 34 points, two full scores better than any other scoring output this year.
The Buffaloes seemingly turned the corner on a running game that had been stuck in neutral. Colorado running back Deion Smith became the first 100-yard ball-carrier for the Buffaloes this year. They’ll need to keep pounding on the ground to have any chance at another win this year.
Oregon: DJ Johnson gives Ducks the edge in pass rush
Having bounced all over the field during his college football career, DJ Johnson has found a home at defensive end once more.
But he just might have rented space in Cal’s backfield. Johnson had 2 sacks in the Ducks’ 42-24 win over the Bears, giving him six take-downs on the season. Coming into the year, he had just 3 career sacks, but Saturday marked his second multi-sack game for the year.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s terrific offensive line was once again nearly flawless, allowing zero sacks. The Ducks have allowed just 1 all year, and this story is being underreported nationally. One sack!
Stanford: Cardinal crumble against once-dominated UCLA
There was a nice, long stretch there when it seemed like Stanford could not lose to UCLA.
And it’s because the Cardinal didn’t lose during a decade-long stretch from 2009-2018. Since then, with its running game faltering and UCLA’s rising (see below), Stanford has dropped 3 of 4 against the Bruins, perhaps the single greatest indicator of Chip Kelly’s turnaround with the Bruins.
Only Saturday’s outcome was the worst yet for the Cardinal. UCLA’s 38-13 win was its biggest in the rivalry since 2007. But that will happen when one squad nearly doubles-up the other in total yardage, as the Bruins did (523-270) with a terrific defensive performance.
UCLA: Zach Charbonnet continues vying for Pac-12 OPOY
Sharing a backfield with one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country, UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet hasn’t gotten all the attention he deserves for one of the great seasons by a Bruins back in years.
Charbonnet came a couple generous spots away from his first 200-yard game of the year, so he’ll have to settle with his second 198-yard showing in 3 games.
After torching Utah for 9.0 yards per carry and 1 score in Week 5, Charbonnet 1-upped himself (2-upped himself?) with 9.4 yards per carry and 3 scores against the Cardinal.
Stanford LB Ricky Miezan on facing Zach Charbonnet: “Probably the most physical [running back] we’ll see this year. One of the harder running backs to tackle in all of college football.”
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) October 30, 2022
Charbonnet also added 61 receiving yards on 5 receptions in his most prolific contribution to the air attack this year.
With an inspired final month of the season, Charbonnet can get close to Johnathan Franklin’s record 1,734 yards in 2012.
USC: Trojans have enough depth to weather the storm
Even a bye week and extended layoff wasn’t enough to get several of USC’s top players back on the field. But the loss of several Trojan starters did little to slow USC form its best start since 2008.
W ithout wideouts Jordan Addison and Mario Williams, still had his most productive game of the season, passing for 410 yards and 5 scores, turning to Tahj Washington (7 catches, 118 yards, 2 scores) and Kyle Ford (6-114-1). Perhaps even more worrisome for the USC effort was the loss of star guard Andrew Vorhees, but the Trojans held up on the line, surrendering zero sacks.
“The number of things that didn’t go our way was a long list and I don’t know many teams that would respond like this,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said.
Utah: The Utes can survive life without Cameron Rising — but just barely
On a night when neither team was able to generate many explosive plays, the steadier Utah offense came out with a 21-17 win. The explosiveness came pre-game for the Utes, when they dropped the bombshell that Cameron Rising wouldn’t be starting on Thursday night.
With Rising sidelined, the Utes turned to Bryson Barnes, who completed 17-of-27 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.
The Utah coaching staff was unwilling to let Barnes really test out his arm, as the Utes top connections went just 31 and 27 yards. Even tight end Dalton Kincaid, who knows how to break a route or two, was limited to just 8 yards per reception. That doesn’t bode well if Rising was to go down for an extended period.
Washington State: Cougars need to find Cameron Ward some weapons
When your best rusher is your quarterback with 28 yards and no other back has more than 10 and your best receiver has just 66 yards and no one else has more than 41, it’s clear that your passer needs some support.
Cameron Ward was remarkably accurate on Thursday, connecting on 27-of-31 passes, but the Cougars’ ball-carriers were barely explosive whatsoever. De’Zhaun Stribling caught 4 balls for 66 yards and Tsion Nunnally 2 for 41, but that’s about it.
On a night when Utah’s defense got to Ward 4 times, it was clear that he simply doesn’t have the breakaway speed to do much on the perimeter.