Gold: 1 thing I learned about every Pac-12 team in Week 11
Well, that was fun.
For Washington and Arizona fans, at least.
But for the rest of the Pac-12, Week 11 was yet another reminder that the league eats its own every year, costing the league dearly come Playoff time. Losses by Oregon and UCLA effectively ruin the conference’s CFP chances, with the slimmest of hope remaining for USC. Suddenly, Week 12’s 2 would-be top-12 showdowns have much smaller stakes. How depressing.
But for now, here’s 1 thing I learned from every Pac-12 team in Week 11.
Arizona: Michael Wiley was the unsung hero in big win over UCLA
Jayden de Laura is going to get the pub, and Jacob Cowing is going to command the kudos, but Arizona running back Michael Wiley deserves the lion’s share of the praise for helping power Arizona to a shocking 34-28 upset of UCLA on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
Coming into the game on a 4-game losing streak with a running game that has been non-existent at times this season, Jedd Fisch and the Wildcats turned to Wiley early and often, and it was the Arizona running game that helped open things up for de Laura and the passing game.
Wiley had a season-high 21 carries for a season-high 97 yards and a touchdown while adding 6 receptions for 46 yards and a score — not a Herculean effort, but enough to keep the UCLA defense on its heels. Wiley just missed out on his 1st 100-yard game since Dec. 5, 2020, against Colorado, and his consistent productivity helped prolong passing lanes for the Cats, as de Laura finished with 315 yards and 2 scores on 22-of-28 passing.
The Arizona junior back helped keep the vaunted UCLA linebacker corps at bay, as Darius Muasau had just 3 tackles while Laiatu Latu had just 1 tackle and was held without even a partial sack for just the 3rd time this season.
Arizona State: Shaun Aguano flips quarterbacks once more
Sometimes the scoreboard has to dictate the depth chart, as it did for the Sun Devils on Saturday in a 28-18 loss to Washington State.
Trenton Bourguet, who had been so fantastic in seizing the starting quarterback position, was struggling mightily in the first half against the Cougars, as was the entire ASU offense. The Sun Devils found themselves down 28-0 at the half, and Aguano, the interim coach who has shown little hesitancy mixing it up when he needs to, pulled Bourguet for Emory Jones.
Jones had been replaced by Bourguet 3 weeks ago, and Bourguet indeed provided a spark to Sparky in impressive performances against Colorado (32-43 passing, 435 yards, 3 scores) and UCLA (38-49/349/2). But he was just 3-of-10 for 26 yards and a pick against the Cougars.
Enter Jones, the former Florida starter, who helped the Sun Devils at least make it respectable Saturday. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 186 yards and 2 scores, finishing with a 161.8 quarterback rating, his best of the season.
Cal: Wow, has Cal’s running game taken a plunge
Remember back on Sept. 24, when Jaydn Ott ran for 274 and 3 touchdowns on 19 carries against Arizona? Yes, Sept. 24, 2022. Not 2002.
It just feels like it’s been 2 decades since the Cal running game was clicking.
Ott was held to 20 yards on 8 carries by Oregon State in a 38-10 loss. Ott has 378 yards on 36 carries in 2 games, and 347 yards on 95 carries in 8 other games.
The Bears have now lost 6 straight for the first time since 2013, a 1-11 season. Cal appears headed for a 3-9 finish this year.
Colorado: Buffaloes get their RB back full-time, and he delivers
For a team so sorely in need of a bright spot, Alex Fontenot finally gave Colorado fans something to cheer for on Friday night at USC.
Yes, the Buffaloes lost 55-17. Yes, they were never really in the game for even a moment.
But Fontenot’s 20 carries for 108 yards and a score is a reminder that some talent still lurks in Boulder, even if it may be hard to find. Unfortunately for Colorado, that talent has been on the shelf for much of the season, as the Buffaloes’ expected lead back had been sidelined for six weeks with a chest injury.
Fontenot gave some indication that he was the same back he’s been in past years in his return last week, when he gained 41 yards on 7 carries and added 3 receptions for 31 yards.
But his full return on Saturday should give Buffs fans hope that they’ve regained their workhorse.
Oregon: Ducks falter under pressure
It was bound to happen at some point — college football is too random, pass rushes are too good and injuries plague even the best of us.
But the most impressive statistic in all of the Pac-12 fell on Saturday in the Ducks’ loss to Washington.
Yes, Bo Nix took a sack, just his second of the season, in the loss. For all the criticism that will rightfully land on the shoulders of Dan Lanning and Kenny Dillingham, Nix was not at his best on Saturday.
The Heisman candidate completed just 19-of-27 passes for 280 yards and 2 scores and ran for 59 yards on 9 attempts. But he did not dominate the game as he has over the past month, and it cost the Ducks dearly.
Oregon State: Passing game keeps it short
With Ben Gulbranson under center, Oregon State’s passing game is biting off less than it can chew. The Beavers are barely nibbling at this point.
Gulbranson had 3 touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing) in moving to 4-1 in his previous 5 starts, but he totaled just 137 yards on 15-of-23 passing for 137 yards.
Gulbranson finished with less than 10 yards per attempt for the 6th straight start, but it doesn’t seem to be hampering the Beavers’ winning ways.
Stanford: Paltry offensive effort once again dooms Cardinal
The Cardinal managed just 177 yards against Utah’s good but not great defense on Saturday in a 42-7 loss.
After jumping to a 7-0 lead, the Cardinal managed just 7 first downs the rest of the way.
The Cardinal fell to 1-7 in the Pac-12 ahead of next week’s date with equally challenged Cal (1-6 in the league).
UCLA: Lack of true No. 1 target hamstrings Bruins in upset loss to Arizona
It’s hard to blame the Bruins’ disappointing and damaging 38-24 loss to Arizona on Saturday on its offensive stars. Dorian Thompson-Robinson was effective if unspectacular and Zach Charbonnet was his usual dominant self, rushing for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns on 24 carries.
But when the Bruins needed a big completion the most — particularly on a final drive that ended up fizzling with 3 straight incompletions — DTR had no one to turn to.
We thought that man would be Jake Bobo, but he hasn’t been all that impressive after catching 8 passes for 101 yards and a score against Oregon in Week 8. Since that game, the former Duke star has just 11 catches for 165 yards and no scores.
In his previous 3 games, he had 5 scores. Even when he wasn’t putting up huge yardage numbers, Bobo was a constant red-zone threat, but he’s disappeared near the goal line as of late.
USC: With Travis Dye down, a seasoned transfer and a fantastic freshman get their shots
It would be one thing if USC went out last offseason and got the kid-in-a-toy-store treatment. “You can only pick just one, little Lincoln.”
Only Riley had the foresight, and the salesmanship, to convince multiple players at multiple positions that, yes, some day their chance would come.
Ultimately, it may be the arrivals of 2nd-tier transfers such as running back Austin Jones (Stanford) and dynamic freshman such as Raleek Brown who help the Trojans through their toughest times. We’ve already seen it happen with the USC wideout position, as injuries to Jordan Addison and Mario Williams did little to curtail the Trojans passing game.
With star running back Travis Dye lost for the season, can the USC running game stay top-notch?
With Jones and Brown, it appears so. A little mini thunder-and-lightning, Jones had 74 yards on 11 carries and Brown added 52 yards on 7 carries in the costly win over Colorado on Friday night, when Dye went down.
Both caught receiving touchdowns, though, with Jones adding 39 yards and Brown 38 through the air.
There’s no replacing a leader like Dye, but Jones and Brown have the skills to soften the blow.
Utah: Tavion Thomas rises to occasion against Stanford
Just when we thought he was out, Tavion Thomas pulled us right back in. Thomas, who had such a dominant year for the Utes last season, had been persona non grata in the Utah backfield at times this year. Last week, in the midst of a 300-yard performance for the Utes on the ground against Arizona, Thomas had just 8 carries for 38 yards.
He entered the game with just 1 100-yard game all year, after cracking the century mark 5 times last season.
On Saturday against the Cardinal, though, Thomas rediscovered his mojo. Thomas had 22 carries for a career-high 180 yards and 2 scores. Thomas took the pressure off Cam Rising and gave him a bit of a breather before next week’s massive — just not quite as massive — matchup with Oregon.
Washington: Deep receiving corps highlighted in win over Ducks
The depth of the Washington passing game was on display Saturday night in the Huskies’ huge upset win over Oregon.
When the Pac-12’s most productive wideout is held to just 56 yards on 6 catches, as Rome Odunze was on Saturday, it usually spells disaster.
But Michael Penix Jr. was able to turn to Jalen McMillan (8-122), Ja’Lynn Polk (3-95-1, including a 76-yard touchdown) and Taj Davis (62-yard scoring grab).
Aside from 1 questionable decision at the 1-yard line — a would-be touchdown pass that was tipped by Noah Sewell and intercepted Jeff Bassa — Penix was fantastic. He finished 26-of-35 passing for 408 yards and 2 scores with 1 interception.
Washington State: Defense puts the clamps on another conference opponent
After falling to Oregon in a thriller, 44-41, in the conference opener for both teams on Sept. 24, Washington State’s defense has arguably been the best in the conference.
Sure, the Cougars dropped 3 straight games in a frustrating October, but they held USC to just 30 points, Oregon State to 24 and Utah to 21. That the offense disappeared in those games is another story.
But after limiting Stanford to just 14 points last week, the Cougars held Arizona State scoreless in the first half on Saturday in a 28-18 win.
The real test will be holding the prolific passing offenses of Arizona and Washington at bay over the next two weeks.