Gold: Final thoughts heading into the Pac-12's Week 6
UCLA’s upset win over No. 15 Washington last Friday threw a wrench into this week’s matchups. All of a sudden, the No. 18 Bruins’ tilt with 11th-ranked Utah Utes becomes the most important game of the weekend, stealing the thunder from Washington State’s visit to No. 6 USC.
Can the two Los Angeles schools remain undefeated? If they do — and if they can each get through brutal matchups in their following games, USC’s against Utah and UCLA’s visit to Oregon after a bye week — we could be staring at an All-SoCal conference title game.
That’s a long ways away, though.
For now, here’s a look at my final thoughts heading into Week 6 of the Pac-12 slate.
No. 11 Utah at No. 18 UCLA, 12:30 p.m., FOX
We might look back on this as the game of the season. And just two weeks ago, my prediction would’ve been different.
But the combination of Utah tight end Brant Kuithe’s season-ending torn ACL and UCLA’s upset win over Washington has me flipping my preseason vote from the Utes to the Bruins.
The light bulb seems to have come on for the UCLA defense, which for the last four years has performed at a suboptimal level. The Bruins showed some real moxie in jumping to a 40-16 lead over the Huskies: After allowing Washington to score on its opening drive, the Bruins allowed just one field goal over the game’s next 40-plus minutes. Sure, the Huskies scored two late touchdowns to make it competitive, but they have one of the best offenses in the country.
The way UCLA responded after the second of those touchdowns is what really impressed me. The Bruins’ 4-minute offense was terrific, with Dorian Thompson-Robinson seemingly growing 10 years of maturity in that one drive alone. Thompson-Robinson ran for a clutch 6-yard gain on 3rd-and-1 from the Bruins’ 34-yard line, then followed with a 10-yard run on the following play. And on the biggest play of the game — 3rd-and-5 from the Washington 45-yard line with just over a minute to play — Thompson-Robinson connected with Hudson Habermehl for a 6-yard gain. To trust a guy like Habermehl over targets like Jake Bobo and Kazmeir Allen makes it clear DTR was checking his progressions.
Speaking of progress, Utah has rebounded from a season-opening loss at Florida in the Swamp with 4 straight wins by at least 3 touchdowns. The Utes throttled a good Oregon State squad last Saturday, 42-16, even without Kuithe. But Utah’s running game struggled, and if not for three clutch interceptions by Clark Phillips III, the game would have played out much differently.
Final verdict: UCLA pulls off another stunner to land in the top 15.
No. 21 Washington at Arizona State, 1 p.m., Pac-12
If you turned off the Huskies loss at UCLA last week when they fell behind 40-16 late in the third quarter, you missed Washington at its most dangerous. If the Bruins showed moxie by putting the Huskies in a huge deficit, Washington deserves equal credit for not crumbling in the face of a blowout and instead making it a close game.
Michael Penix Jr. struggled for the first time this season, throwing two interceptions, but he also threw 4 touchdowns. After being harried against the Bruins pass rush, Penix should get comfortable against a Sun Devils pass rush that has just 3 sacks this season.
Washington’s pass defense should also have a bounce-back game against Emory Jones and Arizona State’s passing offense. Jones has just 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and the Sun Devils are averaging just 344.8 total yards per game.
Final verdict: Washington dominates Sun Devils to get back into the win column.
Washington State at No. 6 USC, 4:30 p.m., FOX
As far as individual matchups go, Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley versus the entire USC offense will be one to watch this weekend. Henley has been a terror on opposing offenses, leads the league in tackles for loss (1.90 per game) and forced fumbles (2), ranks 2nd in the league in tackles (8.80 per game) and is tied for third in sacks (4). He has led a Washington State defense that ranks 2nd in the league and 7th nationally in sacks and leads the league and is tied for 4th nationally with 45.0 tackles for loss.
Henley and quarterback Cameron Ward are the Cougars’ two brightest stars, while USC boasts an entire team of them, first and foremost starting quarterback Caleb Williams.
The CW-CW dual should be thrilling — it’s not as if USC’s defense has limited opposing passing games. I fully expect Ward to go off, but Williams to go off just a bit more. If Williams can avoid that daunting Cougar pass rush, the Trojans will put up plenty of points.
Final verdict: Trojans get a challenge from Cougars pass rush but stay undefeated
No. 12 Oregon at Arizona, 6 p.m., Pac-12
This is a fascinating matchup between the league’s best rushing offense and one of the league’s worst rush defenses. Likewise, between one of the league’s top passing offenses (Arizona and Jayden de Laura) versus the worst pass defense in the league (Oregon).
The Ducks will look to control the tempo and pace of the matchup, but Arizona’s passing game has the ability to bite back big chunks of yardage and push the Duck defensive backs on the perimeter. Jacob Cowing should have a game against the Oregon defense, which dominated the Wildcats last year in a 41-19 win. The Ducks picked off Arizona quarterback Jordan McCloud five times in the win.
This is a much different Wildcats squad, though, led by de Laura and Cowing. Arizona’s defense isn’t mature or talented enough to challenge the Ducks’ established running game. Despite losing leading running back Travis Dye to rival USC, Oregon’s league-best rushing offense is the main reason the Ducks rank third in the conference in total offense.
Expect Arizona to put together some good drives, but Oregon’s talent will win out.
Final verdict: Wildcats mount a fight but Ducks rule the day
Oregon State at Stanford, 8 p.m., ESPN
A banged up Chance Nolan was off his game last Saturday in a 42-16 loss to Utah. The Utes defense is good, but so is the Beavers offense, and Nolan was inaccurate and took too many risks. Problem is, his replacement, Ben Gulbranson, wasn’t much better.
Is this the right time for Stanford’s defense to cut down on the Cardinal’s league-worst turnover margin? Stanford has just two defensive interceptions on the year, while the offense has turned the ball over 12 times.
The Cardinal haven’t played well this year, but they catch the Beavers having lost two straight and looking totally off-rhythm. This feels like one of those games where the worse team, playing at home, catches a decent team on its last legs.
Final verdict: Cardinal capitalize on Oregon State’s struggling passing game.