Welcome back to Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s weekly trip around the Pac-12.

Read below for news, notes and quotes heading into Week 7 of the 2022 campaign.

Arizona: Young ‘Cats seeking to simplify defense

After allowing nearly 600 yards of offense in a 49-22 home loss to No. 12 Oregon, including more than 300 yards on the ground, the Arizona defense is looking to simplify things, defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said, according to AZDesertSwarm’s Brian J. Pederson.

The Wildcats were simply lost at the line of scrimmage against the Ducks, especially dual-threat quarterback Bo Nix, who ran for 70 yards and 3 scores. The 49 points allowed were the second time in 3 weeks an opponent nearly hit the half-century mark while rushing for more than 300 yards.

This could be an example of a young defense with players trying to do too much.

“We need to try to simple things down,” Nansen said. “There’s a lot of moving parts during the game. As a coach, you got to put them in (good) position, so I got to do a better job. Make sure they understand where their fit’s going to be. And then overall what are you going to face in the game.”

Arizona’s job gets more complex on Saturday, as the Wildcats have to tangle with Washington’s impressive passing offense and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Though he’s been neutralized the past 2 weeks, Penix still boasts some of the best numbers in the conference, though he’s been dangerous in a way that Nix hasn’t.

Arizona State: Can Arizona State follow the Rhule?

Pigskin prognosticators who called Matt Rhule to the Arizona State Sun Devils in the wake of Herm Edwards’ firing in mid-September are feeling a little better these days.

Rhule was fired by the Carolina Panthers on Monday after a 1-4 start, and many expect him to be an attractive hire back at the college level.

Rhule was a program resuscitator at Temple and Baylor, leading the Owls from 2-10 to 10-3 and the Bears from 1-11 to 11-3. He would be considered a home-run hire for the Sun Devils, the kind of coach who wins on the recruiting trail and on the field.

Those throughout the national media ranks are sure high on this pairing.

Cal: Two baby Bears make a midseason true freshman all-American team

The 2022 Cal recruiting class was not exactly heralded, ranking just 7th in the Pac-12 and 59th overall by 247Sports.

But midway through the season, a pair of true freshmen Bears have broken through to make an early impact. One is totally obvious: running back Jaydn Ott, who is off to arguably the best start for a freshman in Cal history. The other, Jeremiah Earby, has been a bit unheralded, even if he’s been a critical part of Justin Wilcox’s defense.

Now both have been named to On3’s midseason true freshman all-American team.

Here’s what On3 Director of Recruiting Charles Power had to say about Ott:

While there are several other true freshman running backs who drew heavy consideration for this team, Jaydn Ott seems like an obvious choice. The Norco (Calif.) High product has emerged as one of Cal’s top skill players through five games. Ott has rushed for 533 yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries (7.3 yards per carry). He’s also proven to be a dangerous target in the passing game, catching 16 passes for 103 yards and two more touchdowns. The 6-foot, 205-pounder had a breakout game in Cal’s week four win over Arizona, rushing for 274 yards and three touchdowns. His 127.2 yards from scrimmage per game is currently second in the Pac-12.

Ott was an On3 Consensus four-star prospect and ranked as the top prospect in Cal’s 2022 recruiting class.

And here’s what Power had to say about Earby:

“Jeremiah Earby earned a starting job in Justin Wilcox’s Cal defense. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has been a pleasant surprise after making the transition to a full-time corner after playing both ways in high school. Earby has shown good ball skills in coverage, coming down with an interception and breaking up two passes thus far. He’s allowed six catches for 92 yards on 14 targets, per Pro Football Focus.

The tall corner is a Bay Area product, starring at East Palo Alto (Calif.) Menlo-Atherton before making his way over to Berkeley. Earby ranked as a three-star prospect according to the On3 Consensus.”

Colorado: Buffaloes making their pitch to retain roster

With his recently inherited program off to one of the worst starts in college football history, interim Colorado coach Mike Sanford is on the defense.

With a smattering of players across the country announcing they’ve entered the transfer portal, including a handful of Pac-12 players, Sanford has gotten a jump on the offense, having conversations with each Colorado player soon after he was promoted to replace the fired Karl Dorrell.

“If you look around college football already, you’re getting some people done with game four, game five of the season,” Sanford told reporters, according to Brian Howell of BuffZone.com. “The portal is rapid. It’s players that have played 4 games that are already kind of looking into, ‘I’ve used my 4 games, I have a redshirt year, I’m going to go in the portal.’ We got ahead of that (with CU’s players). We talked about it, we spoke specifically about where you particularly stand and I was very candid, they were very candid, and I felt really good about just the entire team’s willingness and desire to stay here. We all know that this world is rapidly changing, and that’s subject to change, but I thought that that was another message that was really good.”

Oregon: Pass defense has hands full with UCLA up next

Winners of 5 straight, including a victory over then-No. 12 BYU in Week 3, the Oregon football team is playing better than all but a handful of teams in the country.

But there is one major area of concern for the Ducks heading into a bye week.

Or is it one major zone of concern?

Oregon ranks 9th in the Pac-12 in red-zone defense, allowing 21 scores in 24 possessions, including 17 touchdowns.

That is just one thing head coach Dan Lanning is hoping to address with some extra preparation for No. 11 UCLA.

“So just like we have an individual improvement plan, we have these four things on offense that we’re gonna get better at, these four things on defense that we’re gonna get better at, special teams in this unit, here’s what we want to see for improvement,” Lanning said at his weekly press conference, according to Zachary Neel of DucksWire.com “You have to be really clear. It’s really a big week for self-scout where we go back and self-evaluate what we’ve done well, what we’ve done poor, and then how we can build off of that and grow from that.”

Oregon State: QB Ben Gulbranson draws praise from coaches

Thrust into action in a 42-16 loss to Utah in Week 5 after Chance Nolan was injured (neck) and ineffective (2-for-7, 2 picks) early against the Utes, redshirt freshman quarterback Ben Gulbranson came alive against Stanford on Saturday, leading the Beavers back from a 24-10 deficit with a game-winning 56-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left in the game.

His performance — 20-for-28 passing for 250 yards with 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions, but 4 sacks allowed — elicited praise from head coach Jonathan Smith. That’s no faint praise — Smith is one of the great quarterbacks in program history.

“I thought his decision-making was solid throughout the night, where he was going with the ball, for the most part,” Smith told reporters, according to the Albany Democrat-Herald’s Jesse Sowa. “Then he held the ball a few times that led to sacks. Could have gotten the ball out of his hand a little bit earlier that led to sacks. He did a lot of good things.”

Things are slowing down for the strong-armed Gulbranson who has a chance to seize the starting role for the rest of this year and years to come.

“With every rep you take, the game gets slower and slower,” Gulbranson said. “With your film study, your practice out here. ‘You practice like you play, deliver at practice,’ like coach Smith always says. When you practice how you play, the game definitely slows down like that. It just takes reps after reps after reps, stacking good reps on top of each other.”

Stanford: Cardinal finally given the chance to study — or party

In what would have to be considered a scheduling quirk, the Stanford Cardinal finally get a Saturday night to themselves, as the program announced a 1 pm kickoff for its Oct. 22nd home game against Arizona State.

Stanford’s earliest game so far has been at 4:30 pm PST, meaning the Cardinal usually don’t even get home from a home game until after 9 pm This Saturday’s road date at Notre Dame is also at 4:30 pm PST, meaning another late night for Stanford’s players.

Not that they’re exactly getting home just to go back out.

The Cardinal have bemoaned not having the chance to get some extra studying in on Saturday nights, not exactly the same reaction as, say, San Diego State?

UCLA: Chip Kelly named top coach at midseason by AP writers

With the UCLA Bruins off to a 6-0 start, boasting back-to-back wins over ranked opponents and surging up to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, it is no surprise that AP writers have designated Kelly as the Pac-12’s top coach.

That this honor comes on the heels of a poor 4-year start to his UCLA coaching tenure is a bit more surprising. A year ago, no one would’ve predicted that the Bruins would be in the position they’re in now. At least, no one outside of the UCLA locker room.

Yet here they are, heading into a bye week before squaring off with their toughest opponent yet, the 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks, who’ve been surging themselves.

Here’s what they said about Kelly:

“TOP COACH: UCLA’s Chip Kelly. The former Oregon and NFL coach has slowly returned the Bruins to respectability, winning eight games a year ago then becoming one of the surprises of the 2022 college football season.

UCLA (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) was questioned through a soft nonconference schedule, particularly a close home win over South Alabama. The 11th-ranked Bruins have proven they are for real the past two weeks, knocking off then-No. 15 Washington and No. 20 Utah. UCLA has a big test this weekend at No. 12 Oregon.”

USC: Trojans developing depth up front

With Courtland Ford sidelined since Week 2 and Bobby Haskins needing a sporadic spot at left tackle, the Trojans have started working in redshirt freshman Mason Murphy, who himself worked back from a fractured left foot suffered last year.

With Haskins sidelined in Saturday’s 30-14 win over Washington State, Murphy stepped in and performed amiably in the win, which did not go unnoticed by Lincoln Riley.

“It just felt like it was the right decision at that point,” Riley told reporters, according to USCTrojans.com. “We’ve got some guys that have been practicing well. We got some tough decisions to make there. We felt like it was, in that situation, the right time to give Mason a shot.”

Utah: Is Tavion Thomas back?

Coming off a tremendous 2021 campaign that included more than 1,100 yards and more than 20 touchdowns, Utah running back Tavion Thomas has had a brutal start to his junior year, including personal tragedy — the loss of the beloved aunt who raised him — as well a firm place in Kyle Whittingham’s doghouse.

A Game 2 fumble against Southern Utah did not help his cause, and he hasn’t rushed for 100 yards since Week 1, bottoming out with just 13 yards on 6 carries in a 42-16 Week 5 win over Oregon State.

But despite Utah’s 42-32 loss to UCLA on Saturday, Thomas showed out, gaining 91 yards on 18 carries while catching 2 passes for 16 yards. It’s the best he’s looked in over a month, and it did not go unnoticed.

“We were playing catch up a little bit, not big-time catch-up, but he was a little bit tired,” Whittingham told reporters on Monday, according to the Salt Lake Tribune’s Josh Newman. “He’s still not in great shape. He did carry the ball 18 times, that’s still a pretty big workload for a game. He did play his best game of the year, his most productive game of the year. Maybe in hindsight, we should’ve given him some more carries in the second half, but it wasn’t by design to go away from him in the second half.”

Washington: Odunze shines through injury

Among a bevy of top-flight transfers ranked among the top receivers in the conference, Washington wideout Rome Odunze has been arguably the top home-grown product in the Pac-12.

One of Washington’s top recruits in the class of 2020, Odunze ranks 2nd in the Pac-12 receptions and receiving yards per game and tied for 4th with 4 touchdowns.

And he’s done all that while battling injuries.

“There’s been little nagging things here for him throughout the last 2, 3 weeks,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer told reporters, according to the Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel. “He’s obviously played through it and played tremendous. But I think just the volume of things at some point wear on you. He’ll be good to go this week, and expect him to have the production he’s had the last couple weeks.”

Washington State: Cougars’ mission — clean up penalties

Washington State entered Saturday’s matchup with USC as one of the least-penalized teams in the Pac-12.

But the Cougars did not just battle the Trojans’ talented lineup but flag-happy officials.

Wazzu was called for 11 penalties in a 30-14 loss, including several that changed the landscape of the game.

“We’re not gonna use it as an excuse,” Cougars head coach Jake Dickert said after the game. “We made some mistakes in key, critical situations that really hurt ourselves. … I’ll get a chance to look at a bunch of those and the operation of the game and the refs. We’ll kinda sort that out as we go.”

No penalty call was more egregious than a targeting penalty on offensive lineman Grant Stephens, which knocked him out of the loss to USC and will cost him the first half of Saturday’s matchup with Oregon State.