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 8 of the 2022 campaign.

Arizona: Fisch’s Focus — reeling in some defensive talent

Arizona’s defense seems to have hit its ceiling. The bad ceiling, that is.

For the third time in a month, the Wildcats almost hit the half-century mark in points allowed in a 49-39 loss at Washington. This follows a 49-22 loss at Oregon and a 49-31 loss at Cal.

While the Arizona offense has taken huge strides this year, the defense has regressed, due in no small part to a lack of depth and talent.

To address that talent deficit, head coach Jedd Fisch has a simple message.

“If you’re a defensive player, you have an opportunity to come in here and compete and start right away,” Fisch told reporters on Monday, according to AZ Desert Swarm’s Brian J. Pederson. “We have a lot of veteran players on the defensive side, so you have opportunity in that regard to make kind of the same impact that our offensive guys made this past offseason. If you look at our game against Washington a year ago, there was not one player that touched the ball against Washington in 2021 that was on the field in 2022. Not one skill player.”

Fisch retooled the offense in the offseason and it paid off in a big way. Jayden de Laura, Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan have been among the conference’s best.

Now can Fisch turn the defense around?

Arizona State: Sun Devils could be losing key lineman against Stanford

If there is one player Arizona State can’t afford to lose on the offensive line, it would be starting left tackle LaDarius Henderson.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, it appears he’ll miss Saturday’s matchup with the Stanford Cardinal. Henderson is battling a finger issue and the jury is still out on his availability.

Arizona Sports’ Jake Anderson reported that ASU should get back other important starters after a bye week: DE Anthonie Cooper, DL Omarr Norman-Lott and RT Des Holmes.

“Everybody else we have back — that are probable — but we have back and have been practicing, so we’re in as good a shape as we’ve been in the past couple weeks,” Aguano told reporters, according to Anderson.

Cal: Confounding offense frustrates Justin Wilcox

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Cal offensive line had one of the best games by any Pac-12 team this year.

In a 49-31 win over Arizona, the Bears protected Jack Plummer, allowing zero sacks as he finished 18-of-28 passing for 245 yards and 3 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

And they didn’t stop there.

On the ground, true freshman Jaydn Ott had one of the great games in Cal history, rushing for 274 yards and 3 scores on 19 carries.

So how can you possibly explain the Bears’ performance on Saturday in a shocking 20-13 overtime loss to Colorado? The Bears finished with just 297 total yards, 31 fewer than the anemic Buffaloes. Cal’s offensive offense left head coach Justin Wilcox baffled.

“The offense starts at the line of scrimmage,” Wilcox told reporters after the game, according to Cal Sports Reports’ Jake Curtis. “You can’t run a run play or a pass play very effectively if you don’t start up front. Generally speaking, you have to block the people up front in the run and pass game and we didn’t do a good enough job of that today, and their front got after our front.”

Colorado: Sanford squashes any talk of quarterback controversy

Though JT Shrout came in for an injured Owen McCown and led Colorado to its first win of the season, Colorado interim head coach Mike Sanford dispelled any notion of a quarterback controversy on Sunday night during his media availability, according to BuffZone’s Brian Howell.

“Owen is our starting quarterback,” Sanford said. “Like I said after (the game), for us to get to where we want to get, we need everybody. I think JT came in and, because he had prepared so stinking well, really over the course of the last 4 weeks, he was ready to go in there and win a football game for us.”

That kind of decisiveness was lacking under Karl Dorrell, who waffled between Shrout and incumbent starter Brendon Lewis, before neither proved effective. In came McCown, who hasn’t exactly been all-world, though he has shown the makings of a competent starter.

Oregon: Up front, Ducks fly together

Aside from a Rose Bowl win, a Fiesta Bowl loss and an Alamo Bowl appearance in his last season at the helm, the biggest legacy Mario Cristobal left behind at Oregon was a retooled and rebuilt offensive line.

Here’s the scary little secret about the Ducks of the late-aughts: It wasn’t the skill position talent that helped lift Oregon to new heights. Between Kyle Long and Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu and, later, Shane Lemieux, Jake Hanson and Penei Sewell, the Ducks have consistently put linemen into the NFL Draft.

Now Oregon might boast its best line ever, a unit that has yielded just one sack midway through the season.

And the Ducks might just be getting better. They secured the services of one of the top offensive tackles in the Class of 2022, Josh Conerly Jr., who has already seen some action. And the Ducks just got another big commitment in Mater Dei interior lineman Lipe Moala, according to SBLive.com

Oregon State: Damien Martinez earning his carries

Nick Daschel of the Oregonian is reporting that running back Damien Martinez might just be forcing the Beavers coaches’ hands. Though Oregon State is committed to a 3-back rotation, featuring the freshman Martinez along with Jam Griffin and Deshaun Fenwick, Martinez’s 194 rushing yards on 19 carries the past 2 games has opened eyes.

And he’s kept them open, with runs of 43 and 50 yards the past 2 weeks. OSU head coach Jonathan Smith is remaining committed to the “hot hand” theory, but Martinez may be causing him a second thought.

“A pecking order, how many carries, I still think we get into games and kind of see who has the hot hand,” Smith said.

Stanford: Can Cardinal build on big win?

A win at Notre Dame is always special, no matter if the Fighting Irish are slogging through their worst season in years.

And for a Stanford squad that desperately needed a win, the win over the Irish was especially special.

Particularly considering it had been over a calendar year since the Cardinal last defeated an FBS opponent. Now comes the hard part for David Shaw and Co.: Doing it again.

With a beatable opponent coming into town in the Arizona State Sun Devils, who scored a big upset win themselves in Week 6 with a 45-38 win over then-No. 21 Washington, the Cardinal are looking to make it two in a row.

“Our guys got that taste in their mouth now,” Shaw told reporters, according to the Marin Independent Journal’s Harold Gutmann. “How to play well, how to get into a tight game at the end of the fourth quarter and find a way to finish.”

UCLA: All eyes on pass rush heading into pivotal matchup with Oregon maulers

Squaring off against arguably the best offensive line in the country, the UCLA pass rush is going to need to come to play come Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks have allowed 1 sack all season and rank among the best running teams in the country.

An infusion of talent this offseason should help the Bruins’ effort, as UCLA has come to rely upon newcomers such as Grayson and Gabriel Murphy and Laiatu Latu. But it may be old standby Carl Jones who leads the team on Saturday. Jones is starting to make his presence known, and he had a huge sack against Utah in Week 6.

“Yeah, Carl’s one of our true leaders on our whole football team,” UCLA head coach Chip Kelly told reporters last week. “I think when Carl talks, people listen. He’s an asset to this university, just how he carries himself and what he does on a daily basis. Great young man to be around and I think anybody here would tell you they’re a huge Carl Jones fan. We’re just so excited that he’s part of helping as a leader, and he really leads from the front. Carl’s there, he’s first in every drill, he’s first in everything he does. He’s a great representative in the community also, does a lot of work from the community aspect of things. He’s a great leader in the weight room, he’s a great leader in the classroom, so one of the reasons we’re as successful as we are right now is because of Carl.

USC: Trojans head into bye looking to get healthy

If it just ended with Jordan Addison’s lower leg injury, the Trojans may have been able to survive Utah’s late-game surge on Saturday in a 43-42 loss to the Utes.

But myriad offensive line injuries coming into the game, plus Addison’s absence and the equally brutal loss of linebacker Eric Gentry, had the Trojans reeling late in the matchup. At this point, Lincoln Riley’s squad does not have the depth available to weather those kinds of storms.

But the Trojans got some good news on Tuesday, as Riley told reporters that Addison and Gentry were considered “day-to-day” and that both avoided significant injuries. If USC can get healthy up front — where tackles Courtland Ford and Bobby Haskins and guard Justin Dedich have been nursing injuries — the Trojans can storm into the second half of their season healthy and rested.

Utah: What’s the deal with Tavion Thomas?

Just when we thought the madness was over with Tavion Thomas, it appears it’s just getting started. After the Utes’ returning 1,100-yard, 22-touchdown runner appeared to turn the corner in Week 6, gaining 91 yards on 18 carries while catching 2 passes for 16 yards in a 42-32 loss to Utah, Thomas struggled on Saturday in a 43-42 win over USC.

Thomas managed just 28 yards on 8 rushes and ceded carries to backup Micah Bernard, who had 11 carries for 37 yards and a crucial fumble inside the USC 10-yard line on the Utes’ second drive of the second half.

Thomas reportedly left the game early, taking his shoulder pads off and running off the field by himself, actions which Kyle Whittingham shed little light on afterwards.

On Monday, when asked about the team’s running game, Whittingham mentioned Bernard but not Thomas, and on Tuesday, the head coach said about Thomas: “We’ll keep all that internal, regardless of what it is, unless there’s something very permanent in nature.

“We’ll figure that out, we have time to go through that and figure out which direction we’re going to go,” Whittingham told reporters on Monday, according to the Salt Lake Tribune’s Josh Newman. “Micah Bernard sure has been a huge value for us. He pass-protects, he catches the ball out of the backfield, he runs effectively, so we’ve got some good options, but that question will be answered when we get back out there towards the end of this week.”

Washington: Jackson Sirmon hosts former Husky teammates in big matchup with Cal

When the Washington Huskies visit Cal on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., they’ll see a familiar face on the other sideline.

Bears senior linebacker Jackson Sirmon — who leads the team with 52 tackles (by 20 over second-leading tackler Daniel Scott) and has 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defended and an interception — was a big contributor for the Huskies from 2019-21, before entering the transfer portal last year and choosing to join his father, Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, in the Bay.

That decision, Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer said at his weekly press conference, was likely made before DeBoer was even hired.

“No. There really wasn’t much of (a conversation),” DeBoer said. It was really brief and I think his mind was made up. It’s one of those things. I get it. He’s going to go play for his dad and the opportunity there. Obviously, very much missed in this program. Know he gave everything he had. Going to be a player that we’ve got to be ready for this weekend. Does a great job. There’s certain opportunities that are special. As much as we miss him and it was hard to see that happen I also understood. That’s kind of how that all fell into place.”

Washington State: Cameron Ward picks up a new weapon

The Washington State passing game got off to a good start this season with transfer Cam Ward averaging nearly 300 yards per game and tossing 13 touchdowns against 7 interceptions in the Cougars’ first 5 games.

In back-to-back losses at Oregon State and USC, though, Ward has been inefficient, completing just more than 50 percent of his passes with 3 touchdowns and an interception to go along with 11 sacks taken.

Ward might have found a new target, though, as freshman Leyton Smithson got his first start for the Cougars on Saturday in a 24-10 loss to the Beavers.

Smithson had 4 catches for 62 yards, ranking second on the team behind Robert Ferrel’s 5 grabs for 131 yards.

Nonetheless, Wazzu wideouts had a handful of drops, which they’re working on over the bye week before hosting Utah next Thursday.

“I definitely think it starts in our room,” Smithson told reporters, according to CougFan.com’s Jamey Vinnick. . “We didn’t execute the way we planned on. We weren’t reading them in. I had a lot of little errors in press. I think it starts with us. Ferrel just a dog. Ever since he’s gotten healthy, our offense has had a different spark to it. He did his best today but we didn’t help out.”