Best and Worst of the Pac-12 in Week Four

(Michael Malone/Bay Area News Group)

Story by Jon Wilner 

Recapping the best and worst from Week Four …

News of the day: Utah

Crushing development in Salt Lake City, where Utes defensive back Aaron Lowe was killed in a shooting incident early Sunday morning.

Lowe was from Mesquite, Tex., the same hometown as former Utah running back Ty Jordan, who was killed late last year in an accidental shooting.

“We are devastated to hear about the passing of Aaron Lowe,” coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement posted on the Utes’ website. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Aaron’s family and friends, along with the other individual who was harmed in this tragic incident. Aaron was a great teammate, friend, brother and son and was loved by anyone who crossed paths with him. He will be deeply missed.”

Lowe was the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded by the team.

Our deepest condolences to Lowe’s family and the Utah football program.

Theme of the week: Separation Saturday

Admittedly, there is enough season left to render obsolete these early assumptions, but the Week Four results provide initial framing for the division races: In the North, it’s the Oregon schools and perhaps Washington; in the South, it’s UCLA and Arizona State and perhaps Utah.

Meanwhile, Colorado, Cal and Washington State are facing difficult bowl math: At 1-3 overall, they must win five of their final eight to qualify for the postseason. We’ve seen little on the field to suggest that’s reasonable.

Theme of the season: Officiating

We were critical of several calls early in the Oregon State-USC game, but over the sweep of the first month, Pac-12 officiating has been quite good, especially as compared to the SEC, for example.

(The Hotline will address this topic in depth in coming days.)

Team of the week: Oregon State

Sure, we have a soft spot for teams that break 61-year losing streaks in the L.A. Coliseum, but their performance would have been deserving of recognition without that element.

OSU scored 45 points and gained 535 yards despite 154 yards in penalties. Given their upcoming schedule, the Beavers (3-1) are a legitimate threat to win eight or nine games.

As a parting gift, the Beavers received … aircraft issues and an extra night in L.A.

Game of the week: Washington 31, Cal 24 (OT)

The only Week Four game decided by a touchdown or less unfolded in Seattle — and that’s no surprise: The Huskies and Bears typically engage in one-score games.

This edition was more entertaining than previous matchups because of semi-competent offenses on both sides. UW gave up a 24-10 lead but scored on the first possession of overtime, then forced a Cal fumble to win it.

Player of the week: Oregon State tailback B.J. Baylor

The heir apparent to Jermar Jefferson did his predecessor proud, rushing for 158 yards on 23 carries and pretty much laying waste to USC’s defense. And Baylor would have cleared 200 yards if not for a long run being negated by a sketchy holding penalty — one of several bad calls against OSU.

Play of the week: UCLA

Stanford tied the game early in the fourth quarter on a long touchdown pass. On first down on the ensuing possession, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson hit receiver Kyle Phillips on a deep seam route that turned into a 75-yard scoring strike. The big play returned momentum to UCLA and sparked an impressive finish for the Bruins in their 35-24 win.

Loss of the week: USC

Yes, sure: The Trojans were embarrassed on their home turf for the second time in four games and are two back in the loss column within the division.

But the ramifications are much broader: The loss extinguishes any chance we’ll see a swell of support to make Donte Williams the permanent coach. Now, there is no path that ends with USC promoting from within.

Stat of the week I: Aerial wreckage

Five Pac-12 teams rank in the bottom 30 of the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing efficiency: Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Washington State and Utah.

Stat of the week II: Ground efficiency

Meanwhile, four Pac-12 teams are ranked in the top 40 of the FBS in rushing yards per game: Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon.

Is the conference undergoing a sweeping philosophical shift, from air to land? It’s a development worth watching, for sure.

Stat of the season: Washington State

The Cougars have been outscored in the second half of all three losses this season, by a total of 76-24. Granted, the numbers are skewed by USC’s 38-point outburst. But Utah State and Utah outplayed WSU over the final 30 minutes, as well.

Stat of the decade: Arizona

The Wildcats are still looking for their first win of the 2020s. They haven’t claimed victory since Oct. 5, 2019 (over Colorado).

Because Arizona doesn’t play again until Oct. 9, the losing streak is guaranteed to extend past two full calendar years.

Game of this week I: Arizona State at UCLA

Are the Sun Devils a real threat to win the South? Just how tight is UCLA’s grip on the division? With USC floundering, it’s a three-team race (with Utah not yet eliminated).

This will be one of the few conference games all season that will feature high-level athleticism on both sides.

Game of this week II: Oregon at Stanford

No team has derailed promising Oregon seasons more often over the past 20 years than Stanford. And speaking of …

This season is the 20th anniversary of the Cardinal’s first stunner: On Oct. 20, 2001, the unranked Cardinal rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the fifth-ranked Ducks and (ultimately) prevent Oregon from playing for the BCS championship.

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