Wilner: Pac-12 Rewind, Best and the Worst of the Weekend

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Jon Wilner

Recapping the best and worst of Week Six in the Pac-12 …

Theme of the week: Light schedule, low drama

Hard to imagine an October weekend ever packing a softer punch. There were only four games; three were decided by multiple touchdowns; and the only ranked team in action won handily. What’s more, #Pac12AfterDark failed to deliver a pulsating finish, as UCLA pulled away from Arizona in the fourth quarter.

Theme of the season: Ground games

More teams are committed to the running game than we’ve seen in the Pac-12 in several years. Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon all rank in the top-30 nationally in rushing yards per game. (Meanwhile, only one team, USC, is among the top 30 in passing yards per game.) It’s a notable twist from the full seasons prior to the pandemic: The Pac-12 had no teams in the top-30 in rushing in either 2018 or 2019.

Team of the week: Utah

All credit to the Utes for a sterling performance in their first game since the death of defensive back Aaron Lowe. They played with emotion and focus — a tough combination to maintain for four quarters. And from a practical standpoint, the performance substantially improved Utah’s chances to win the South.

Game of the week: Washington State 31, Oregon State 24

Had you told us prior to kickoff that the Beavers would rush for 309 yards, and that Max Borghi would total 33 yards from scrimmage, the Hotline would have assumed a blowout in OSU’s favor. But the Cougars looked more like an Air Raid team than a run-and-shoot operation, with Jayden de Laura throwing for 399 yards on 46 attempts. WSU also broke tendency and played its best after halftime, with four touchdowns and a crucial defensive stop.

Player of the week: Utah quarterback Cameron Rising

Let’s acknowledge that USC receiver Drake London would be a worthy selection every week. And we seriously considered de Laura for his efforts in the Cougars’ victory. But Rising was masterful, completing 22-of-28 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions. And he averaged a stellar 10.9 yards per attempt.

Coach of the week: Washington State’s Nick Rolovich

With all the attention on his vaccination status as the deadline approaches, Rolovich produced an exquisite gameplan that exploited Oregon State’s secondary and put de Laura in advantageous situations. (Also, WSU’s defense is underrated.) It was the best coaching performance we’ve seen from Rolovich since the 2020 season opener, which was also against OSU.

Stall of the week I: Oregon State

Over the sweep of the season, OSU’s play selection has been first rate. But we were a bit baffled by the final drive in Pullman. Trailing by a touchdown and doing whatever they pleased with the running game, the Beavers turned pass-happy once they entered WSU territory. Predictably, the drive stalled and the loss ensued.

Stall of the week II: Stanford

The Cardinal had 10 possessions in ASU territory but managed just two scores (one touchdown, one field goal). It punted four times inside the 50. We would have been a tad more aggressive; punts and field goals were not going to win the game.

Stat of the week: Penalties

All in all, it was a remarkably clean weekend, with 45 assessed penalties over the four games — an average of just 5.6 per team. Arizona was the outlier, accounting for 12 of the 45. Credit Arizona State, in particular, with getting mistakes cleared up. Three weeks ago, the Sun Devils committed 16 assessed penalties (20 total) in the loss at BYU. This weekend, they had just five assessed.

Stat of the season I: Arizona

The two-year losing streak has reached 17 consecutive games; it’s a school record and the longest active streak in the country. Jedd Fisch has a major rebuild ahead of him — that was evident the moment he accepted the job last winter. We thought a few glimmers might have emerged by this point. But so far, there’s nothing substantive to indicate Fisch can pull the Wildcats out of this mess sooner than later.

Stat of the season II: USC

The Trojans are 0-3 at home in conference play (losses to Stanford, Oregon State and Utah), they have given up more than 40 points each time, and they have lost by an average of 16 points. Otherwise, it has been a stellar home campaign.

Stat of the decade: Washington State

The Cougars extended their winning streak over Oregon State to eight games, with the last loss coming Oct. 12, 2013. All but two of the victories have been by a touchdown or more.

Stat of the century: USC

The Trojans have three conference losses this early in the season for the first time since 2001, Pete Carrol’s rookie year. On the bright side, they’re idle this week, then play Notre Dame on the road and Arizona at home. So conference loss No. 4, while seemingly inevitable, is likely many weeks away.

Game of next week: Arizona State at Utah

With USC fading and ASU holding the head-to-head advantage over UCLA, the Utes and Sun Devils meet Saturday night in what stands as the game of the year in the South. ESPN has the broadcast.

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