Pac-12 rewind: WSU’s defense shines, Smith’s gutsy call, USC’s funny numbers and more touchdowns in Seattle

Arizona Sports News online

A recap of the Week Two action across the Pac-12 …

Theme of the week I: Breakthrough vs. the Big Ten

Washington State’s upset of No. 19 Wisconsin — as a 17-point underdog, no less — gave the Pac-12 its first victory over a Power Five opponent since the third week of the 2021 season (Stanford over Vanderbilt) and restored a morsel of dignity to the conference’s bruised reputation. But unless the Pac-12 adds more high-profile wins to its resume in coming weeks, WSU’s stunner will be viewed as an outlier, much like Oregon’s win at Ohio State early last year, and not a sign of improved performance by the collective.

Theme of the week II: Fourth quarter flops

Theme of the week III: Dodging traps

Three teams with anticipated Week Three matchups avoided flat performances against FCS foes: Oregon, which hosts BYU next week, pummeled Eastern Washington; Utah, which plays a revenge game against San Diego State next week, thumped Southern Utah; and Washington, which welcomes Michigan State next week, flattened Portland State. The Pac-12 has yet to lose to an FCS opponent after taking two to the gut last season.

Team of the week: Oregon State

The Beavers improved to 2-0 overall — and 2-0 against top-tier teams in the Mountain West — with a walk-off victory at Fresno State. Handle their Week Three business at home against Montana State and they will be halfway to bowl-eligibility with nine games remaining. The schedule includes a visit by Colorado, meaning the Beavers are not only 2-0 but 2-0 with two exceedingly winnable games remaining.

Team of the season: Washington State

The 17-14 victory at Wisconsin was no less than the Pac-12’s most significant non-conference win since Oregon beat Ohio State a year ago in Columbus. It also suggests the Cougars — and their defense in particular — will pose a threat to every team in conference. If you’re wondering, they play Oregon and Utah in Pullman and visit USC.

Game of the week: Oregon State 35, Fresno State 32

We had this duel in the Central Valley identified as one of the most intriguing games of the weekend, and it easily met expectations. Almost 900 total yards, no turnovers and three touchdowns in the final two minutes, including a walk-off. Both teams are superbly coached.

Play of the week: Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura

It’s impossible to accurately describe de Laura’s first-quarter interception, in which he escaped pressured, scrambled left, reversed field in a half-moon shape, eluded pressure again, ran all the way back to the left side, then heaved a ball down field — only to have it intercepted by Mississippi State’s Jalen Green and returned 29 yards. Here’s the video.

Offensive player of the week: USC quarterback Caleb Williams

The Heisman Trophy candidate kept his campaign moving right along with a stellar prime-time performance on ABC. Williams completed 20-of-27 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Through two games, he has a passer rating of 221.1 and is averaging 12 yards per attempt. Those are funny numbers, and yet so very real.

Defensive team of the week: Washington State

We opted against honoring a single player given that the magnificent performance by the Cougars, which included a second-half shutout of the Badgers, had numerous authors. Crucially, it appears the defense is prepared to carry WSU as long as needed until the revamped offense and new quarterback (Cam Ward) get fully comfortable.

Coach of the week: Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith

Down three points with three seconds left and the ball on Fresno State’s two yard-line, Smith could have ordered the game-tying field goal. Yes, his defense was tired, but so was FSU’s — and the Bulldogs were having all sorts of place-kicking problems. Instead, Smith pulled his kicker off the field and went for the walk-off win with — who else? — Jack Colletto in the Wildcat formation. The gutsy call was rewarded with a fairly routine off-tackle touchdown run for OSU’s first victory at Fresno State, ever.

Stat of the week I: Washington

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has thrown six touchdown passes in two games. The Huskies had 15 in 12 games last season.

Stat of the week II: USC

The Trojans did not face a third down until the final minute of the first half, by which point they had a 35-14 lead over Stanford.

Stat of the week III: UCLA

One week after an announced crowd of 27,000-something for Bowling Green — it was the smallest in their history at the Rose Bowl — the Bruins drew 33,727 for FCS Alabama State. (Small victories!) Next up: South Alabama.

Stat of the week IV: Arizona State

The discipline problems that plagued ASU last season have seeped into 2022. The Sun Devils committed 10 penalties for 95 yards in the loss at Oklahoma State. A few of them were simply mind-boggling.

Stat of the week V: Cal

The Bears stopped UNLV on fourth down three times to preserve a 20-14 victory and improve to 2-0. Of course, it’s never a good sign when Pac-12 programs are forced into preservation mode against the Rebels.

Theme of next week: Clarity arrives

Is Oregon good enough to contend for the Pac-12 title? We’ll have a better sense once the Ducks face Brigham Young. Is Washington a top-25 team and potential conference contender in Year One under Kalen DeBoer? The showdown against Michigan State will reveal much. In addition to those enticing matchups, Utah hosts San Diego State, Cal visits reeling Notre Dame and USC hosts Fresno State in what should be a fascinating Saturday.

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