Recapping the Week Seven action across the Pac-12 …
Theme of the week I: Mayhem
Even with three teams idle and a limited schedule, Saturday left us transfixed with the heavyweight showdown that went to the wire (Utah-USC), victories by double-digit underdogs (Stanford and Colorado), unstoppable offense (Washington, USC, Utah), terrible offense (Cal, Washington State), stout defense (Oregon State) and terrible defense (Arizona). Week Seven had it all.
Theme of the week II: Officiating
Forget the pass interference penalties that send coaches and fans into meltdown mode — those are judgment calls that cause controversy in every conference each week. We saw far too many errors with early whistles, ball placement and poor communication. The Hotline watches all or the majority of every game, each week (and has done so for years). What we witnessed Saturday was commonplace in the Pac-12 until the situation improved over the past season and a half. This was a setback.
Theme of the month: Eating your own
USC’s loss leaves the conference with one undefeated team, UCLA, and the Bruins have a major challenge next week. Sure, parity makes for entertaining viewing and has been a staple of Pac-12 football for years. But the best conferences possess a clearly-defined top tier that creates premium TV matchups and the potential for breathtaking upsets. The trajectory of this season won’t be derailed if the Bruins lose in Eugene. But the Pac-12 needs three or four teams to remain a cut above into November.
Team of the week: Stanford
Utah is certainly worthy of the honor, but we created a separate category specifically for the Utes (see below) and instead chose to single out the team that won its first game against an FBS opponent in more than a year. Stanford had lost 11 in a row to opponents not named Colgate and came close last week before a last-second defensive collapse. This time, the Cardinal finished the job with a 16-14 victory at Notre Dame.
Game of the week: Utah 43, USC 42
It had everything: a primetime audience, playoff and conference title implications, 85 points and 1,118 yards of offense, first-rate individual performances, huge momentum shifts, fourth-quarter touchdowns, controversial officiating, a pulsating final minute and, naturally, a field storming. It was the game of the year in the conference, at least until next weekend.
Last stand of the week: Utah
The playoff is out of reach for the Utes (5-2) because of their loss total — and if you hadn’t noticed, Florida is 1-3 in SEC play — but they are alive and well in the Pac-12 race after the victory over USC. If the Utes run the table, a feat that would include winning at Oregon next month, a berth in the conference championship game awaits. Oops, excuse me: Another berth in the championship game awaits.
Coach of the week: Colorado’s Mike Sanford
In his first game as interim head coach, Sanford delivered CU’s first win of the season. What’s more, he managed to energize not only the players but the entire CU football community with two weeks of nonstop salesmanship and passion — a stark contrast to the comatose vibe given off daily by previous coach Karl Dorrell.
Call of the week: Utah’s Kyle Whittingham
The dean of Pac-12 coaches could have opted to kick the extra point with 48 seconds left and play for overtime against the Trojans. Instead, he ordered up the two-point conversion that provided the winning margin. When you trust your quarterback, have faith in the energy of the home crowd and possess what amounts to a lifetime contract, it’s an easier decision to make.
Offensive player of the week: Utah’s Dalton Kincaid
The sublime tight end set a conference record for receptions at his position (16) and accounted for 55 percent of Utah’s aerial yardage (234 of 424). Quarterback Cam Rising scored the go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion, but the Utes would never have been in position for victory without Kincaid’s masterpiece.
Defensive player of the week: Stanford’s Stephen Herron
The edge rusher from New Albany, Indiana turned in a stellar performance a few hours from his hometown, recording four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in a victory at Notre Dame powered by the Cardinal defense. The Irish gained just 301 yards and were 3-of-12 on third down.
Offensive offense of the week: Cal
The Bears mustered just 13 points against a Colorado defense that had allowed at least 38 to five previous opponents. It was an abomination and, when combined with the nine points scored by the Bears in their previous outing (at Washington State), should prompt coach Justin Wilcox to take a hard look at offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s effectiveness. The Bears are indeed running a Pro Style offense — straight out of the 1940s.
Offensive defense of the week: Arizona
The Wildcats yielded 595 yards and 49 points to Washington in yet another meltdown by a unit that ranks in the 120s nationally in both points per game and yards-per-play allowed. Arizona is 1-3 in conference play and, remarkably, has allowed 49 points in each of the three losses — to Oregon, Cal and UW. (Yes, even Cal.) The personnel is better than it shows under first-year defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen.
Stat of the week: Ball security
The nine teams in action combined for just eight turnovers. USC, Washington, Arizona and Stanford didn’t commit any; Utah, Oregon State and Washington State each committed one; Cal and Colorado combined for five.
Stat of the year: Point production
Five Pac-12 teams rank among the top 20 nationally in scoring: Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Utah and USC are all over 40 points per game. No other Power Five conference has more than four teams in the top 20.
Stat of the decade: Oregon State
The Beavers broke an eight-game losing streak to Washington State with a 24-10 victory, their first in the series since the 2013 season. At 5-2, and with Cal, ASU and Colorado on the schedule, Oregon State is a lock for the postseason and should win eight or nine games.
Game of next week: UCLA at Oregon
A matchup of top-10 teams with major postseason implications will have ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ on hand in Eugene. We presume the pregame hype will focus on the head coaches, the quarterbacks and UCLA’s first road challenge of the season. But the outcome depends entirely on the play of the Bruins’ revamped defense under first-year coordinator Bill McGovern. The opening line has the Ducks favored by 4.5 points.
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