BY SPORTSPAC12 via Oregon Sports News
Every Thursday during the football season our SportsPac12 writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Pac-12 football games. All 12 teams are engaged in Conference play this week.
UCLA (4-3, 4-6) at #23 USC (6-2, 7-4)
Saturday, November 23
12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Straight-Up Pick: UCLA in a Close Win
Against the Spread: UCLA (+13.5)
By Andrew Corbett
What the Bruins Must Do to Win
Coming off a blowout defeat at the hands of an elite Utah squad, the Bruins need to shift their focus to what now looms as their most important remaining game. Defeating the Trojans will depend on containing their talented group of receivers. Collectively, they caught 29 passes for 406 yards against Cal, with Michael Pittman Jr. accounting for 180 of those yards on his own. USC’s wideouts have had phenomenal success when matched against smaller and less physical defensive backs, and UCLA’s secondary stands last in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. If the Bruins can apply stiff pressure upfront, while limiting USC’s passing with tight man-to-man coverage behind it, the linebackers may be able to provide help downfield. On offense, UCLA running back Joshua Kelley needs to rush the ball as well as he did last year when he ran for almost 300 yards against the Trojans. Doing so would open up the passing game, keeping the pressure off Bruin quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
What the Trojans Must Do to Win
Conversely, USC needs to limit Kelley and the UCLA rushing attack and control the flow and tempo of the game. If the Trojan defense can force the Bruins to pass, depriving them of their bread and butter on offense, it should lead to takeaways and help set up the Trojan offense for easy scores. Establishing a consistent and reliable rushing game—no easy task against a gritty UCLA front—would go a long way toward forcing the Bruins to skew their defensive scheme. Specifically, if UCLA ends up having to load the box, USC’s dangerous wideouts will likely have free reign to burn Bruin defenders downfield. Trojan quarterback Kedon Slovis needs to continue making accurate throws while protecting the football and handling pressure from the Bruin front. USC ranks second-to-last in the Conference in turnover margin, and interceptions or fumbles in pivotal situations could derail what might otherwise be an easy victory for the Trojans.
What Happens on the Field
This should be a back-and-forth game with both teams putting up plenty of points. UCLA will do it on the ground, with Kelley pounding it up the middle, and Thompson-Robinson keeping it on the read-option, or whenever a play breaks down. USC will pick apart the UCLA secondary with multiple explosion throws for touchdowns. Ultimately, however, UCLA will use long, sustained drives focused on the run to take a late lead. USC will not recover with pressure applied to its first-year starting quarterback. The Bruins win another nail-biter, making it two in a row over the Trojans.
Notes: USC leads the all-time series, 47-32-7, with UCLA winning last year’s game in the Rose Bowl, 34-27. Kelley needs 61 rushing yards to reach 1,000 yards for the season. Slovis turned in his third 400-yard passing game of the year against Cal. UCLA’s Demetric Felton has 42 receptions, a school record for single-season receptions by a running back. Over the last two games, Pittman has collected 24 receptions for 326 yards and has caught four or more passes in each of the last 13 games. UCLA’s two road wins this season equal the number of road games won in the previous three seasons.
Cal (2-5, 5-5) at Stanford (3-5, 4-6)
1:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA
Straight-Up: Cal in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Cal (+2.5)
By Kamron Azemika
What the Golden Bears Must Do to Win
Given Cal’s ongoing injury problems, the Golden Bears need to make the best of their limited but competent personnel. That led to unorthodox play-calling against USC, and it didn’t always go as planned. Fortunately, the Bears face an arguably more banged-up opponent this week than themselves. Stanford’s injuries have come on both sides of the ball, but the ones that plague the Cardinal defensively could give Cal an opening on offense. The Bears must test Stanford’s secondary, especially if Cal’s best deep-threat—Kekoa Crawford—is available. Assuming running back Christopher Brown Jr. isn’t cleared to play, DeShawn Collins needs to help open up the deep ball by forcing the Cardinal front seven to focus on the line of scrimmage. The status of injured Bear quarterback Chase Garbers remains unclear, but stylistically the injured Stanford secondary is better suited to defending Devon Modster’s deep-ball tendencies. Defensively, Cal might want to avoid the man coverage that contributed to its worst passing defensive performance of the season against USC. Stopping Stanford running back Cameron Scarlett will be essential.
What the Cardinal Must Do to Win
What remains of Stanford’s depth must rally around quarterback Davis Mills, who has remained relatively efficient despite the injuries that have devastated the offensive line. The Cardinal rushing attack, which ranks near the bottom of the Conference at 108.7 yards per game, needs to move the chains with regularity to keep their equally banged-up defense off the field. Thankfully for the Cardinal, the Cal passing attack does not present a major challenge to the secondary. Stanford’s defensive backs will simply need to keep Bear receivers in front of them and let the regular occurrence of Cal drops and missed throws take its course. Mills should be able to outgun the Bears, but a strong rushing performance from Scarlett would really push the Cardinal over the top. If Stanford can find a way to minimize the dominance of the nation’s leading tackler in Evan Weaver, it could be another long day for the Bear defense.
Ultimately, this contest should come down to the high-stakes matchup of Cal’s passing attack versus Cardinal’s banged-up secondary. The Bears may have a slight advantage, if Kekoa Crawford is healthy enough to play, though not a decisive one. The more intriguing matchup between Mills and the Cardinal offense pitted against Weaver and the Bear defense is more likely to decide the game. Rivalry games tend to be played close, despite talent gaps, and this year’s Big Game lacks the talent gap that has favored Stanford over the past decade. Look for the Cal defense to rebound from last week’s lapses and deliver a victory.
Notes: Stanford leads the series 64-46-11, having won last year’s matchup 23-13 in Berkeley. Collins posted career-highs with 15 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-17 loss to USC. Mills set a school single-game record with 504 passing yards on career highs of 32 completions in 49 attempts against WSU. Weaver, who had 14 tackles last week, has posted double-digit tackles in 16 of his last 17 games. Stanford’s Connor Wedington now has a catch in all 27 career games after registering seven catches for a career-high 109 yards. A victory would give the Bears back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2009.
#6 Oregon (7-0, 9-1) at ASU (2-5, 5-5)
4:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Sun Devil Stadium, Phoenix, AZ
Straight-Up: Oregon in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: Oregon (-14.5)
By Nicholas Bartlett
What the Ducks Must Do to Win
The Ducks must keep the game plan simple and run the ball down the throat of Arizona State. The Sun Devils do not have the depth, physicality, or size, to hang with Oregon upfront for the entire contest. Look for the Ducks to get multiple running backs involved to keep Arizona State off-balance: CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, and Cyrus Habibi-Likio have all rushed for more than 200 yards this season. Verdell leads the group with 814 yards and figures to have a standout game. With the Devils focused on stopping the run, Duck quarterback Justin Herbert should be able to find open receivers and beat ASU downfield. On defense, Oregon must find a way to stop breakaway wideout threat Brandon Aiyuk. When he’s held in check, the Sun Devils struggle to gain yardage in chunks. The Ducks will want to blitz and otherwise pressure Jayden Daniels, forcing ASU’s freshman signal-caller to throw on the run into Oregon’s ball-hawking secondary, which leads the nation in interceptions. If the Ducks can make the Devils beat them on the ground, they can control the game from start to finish.
What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win
The Sun Devils have one major factor working in their advantage: They have nothing to lose, coming off a four-game skid. They also have a long history of upsetting ranked teams in the desert at night. Expect Head Coach Herm Edwards to throw the book at the Ducks. Trick plays, fake kicks, and deep shots downfield could be the answer to shocking the Ducks. This contest will test the development and leadership of Daniels, who will be tasked with re-establishing a floundering offense in the midst of a four-game losing streak. On defense, the Sun Devils must find a way to limit explosion plays and create turnovers. ASU may employ an NFL-style defensive system, mixing in zone, man-to-man, and blitz packages to keep Herbert off-balance. If the senior quarterback gets comfortable in the pocket, he will make the ASU secondary pay. The Ducks are averaging 470 yards per game, while the Devils are allowing an average of 380. ASU likely needs to hold Oregon under 400 yards to win.
Oregon’s defense will carry over its momentum from last week and dominate the ASU offense. The Sun Devils will struggle to find a consistent rushing attack, forcing them into long down-and-distance situations. UO will capitalize on these situations and get the ball back into the hands of their Heisman-candidate quarterback for multiple touchdown passes. Sun Devil wideout Aiyuk will find some space but not nearly enough to change the outcome of the game. The rest of ASU’s offense will be stymied. Expect the Ducks to win comfortably in the desert.
Notes: Oregon leads the all-time series 20-17, and won last year’s matchup 31-29. Under Edwards, ASU is 4-4 against ranked opponents, and 1-1 this season. Oregon is one of only three teams in the country to begin their conference schedule 7-0. Daniels has thrown for more than 300 yards four times this season. The Ducks have had 19 different players score a touchdown this season. ASU’s Kyle Williams extended his streak of games with a reception to 38 last week at OSU. Oregon has held six opponents to single digits for the first time since 1960. Aiyuk has 513 all-purpose yards over the past two games.
OSU (4-3, 5-5) at WSU (2-5, 5-5)
6:o0 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Straight-Up: Washington State in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: Washington State (-10.5)
By Jace McKinney
What the Beavers Must Do to Win
Coming off a dramatic win against Arizona State, Oregon state finds itself within one win of reaching a bowl game. To have a chance against Washington State, the Beavers need to establish their running game early. The Cougars field one of the worst defenses in the country and have shown they can’t stop a rush-heavy team. Establishing the run with Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson should open the door for OSU junior wideout Isaiah Hodgins to exploit a weak WSU secondary. Quarterback Jake Luton needs to manage the game as he has done all season, throwing for 23 touchdowns against only two interceptions. On defense, Oregon State needs to pressure WSU quarterback Gordon, forcing misguided throws and turnovers. That won’t be easy, as the Cougars have given up fewer sacks than any other Pac-12 team. If the Beavs win the turnover battle, they should win the game, launching them into a bowl game no one expected them to reach in the preseason.
What the Cougars Must Do to Win
Washington State is coming off its biggest win of the season, moving them one victory closer to becoming bowl-eligible. Wazzu’s defense improved dramatically last week, forcing a pair of turnovers and holding the Cardinal to six rushing yards—their fewest of the season—as well as 22 points. The Cougars must continue their defensive dominance to beat a hot OSU offense that has had its way with all but Washington. Indeed, WSU needs to follow UW’s lead in limiting the run to keep the talented Beaver wide receiver corp from gashing its secondary. On offense, WSU must feed Max Borghi early and often, whether rushing the ball or receiving it out of the backfield. When he gets going, it opens up the field for everyone else to make plays, taking the pressure off Gordon. Getting the running attack going will allow the Cougars to take some deep shots down the field to wideouts Easop Winston and Dezmon Patmon. If the Cougs can do that, they’ll emerge with the postseason credentials they seek.
This contest is going to be up-tempo, with both teams wanting to start fast. Momentum will likely dictate the outcome of what should be a high-scoring game. Neither team can rely on its defense, so each will need to score on nearly every possession to keep pace with the other. Expect both quarterbacks to throw for plenty of yards, with members of both receiving corps—particularly WSU’s Brandon Aracando and OSU’s Hodgins—streaking up and down the field. Washington State holds the home-field advantage and should pull away in the second half. Oregon State simply does not have the defensive talent to hang with the Cougar offense.
Notes: Washington State leads the all-time series, and won last year’s meeting in Corvallis 56-37. The Beavers continue to lead the nation with only four turnovers committed this season. Gordon posted his second 500-yard passing game of the year last week. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. recorded two sacks against ASU, and now owns the Oregon State single-season mark with 14. Arconado recorded his fourth-straight 100-yard game last week. Hodgins caught his 20th career touchdown pass vs. ASU, tying him with James Newson and Mike Hass for second in OSU history.
#7 Utah (6-1, 9-1) at Arizona (2-5, 4-6)
7:00 p.m. PT, FS1
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Straight-Up: Utah in a Blowout
Against the Spread: Utah (-22.5)
By Dane Miller
What the Utes Must Do to Win
Utah needs to rush the ball consistently and burn Arizona with long throws on Run-Pass option plays. To do so, Huntley must be a willing runner, and pass the ball with accuracy. Zack Moss should carry the ball 20 or more times, augmented by several pass receptions out of the backfield. Tight end Brant Kuithe and wideout Bryan Thompson must thrive against a Wildcat secondary that is one of the worst in the country. The run-pass balance should wear down the Wildcat defense, which has some swagger after its improved performance against Oregon. On the other side of the ball, Utah needs to bring substantial pressure upfront to limit run gains and hurry whichever quarterback happens to be at the helm. Arizona’s offensive line is down three starters and has little chemistry playing together, presenting an opportunity for the Utes to blitz aggressively. Utah’s defensive line should focus on stopping J.J. Taylor, allowing the linebackers to blitz and spy on Khalil Tate, or pass defend when Grant Gunnell is under center.
What the Wildcats Must Do to Win
Arizona needs to shut down Moss, rendering Utah one-dimensional, and forcing Huntley to beat them with his arm. If the senior quarterback is forced to throw the ball 30 or more times, the Cats have a much better chance of pulling off the upset. Chuck Cecil may want to stack the box and sell out to stop the run, even if it means putting the corners and safeties in tough situations. Either way, the new blitz packages that were introduced against Oregon should be utilized again, particularly with the corners and safeties applying pressure in disguised looks. Cecil may also employ some unique pass blitz and coverage plays within a crowded-box formation, tempting Huntley to audible pass plays that play into the hands of the Wildcat defense. On offense, Kevin Sumlin should go with whichever quarterback has the hot hand. Regardless, Taylor must be used in both the run and pass attack, setting him up with screenplays and routes out of the backfield. His athleticism has the potential to change the game.
The game will be closer than expected in the first half, with the Wildcats motivated to put on a strong performance for Senior Night. Khalil Tate leads the way with an early touchdown and elusive runs, even as the Arizona defense struggles to stop Huntley and Moss. Utah goes into halftime up a score or two and opens the second half with a backbreaking drive. The Cats never recover, and the Utes widen their lead substantially in the fourth quarter.
Notes: Utah leads the all-time series 23-19-2, though the teams are even in games played in Tucson, 10-10-2. The Utes have won six of the last ten, including the last three. After last week’s matchup with Oregon, the Cats are playing back-to-back Top 10 teams for the first time since 2011. Utah ranks first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, and total defense. With 74 rushing yards at Oregon, Taylor moved into fifth place on Arizona’s all-time rushing list. The Utes have only allowed 13 total touchdowns all season and have only given up more than 100 yards rushing in one game.
Washington (3-4, 6-4) at Colorado (2-5, 4-6)
7:00 p.m. PT, ESPN
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
Straight-Up: Washington in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: Colorado (+14)
By Ian McCollam
What the Huskies Must Do to Win
Washington needs to exploit a Colorado defense that gives up an average of nearly 470 yards a game. Jacob Eason can expect to get the better of inexperienced cornerbacks in targeting his talented playmakers in wideout Ty Jones and tight end Hunter Bryant. The Huskies may encounter more resistance against Colorado’s run defense, which has held opponents to an average of 160.4 yards per contest. However, Salvon Ahmed should be able to leverage his speed to gain the edge against a Buffs defense that has struggled to stop outside runs. Defensively, Washington needs to limit the effectiveness of Laviska Shenault Jr., while also containing Colorado’s running attack, led by Alex Fontenot. The Dawgs also need to pressure Buffalo quarterback Steven Montez, who has struggled with his accuracy, throwing 10 interceptions this year. If the Dawgs can take away Colorado’s primary offensive weapons, they should be able to build a substantial lead and keep it.
What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win
Colorado will have to play a complete and consistent game in all three phases to have a chance to upset Washington at home on Senior Night. Montez and Fontenot must keep the Husky defense guessing with an assortment run and pass plays, controlling the clock, and limiting Husky possessions. Shenault Jr. must find holes in a Washington secondary that has allowed an average of 217 passing yards per game this season. On defense, Colorado will have to take an approach similar to what worked against Stanford, forcing the Husky offense to be one-dimensional, putting the burden on talented UW quarterback Jacob Eason, whose performance tends to drop off when pressured. Special teams could play a key role in this game, so winning the field-position battle and executing field goals will be critical for the Buffs. Lastly, forcing turnovers and limiting penalties will be essential to creating scoring opportunities for Colorado.
The game should live up to the legend of Pac-12 After Dark, with both teams coming off victories that provide confidence and momentum. Washington has several key advantages, however, with a future NFL quarterback in Eason, and an experienced and savvy head coach in Chris Peterson. That—and Colorado’s lack of experience—will prove too much for the Buffs. CU will keep the game interesting in the first half, but Washington will make the necessary second-half adjustments on both sides of the ball, enabling the Huskies to secure a victory by 10 points or more.
Notes: Washington leads the all-time series 12-5-1, and have won nine straight. Montez is second on the Colorado career passing yards list with 9,330, trailing only Sefo Liufau with 9,746. With 886 rushing yards, Ahmed needs 114 yards to reach 1,000 and give the Huskies a 1,000-yard rusher for the fifth consecutive season. CU is averaging 50,563 fans per home game this year, slightly above Folsom’s official capacity. Bryant’s 1,216 career receiving yards are second all-time on the UW list, trailing 2013 Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins with 1,838.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.