by SPORTSPAC12 (via Oregon Sports News)
*Every Thursday during the football season our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Pac-12 football games. Eight teams are engaged in Conference play this week; four have byes.
#9 Utah (4-1, 7-1) at Washington (2-3, 5-3)
Saturday, November 2
1:00 p.m. PT, FOX
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Straight-Up: Utah in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Washington (+3.5)
By Nicholas Bartlett
What the Utes Must Do to Win
Utah circled this matchup on the schedule after Washington beat them twice last year, including a 10-3 victory in the Pac-12 Championship. The Utes come to Seattle playing their best football of the season, and there’s no reason to assume a collapse in Husky Stadium. Not surprisingly, Utah needs to lean on running back Zack Moss, letting the star halfback’s energy and power fuel the offense. Quarterback Tyler Huntley must continue playing as cool, calm, and collected as he has all season, methodically moving the chains on third down, and capitalizing in the red zone. The Ute defense has allowed only 10 combined points in their last three games, but realistically, they can’t expect to hold UW to that number. Instead, Utah will need to make Washington one dimensional, stuffing the run, and allowing Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu to run down Eason. This is Utah’s chance to secure the Conference lead, with USC expected to lose to Oregon. The Utes need to get it done.
What the Huskies Must Do to Win
From a sheer talent standpoint, Washington is the better team. Collectively, the Husky players are faster, athletic, and more physical than their Ute counterparts. But if talent were the deciding factor, the Dawgs wouldn’t have lost to Stanford and Cal. The player best-positioned to turn the tables in Washington’s favor is quarterback Jacob Eason. The junior transfer has underwhelmed at key moments in the season. A failure to rise to the occasion against the Utes would further tarnish his legacy as a starter. Eason’s impressive stats—1,981 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions—belie his need to continue growing as a leader. He needs to improve his grasp of certain in-game nuances, such as putting better touch on passes, and finding open receivers. This is his best remaining chance to prove he’s up to the challenge. As always, expect the tenacious Dawg defense to be ready, limiting Utah’s offensive production enough to give Eason a shot.
What Happens on the Field
Unlike the previous two defensive battles, this should be a high scoring affair. The Huskies know their reputation as a football program is on the line, and they’ll come ready for a fight. Utah has plenty to play for as well, with a potential shot at a Rose Bowl, if not the College Football Playoff. Eason will play his best game of the year and find holes in Utah’s secondary. Washington’s defense will limit Utah’s signal caller Huntley to one of his worst statistical performances of the year. The Huskies will look great, but…The Utes will look better, avenging their two losses to Washington last season with their physical defense. Utah will force UW’s skill players to make mistakes, prevailing in a close battle that could come down to the final play.
Notes: Washington leads the all-time series 12-1, and is riding a four-game win streak. Utah’s No. 9 AP ranking is their highest since 2015. The Utes are UW’s first top-10 opponent this season. Utah has held four teams to fewer than 10 points. In the first quarter, UW has outscored opposing teams 97-13. UW has forced 13 turnovers this season, scoring on 11 of the ensuing drives. Utah has held seven of its eight opponents in 2019 to under 100 yards rushing. Moss broke the school record for career rushing touchdowns against Cal, pushing his total to 33. In five-plus seasons under UW coach Chris Petersen, the Huskies have scored touchdowns on a total of four kickoff returns and 10 punt returns.
Oregon State (2-2, 3-4) at Arizona (2-3, 4-4)
1:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Straight-Up Pick: Arizona in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Arizona (-5.5)
By Dane Miller
What the Beavers Must Do to Win
Above all, Oregon State needs to take care of the football and complete drives without settling for field goals. That means converting on short yardage third downs with strong runs by Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson. OSU quarterback Jake Luton must open up the run game with efficient throws, which shouldn’t prove difficult against a porous Wildcat secondary. Statistically, Arizona’s pass defense ranks third-worst in the FBS, giving up 310.4 yards per game. The Beaver offensive line must give Luton time to find open receivers, with the goal of targeting Isaiah Hodgins 10 times or more. On defense, OSU needs to be prepared for both Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell, each of whom will see the field. When Gunnell is in, the Beavers should bring more pressure in anticipation of a pass-heavy attack. When Tate is in, the line must be prepared to defend him as a running back as much as a passer. In either case, the Wildcat offensive line has proven vulnerable to pressure, providing opportunities to create turnovers.
What the Wildcats Must Do to Win
In short, Arizona needs to run the ball effectively, lockdown Pierce and Hodgins, and win the field position battle. The Beavers are giving up 191.6 yards rushing per game, which should enable the Wildcats to control the time of possession, while converting on third down. J.J. Taylor should rush the ball 20 times or more. The Cats may want to utilize Brian Casteel and Tayvian Cunningham in pre-snap and post-snap movement in their hybrid-pistol formation, moving in front and behind the quarterback. That movement should keep the Oregon State defense guessing, allowing the Cats to run the ball successfully, while burning the Beaver defense for throws over the top and on the edges. On defense, Arizona has to put aside the shock of Marcel Yates’ dismissal, and rally around Chuck Cecil. The new defensive coordinator needs to blitz aggressively, early and often. The Wildcat cornerbacks must play close to the line of scrimmage, jamming Oregon State’s wide receivers. Linebackers Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II can change the game by registering multiple sacks on Luton.
The Wildcats come out strong for Homecoming and go up early against the Beavers. Taylor has his best game of the season, running all over OSU’s improving but suspect defense. Arizona plays with an extra passion and determination on defense, recording a handful of sacks, and forcing several key punts. Luton plays efficiently and Hodgins has a big game, but the Beavs turn the ball over on a tipped pass or fumble. Bottom line: The home crowd wills the Wildcat defense to their strongest performance of the season, ending Arizona’s three-game losing streak.
Notes: Arizona leads the all-time series 24-15-1 with a substantial 13-6 advantage at home. However, OSU has won six of the last 10. The Beavers are 12-5 against the Cats since 2000, but have not won in Tucson since 2012. Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. start time is the earliest kickoff at Arizona Stadium since 2016. OSU leads the Pac-12 with three sacks per game. Last week, Arizona freshman receiver Jalen Johnson caught his first career touchdown pass. J.J. Taylor eclipsed 3,000 total career rushing yards, and hauled in five catches for 53 yards, a single-game career high. The Beavers already have 60 tackles for loss this season, surpassing last year’s total of 53.
#7 Oregon (5-0, 7-1) at USC (4-1, 5-3)
5:00 p.m. PT, Fox
Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
Straight-Up: Oregon in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: Oregon (-4.5)
What the Ducks Must Do to Win
If it works, don’t fix it. Oregon needs to stick to their run game, leaning on their big and talented offensive line. However, USC has a solid defensive front, arguably the best in the Pac-12, so controlling the point of attack won’t be easy. Doing so would likely impress the CFB Playoff committee, should the Ducks find themselves in the mix. CJ Verdell will be hard-pressed to duplicate his 257-yard, three-touchdowns performance of last week, especially at a rate of 11.2 yards per carry. But if UO quarterback Justin Herbert remains accurate, avoiding turnovers, he and Verdell will both get their yards. On defense, the Ducks must find a way to limit USC star wideout Michael Pittman Jr., who will be motivated to outshine his little brother and Duck receiver, Mycah Pittman. Stopping the elder Pittman won’t be enough, however, as Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown can take up the slack. The Ducks may consider running multiple defensive schemes to make things difficult for SC’s true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. If they can force him into making mistakes, it could be the difference.
What the Trojans Must Do to Win
USC’s defense is beat up, but even without several key players, the Trojans can’t afford to allow the Ducks as many yards as they gave up last week at Colorado. USC’s cornerbacks must hold up in man-to-man coverage to limit Oregon’s potent offense. UO quarterback Justin Herbert has shown the ability to shred zone defenses, but injuries have kept the Ducks from developing a dependable man-coverage-beater. Johnny Johnson III has been Herbert’s most consistent target, but USC must be prepared for breakout games from Juwan Johnson and/or Pittman. On offense, SC could use the latter’s older brother, Pittman Jr., as a decoy, temping Oregon to lean coverage his way, while opening up underneath routes for wideouts Brown and Vaughns. Both have breakaway speed, are capable of making acrobatic catches, and can be extremely difficult to tackle. USC must run the ball effectively as well because throwing the ball too often against Oregon’s secondary, which leads the Conference in interceptions with 14, could prove disastrous.
USC may keep the game close for a quarter or two, but its banged-up defense will eventually falter against Oregon’s prolific offense. The Trojans will get an early boost from the home crowd, with a Top 10 team in the house, but it won’t be enough to propel them to victory. UO’s defense will return to their early season form, having learned what it takes to beat the Air Raid after playing against WSU’s more-potent version of the system last week. The Ducks have been resilient since their opening loss to Auburn, surviving every Conference test to date, both at home and on the road, and this game will be no different.
Notes: USC leads the all-time series 38-20-2, having won the last matchup 45-20 in 2016. The Ducks are off to a 5-0 start in Pac-12 play for the first time since 2013. Vaughns had eight receptions for 104 yards and a score last week, his third 100-yard receiving game this season, and the sixth of his career. Fifteen different UO players have scored a touchdown this season after Jevon Holland’s second-quarter pick-six against WSU. Slovis has been at his best in the fourth quarter, completing 35 of 45 for 449 yards with 5 TDs, 0 INTs and a 198.6 passer rating. With 83 career touchdown passes, Herbert needs two more to crack into the Pac-12’s Top 10.
Colorado (1-4, 3-5) at UCLA (3-2, 3-5)
6:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Straight-Up: UCLA in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: UCLA (-6.5)
By Andrew Corbett
What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win
Colorado quarterback Steven Montez needs to play a complete game, make the easy throws, and take care of the football, while keeping UCLA’s pass-rush honest with his legs. If he can pick up first downs on the ground, it will force the Bruins to spy him consistently, making it easier for him to pick apart the vulnerable UCLA pass coverage, and render blitzes less effective. The Buffs also need to get a productive rushing game from Alex Fontenot, who is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, to avoid third-and-long scenarios that could cripple Colorado’s passing attack, and stifle their momentum. Most importantly, CU needs to get the ball to star wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. as often as possible, whether catching the ball down field or running it out of the back field in the wildcat. He picked apart UCLA last season in Boulder, pulling in 12 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown, while adding 18 yards and another score on the ground. Shenault had USC on the ropes last week, so getting him the ball in space will be critical.
What the Bruins Must Do to Win
UCLA is coming off two straight conference wins over Arizona State and Stanford both by double digits. A strong rushing attack was key to both, and we can expect the Bruins to run the ball relentlessly this week against a Colorado defense that has been abysmal. Another 30-carry game for Bruin running back Joshua Kelley, who gained 164 yards and scored four touchdowns on 34 carries last week, would seem to be in order. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson need only play the point guard, avoiding turnovers and big mistakes. On defense, UCLA has played much more aggressively recently, and it has worked out in its favor. If Bruin rushers are able to pressure Montez, who has thrown eight interceptions this year already, into making poor decisions, the Buffs could struggle to move the ball. UCLA’s run defense has been stout, allowing just 143.4 yards per game, so taking Montez and Shenault Jr. out of the game will be key to limiting the explosiveness of Colorado’s offense.
The Bruins have run the ball exceptionally well in conference play, gaining a Pac-12-leading 220.6 yards per game. UCLA will put up similar numbers against Colorado. That, coupled with a respectable passing game from DTR, will make it difficult for the Buffaloes to win. Don’t be surprised if Laviska Shenault Jr. racks up a lot of yards catching the ball, as he will be targeted frequently in space, and is always a threat to catch any pass and take it the distance. Colorado will get on the board multiple times, but so will UCLA. Ultimately, the Bruins will wear down Colorado with their versatile and dominate rushing attack, taking control of the game, and winning by two scores or more.
Notes: UCLA leads the all time series, 10-4. The Bruins are averaging 38.2 points over the last five games. Montez has 9,775 yards of total offense, and is second only to Sefo Liufau on the CU career list. Kelley rushed for a career-high four touchdowns against ASU, becoming the first Bruin with four scores on the ground since 2013. Shenault Jr. recorded his seventh 100-yard receiving game, and is now tied for 12th in career receptions at Colorado with 127. UCLA’s Demetric Felton had a pair of receptions last week, giving him 36 on the season, matching George Farmer’s 1969 school record for catches in a season by a running back.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.