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Pac-12 Review: Oregon, Arizona State take control

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A highly anticipated week of Pac-12 football turned out to be a dud in terms of excitement, but that doesn't mean that we didn't learn plenty about every team.

Steve Dykes

Six Pac-12 games, all of them with at least a little importance or intrigue, and only one game finishes with a single digit margin of victory? Man, I want my money back!

More importantly, we now have two front runners. Oregon needs one win (or losses from Stanford and Washington) to clinch the Pac-12 North. Meanwhile, Arizona State has a one game lead in the loss column, the tie-breaker over USC and Utah, and a three game conference schedule that includes Washington State and Oregon State. The conference title goes through Eugene and Tempe right now.

Oregon 45, Stanford 16

I think we all pretty much expected an easy Oregon win, but it was pretty shocking to see just how thoroughly Oregon dismantled a great defense.

A word on Stanford's offense: I glanced at the play by play to look at Stanford's play selection. On their first 24 1st down plays, Stanford chose to run the ball NINETEEN times. Stanford averaged 3.4 yards/run against Oregon, and 9 yards/pass, and yet they continually called first down plays that were both sub-optimal AND predictable. David Shaw has made lots of noise over the last few weeks about opening up and simplifying the offense, but he still hasn't figured out that, flawed though he may be, Kevin Hogan and a solid group of pass catching options are Stanford's only chance at a functional offense.

Let's hope he doesn't figure that out by Big Game.

Arizona State 19, Utah 16 (OT)

I'd like to praise Utah for somehow staying competitive despite a complete inability to throw the ball at all. Even WITH Dres Anderson, Utah's pass offense was the worst in the Pac-12 by a significant margin. Now? You may as well play nine guys in the box on every down. Utah is averaging 125 passing yards/game in conference play at 4.4 yards/attempt. It's a near miracle that they have been able to score any points at all.

At yet, because of an excellent defense and excellent special teams (until overtime, that is) Utah almost stole a game that they had no business winning. ASU outgained the Utes by 203 yards, but settled for four field goal attempts in regulation.

It has to hurt that Utah lost in part because their all-conference kicker missed a kick he expects to make in his sleep, but let's not pretend that the better team lost. Utah has been juggling burning chainsaws on a high wire for a few weeks now, and it wasn't going to last.

UCLA 17, Arizona 7

We have established that this is kind of a weird year in the Pac-12. But so far, I think the single weirdest, hard to believe event of the season is UCLA's defense holding Arizona's offense to 3.2 yards/play over 79 plays. Arizona scored on their first drive, and then only had two drives the rest of the way that got inside the UCLA 40 yard line. Both ended in missed field goals.

We're talking about a UCLA defense that had allowed every single Pac-12 opponent to score at least 27 points. I don't think the Bruins defense is bad . . . but nothing they have done this year suggested that they would completely dominate one of the better offenses in the conference.

UCLA's win throws the South into disarray once you get past Arizona State. Four teams with 2 losses, all of them hypothetically alive for the division title.

USC 44, Washington State 17

Obviously the focus is on the injury that ends Connor Halliday's college careera career that saw him put up ridiculous-even-by-Mike-Leach-standards numbers. For a guy who did it despite taking hit after hit after hit (remember his lacerated liver?) it's a brutal end.

Washington State's chances at playing spoiler seem done. Meanwhile, USC will surely look past Cal towards their back-to-back rivalry clashes with UCLA and Notre Dame to end their regular season.

Washington 38, Colorado 23

Late into the game it seemed like Colorado was poised to perhaps earn their first Pac-12 win of the season. Five of Colorado's first seven drives ended in points. But three straight 3rd quarter turnovers led to 14 quick Washington points, and the Buff offense stumbled the rest of the way. Out-gaining Washington will be cold comfort to a team and fan base very tired of moral victories.

Next Week

Notre Dame at Arizona State
Washington State at Oregon State
UCLA at Washington
Colorado at Arizona
Oregon at Utah

A pretty weak slate. It certainly doesn't help to have Cal, USC and Stanford on byes, but the best game of the week includes a team that isn't even in the conference. In any case, I will be rooting very hard for ASU to end any silliness about Notre Dame making the playoffs this year.

I'm tagging WSU vs. OSU with the title of 'most depressing game of the year' for matching up a team that just lost their only reason for optimism against a team that just watched their only reason for optimism set a very hollow individual record. How bad has OSU's running game and defense been over the last four years that Sean Mannion can set a conference passing record halfway through his senior year and still be exactly .500 as a starter over the entirety of his career?

Oregon at Utah is the hypothetical marquee conference game, but does anybody expect anything other than an Oregon romp? No team that struggles to pass for triple digit yardage will ever stand a chance of keeping up with an offense led by Marcus Mariota.