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Pac-12 Recap Week 9: Washington escapes Salt Lake City

Washington escaped Salt Lake City with a hard-fought win over the Utes, but did their in-state rivals manage to stay hot on their heels with another victory?

NCAA Football: Washington at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

California (24) at USC (45)

Aside from a couple of close calls, it seems like Cal v. USC plays out just about the same way every year. It is beyond old at this point, but the losing streak appears to have no end in sight. Cal could’ve gotten off to a fast start if Demetris Robertson could have hauled in Davis Webb’s deep bomb on the first drive of the game, but he dropped what should have been a touchdown. USC never looked back after that moment and it resulted in an easy win. I’m not going to beat a dead horse about the schedule — it wasn’t ideal, certainly — but I don’t think extra rest would’ve accounted for the obvious difference in ability of these two teams. USC pretty much followed the formula laid out by Oregon State, with the difference being that USC can actually throw the ball, too. USC ran the ball 48 times for 398 yards. That is an average of 8.3 yards per carry. Ronald Jones II averaged 12.5 yards per carry; Aca’Cedric Ware averaged 6.5; JuJu Smith Schuster averaged 12.5; and Deontay Burnett got 15 on his only rushing attempt. Numbers like that are simply not acceptable for a Pac-12 team. Darnold threw five touchdowns against just one interception, though he did lose two fumbles. I don’t think there is an obvious answer to correcting Cal’s defensive problems. The Bears have gone through a few defensive coordinators in recent times and none of them have been able to make anything more than sporadic marginal improvements. Could a new coordinator figure it out? Maybe, though I doubt it. Another issue is that Cal needs to recruit better up front. The Bears don’t get enough consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that makes it tough on a usually thin secondary. Speaking of thin, the linebacker situation has to change — Cal has to recruit more linebackers. Cal has to coach and recruit better on defense, that much is certain, though it is much easier said than done.

Washington (31) at Utah (24)

This was the biggest test to date for the Huskies and they passed. Getting this win in Salt Lake City was a litmus test for Jake Browning, and — though it wasn’t a great performance — he did enough to win. Myles Gaskin helped by carrying the ball 19 times for 151 yards and one touchdown. Browning completed 12 of 20 passes for 186 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception against a tough Utah defense. Washington is still in line to make the College Football Playoff if they win out. One of the storylines going into this game was Utah QB Troy Williams playing against his former team for the first time, and though he protected the ball, he had a rough time completing passes. Williams threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions, but completed just 14 of 31 passes for 163 yards. Coming off of his record-setting day last week, Utah running back Joe Williams rushed 35 times for 172 yards and one touchdown as he tried to get the Utes a huge win. This was a very good game between two very good defenses, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them squaring off again in the conference championship game.

Arizona State (35) at Oregon (54)

In a matchup of teams struggling to find wins of late, it was the Oregon Ducks who found a way to get a win. Both teams fielded freshman quarterbacks, but it was Justin Herbert who won the duel. Herbert completed 31 of 42 passes for 489 yards and four touchdowns, while Arizona State’s Dillon Sterling-Cole completed 21 of 38 passes for 302 yards and one touchdown, though he did have issues taking care of the ball as he tossed three interceptions. The Sun Devils’ ground game didn’t offer Sterling-Cole much help, as they averaged just 3.9 yards per carry on 36 rushes. ASU continues to struggle defensively, too, as Oregon tallied 734 yards of total offense (including 245 on the ground). Arizona State’s season is coming apart at the seams a bit and it’ll be interesting to see if they can pick themselves up after losing to an Oregon team that couldn’t buy a win in conference play. The Sun Devils have now lost three straight and four of their last five. Their next two games are home against Utah and away to Washington. Presumably, they will have to beat their in-state rivals on the road during the last week of the season to gain bowl eligibility.

Washington State (35) at Oregon State (31)

The Cougars narrowly avoided disaster in this contest as they came storming back from a large deficit to preserve their hopes of winning the Pac-12 this season. Oregon State held a 24-6 halftime advantage, but Luke Falk found his groove in the second half as he tossed three touchdowns in a 22-0 third quarter for the Cougars. Oregon State responded with a touchdown of their own to regain a slim lead in the fourth quarter, but Washington State’s air-raid delivered an immediate response and held on for a much-needed road win. I don’t know what’s up with the visiting locker room in Corvallis, but opposing teams seem to always be asleep at the wheel to start games against the Beavers. Needless to say, the Cougars will have to play much better if they want to beat Colorado and Washington in back-to-back weeks to end the season. As for Oregon State, Gary Andersen has his team on the right track. They have grown to be significantly more competitive than they were last season and must continue to build a foundation that slowly turns the culture around up there. They still have a long way to go, but the strides they have made are definitely visible.

Stanford (34) at Arizona (10)

If you like quarterback play then this was NOT the game for you. Stanford called Keller Chryst to relieve Ryan Burns of his duties this week, but he was far from great in this matchup of sputtering teams. Chryst completed just 14 of 30 passes for 104 yards to go along with two touchdowns and one interception. His counterpart was even worse as Arizona QB Brandon Dawkins went 5 of 15 for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Former Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey departed from the milk carton this week as he was spotted making plays for the first time in several games. He rushed 23 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He added a receiving touchdown, too. Of course, this was against the hapless Wildcats, so it stands to reason he looked good this week. The Cardinal don’t have a difficult schedule the rest of the way, but they aren’t very good, so it’ll be interesting to see how they do against Oregon and Cal on the road after they take on Oregon State at home this upcoming weekend. As for Arizona, they have nothing to play for the rest of the way but pride and the potential to spoil bowl eligibility for Arizona State, but they look unlikely to make anything happen.

UP NEXT (All times Pacific)

UCLA (3-5, 1-4) at Colorado (6-2, 4-1), Thursday at 6 p.m. on Fox Sports 1

Oregon State (2-6, 1-4) at Stanford (5-3, 3-3), Saturday at 12:30

Arizona (2-6, 0-5) at Washington State (6-2, 5-0), Saturday at 1 on Pac-12 Network

Oregon (3-5, 1-4) at USC (5-3, 4-2), Saturday at 4 on ESPN

Washington (8-0, 5-0) at California (4-4, 2-3), Saturday at 7:30 on ESPN