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Pac-12 rewind: USC escapes, Colorado survives in riveting Week 6 as a showdown awaits

Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Recapping the best and worst of the Pac-12 action …

Theme of the week: Drama

With only four games and no matchups involving ranked teams, the seventh Saturday of the Pac-12 season did not have the look of the most dramatic thus far, but it delivered a series of riveting affairs. Only one of the four games was decided by double digits (Oregon State over Cal), and each of the other three was in doubt with two minutes remaining. We figured it would be difficult to top Colorado’s late escape in Tempe – the Buffaloes kicked the game-winning field goal with 12 seconds left – but then USC-Arizona happened. And it was glorious mayhem.

Theme of the week II: Plot twists

Who figured UCLA would hold WSU’s high-scoring offense to 10 points? Or that USC would manage just 28 points in regulation (about half its season average) against Arizona? Or that ASU quarterback Trenton Bourguet would throw for 100 yards more than Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders? Or that Arizona freshman quarterback Noah Fifita would play as well as USC’s Caleb Williams? Or that Cal would score 40 points, rush for more than 200 yards and lose by double digits? Week 6 was loaded with the unexpected.

Game of the week: USC 43, Arizona 41

To this point, USC’s triple-overtime escape stands as the game of the year in the conference. The Trojans trailed 17-0 before finding their rhythm offensively and led 28-20 midway through the fourth quarter. But they couldn’t hold the advantage, then bungled a game-winning, 25-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation. It took Williams’ amazing feats – and feet – to escape in the extra periods.

Game of the week II: Colorado 27, Arizona State 24

A sloppy affair filled with sputtering offense ended in pulsating fashion when the Sun Devils went 94 yards in 13 plays for the game-tying touchdown with 50 seconds remaining. That was more than enough time for CU to respond as Sanders completed a 43-yard pass that set up a 43-yard, game-winning field goal. The Buffaloes (4-2) are now two wins away from being bowl-eligible and host Stanford on Friday.

Coach of the week: Arizona’s Jedd Fisch

Fisch had the Wildcats ready to play emotionally, and perfectly prepared tactically, in their final scheduled game against USC. The balanced playcalling (42 runs, 35 passes) put freshman quarterback Fifita in positions to succeed and kept USC’s defense guessing. The defensive game plan was top-notch, as well. Arizona’s three losses this season (to Mississippi State, Washington and USC) have come by a total of 16 points.

Coordinator of the week: UCLA’s De’Anton Lynn

The first-year defensive strategist made maximum use of his extra week to prepare for WSU’s high-octane attack. Lynn unveiled a defensive front in which at least two, and sometimes all three linemen were in standing positions. The unblockable Bruins forced four turnovers, held WSU’s offense to one touchdown and limited quarterback Cam Ward to 197 yards passing. The Cougars never did figure it out.

Quote of the week I: Arizona’s Fisch

The third-year coach addressed what is typically a verboten topic among coaches, the point spread, following the overtime defeat at USC. “I think the 21-point underdog stuff has got to probably come to an end here soon,” Fisch said. Savvy gamblers hope he’s wrong, because there is money to be made on the Wildcats until the betting lines adjust to the on-field reality.

Quote of the week II: Cal coach Justin Wilcox

After his team allowed Oregon State to score 52 points and gain 499 yards, Wilcox offered the following: “We’ll find out where the defenders are come next week, because boy – and this is not taking anything away from Oregon State because I really do think those guys do a great job coaching – but, man, ooh, that was bad defense right there by us.”

Offensive player of the week: Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei

The transfer quarterback had his best game as a Beaver (especially considering the competition), throwing for five touchdowns and completing 76% of his passes against what is typically a well-coached defense. And critically, Uiagalelei did not throw an interception, which separated him from other players we considered for the OPOW honors.

Offensive player of the week (non-QB edition): Arizona’s Jacob Cowing

The senior receiver hauled in 10 catches for 88 yards and four touchdowns against USC, including two scores in overtime. He’s now tied for third nationally in touchdown catches with eight and tied for fifth in receptions with 46. Also considered: UCLA tailback Carson Steele, Oregon State receiver Anthony Gould and ASU receiver Elijhah Badger.

Defensive players of the week: UCLA’s line

It’s not often that the Hotline honors an entire unit, but the Bruins’ defensive front was magnificent from the first snap to the last, often generating pressure with just three rushers. Gabriel Murphy and Laiatu Latu generated much of the chaos but were hardly alone. (Carl Jones Jr. had four tackles and a QB hurry.). A few hours later and several miles across town, Arizona’s line submitted a first-rate effort of its own.

Stat of the week: Washington State

The Cougars converted 60% of their third-down opportunities through the first four games of the season, tops in the nation. But they managed just two conversions in 13 attempts Saturday in the Rose Bowl.

Stat of the season: USC

The Trojans finished the first half with a 6-0 mark against teams that have a combined record of 10-24. The record of their next six foes: 26-7.

Stat of the decade: Oregon State

As the existential crisis looms in the background, the Beavers (5-1) have produced their best start since 2013, when they opened 6-1 before slamming into a five-game losing streak. Their next four games: UCLA at home, Arizona and Colorado on the road, then Stanford at home.

Scramble of the season: Cal

The Bears started their third different quarterback, freshman Fernando Mendoza, in an attempt to jump-start a struggling offense. Mendoza had one career pass attempt prior to Saturday but played reasonably well with 200 yards passing and two touchdowns. Justin Wilcox’s program has now played 1.5 seasons since Chase Garber’s departure and has yet to achieve stability at the most important position.

Game of next week: Oregon at Washington

ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ will be on hand as the bitter rivals collide. It’s the third time the popular studio show has made the trek to Montlake and the first time in series history that both teams will carry top-10 rankings into the game. The Huskies are an early 3-point favorite. Our preference for guest picker: UW alum Rainn Wilson. Maybe he can serve Kirk Herbstreit and the ‘GameDay’ crew some beets from Schrute Farms.