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Pac-12 rewind: Great escapes, breakout performances, October regressions and title race clarity dominate Week 7

Jon Wilner Seattle Times

Recapping the Week 7 action across the Pac-12 …

Theme of the week I: Conference clarity

The first weekend of the second half of an epic Pac-12 season did not disappoint as Stanford and Washington won thrillers, USC got exposed, Arizona showed its worth, UCLA and Washington State dropped off the top tier and Oregon State and Utah quietly rolled on. As we cross-match the current standings with the second-half schedule, one thing is abundantly clear: Each of the contenders has at least one difficult road game ahead. In our view, Oregon and UW are best equipped to navigate hostile ground.

Theme of the week II: Plot twists

In a 20-hour period, Stanford and Washington won games in which their win probability, per ESPN’s analytics, was less than 5% in the final minutes and/or overtime. (Two jaw-droppers, although the details were different.) Also, Arizona won by 38 points on the road as an eight-point underdog, and USC lost by 28 to an opponent, Notre Dame, that was coming off a loss to Louisville.

Game of the week: Stanford 46, Colorado 43 (2OT)

The astonishing result unfolded late Friday night in Boulder. A double-digit favorite, Colorado coasted to a 29-0 halftime lead, then went to bed just as Stanford was waking up. The Cardinal scored early in the third quarter, kept on scoring and eventually tied the game on a last-second field goal by Joshua Karty. It completed the fourth-largest comeback in Pac-12 history with another field goal in the second overtime after intercepting a poorly thrown pass by CU quarterback Shedeur Sanders.

Game of the year: Washington 36, Oregon 33

The most anticipated game of the Pac-12 season didn’t just meet expectations. It was an absolute masterpiece – a back-and-forth affair played by bitter rivals that had just one turnover, only 10 penalties and enough Red Zone defensive stands, big plays and confounding decisions to last a decade. UW led by 11 points late in the third quarter before the Ducks ripped off two touchdowns in four minutes. The end was pulsating, as Oregon failed on fourth down at midfield, Washington pounced on the opportunity, and the Ducks missed a tying field goal as time expired. An all-timer.

Offensive player of the week: Stanford WR Elic Ayomanor

The redshirt freshman from Medicine Hat, Alberta, unleashed the best individual performance of the season by a nonquarterback when he torched Colorado with 13 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns – much of it coming in the second half against Colorado’s star cornerback, Travis Hunter. Ayomanor jump-started Stanford’s comeback with a 97-yard catch-and-run touchdown and caught a 30-yard scoring strike in overtime. As breakout performances go, it was right there with Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate in Boulder in 2017.

Defensive player of the week: Oregon State CB Ryan Cooper Jr.

Cooper produced what we consider the most impactful defensive play of the weekend when he grabbed a sideline pass from UCLA’s Dante Moore and darted 67 yards for a pick -six that gave the Beavers a two-touchdown lead heading into halftime. The Bruins never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way as OSU kept pace in the title chase. We also considered Utah defensive end Jonah Elliss, who had 2.5 tackles-for-loss and a fumble forced and is the top defensive player in the conference.

Travis Hunter player of the week: Utah S/RB Sione Vaki

Hunter isn’t the only two-way player in the conference; nor was he the best two-way player of the weekend. Vaki, who normally starts at strong safety, also played running back Saturday for the injury-depleted Utes – and was darn good. In addition to four tackles on the defensive side, he rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns in Utah’s 34-14 victory over Cal. Expect to see more opportunities for Vaki next weekend at USC … because who wouldn’t want to carry the ball against USC?

Coach of the week I: Stanford’s Troy Taylor

The Cardinal headed to Boulder with a four-game losing streak, then walked into the halftime locker room with a 29-0 deficit. It was time for a Knute Rockne speech, except Taylor struck a more measured tone. On his message to the players, he told ESPN: “‘It wasn’t a very good first half. I want to see how you compete.’ That was really it.” And with those understated words, the Cardinal produced one of the biggest comebacks in conference history.

Coach of the week II: Arizona’s Jedd Fisch

The Wildcats had a difficult assignment with a long trip to Pullman following their taxing, frustrating triple-overtime loss at USC the previous Saturday. But Fisch had his players primed and ready as Arizona jumped to a big first-half lead and dominated WSU throughout. The 44-6 victory was an enormous step toward bowl eligibility in Fisch’s crucial third season. The Wildcats (4-3) must win two of their final five to reach the postseason.

Gamble of the week: Oregon’s Dan Lanning

For the second consecutive year, Lanning made a risky, if not reckless decision to attempt a fourth-down conversion late in a tight game against Washington. Last year, he ordered the offense to remain on the field for fourth-and-1 at Oregon’s 34 with just over one minute remaining in a tie game. What happened? UW stuffed the conversion attempt and kicked the winning field goal. This year, with two minutes remaining and a four-point lead, Lanning kept the offense on the field for a fourth-and-3 at Washington’s 47. Nix’s pass was incomplete, UW scored the winning touchdown, and that was that.

Shambles of the week: USC’s offensive line

After facing soft competition over the first half of the season, the Trojans’ front five finally confronted a top-tier defensive line … and was completely overwhelmed. Quarterback Caleb Williams was sacked six times by Notre Dame well-designed pressure schemes and lost his composure with three interceptions. The 48-20 defeat looked like a performance from the Clay Helton era and was USC’s fifth consecutive loss in South Bend. Up next for the reeling Trojans: Utah’s relentless defensive front.

Regression of the month: Washington State

It wasn’t long ago – September – that the Cougars were undefeated and possessed one of the most prolific offenses in the country. But October has been cruel, with two losses and just two offensive touchdowns. Cam Ward has lost his rhythm, and the coaching staff appears to have no answers for the defensive fronts used by both UCLA and Arizona. If playcaller Ben Arbuckle doesn’t find an answer soon, the season could collapse.

Reality of the season: Colorado

For all the pomp, circumstance and attention coach Deion Sanders and his team received in the opening weeks, Colorado is exactly what so many thought it would be: Much better than last year but still not very good. After the epic collapse against Stanford, the Buffaloes are 4-3, facing a difficult climb into the postseason and in possession of four wins over mediocre competition. Also, their loss to USC looks worse given how the Trojans have performed in the two subsequent games.

Game of next week: Utah at USC

The final scheduled matchup of these former South division rivals lost some luster with the Trojans’ wipeout at Notre Dame but has retained significance in the Pac-12 race: USC is undefeated in conference play, while the Utes have one loss (and can’t afford a second). Meanwhile, another Week 8 game that seemed to warrant high-level attention, Washington State’s visit to Oregon, carries lower stakes after both teams lost this weekend.