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Pac-12 rewind: Oregon rolls as USC, Washington escape to set up Nov. 4 showdown

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Recapping the Week 9 action across the Pac-12 …

Theme of the week: Close calls and home dogs

Three games involving ranked teams were undecided in the final minutes over the course of a riveting Saturday. And only one of the six matchups was locked down as the fourth quarter began: Oregon’s blowout victory at Utah. In a betting oddity, five games featured home underdogs. Two won outright (Arizona and Arizona State), and two others (Stanford and Cal) pushed their ranked opponents to the wire.

Theme of the week II: The race tightens

Utah and Oregon State lost for the second time this season, effectively eliminating both from the College Football Playoff race. The Pac-12 now has just two teams, Washington and Oregon, in the hunt (i.e., fewer than two losses). Meanwhile, the ACC and Big 12 also have two; the Big Ten has three; and the SEC has four.

Theme of the season (emerging): Feigning injuries

Arizona State tight end Jalin Conyers became the latest player to sustain a questionable injury when he stood up, took a few steps, looked to the sideline, then crumpled to the ground just when ASU needed the clock stopped. The Hotline is wary of making accusations, but Washington State coach Jake Dickert had no doubt: “We all know what happened … As a league, we’ve got to look into it.” This is neither a Conyers problem nor an ASU problem. It’s a Pac-12 problem. And unfortunately, the conference office doesn’t have much leverage these days … with anything.

Game of the week: USC 50, Cal 49

A game that was delayed twice – first by protesters before kickoff, then by an officiating gaffe at the end of the second quarter – was worth the wait for spectators and television viewers alike. The Bears led by 14 points early in the fourth quarter before USC responded with three consecutive touchdowns, only to have Cal cover 79 yards in nine plays to pull within 50-49 with one minute left. Coach Justin Wilcox went for the two-point conversion, but the attempt failed and USC escaped with a crucial victory.

Team of the week: Oregon

The Ducks’ 35-6 win at Utah stands as one of the most surprising results, and the single most impressive performance, of the conference season. They dominated from the outset and grabbed a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter. Utah hasn’t been handled like that anywhere, much less at home, in ages. Despite the loss at Washington a few weeks ago, the Ducks look like the best team in the conference … and it’s not close.

Coach of the week: ASU coach Kenny Dillingham

Dillingham collected his first conference victory in charge of his alma mater as the Sun Devils outlasted WSU 38-27. (That’s far more points than we expected given the offensive struggles for both teams in recent weeks.) ASU became the last team to collect a conference victory, and it comes after several gut-wrenching losses. The Devils haven’t stopped playing hard despite the bowl ban.

Offensive Player of the Week: USC QB Caleb Williams

When the Trojans needed him most (down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter), Williams delivered three scoring drives and a victory. In all, he completed 23 of 40 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns (two passing, two running). As a result, USC is alive and well in the conference race, a half-game off the pace with Washington and Oregon awaiting the next two weeks.

Defensive Players of the Week: UCLA’s Grayson and Gabriel Murphy

The linemen combined for four tackles-for-loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and four quarterback hurries as the Bruins dominated Colorado in a 28-16 victory. Consider the Murphy brothers a proxy in this category for the entire UCLA defense – one of the best in the league and the engine of a team that’s quietly well positioned to contend for a berth in the championship game.

Narrow miss of the week: Stanford

The Cardinal trailed Washington by two points late in the fourth quarter and was facing fourth-and-2 from its own 28 yardline. Coach Troy Taylor wisely opted to go for the first down, rather than punt, and called a sensational trick play: a pass from receiver Tiger Bachmeier to receiver Jayson Raines. The Huskies were fooled, but the throw was a tad low and Raines couldn’t hang on. UW took possession in what became a 42-33 victory.

Good call of the week: Cal coach Justin Wilcox

Wilcox could have opted to kick the extra point with 58 seconds left to (possibly) force overtime but instead went for the victory – and it was the right call. The likelihood of stopping USC, either in the final minute or in overtime, was bleak. By then, the Trojans had accumulated 50 points and close to 500 yards and Williams was in rhythm. The situation demanded Wilcox take an aggressive approach.

Bad call of the week: Jonathan Smith

One of the best coaches in the conference called one of the worst trick plays of the season when the Beavers faked a 34-yard field goal at the end of the first half in Tucson. Kicker Atticus Sappington took a pitch from the holder and attempted a lengthy dash to the end zone but was tackled well short. Those three points could have come in handy in a game the Beavers lost 27-24. “I just rolled the dice on that one and in hindsight, it was not good,” Smith said. We hated the call but loved the candor and accountability.

Punishment of the week: Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders

Sanders was pounded throughout a 28-16 loss to UCLA (seven sacks and 13 knockdowns) as CU’s weak offensive line was no match for the Bruins’ stout front seven. The punishment was bad enough that Sanders reportedly needed an injection at halftime to deal with the pain. Not surprisingly, the Buffaloes didn’t score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, when the outcome was clear.

October surprise: Arizona

The Wildcats are playing as well as anyone in the conference (except Oregon) after narrow losses to USC and Washington and back-to-back victories over Washington State and Oregon State. They need one victory in their final four games for a bowl berth and have a slew of chances to collect with UCLA, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State on the schedule.

October demise: Washington State

The Cougars were 4-0 in September and one of the best stories in the land (given the backdrop of their fight for survival in the realignment game). But October was brutal: four games, four losses – two of them as solid favorites (Arizona and ASU) – and massive breakdowns on both sides of scrimmage. They now face a desperate situation: The Cougars must win two of their final four games for a bowl berth, and nothing looks easy.

Odd scene of the week: Berkeley

Halftime arrived, the teams scattered and the Cal band marched onto the field. But USC coach Lincoln Riley pleaded his case that one second remained on the clock – enough time for the Trojans to attempt a 33-yard field goal. The officials eventually agreed, brought a furious Justin Wilcox out of the locker room and decided that the post-halftime action would start with the final play of the second quarter. The Trojans missed the field goal, but it was a memorable sequence – and a terrible look for Pac-12 officials.

Game of next week: Washington at USC

The Huskies and Trojans dodged upsets in the Bay Area to set up a high-stakes collision in the Coliseum: In addition to position in the conference race – UW is undefeated in league play while USC has one loss – the showdown will lend clarity to the Heisman Trophy race as the Huskies’ Michael Penix Jr. attempts to secure his place as the Pac-12’s frontrunner. Kickoff is 4:30 p.m. on ABC.

Games of Nov. 11: Utah at Washington and USC at Oregon.

Showdown Saturday in the Pac-12 features two massive games in the Pacific Northwest. While the kickoff times for most of the Nov. 11 schedule likely will be released Monday, we expect the Eugene and Seattle affairs to be placed on six-day holds by ESPN and Fox – meaning the start times won’t be announced until next weekend.