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Pac-12 rewind: UW and Oregon dominate, WSU meets the moment, Utah and USC survive in telling Week 4 action

Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Recapping the best and worst of Week 4 across the Pac-12 …

Theme of the week: Drama

The first full week of conference play brought a series of taut affairs, with three of the six matchups (Utah-UCLA, Arizona-Stanford and WSU-OSU) in doubt in the final minutes and a fourth (USC-Arizona State) unsettled midway through the fourth quarter.

Theme of the season: Northwest dominance

The balance of power tilts heavily to the upper left corner of the conference, with the Washington and Oregon schools all ranked and sporting a combined record of 15-1. Neither of the other regional quartets (the Four Corners and California schools) comes close to matching the overall strength of the Pacific Northwest.

Game of the week: Washington State 38, Oregon State 35

The ‘Pac-2’ showdown more than met expectations with a slew of big plays, momentum changes and stellar individual performances. The schools left behind in the realignment game were intent on showing a Fox primetime (East Coast) audience that they are worthy of Power Five recognition. Mission accomplished.

Team of the week: Oregon

The Ducks obliterated Colorado in the marquee matchup of the weekend, grabbing a 35-point halftime lead before backing off in what became a 42-6 victory. Thanks to complete dominance at the line of scrimmage, Oregon finished with 522 yards, held the Buffaloes to 199 yards and sent a clear signal across the conference that it will be a major player in the title chase.

Offensive player of the week: Washington State QB Cam Ward

With all eyes on Pullman and an undefeated opponent in town, Ward responded with a near-perfect performance, completing 28 of 34 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns. (He ran for a fifth). The former transfer from Incarnate Word doesn’t receive as much attention as USC’s Caleb Williams, Oregon’s Bo Nix or UW’s Michael Penix, but he has played just as well through the first month.

Defensive player of the week: Utah DE Jonah Elliss

The junior spent most of Saturday afternoon in UCLA’s backfield, recording five tackles for loss – that’s right, five – and three sacks in the Utes’ 14-7 defensive masterpiece. The last name should sound familiar: Elliss is the son of former Utah All-American Luther Elliss, who currently coaches the defensive tackles.

Coach of the week: Washington State’s Jake Dickert

The second-year coach continued to tap the frustration over WSU’s place in the realignment game with first-rate strategy to produce a stellar product. The Cougars were in control throughout against Oregon State, just as they were in the Week 2 victory over Wisconsin. Dickert’s emotions were on display in the postgame news conference as he called out ESPN talking head Lee Corso for disparaging remarks about the Cougars. It was superb theatre with the added benefit of moral rectitude.

Coach of the month: Utah’s Kyle Whittingham

The Utes are 4-0 with three wins over Power Five opponents, and starting quarterback Cam Rising has yet to play a down. No other program in the conference could have faced an equivalent schedule without its on-field leader and emerged unscathed. As with everything else about Utah’s success, this past month was all about the program’s culture.

Speech of the week: Oregon’s Dan Lanning

Lanning granted ABC’s cameras access to a pregame speech in which he took direct aim at what he views as Colorado’s flash and splash approach: “They’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins. There’s a difference. There’s a difference. This game ain’t gonna be played in Hollywood; it’s going to be played on grass.” Clearly, the matchup was personal for Lanning, but his speech didn’t stray far from the standard motivational ploys used by head coaches across the country. The difference: We got to see it.

Quote of the week: Colorado’s Deion Sanders

After the most humiliating loss of his coaching career, Sanders was both honest and patient with the media. “Good old-fashioned butt-kicking,” he said. “No excuses, no nothing.” When a CU official reportedly attempted to end the news conference, Sanders chose to stay and answer additional questions. He gets high marks for accountability.

Good loss of the week: USC 42, ASU 28

Installed as a 34-point home underdog following a blowout loss to Fresno State, the Sun Devils mustered a supreme effort and pushed USC deep into the fourth quarter with their third-string quarterback (Drew Pyne) and a makeshift offensive line. When it mattered most, they simply could not stop the Trojans’ high-powered offense, but the effort was first rate.

Bad win of the week: Arizona 21, Stanford 20

We’ll start with the caveat that bad wins don’t actually exist, especially in conference play. But the Wildcats were not impressive on the road as11-point favorites against a floundering opponent. After a series of lead changes, they needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to avoid a loss that would have haunted them the rest of the season.

Play of the week I: Utah’s pick-six

The first play of Utah’s seven-point victory over UCLA proved decisive as linebacker Karene Reid intercepted Dante Moore’s pass and charged 21 yards for a touchdown that became the winning margin.

Play of the week II: Oregon’s fake punt

With a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter and reluctant to relinquish an ounce of momentum, the Ducks executed a perfect fake punt from their own 17-yard line as defensive lineman Casey Rodgers rumbled 18 yards for the first down. Nine plays later, Oregon was in the end zone and the lead was 21.

Backup QB of the week: Arizona’s Noah Fifita

The redshirt freshman replaced injured starter Jayden de Laura, led the go-ahead touchdown drive, produced the game-clinching first down and completed all four of his passes. The Wildcats don’t have a quarterback controversy. But with binoculars, we can see one forming on the horizon.

Stat of the week: Washington

The Huskies pummeled Cal 59-32 and have scored at least 40 points in four consecutive games (in the same season) for the first time since 1944. Their overall record is six consecutive 40-point games, set at the end of the 2015 season and beginning of 2016.

Graveyard of the decade: Rice-Eccles Stadium

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore joined a long list of freshman quarterbacks to experience defeat in the din of Utah’s home venue. The last rookie to win there: Oregon’s Justin Herbert in 2016.

Game of next week (Friday): Utah at Oregon State

The undefeated Utes face a difficult assignment with a short-week trip to the site of a 42-34 loss two years ago in which the Beavers rushed for 260 yards. Look for OSU to take the same ground-and-pound approach this time. Whether or not injured quarterback Cam Rising is available, Utah will need more than 14 points to survive.

Game of next week (Saturday): USC at Colorado

The 9 a.m. showdown on Fox carries plenty of intrigue despite Colorado’s blowout loss in Eugene. Have the Buffs been permanently exposed? Can they regain that early-season magic? And will the Trojans execute more efficiently than they did in a lackluster performance at ASU?