Pac-12 Football – Week 7 Previews And Predictions

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Every Thursday during the football season, our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Pac-12 football games. Three teams have byes this week, eight continue Conference play, while USC travels to Notre Dame.

Colorado (3-2, 1-1) at #13 Oregon (4-1, 2-0)

Friday, October 11

7:00 p.m. PT, FS1

Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR

Straight-Up: Oregon in a Blowout Win

Against the Spread: Oregon (-21)

By Ian McCollam

What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win

The theme of Colorado’s season so far has been simple: If quarterback Steven Montez plays well, the Buffs likely win. CU’s defense isn’t stout enough to shut down Justin Herbert and the Oregon offense, so Montez and his playmakers must keep up with the Ducks, drive-for-drive. That will require a well-balanced attack, with running back Alex Fontenot replicating the success of his 94-yard performance last week, and receiver Tony Brown continuing his consistent play in the absence of Laviska Shenault Jr. and KD Nixon. The Colorado defense has given up 471 yards and 31.6 points per game and must find a way to withstand an Oregon onslaught with defensive end Mustafa Johnson and others out due to injury. But the Buffs do have a not-so-secret weapon, to which the Ducks have proven vulnerable: Colorado has developed a knack for creating turnovers, leading the Pac-12 in that category with a plus-eight margin.

What the Ducks Must Do to Win

Mostly, the Ducks need to keep doing what they’ve been doing, shutting down opposing offenses. Having put up three touchdowns or less in the past two games, Justin Herbert and Oregon’s offense needs to get their now-healthy starting receivers more involved. The running game suffered last week when CJ Verdell left the game with an injury and Travis Dye fumbled twice. The Ducks must take care of the ball against the Colorado turnover machine after coughing it over four times against the Bears. Oregon’s defense, which hasn’t allowed more than seven points in the last four games, will be tested by CU’s passing attack, even without its top two receivers. And Montez shouldn’t be intimidated by Autzen, having won there as a freshman. The Ducks have steady defenders across the board, including safety Javon Holland and linebacker Troy Dye, but will be breaking in a new starter at defensive end in true freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux, who has been sensational as a pass-rusher.

What Happens on the Field

Colorado was hit hard by injuries yet again last week, and won’t have the defensive depth to contain Oregon’s offense. The best the Buffs can hope for is to create a few turnovers. If Montez plays well, and the Buffs put up enough points to keep things interesting, CU could force an unexpected shootout, in the mold of their road victory at Arizona State. But that doesn’t seem likely against stingy and talented Duck defense, so it should be a long day for CU. Oregon may give up a score or two early but will dominate Colorado as the game wears on, winning by multiple touchdowns.

Notes: Oregon leads the all-time series 12-9, with Colorado winning the last game 41-38 in 2016 in Eugene. The #13 Ducks are the third-ranked opponent the Buffs have faced this season; CU won the previous two Top 25 encounters. Herbert’s streak of 33 straight games with a TD pass is the longest in the nation. The senior has moved into second on Oregon’s career passing yards list with 8,411, trailing only Marcus Mariota’s 10,796. Montez has 56 career touchdown passes, behind the 60 thrown by both Sefo Liufau and Cody Hawkins. Brown had a career-high 10 receptions for 141 yards last week, becoming Colorado’s receptions leader for the season with 19 catches for 301 yards and four touchdowns.

Wash St. (3-2, 0-2) at #18 Arizona St. (4-1, 1-1)

Saturday, October 12

12:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ

Straight-Up: Arizona State in a close win

Against the Spread: Arizona State (-1)

By Jace McKinney

What the Cougars Must Do to Win

WSU’s season took a dire turn after a pair of Conference losses and the departure of defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys. The Cougars must regroup as a team to have a chance against Arizona State. On the field, Wazzu needs to force turnovers and not allow ASU running back Eno Benjamin to get going. The Sun Devils have averaged only 22.8 points per game, and WSU needs to keep it that way by disrupting true freshmen Jayden Daniels, flushing him out of the pocket, and forcing him to make bad throws. On offense, the Cougs must put up points early. ASU will try to limit their possessions, knowing Wazzu does not fare as well when out of its rhythm and playing from behind. On the flip side, the Devils have not faced an offense quite like WSU’s this season. Cougar quarterback Anthony Gordon needs to regain his tempo and deliver quick balls, allowing his explosive receivers to make breakaway plays. WSU running back Max Borghi will be a key factor in getting the Cougs back on track.

What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win

Arizona State’s physical defense needs to limit WSU’s point production; the Devils likely won’t be able to keep pace if the Cougar offense gets going. But that is precisely how the Sun Devils have been winning games, holding opponents to 14.4 points per contest as the 11th best scoring defense in the country. Offensively, Daniels must continue to manage the ASU offense with efficiency: In 140 pass attempts, he has thrown only one interception. Daniels hasn’t run the ball much, rushing for just 175 yards, but he has a knack for knowing when to take off, and how to protect himself. Wazzu has struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks in its matchups against Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Tyler Huntley, so Daniels will want to exploit that. If Benjamin gets loose, the young signal-caller should benefit through the air as well as on the ground. Defensively, the Devils need to force WSU’s Air Raid into some early three-and-outs, and avoid getting drawn into a shootout.

What Happens on the Field

The game will likely hinge on the matchup between ASU’s stout defense and WSU’s explosive offense. The unit that prevails in the trenches will come away victorious. If Washington State can’t get its passing attack going, the Cougars will be in for a long night. ASU should limit Wazzu possessions by pounding the ball on the ground against its vulnerable defense. If the Sun Devil offense sputters, WSU may find an opening. Bottom line, the Cougs haven’t yet had much success against physical teams this season, and will likely get pushed around by Arizona State, unless their new co-defensive coordinators make some dramatic and effective adjustments. 

Notes: ASU leads the all-time series 26-15-2, with WSU winning the last two. Five different Cougar receivers each have caught at least 20 balls this season, and all have recorded a least one seven-reception game.  Benjamin posted his first 100-yard rushing game of the season last week, carrying the ball 29 times for 100 yards with a career-high three touchdowns. Wazzu is averaging 60 points per game at home, but is averaging a scant 22 points per contest on the road. ASU has put up double-digit points in 124 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS, and the second-longest streak behind only Louisiana Tech from 2008-18.

USC (3-2, 2-1) at #9 Notre Dame (4-1)

Saturday, October 12

4:30 p.m. PT, NBC

Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, IN

Straight-Up: Notre Dame in a comfortable win

Against the Spread: Notre Dame (-11)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Trojans Must Do to Win

To stay with the Fighting Irish, the Trojans will need to re-establish their stagnant running game. Vavae Malepeai has been dangerous but inconsistent, due in part to USC’s offensive line struggles. Clay Helton may want to consider using Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp more as a change of pace, and to keep Malepeai fresh, to try and wear down Notre Dame’s defense. The return of backup quarterback Kedon Slovis should boost the already-dangerous USC passing attack, featuring speedy and elusive receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns. On defense, USC’s line needs to pressure Irish quarterback Ian Book. The Trojan front ranks among the most talented units in the nation, and this would be a good time to show it off.

What the Fighting Irish Must Do to Win

The Fighting Irish need to get off to a fast start to prevent USC from capturing the momentum. The Trojans have shown the ability to come back and win close contests, provided they score enough to give themselves a chance at the end. Notre Dame can foil that possibility by generating quick-hitting plays through the air. Wideout Chase Claypool leads all Irish receivers with 347 yards and four touchdowns, and he must find passing lanes to get Book rolling. If Notre Dame’s receivers do their part, and the line opens holes for the running game, the Irish will be difficult to stop. On defense, Notre Dame must make USC one dimensional. If they can hold the USC run game in-check, the Irish secondary should be able to focus on clamping down the talented trio of Trojan receivers. In particular, Notre Dame can’t let Pittman beat them over the top. Once he gets going, he’s a hard man to contain. 

What Happens on the Field

Notre Dame will jump out to a fast start, and USC won’t be able to keep pace. Slovis’ time off will hurt his rhythm, allowing the Irish to build a substantial lead. Book will find holes in the USC secondary, leading to quick first-quarter scores. That should open up lanes for Irish halfback Tony Jones Jr. who is difficult to tackle in space. Notre Dame’s offense will withstand USC’s pressure and expose weaknesses in the back-end of the Trojan defense. Slovis and the Trojan offense should regain their rhythm in the second half, but not in time to close the gap. As usual, Pittman will create some big plays downfield, but not enough to threaten the Irish, who will win by a touchdown or two. 

Notes: Notre Dame leads the all-time series 46-36-5, including last year’s 24-17 contest in L.A., but the Trojans have won 11 out of the last 17. Book only threw four incompletions last week against Bowling Green. This is the earliest in the season these two teams have met. Slovis has thrown for 723 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions this year. Notre Dame is USC’s third consecutive Top 25 opponent, and the fourth in five games. The Trojan offense has averaged nearly 30 points and 430 total yards per game despite starting three different quarterbacks. Only two Irish coaches have recorded more wins over USC than Brian Kelly’s six victories: Lou Holtz with nine, and Frank Leahy with eight.

#15 Utah (4-1, 1-1) at Oregon State (2-3, 1-1)

Saturday, October 12

5:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR

Straight-Up Pick: Utah in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: Utah (-14)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Utes Must Do to Win

Utah must assert its dominance on the ground with star running back Zack Moss returning. Quarterback Tyler Huntley needs to convert third downs to extend drives and control the tempo of the game. Huntley also needs to protect the ball and avoid costly turnovers that would give Oregon State extra chances and optimal field position. Defensively, the Ute passing defense, which got shredded on the road against USC before containing WSU, gets another substantial road test against the dangerous Beavers. In particular, Utah must limit OSU wideout Isaiah Hodgins, Jake Luton’s favorite target, who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. The Utes may choose to double him and or shade his side of the field. Either way, Utah defensive linemen Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu will need to pressure Luton up-front, forcing him into tough throws and turnovers.

What the Beavers Must Do to Win

Oregon State needs to turn this game into a shootout if they are going to pull off a Conference-rocking upset. Luton must continue his phenomenal hot passing against the Utes, adding dramatically to his 1,297 yards and 14 touchdowns, while maintaining zero interceptions. Hodgins needs to win man-to-man matchups to create big-play opportunities downfield; if he can’t get open, Utah’s star-studded defense will take over the game. On defense, the Beavs must play consistent throughout, holding Moss in-check—not an easy task—particularly as the game wears on. If OSU lets up, he’ll eventually rip off an explosive run or two, blowing the contest open. This is another huge opportunity for the Beavers. Dismantling UCLA is one thing, but taking down the defending South Division champions is another.

What Happens on the Field

The Utes will minimize the effectiveness of Hodgins, forcing other Beavers to win in one-on-one coverage, and they won’t be able to get it done. The lack of open receivers will allow Anae and Fotu to pressure Luton, causing him to make uncharacteristic mistakes. On the other side of the ball, Utah will pound OSU into submission. The Utes pride themselves on toughness and this is a perfect opportunity to showcase it. Moss will draw plenty of attention from the Beaver defense, enabling Huntley to make plays through the air. OSU will have to pick it poison, and either one will result in a loss. The Utes can’t afford another slip-up and will come to Corvallis focused, winning by two touchdowns.

Notes: Oregon State leads the all-time series 11-9-1, but Utah has won the last three. Utah is outscoring opponents 77-22 in the second half this year. OSU’s 48 points against UCLA was the most the Beavs have scored in a conference game since a 49-17 win over California in 2013. Opponents have yet to rush for 100 yards in a game against Utah, which is giving up only 2.5 yards per carry. The Beavers remain one of only three FBS teams yet to lose a fumble this season, along with West Virginia and Appalachian State. Huntley ranks sixth in the FBS in completion percentage at 74.6% (85-114) and 10th in passing efficiency at 179.3

Washington (4-2, 1-2) at Arizona (4-1, 2-0)

Saturday, October 12

8:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ

Straight-Up: Washington in a Close Win

Against the Spread: Arizona (+6.5)

By Dane Miller

What the Huskies Must Do to Win

After a disappointing loss at Stanford, Washington needs a strong bounce-back game from quarterback Jacob Eason. The struggling Arizona defense provides an ideal opportunity for him to get his swagger back. The junior signal caller must exploit the Wildcat linebackers in the slot, allowing running back Salvon Ahmed—who should see more carries—to rush the ball effectively. On defense, Washington needs to contain Arizona’s run game, forcing Khalil Tate to carry the Cats on his own. That prospect will prove easier if banged-up Arizona running back J.J. Taylor can’t play. If UW’s Death Row front line can stuff the run, the Dawg defense can be more aggressive in its play-calling, blitzing and stunting to confuse Tate into making mistakes. Otherwise, it might be tough to escape Tucson with a win.

What the Wildcats Must Do to Win

Arizona needs its best performance of the season to beat an angry and motivated Washington team, which will take advantage of the Cats’ mistakes. With Taylor’s status in question, the Wildcats must get stellar production out of Gary Brightwell, Bam Smith, or Nathan Tilford. If those three can average six to seven yards per carry, Arizona will have a chance to control the game. The wildcard might be the play of UA’s wideouts, particularly Brian Casteel and Tayvian Cunningham, with their speed on bread-and-butter short throws to the edge. If Washington is able to limit their yards-after-catch on those short patterns while simultaneously stuffing the run, Arizona will struggle to sustain drives and score. On defense, the Cats must get pressure on Eason, forcing him to make uncomfortable throws outside the pocket, and enabling Arizona’s ball-hawking defensive backs to take advantage.  

What Happens on the Field

Arizona comes out strong and takes an early lead behind a raucous home crowd, taking a one-score lead in at the half. In the second half, Washington’s defense makes adjustments and puts together a string of pivotal plays that determine the game. The contest could come down to whether or not Eason throws any interceptions against Arizona’s secondary, which leads the nation with nine picks in just four games. But Eason will throw the ball well enough to redeem himself, and Ahmed will gain 100 yards or more rushing. Tate and the Wildcat running backs won’t be productive enough to steal a victory from the Huskies.  

Notes: Washington leads the all-time series 21-11-1, holding a slim 8-7-1 advantage in Tucson. The Huskies last visited in 2016, winning 35-28 in overtime to snap a four-game losing streak at Arizona. UW receiver Aaron Fuller pulled in a career-high nine receptions for a career-best 171 yards in the loss at Stanford. It was his fifth career 100-yard receiving game. The Wildcats are outscoring their opponents 29-3 in the fourth quarter over the last three games. Arizona defensive backs Jace Whitaker and Lorenzo Burns are tied for first in the nation with three interceptions each. Last week, Tate threw for a career-high 404 yards and now stands third in school history with 7,585 career passing yards. UW kicker Peyton Henry remains perfect this season, hitting 11-of-11 field goals and 23-of-23 extra points.

*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.

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