Week 2 Pac-12 College Football Previews And Predictions – Will Oregon Get Back On Track Against Nevada?

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Every Thursday during the football season, our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the conference football games. Nine teams continue their nonconference schedules this week, while four teams—Cal, Stanford, USC and Washington—begin conference play against each other.

Arizona State (1-0) vs. Sacramento State (0-0)

Friday, September 6

7:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ

Straight-Up: Arizona State in a Blowout Win

Against the Spread: Arizona State (-36)

by Nicholas Bartlett

What the Hornets Must Do to Win

Sacramento State’s one and only chance to win this game is to make the Sun Devils one dimensional. They need to stop Eno Benjamin from getting started because if the sensational junior running back goes on a tare, the Hornets stand no chance. Making ASU rely on its passing game would pressure Jayden Daniels, a true freshman quarterback who has not yet played in a close college game. Sacramento State quarterback Kevin Thomson needs to continue his torrent pace, after throwing for 303 yards and ran for 90 more last week in beating Southern Oregon 77-19.

What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win

For ASU to win this game they need to keep giving the ball to Benjamin, one of the most talented backs in the Pac-12. No one on the Hornets roster can hang with him. If ASU’s offensive line can open holes, expect huge plays. The Sun Devils cannot fall into the trap of relying too heavily on Daniels just yet. While he had a solid first week, he is still a young player, and he’s bound to make mistakes as he continues to grow. But if the Devils don’t put too much onto his plate, giving him easy throws, and running a rush-dominant scheme, he’ll be fine. Defensively, all ASU needs to do is play within themselves. They outmatch the Hornets at virtually every position, so no dramatic changes are needed.

What Happens on the Field

ASU will win this game going away. The Hornets played well in their opener, but finished 2-8 last year. Simply put, they don’t have the talent to beat a Pac-12 school. Benjamin will run past, through, and over their defense, getting pretty much whatever he wants. On the other side of the ball, the Hornets showed they can be explosive in putting up 77 points last week, but ASU isn’t Southern Oregon. Herm Edwards isn’t going to overlook an opponent, and he will have his team ready, despite the mismatch. This matchup provides an ideal tune-up for Daniels, giving him more game repetitions, while gaining confidence in the process. Sacramento State may hang around for the first quarter, but a blowout will ensue.

Notes: ASU leads the all-time series 1-0, having beat the Hornets 55-0 in their 2013 matchup.  The Sun Devil defense limited Kent State to 200 total yards of offense and forced six fumbles. Twenty-five freshmen played in the opener for ASU, the largest number for the Devils in the Modern Era. Cristian Zendejas became the third member of his family to score a point for ASU, following his dad Louis Zendejas (1981-84) and uncle Alan Zendejas (1987-89).

#13 Utah (1-0) vs. Northern Illinois (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

10:00 a.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT

Straight-Up Pick: Utah in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: Utah (-21.5)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Huskies Must Do to Win

First and foremost, the Huskies must find a way to move the ball through the air. Former Cal quarterback Ross Bowers had a good opening game and will need another one for Northern Illinois to pull off an incredible upset. Bowers will try to spread the ball around to different receivers, hoping to keep the Utah defense off balance. The Utes are too stout up-front for the Huskies to overpower them via the run. Defensively, Northern Illinois has to contain Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and running Zack Moss on the ground, not an easy feat. If the Huskies can slow them just a bit, it could limit their effectiveness and keep the game close.

What the Utes Must Do to Win

The Utes are among the dark-horse favorites to make the College Football Playoff for a reason: They are tough, physical, and dominant. This is not a game that should cause Utah any problems. The Utes will just need to run the ball behind their offensive line and let Moss do the rest. Expect Northern Illinois to put extra players in the box to try and stop him, but this could backfire, giving Huntley extra room to create explosion plays. Defensively, Utah needs to keep the Huskies from completing too many long passes, like the fourth-quarter 66-yard bomb from Bowers that beat Illinois State last week

What Happens on the Field

Against their second-straight Group of 5 program of the season, the Utes will be looking to prove that they can put lesser teams away early. Utah should be able to bolster their resume with an easy victory and get some backups into the game in the fourth quarter. Huntley and Moss are too much for the Huskies. The Utah defense will shut down Northern Illinois, which does not have an answer for Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu in the trenches. Bowers should find himself under constant pressure, and it would not be surprising to see him throw a couple of costly interceptions. Expect the Utes to win comfortably, if not in a blowout.

Notes: Utah leads the all-time series 1-0, having defeated the Huskies 17-6 in 2018. The Utes are 91-35 at home since the renovation of Rice-Eccles Stadium in 1998. NIU is 1-0 for the first time since 2015. With 2,838 career rushing yards, Moss is just 381 yards shy of the Utah career rushing mark of 3,219 yards, held by Eddie Johnson (1984-88). The Utes are looking to win their 12th-straight home opener. With a win, Utah will start the year 2-0 for the seventh year a row.

Colorado (1-0) vs. Nebraska (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

12:30 p.m. PT, FOX

Folsom Field, Boulder, CO

Straight-Up: Colorado in a Close Win

Against the Spread: Colorado (+4)

By Ian McCollam

What the Cornhuskers Must Do to Win

To put away explosive Colorado, Nebraska must approximate last week’s defensive performance, in which it forced five turnovers while allowing South Alabama only 314 yards of total offense. The Huskers must also get much better performance from quarterback Adrian Martinez, who threw for just 178 yards and an interception. The rest of the offense fared even worse, contributing just 98 yards for a total of 276. Ultimately, Nebraska will have to win this game in the trenches on the offensive side of the ball, against a young Colorado defensive line. Without a better performance from coach Scott Frost’s floundering offense, after last week’s stinker against a Sun Belt team, Nebraska will struggle to stay with the Buffaloes.

What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win

For the Buffs to defeat their former Big XII rival Nebraska, they will need to continue their strong offensive play from last week, in which they which put up more than 475 total yards against Colorado State. In particular, Colorado needs more output from Laviska Shenault Jr., who caught just three passes against the Rams. Veteran quarterback Steven Montez could use more time to throw, and emergent running back Alex Fontenot needs to turn in another 100-yard performance against a stronger Husker defense. Colorado will have to play significantly better on defense, after giving up 505 yards to CSU, and continue forcing turnovers.

What Happens on the Field

Given the typical improvement expected from Game 1 to Game 2, this figures to be a close contest that comes down to the wire. Colorado’s improved offensive line play should provide enough stability to give the Buffs the edge. If the Colorado defense can force turnover-prone Martinez to cough up the ball, things might just get out of hand for the Huskers. If it does come down to the end, the Buffs will be counting on their talented junior placekicker James Stefanou to squeeze out a victory.

Notes: Nebraska leads the series 49-19-2, with Colorado winning last year 33-28 in a nail-bitter. This will be their first meeting in Boulder since 2009, when Nebraska defeated Colorado 28-20. CU looks to open the season 2-0 for the fourth consecutive year. That’s happened just once since 1914, when the Buffs started 2-0 in five straight seasons from 1992-1996. Montez is now the fourth Buff to pass for 7,000 or more yards in a career (7,073). He trails only Sefo Leufau (9,568), Cody Hawkins (7,409) and Joel Klatt (7,375).

UCLA (0-1) vs. San Diego State (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

1:15 p.m., PT, Pac-12 Network

Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

Straight-Up : UCLA in Blowout Win

Against the Spread: UCLA (-7.5)

by Andrew Corbett

What the Aztecs Must Do to Win

To beat UCLA, the Aztecs will need more production out of its new spread offense, which gained only 238 yards and put up just two field goals in a 6-0 win over FCS Weber State. In particular, quarterback Ryan Agnew, who connected on 16 of 30 passes, must return to his 2018 form. And running back Juwan Washington will need more than last week’s 55 yards. SDSU has a stout defense led by pass-rushing specialist Kyahva Tezino and ball-hawking defensive back Tariq Thompson, who will be looking to wreck havoc and create turnovers.

What the Bruins Must Do to Win

UCLA’s defense played well in their opener, despite falling to Cincinnati 24-14, and should be able to limit San Diego State’s struggling rushing and passing attacks. Offense was another story, as Dorian Thompson-Robinson turned the ball over four times against the Bearcats. The Bruins desperately need a healthy Joshua Kelley to return at running back and get the ground game going, taking some pressure off DTR, as would the expected return of wide receiver Theo Howard. Mostly, UCLA just needs to play smart, avoid turnovers, and give itself a chance.

What Happens on the Field

The Bruins should shut down the Aztec offense, which failed to score a touchdown against Weber State. UCLA probably can’t be expected to score a lot, or put up huge numbers through the air. The Bruins should perform better on the ground, despite a tough SDSU rush defense. Look for the Bruins to take better care of the ball this week, and sustain enough drives to log a comfortable victory over San Diego State.

Notes: UCLA leads the all-time series 21-0-1, having won 19 in a row, dating back to 1922. The teams last played in the Rose Bowl in 2009, with the Bruins prevailing 33-14. Thompson-Robinson’s connection with Demetric Felton on a 75-yard touchdown play last week was the longest scoring play from scrimmage by a Bruin since Jordan Lasely scored on a 75-yard pass play from Mike Fafaul vs. Utah in 2016. SDSU head coach Rocky Long served as UCLA’s defensive coordinator under Bob Toledo in 1996 and 1997.

#22 Washington State (1-0) vs. Northern Colorado (0-1)

Saturday, September 7

2:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Washington

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA

Straight-Up: Washington State in a Blowout Win

Against the Spread: Washington State (No Line)

By Jace McKinney

What the Bears Must Do to Win

Coming off last week’s 35-18 loss to San Jose State, and returning just 11 starters from 2018, Northern Colorado must rely on sixth-year senior quarterback Jacob Kinipp, and Senior running back Milo Hall. To have a chance, the Bears will to need to protect the ball and slow down the tempo, in addition to producing some big plays on the ground. Kinipp and Hall combined for just 254 yards and one touchdown in Week 1. They’ll need to improve dramatically on those numbers to keep pace with WSU. On defense, Northern Colorado must pressure Anthony Gordon, get some stops early, and generate some turnovers to slow the Air Raid.

What the Cougars Must Do to Win

The Cougars should be able to put up points at will, with Mike Leach’s offense in mid-season form. Gordon not only threw for 420 yards and five touchdowns in his first career start, but he also connected with 10 different receivers. Look for WSU to continue that formula and keep the Bear defense off balance with the improved performance of Max Borghi, who ran for 128 yards last week. On defense, Washington State needs to keep the NCU running game in check, and get to the quarterback, which shouldn’t be much of a problem after Northern Colorado gave up four sacks last week.

What Happens on the Field

Look for Wazzu to get off to another hot start offensively in route to a blowout. The Cougars will score a lot of points and throw the ball all over the field, as usual. Don’t be surprised if WSU’s defense is much improved after its slow start last week, applying overwhelming pressure on Kinipp, and generate several turnovers. The challenge, as with any lopsided victory, will be playing with intensity and focus once the score gets out of hand.

Notes: This is the first ever matchup between these two teams. Northern Colorado allowed 382 yards on defense last week while totaling a scant 287 yards of offense. WSU wideout Dezmon Patmon caught seven passes for 103 of WSU’s 618 yards of total offense, with a touchdown, and Travell Harris added 91 yards and two touchdowns. Borghi became the first Cougar to rush for 100 yards in a game since Gerard Wicks vs. California in 2016.

#16 Oregon (0-1) vs. Nevada (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

4:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR

Straight-Up: Oregon in a Blowout Win

Against the Spread: Oregon (-24)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Wolf Pack Must Do to Win

In what may have been one of the most overlooked games last week, the Wolf Pack came back from 17 points down to upset Purdue at home. Nevada will have to start fast to have any chance at beating Oregon.Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong must make quick throws as his offensive line isn’t likely to hold up long against a dominant Duck defensive front. Nevada’s best shot at a long-shot victory may be in trying to use Oregon’s speed against them with quick screens and draws.

What the Ducks Must Do to Win

After losing to Auburn in a bowl-like matchup, the Ducks can get their season back on track against a less-talented foe with a solid performance. It’s no secret that Oregon has better players at virtually every position, but the Ducks can’t afford to take anything for granted. They should be able to control the line of scrimmage, and run the ball down the Wolf Pack’s throat. On defense, Oregon must limit Nevada’s rushing attack. The Pack may find some success early, if Oregon has trouble shaking off its Week 1 hangover, but the Ducks won’t take long to respond.

What Happens on the Field

Oregon is going to dominate this matchup from start to finish. Had the Ducks not lost the opener, the Wolf Pack might have had a chance to catch them off-guard, but that won’t happen now. Oregon running back CJ Verdell should have a monster game. Nevada will not be able to handle UO’s physicality up-front, resulting in huge holes and plenty of protection for Justin Herbert. The senior signal caller will put on a show for the NFL scouts, and the staunch Ducks defense will take out their frustrations on Nevada.

Notes: The Ducks lead the all-time series 6-1, with Nevada’s lone win coming in 1947. Oregon has won 23 consecutive games versus non-conference opponents. Strong is the first freshman QB to start for the Wolf Pack since 1998. He threw for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns in Week 1. Oregon linebacker Troy Dye tallied 15 tackles against Auburn, and currently leads all active Power 5 players with 328 career tackles. Herbert extended his streak of consecutive games with a TD pass to 29, the longest such streak in the nation, with his scoring heave in Arlington.

Cal (1-0) at #14 Washington (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

7:30 p.m. PT, FS1

Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA

Straight-Up: Washington in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: Washington (-11)

By Kamron Azemika

What the Bears Must Do to Win

If Bears can stage a repeat performance of its 2018 upset over Washington, they’ll be just fine. In fact, last year’s game in Berkeley should be the first page of any Justin Wilcox textbook on how to beat a more-talented opponent: Win the turnover margin, and match the time of possession. Cal picked off two UW passes, with Evan Weaver’s pick-six instantly becoming the highlight of the Wilcox Era to date. But alas, playing the Dawgs in Seattle—where they’ve won 15 straight—is another matter. It’s going to take another defensive mauling, and plenty of improvement on offense, for Cal to escape Husky Stadium with a victory.

What the Huskies Must Do to Win

Having found their new quarterback in Jacob Eason, Washington must now reconfigure its receiving depth with Ty Jones out. The Huskies did fine without him against EWU on Saturday, but it won’t be as easy for the Georgia transfer to duplicate his 349-yard, four-touchdown performance against Cal’s vaunted secondary. If Eason can pass the ball well enough to expose the Bears’ inefficiencies in the middle of their defensive line, Salvon Ahmed and the other Washington running backs could have career days. UW’s solid defense just needs to avoid giving up big plays.

What Happens on the Field

The Washington defense will likely set the tone with suffocating play against the Bears. Eason’s arm may unlock unseen portions of Chris Petersen’s playbook. But his knowledge of the system and experience will be Eason’s key to success against Cal’s secondary. The turnover margin will be telling, and if both offenses manage to avoid them, this could be a game of field position. Washington should pull away at some point in the first half, leaving Cal with no choice but to go-for-broke with their questionable passing game. The Huskies win this one with moderate comfort, provided they establish an early lead and keep the crowd involved.

Notes: The Huskies lead the 98-game series 54-40-4, going 8-2 against the Bears over the past decade. Justin Wilcox and his former Boise State boss are 1-1 against each other. Petersen is 1-1 against Cal in Seattle, after a 30-24 loss in 2015 and a blowout 38-7 win in 2017. Cal linebacker Evan Weaver grew up as a Huskies fan, and played at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane. Christopher Brown Jr. became the first Bear running back to surpass 100 yards in his first career start since Jahvid Best in 2008. The Huskies are 39-0 when scoring 31 points or more in the Petersen Era.

#23 Stanford (1-0) at USC (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA

Straight-Up: USC in a Close Win

Against the Spread: USC (-1)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Cardinal Must Do to Win

Stanford will have run the ball successfully with quarterback K.J. Costello questionable, and All-America left tackle Walker Little out for at least six weeks. Throwing a new signal caller into the Coliseum is never ideal, especially with gaps in the line. If running back Cameron Scarlett has a good day, the Cardinal should be able to control the tempo and keep Graham Harrell’s Air Raid system from finding its stride. Star cornerback Paulson Adebo and the rest of the Cardinal defense is good enough to keep them in the game, provided their safeties don’t get burned by SC’s speedy wideouts.

What the Trojans Must Do to Win

USC must find a way to take some of the pressure off replacement quarterback Kedon Slovis to start the season 2-0. That means running back Vavae Malepeai needs to have another 100-yard game, and Trojan receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman Jr., and Tyler Vaughns must turn short passes into long gains, as they’re prone to do. Quarterback isn’t the only area of concern for USC, however, as the close victory over Fresno State showed. The Trojan defense won’t need to dominate the game, with Stanford struggling on offense, but it will need to avoid explosion plays.

What Happens on the Field

USC will win this game, primarily because Stanford will struggle to run effectively and protect their new quarterback without Little to lead the five new starting offensive linemen. USC is fortunate to have Slovis making his first start in the friendly L.A. Coliseum, and he’s good enough to get it done. As ineffective as the Cardinal offense has been, it may only take a couple of touchdowns to win, and USC has more than enough talent to make it happen. Expect the Trojans to win in an ugly close one.

Notes: USC leads the all-time series 61-33-3, with Stanford winning last year’s matchup 17-3. The Cardinal have swept their in-state rivals (USC, UCLA, Cal) three out of the last four seasons. The Trojans will be playing in the conference opening Pac-12 game for the ninth season in a row. USC has beaten the Cardinal two out of the last three games at home. Slovis’ high school coach was Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. A Stanford win over USC would give coach David Shaw his 56th Conference victory, matching former Oregon coach Rich Brooks for 12th all-time among Pac-12 coaches.

Arizona (0-1) vs. Northern Arizona (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

7:45 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ

Straight-Up: Arizona in a blowout

Against the Spread: No line

By Dane Mille

What the Lumberjacks Must Do to Win

Northern Arizona has to control the time of possession and limit turnovers to have a legitimate opportunity against the Wildcats. The Lumberjacks can’t afford to start slow, and will need to be efficient on third-down. If the Lumberjacks are able to run the ball well, they may be able to hang around long enough to make Wildcat fans uncomfortable. But any turnovers would likely doom NAU’s already razor-thin margin for success. It’s not that the Lumberjack athletes will be severely outmatched, but they are going to have to play a near perfect game to have a chance of winning in Tucson.

What the Wildcats Must Do to Win

Arizona must get better pressure on NAU quarterback Case Cookus, and shore up its pass defense. Dropping back eight guys and rushing only three, has not been a successful defensive strategy. The defensive backs need to bump the Lumberjack wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and not play so far off. On offense, Khalil Tate must run early to open up the Run-Pass option, and running back J.J. Taylor needs to get plenty of carries. Jamarye Joiner has to be targeted more in the passing game, and Tayvian Cunningham’s speed needs to be utilized more against linebackers in the middle. 

What Happens on the Field

Arizona likely starts off slow, giving up an early touchdown. After settling in, the offense should start clicking and the defense should generate turnovers and stops. If the Cats perform up to their talent, the Lumberjacks won’t have a realistic shot at winning. But if Arizona lets them hang around in the first half, their lack of preparation could be a sign of larger problems yet to come. In the end, the Wildcats should put up 50 or more, while limiting NAU to two or three scores.

Notes: This is the 16th match-up between the schools, with Arizona holding a 14-1 advantage, including 13 straight. The Lumberjacks’ lone win came in 1932. Arizona leads the country in turnovers generated (6) and is tied for second in turnover margin (+4). The Wildcats are 20th in the country in yards per game (539), and 37th in points per game (38). Arizona cornerback Lorenzo Burns suffered a concussion vs. Hawaii and is likely out for this game.

Oregon State (0-1) vs. Hawaii (1-0)

Saturday, September 7

8:59 p.m. PT, Facebook

Aloha Stadium, Corvallis, OR

Straight-Up: Oregon State in a Close Win

Against the Spread: Oregon State (+6.5)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Warriors Must Do to Win

Hawaii must protect the ball if they want to open the season with back-to-back wins against Pac-12 opponents. The Warriors dominated Arizona in their Week 1 matchup, but fumbled twice and threw four interceptions, totaling six turnovers. And it almost ended up costing them the game. They were the dominant team moving the rock for 595 yards throughout the matchup, yet they kept shooting themselves in the foot. This week they face an equally challenged defense in the Beavers. They should be able to exploit OSU’s weaknesses and put points on the board.

What the Beavers Must Do to Win

For Oregon State to have any chance of beating Hawaii, their defense must play much better. Against Oklahoma State the Beaver “D” looked outmatched both in the air and on the ground. The Warriors have an elite receiver in Cedric Byrd, who caught 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns in the opener. The Beavs must find a way to stop him or they will begin their season 0-2. Offensively, OSU needs to continue moving the ball through the air. Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton looked solid against the Cowboys, especially connecting with wideout Isaiah Hodgins. The pair must continue their success on the Islands.

What Happens on the Field

The Beavers will win this game in a close contest. Even though their defense is suspect, Hawaii doesn’t have the same caliber athletes as Oklahoma State. Consequently, OSU should be able to dominate up-front. This ought to allow Oregon State to establish its running game behind halfback Jermar Jefferson. At wideout, Hodgins could prove extremely difficult for Hawaii to stop. He pulled down nine catches for 170 yards in the opener. The combination of Luton, Jefferson, and Hodgins will prove too much for the Warriors to overcome in a close shootout.

Notes: The Beavers hold the lead in the all-time series 7-3 after winning the last matchup 38-30 in 2014. This will be the ninth time in 11 meetings with Hawaii that the Beavers have traveled to Honolulu. OSU is 5-3 in the previous eight trips there. This is the first year since 2002 that OSU has opened with back-to-back FBS opponents. Blake Brandel has started each of Oregon State’s 37 games he has played in during his career. Hodgins’ 170-yard receiving day against Oklahoma State was the 20th-best single-game total in OSU history. 

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

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