Pac-12 College Football Week 4 Previews And Predictions

Sep 22, 2018; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello (3) calls a play before taking a snap against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Every Thursday during the football season, our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Conference football games. Eight teams are engaged in Pac-12 games, while two other play out their final non-conference contests.

#10 Utah (3-0, 0-0) vs. USC (2-1, 1-0)

Friday, September 20

6:00 p.m. PT, FS1

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA

Straight-Up: Utah in a comfortable win

Against the Spread: Utah (-4)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Utes Must Do to Win

Above all, the Utes need to limit the playmaking ability of USC’s big three wideouts, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman Jr., and Tyler Vaughns. The trio is nearly impossible to cover, so the best strategy for keeping them in check is to confuse and pressure USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. Changing coverages and sending blitzes could throw the young signal caller off balance, leading to turnovers, as it did last week. Slovis has not faced a defense of Utah’s caliber. Offensively, the Utes need to lean on their power run game, and keep feeding Zack Moss. Tackling Moss will tire the Trojans. Not only is he difficult to bring down, he’s a continual breakaway threat. Gashing USC on the ground should also open up play-action passes for Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley. 

What the Trojans Must Do to Win

USC needs to get Slovis comfortable with an assortment of short routes, screen passes, and quick throws to help him find a rhythm early. If the Utah defense rattles him, the game could go south in a hurry. The freshman signal caller must put the frustration of last week’s interceptions behind him; if he does that, USC could have a real shot at winning. Defensively, the Trojans need to find a way to stop Moss, perhaps by putting extra players in the box and forcing Huntley to beat them with his arm. Stopping Moss and Huntley’s receivers might not be enough, however, as the dual-threat quarterback is equally dangerous when he scrambles.

What Happens on the Field

USC will come out firing, and should be able to keep the game close in the first half. Ultimately, Slovis won’t be able to handle Utah’s defensive pressure, resulting in missed throws, sacks, and interceptions. His triplet of star receivers will still make some plays, but not enough. Utah will keep working Moss, wearing down USC’s front, creating room for Huntley to expose the Trojans downfield. And don’t forget about dangerous Ute wideout Britain Covey. Look for the junior playmaker to stretch the field when the running game falters. Utah wins by two scores.

Notes: The Trojans lead the all-time series 11-6, but Utah won last year’s matchup 41-28. The Utes haven’t won in Los Angeles since 1916. USC’s overtime loss to BYU was their first-ever loss to the Cougars. The Utes have held three straight opponents under 100 total rushing yards, and rank seventh nationally against the run, allowing just 67.0 yards per game. Moss recorded his 13th career 100-yard rushing game last week. Slovis ranks fifth in the FBS in completion percentage at 77.3%. USC running back Vavae Malepeai ranks third in the Pac-12 in rushing at 90.7 yards per game. Vaughns tops the Conference with 7.7 receptions per game.

#23 Cal (3-0, 1-0) at Ole Miss (2-1, 1-0)

Saturday, September 21

9:00 a.m., PT, ESPNU

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, MS

Straight-Up: California in a Close Win

Against the Spread: Cal (+2.5)

by Kamron Azemika

What the Golden Bears Must Do to Win

The Bears will need to run the ball more like they did against Washington than against North Texas. The Rebels are yet to hold a starting running back below 3.3 yards per carry, and Marcel Dancy and Christopher Brown Jr. should be able to exploit that shortcoming. If so, Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin won’t have to alter his conservative passing game, which has worked, but not dazzled. Defensively, the Bears must contain Ole Miss running backs Scottie Phillips and Jerrion Ealy, who combined for 198 yards last week, and keep the pressure on Rebels freshman quarterback Matt Corral, who has struggled with consistency.

What the Rebels Must Do to Win

Ole Miss must move the chains with their rushing attack to gain an advantage over the Bears. Corrall needs to manage the game with short passes and limit turnovers, as he isn’t likely to have much downfield success against Cal’s stingy secondary. The Rebel defense has been giving up just 106 rushing yards per game, and will need to hold the Bears to that number or less on the ground. If the Rebels can limit Dancy and Brown, they should have a chance to menace Cal quarterback Chase Garbers, keeping him from beating Ole Miss through the air.

What Happens on the Field

The Rebels may have an early advantage, with Cal making their longest road trip of the regular season, a four-hour flight covering 1,834 miles for a game starting at 9:00 am PT, given a two-hour time change. The Bears can’t allow the Rebels to build a big lead early, however, as playing from behind isn’t Cal’s strong suit. Once both teams settle in, this should be a low-scoring affair with the Bears controlling the time of possession, and Corrall struggling to find open receivers. If Cal runs the ball well, and wins the turnover margin, the Bears will prevail in a close contest.

Notes: This is the second meeting between Cal and Ole Miss, with the Bears winning the previous meeting 27-16 in 2017. Both Ole Miss coordinators are former Pac-12 head coaches: DC Mike MacIntyre coached Colorado from 2013-2018 and OC Rich Rodriguez coached Arizona from 2012-2017. Cal is 8-0 in regular-season non-conference games under head coach Justin Wilcox. Cal linebacker Evan Weaver, who currently stands first in the FBS in solo tackles with 29,  has recorded at least 10 tackles for 11 straight games. He now ranks ninth in career tackles at Cal with 271.

#22 Washington (2-1, 0-1) at BYU (2-1)

Saturday, September 21

12:30 p.m. PT, ABC

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT

Straight-Up: Washington in a Blowout

Against the Spread: Washington (-6.5)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Huskies Must Do to Win

The Huskies need to run the ball down the throat of the Cougars from the start to get a ‘W’ in this game. The Dawgs are still in the process of replacing most of their defense, as well as a four-year starter at quarterback, so this isn’t the time to get fancy. Washington must get the ball into the hands of running back Salvon Ahmed, and let him find his rhythm: This could be his breakout game. Quarterback Jacob Eason needs to protect the ball and make good reads, avoiding turnovers that could lead to easy BYU points. On defense, UW must contain BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, making Cougar receivers win one-on-one battles while also blitzing to get their licks in, making Wilson uncomfortable in the pocket.  

What the Cougars Must Do to Win

The Cougars need to offset the physicality of the Washington defense by calling screen passes, draws, and trick plays to keep Husky defenders on their toes. Wilson has the ability to extend plays with his feet, but must outsmart the Dawgs by using long counts, working the clock, and getting multiple players involved. On defense, BYU needs to force Eason to make turnovers. Though Eason is an exceptional athlete, he lacks polish, and the Cougars may be able to exploit his weaknesses. BYU may run a variety of zone defenses to keep him off balance. Linebacker Kavika Fonua will need to keep an eye on Ahmed in the backfield and bring him down on first contact.

What Happens on the Field

UW will win this game going away. Chris Petersen will keep Eason’s confidence high with manageable play-calling, and he will help him limit his mistakes. Ahmed will eventually wear down the Cougars front line, leading to explosive plays on the ground. On defense, the young Dawgs will shutdown BYU. Wilson is a stud at the quarterback position but he doesn’t have the firepower around him to hold off what remains one of the nation’s top defenses. Despite an early-season loss to Cal, the Dawgs are still the defending Pac-12 champs, and they will look the part on Saturday.

Notes: UW leads the all-time series 6-4, including last year’s 35-7 win. BYU is the only team in college football this year to play three ranked opponents in their first four games. The Huskies have played eleven true freshmen this year, with 22 different UW players making their Division I debut. The Cougars are playing their third Pac-12 opponent this season, after losing to Utah and defeating USC. Wilson has thrown for 720 yards and two touchdowns this season, and BYU wideout Micah Simon leads the team with 13 receptions for 210 yards. Defensive back Myles Bryant leads the Dawgs with two interceptions on the season.

#16 Oregon (2-1, 0-0) at Stanford (1-2, 0-1)

Saturday, September 21

4:00 p.m. PT, ESPN

Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA

Straight-Up Pick: Oregon in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: Oregon (-10.5)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Ducks Must Do to Win

Oregon needs to start fast, taking Stanford out of the game early. The Cardinal fell behind in their past two games and struggled to come back. If the Ducks get running backs Travis Dye and CJ Verdell involved as a counterbalance to Justin Herbert’s surgical air attack, it won’t be a contest. Defensively, the Ducks must pressure Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello. Though rusty in his first game back from injury, Costello is dangerous when given time. Multiple blitz packages may be the answer for Oregon, forcing Cardinal wideouts into tough man-to-man coverage downfield. Most of all, the Ducks must protect the ball and respect their opponent. 

What the Cardinal Must Do to Win

Stanford needs to get its defensive edge back and make it difficult for Oregon to run the ball. If the Ducks get into an offensive rhythm, the Cardinal is in big trouble. Cornerback Paulson Adebo and the rest of the secondary can’t afford to get beat deep, as they did last week against UCF. Intercepting Herbert for the first time in 108 throws could spark the momentum Stanford’s defense needs. Offensively, the Cardinal will rely on Costello to make big plays. Oregon will get its points; Stanford must match them touchdown-for-touchdown early on to stay in the game.

What Happens on the Field

The Ducks have a history of stumbling against Stanford, but that won’t be the case this Saturday. The Ducks bring one of their best defenses in years into Palo Alto, as well as an offensive line that has given Herbert time to pick defenses apart. He and Dye, who rushed for 100 yards last week, will have big games. Costello will make some solid reads, but his receivers will have their hands full with Oregon’s secondary. Look for the Ducks to take a substantial lead early, holding off a late Stanford charge for a comfortable win.

Notes: Stanford leads the all-time series 49-32-1, coming from behind to win last year’s matchup 38-31 in overtime. Under David Shaw, Stanford is 20-7 coming off a loss, and 5-0 coming off back-to-back losses. The Cardinal played 13 true freshmen in Saturday’s game at UCF. Oregon is looking for its first win in a conference opener since 2014. UO has outscored opponents 70-12 in the first half this season. Herbert’s 11 touchdowns this season ties him for third nationally. Last week, Oregon held its second-straight opponent without a touchdown for the first time since 1987-88 and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in 27 consecutive drives.

Colorado (2-1, 0-0) at #24 Arizona State (3-0, 0-0)

Saturday, September 21

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

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ

Straight-Up: Arizona State in a Close Win

Against the Spread:  Colorado (+7.5)

By Ian McCollam

What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win

The Buffs need to shore up its defense after giving up 444 yards to Air Force last week. More importantly, Steven Montez needs to play better against a stout group of Sun Devil defenders. After missing multiple receivers downfield against the Falcons, the senior quarterback must get his gifted receivers involved more often. The Buffs also need to re-establish their run game. On defense, CU must limit Eno Benjamin, and make true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels uncomfortable with a strong pass rush led by Mustafa Johnson. Colorado currently is plus-seven in the turnover margin and will need to continue that trend to win. 

What the Devils Must Do to Win

After gaining just 216 yards in an emotional win over No. 14 Michigan State, the Sun Devils need to jump-start their offense. That means getting Eno Benjamin more involved, after his 38-yard performance last week. Defensively, Arizona State has allowed just three touchdowns in three games, but may find it difficult to replicate that feat against CU. The Devils haven’t yet played wideouts the caliber of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon. As was the case with CU last week after beating Nebraska, ASU needs to dismiss its MSU win and stay focused on the Buffs.

What Happens on the Field

This will be a close game under the lights in Tempe with the Buffs looking to avenge last week’s loss. Colorado will put up points, but not enough if the Sun Devils get their run game going. And ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels should have plenty of chances against Colorado’s questionable secondary. Look for the Devils to control the game with their defense, and win by a touchdown or less, with turnovers playing a critical role. This figures to be a classic “Pac-12 After Dark” thriller that goes down to the wire. 

Notes: Arizona State currently leads the series 8-2, with Colorado winning the last game 28-21 last year in Boulder. Shenault scored four touchdowns in that game. Colorado is looking for its first Top 25 road victory since 2002. The Sun Devils are off to a 3-0 start for just the third time since 2008. ASU’s defense has allowed all of 21 points this season, the fewest since a 3-game stretch in 1993. Last week was the first time since 2015 that Colorado lost to a Group of Five school. With its late touchdown, ASU extended its FBS-leading streak of games scoring at least seven points to 137.

UCLA (0-3, 0-0) at #19 Washington State (3-0, 0-0)

Saturday, September 14

7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA

Straight-Up: Washington State in a Blowout Win

Against the Spread: Washington State (-18.5)

By Jace McKinney

What the Bruins Must Do to Win

To have any kind of a chance, the Bruins must get off to a hot start and produce a lot of points. Their current 14 points per game scoring average won’t allow them to hang with WSU. Short of out-scoring Wazzu, the Bruins will need to control the tempo, with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson connecting on short passes that allow his running backs to slice up Washington State’s defense. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bruins must generate turnovers, and get pressure on Anthony Gordon. They cannot let WSU blow the game open with big passing plays.

What the Cougars Must Do to Win

Washington State should be able to score at will against the Bruins, who have been blown out in most of their games this season. Cougar quarterback Anthony Gordon should have another big game after collecting a second Pac-12 Player of the Week award. UCLA has been weak defending both the run and the pass, so look for Mike Leach to attack the Bruins through the air and on the ground, with Max Borghi getting several touches at running back and receiver. Defensively, Washington State has struggled against the run, so the Cougs will be focused on stopping UCLA’s running backs early, while also applying pressure on Thompson-Robinson. 

What Happens on the Field

This game is going to be a blowout with Wazzu exploding on offense. Gordon threw for 440 yards and three touchdowns against Houston, and he could make an even bigger splash this week. UCLA will struggle to score, with WSU clamping down on the young UCLA offense. Expect some huge plays out of several Cougar wide receivers: Nine players caught balls against UH, and all should be involved again on Saturday. Max Borghi could rush for a couple of touchdowns as well, in what should be an entertaining if lopsided contest.

Notes: This is the first game between the teams in the last three years; Washington State won the last matchup 27-21 in 2016 on the Palouse. Borghi’s 64 career receptions ties him for 8th-most by a running back in WSU history. Wazzu forced two turnovers last week and are now 26-5 over the last four-plus seasons when forcing multiple turnovers. UCLA running back Demetric Felton ranks third in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yardage, averaging 123.3 yards per game. He is the only player in the Pac-12 with more than 150 rushing yards (164) and 150 receiving yards (171).

*This story was originally published at Syndicated with permission.

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