Every Thursday during the football season our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Pac-12 football games. Eight teams are engaged in Conference play this week; four have byes.
Washington (2-4, 5-4) at Oregon State (3-2, 4-4)
Friday, November 8
7:30 p.m. PT, FS1
Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Straight-Up: Washington in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: Washington (-10)
By Nicholas Bartlett
What the Huskies Must Do to Win
The Huskies have struggled with consistency all year. This game gives them a chance to turn that around. Washington must get the ball into the hands of running back Salvon Ahmed, and create holes. If the Dawgs can control the line of scrimmage, expect the junior to rip off some big gains. Even so, UW may want to get multiple backs involved to wear down the Beavers. Fellow running backs Sean McGrew and Richard Newton can be difficult to tackle, especially as the game wears on. On defense, the Huskies must find a way to pressure Beavs quarterback Jake Luton. The sixth-year senior will find gaps in the secondary if given time to set his feet. Above all, Washington must contain OSU wideout Isaiah Hodgins, who leads the conference in receiving yards. Husky Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Lake will likely assign cornerback Elijah Molden the task of slowing him down. The Dawgs have superior talent. They just need to execute and keep things simple.
What the Beavers Must Do to Win
OSU needs to get off to a hot start to keep momentum and the home crowd in their favor. If the Beavs fall behind early, it will be difficult to come back against a physical Dawg defense. In the first quarter, Luton may find Hodgins smothered, opening up space for other Oregon State wideouts such as Champ Flemings and Kolby Taylor. If so, the duo could provide OSU the crucial jumpstart it needs. Rushing the ball will be vital as well, with Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce both healthy. The pair finished with more than 100 yards each last week, and rank among the scariest two-headed rushing monsters in college football. On defense, the Beavers must minimize the damage of Ahmed and other UW running backs, making Washington quarterback Jacob Eason beat them with his arm. The Huskies boast a powerful offensive line, but the Beavs can counteract its physicality by loading the box with eight or more players, prompting Eason to beat them over the top, as he’s prone to missing clutch throws. The Beavers need to turn this game into a shootout and see if the Dawgs can keep up.
What Happens on the Field
Despite struggling this year, the Huskies will win this game comfortably. Oregon State is on an impressive run, but they don’t have the talent, physicality, or speed to hang with the Dawgs for four quarters. Expect a bounce-back performance from Eason, who is coming off his worst game of the year, and will be looking for redemption. Running back Ahmed will find huge holes in the line, allowing UW to control the clock and wear down the Beaver defense. Washington’s secondary will limit Hodgins, exposing the less-experienced wideouts in one-on-one battles. The Huskies win by two touchdowns or more.
Notes: UW leads the all-time series 65-34-4, having won last year’s matchup 42-23. OSU has won back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2016. The Dawgs have forced 15 turnovers this year and scored on 11. OSU’s 56 points last week set a program record for points in a conference road game. UW has played 31 different freshmen this year, including 12 true freshmen. OSU leads the Pac-12 with 25 sacks, 10 more than the 15 the Beavers posted in all of 2018. Husky tight end Hunter Bryant ‘s 1,126 receiving yards rank him third on the all-time UW list, trailing only Austin Seferian-Jenkins with 1,838 and Dave Williams with 1,133.
Stanford (3-3, 4-4) at Colorado (1-5, 3-6)
Saturday, November 9
12:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO
Straight-Up Pick: Colorado in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Colorado (+3.5)
By Ian McCollam
What the Cardinal Must Do to Win
The Cardinal need to protect KJ Costello, a challenge made more difficult by the injuries that have plagued Stanford’s offensive line all season. The Buff defense has given up an average of 316 yards per game in the air, so the senior quarterback will likely slice up the CU secondary if he has time to throw. Controlling the clock has been more difficult for the Cardinal this year as well, but establishing the run with Cameron Scarlett remains a key component of their success. On defense, Stanford needs to pressure Steven Montez to keep him from connecting with the lethal duo of Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon. Cardinal defender Paulson Adebo, one of the best safeties in the Conference, if not the nation, will be key to limiting the Colorado passing attack. Stanford will need to be wary of the Buffalo run game, which limped to just 88 yards last week, but he has averaged a solid 151 yards per contest.
What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win
Colorado’s offense depends on getting consistent play from Montez, who has been deadly when accurate, and disastrous when throwing one of his nine interceptions. For CU to keep pace with Stanford, the senior quarterback must take better care of the ball, getting it to Shenault Jr. and his other playmakers in space. Colorado must also get more production out of its running game, simultaneously limiting the opportunities of the Cardinal offense. Defensively, Colorado has struggled all year with its pass defense. To keep things close, the Buffs must keep KJ Costello on the run, and not allow Stanford to exceed its 22.6 points per game average. Limiting mistakes will be critical as well, in order for Colorado to end its mean five-game losing-streak. The Buffs have turned the ball over 12 times this season, while also committing a Conference-leading 69 penalties.
What Happens on the Field
Both Colorado and Stanford are hindered by injuries, so depth plus coaching will be critical to the outcome. This figures to be a close game, with both teams scoring plenty of points, and the winner making the fewest mistakes. Stanford will prevail in the end as a result of David Shaw’s coaching experience, and the Cardinal’s superior talent. The Buffs won’t have an answer to Costello, who will connect on multiple touchdown passes, but it won’t matter. Though Colorado keeps it close, giving themselves a chance to come back in a wild shootout, the Buffs will fall just short, as they have so often this season.
Notes: Stanford leads the all-time series 6-4 with Colorado winning the last meeting 10-5 in a 2016 matchup in Palo Alto. The Buffs have not beaten Stanford in Boulder since 1990, with CU winning 21-17 en route to their only national championship. A total of 15 true freshmen have made their first career appearances so far for the Cardinal. Montez has 9,144 career passing yards, trailing only Sefo Liufau, who has 9,746 as the all-time passing leader for Colorado. After starting eight different lineups in 13 games last season, Stanford has already started five different offensive line combinations in eight games.
USC (4-2, 5-4) at ASU (2-3, 5-3)
Saturday, November 9
12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, AZ
Straight-Up: ASU in a Close Win
Against the Spread: USC (+1.5)
By Nicholas Bartlett
What the Trojans Must Do to Win
After passing the ball a school-record 57 times against Oregon, and gaining only 3.6 yards per rush, the Trojans need to re-energize their run game. A one-dimensional offense would play right into the hands of Arizona State’s NFL-style defense. Unfortunately, USC enters the game without the services of its three best running backs, leaving fourth-string speedster Kenan Christon to carry the load. The freshman has been compared to Reggie Bush, and scored two touchdowns in his debut, but couldn’t break 80 yards against the Ducks. It might help to get Christon involved with a variety of short, run-like passes, allowing him to find his groove. The Trojan offensive line must give Kedon Slovis time to throw: Without pressure, he’s been able to connect with his dangerous trio of wideouts, but when hurried, he has played like a freshman, making critical mistakes. On the other side of the ball, USC’s banged-up defense must minimize explosion plays, forcing Jayden Daniels into errant throws, while also limiting his ability to scramble.
What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win
After a fast start this season, ASU sputtered against a stout Utah defense and an explosive UCLA offense. The Sun Devils have a chance to change their fate against USC, particularly if they get a solid performance from Eno Benjamin. The talented junior running back is the physical leader of ASU’s offense, and has the ability to change the game against USC’s injured defense. Daniels needs to continue reading the game one play at a time, and target wideout Brandon Aiyuk as often as possible. As with any team tasked with stopping the Trojans, the Devils must reduce the production of Michael Pittman Jr. The senior wideout is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, so limiting his catches would go a long way in containing USC’s offense. Getting pressure on Slovis could be the difference in the game, as the true freshman has a tendency to force troublesome passes with defenders in his face.
What Happens on the Field
The Sun Devils will get the ball into the hands of Benjamin early and often, setting the tone for the game. That will require USC to bring extra defenders into the box, opening up space for Aiyuk. The balanced nature of ASU’s offense will frustrate Trojan defenders, causing them to miss assignments. Daniels will continue his stellar freshman campaign, playing the role of game manager, and leading his team to victory. USC will find some success on offense, but won’t score enough to win. Lacking an effective rushing attack, Slovis will struggle to convert consistently on third downs. The game should be close, but ASU comes away with a win.
Notes: USC leads the all-time series 21-13, but ASU won last year’s matchup 38-35. Pittman and Tyler Vaughns are the fourth pair of career 2,000-yard receivers on the same USC roster, joining Robert Woods and Marqise Lee in 2012. Daniels is one of three true freshman FBS quarterbacks with four or more 300-yard total offense games. On the season, 79 of the 255 points USC has allowed have come following Trojan turnovers. ASU’s Kyle Williams looks to extend his streak of 36 straight games, the fifth-longest streak in ASU history, and the fourth-longest active streak in the FBS. Slovis’ 32 completions last week were a career high.
Washington State (1-4, 4-4) at California (1-4, 4-4)
Saturday, November 9
4:00 p.m. PT, Pac12 Network
Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Straight-Up: Washington State in a Comfortable Win
Against the Spread: Washington State (-7.5)
By Kamron Azemika and Jace McKinney
What the Cougars Must Do to Win
Wazzu is coming off a much-needed bye week, following a heartbreaking loss to Oregon on a last-second field goal. Ironically, the Cougs have improved defensively after the departure of defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys, though their record doesn’t reflect it. Anthony Gordon has blistered opposing defenses through the air, and that must continue against Cal. Washington State needs to keep feeding the multi-talented Max Borghi any way they can, whether on the ground or through the air. The Golden Bears have an imposing and physical defense, and running the ball on them won’t be easy. On defense, WSU needs to force turnovers by exploiting Cal’s vulnerabilities at quarterback, keeping the California offense off the field as much as possible. The Cougars can’t allow the Bears to run the ball all over them, the way opposing teams have done all season.
What the Golden Bears Must Do to Win
Foremost, the Golden Bears need to end the losing streak that began on September 27th against Arizona State. Cal’s kryptonite, a stringent run defense, won’t be as much of a factor this week, with the Cougars gaining a league-worst 85.5 yards per game. Wazzu hasn’t fared much better in stopping the run, allowing a league-worst 193.4 rushing yards per game. On paper, the Bears should be able to run the ball effectively. But Oregon State, the league’s 11th-worst rushing defense, held Cal to 50 yards three weeks ago. The Bear offensive line is battered and unseasoned, which has hindered the passing game as well. Nonetheless, the Bear offense must sustain drives to stay in the game. Defensively, Cal has held its own against Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense under Justin Wilcox, going 1-1. Last year’s matchup in Pullman ended with a 19-13 Bears loss against then-8th-ranked Cougars. WSU must make use of the bend-don’t-break mantra that worked in that 2018 matchup, trying not to let quarterback Devon Modster or Spencer Brasch get comfortable.
What Happens on the Field
This is going to be a close game early, with both teams feeling each other out. Wazzu will have to find a rhythm to attack the physical Cal defensive front. Once they hit their stride, the Cougs should be able to run away with the game. Cal will be able to move the ball on the Cougs, but it won’t be enough if they can’t convert in the Red Zone and limit turnovers. Both teams have been struggling, and whichever gains momentum first will take a decisive advantage. The Bears impotent passing offense will allow the Cougars to remain on the field for much of the game. Cal’s offensive line will struggle to get the run game going. Wazzu wins it 24-13.
Notes: Cal leads the all-time series 47-28-5, despite losing last year’s matchup. The Bears last defeated WSU in 2017 in Berkeley. Cal linebacker Evan Weaver remains the national leader in total tackles with 127. Gordon now has 32 touchdown passes, tied for sixth-most in WSU single-season history. While Cal’s pass defense has picked off just three passes this season after leading the league with 21 interceptions in 2018, it has allowed only seven touchdown passes. WSU linebacker Jahad Woods is fourth in the Pac-12 in tackles averaging 9.9 per contest. The Bears are third in the conference in passing efficiency defense at 117.2.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.