Week 8 Pac-12 Football Previews And Predictions

Every Thursday during the football season, our writers bring you previews and predictions for each of the Pac-12 football games. All twelve teams are engaged in Conference play this week.

UCLA (1-5, 1-2) at Stanford (3-3, 2-2)

Thursday, October 17

6:00 p.m. PT, ESPN

Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA

Straight-Up: Stanford in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: Stanford (-4)

By Andrew Corbett

What the Bruins Must Do to Win

UCLA needs to find some sort of defense to keep from being trampled by Stanford. The same things have plagued the Bruins on that side of the ball this season: A lack of pass rush, multiple injuries, soft coverage by the defensive backs, who get beat deep nonetheless. At this point, fixing any one of those things, could go a long way toward helping UCLA find its second conference win. The offense needs to continue doing what works, and that means giving the ball to dependable Demetric Felton. The junior running back had yet another stellar performance in his last game, rushing for 110 yards while also catching nine balls for 55 yards. Getting him going is key to standing toe-to-toe with anyone. Luckily, Dorian Thompson-Robinson is probable to play against the Cardinal, though one learns not to be too sure about any personnel decision with a coach as secretive as Chip Kelly. If the defense can force a few turnovers, and the offense succeeds in capitalizing on its strengths, playing relatively efficient football, UCLA’s cause could be dramatically improved.

What the Cardinal Must Do to Win

Starting quarterback KJ Costello (thumb) has been ruled out, and backup Davis Mills (calf) isn’t likely to play either, so sophomore Jack West should get the nod. All he really needs to do is hold on to the football and play smart. Based on the 503.3 yards the Bruins have been allowing per game, there isn’t much UCLA’s defense can do to stop opposing offenses that don’t turn the ball over. On top of that, UCLA has a history of underperforming against backup quarterbacks. Never mind that the Bruin pass defense is abysmal; a healthy dose of running back Cameron Scarlett, who has been performing at an exceptionally high level, should set up the Cardinal for a fruitful game through the air, even with a third-string quarterback. That’s especially likely given Stanford coach David Shaw had a bye week to prepare his young offensive line replacements. The Tree’s defense needs to continue the momentum gained in shutting down Washington. If the Cardinal defense contains Felton—no easy feat—they shouldn’t have much problem rendering the Bruin offense impotent.

What Happens on the Field

Stanford has had UCLA’s number for the last decade, and that will continue against a floundering Bruin team that keeps losing key players, and seems fresh out of ideas. The Cardinal will attack the spacious UCLA secondary in between gashing runs by Scarlett, piling up points while melting the clock. The Bruins will score some points of their own, but not enough to hang with stingy Stanford the entire game. In typical UCLA-Stanford fashion, a relatively high-scoring beatdown seems in order here. Look for Stanford to surpass 35, with UCLA trailing by 10 or more.

Notes: UCLA leads the all time series 45-42-3, but has lost 11 in a row, dating back to 2009. Stanford is 52-9 at Stanford Stadium since 2010, the best home record in the Conference during that span. David Shaw holds a 2-1 advantage over Chip Kelly-coached teams. Felton continues to lead the Pac-12 in all-purpose yardage at 143.7 per game, and has four touchdowns covering 75 or more yards. In the past three games, the Bruin offense has averaged 531.3 yards, a dramatic improvement over the 263.3-yard average in the first three contests. Stanford’s Jet Toner sits alone at sixth-place all-time in Stanford’s record book with 46 field goals.

Oregon State (2-4, 1-2) at California (4-2, 1-2)

Saturday, October 19

11:30 a.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA

Straight-Up: California in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: California (-11)

By Kamron Azemika

What the Beavers Must Do to Win

This is a game of strength-on-strength and weakness-on-weakness: OSU’s high-powered offense faces an elite Cal defense, while a struggling Bear offense faces a porous Beaver defense. If OSU can surpass 20 points—a number only Ole Miss has reached against the Bears this season—the game could be theirs for the taking. Turnovers would prove disastrous for the Beavers, as Cal is likely to limit their possessions. OSU quarterback Jake Luton has tossed only one interception, helping the Beavs to a +3 turnover margin to date. Stopping Cal’s running attack will be critical to getting more possessions as well, an area where Oregon State has struggled. Utah gashed the Beavers for 262 yards on the ground last week, allowing the Utes to move the chains and control the game. Oregon State needs to jump out to an early lead and contain the Bear offense in hopes of keeping a stressed and tired Cal defense on the field. Not an easy task, on either side of the ball. 

What the Golden Bears Must Do to Win

Cal will look to replicate its 2018 schematic advantage over  Oregon State, in which the Bears enjoyed their best offensive output of that season. While this isn’t the same Beaver defense, some of the same flaws Cal exploited then persist this season. OSU has given up an average of 205 yards per game, which should give Bear running back Christopher Brown Jr. a chance to build on his 72 yards per game rushing average. The Beavs have fared a little better in pass defense, but probably not well enough to keep transfer signal caller Devon Modster from taking another step forward in his development. That development needs to include better game management and decision-making under pressure, so as to avoid drive-killing turnovers. The Bear defense, led by FBS-leading tackler linebacker Evan Weaver and its scrappy secondary, has allowed a scant 18.3 points per game, and just needs to keep doing its thing.

What Happens on the Field

Justin Wilcox will have the Golden Bears ready to play after a bye week, which provided his team a chance to get healthier and regroup. The Cal rushing attack will carry the offense, eating time and limiting OSU possessions. Luton and the Beaver offense will mount its share of impressive drives, but OSU won’t be able to convert all of them into points, stalling in the face of Cal’s stifling red zone defense. Modster should continue to expand his grasp of Bear offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin’s offense, while Brown and fellow running back Marcel Dancy pick up steady rushing yards in a comfortable win. 

Notes: Cal leads the all-time series 38-33, with the Bears winning four of the last five matchups. Oregon State’s last win against Cal came in 2013. Oregon State and Appalachian State are the only FBS teams not to lose a fumble this season. Evan Weaver remains the national leader in total tackles with 83. Oregon State receiver Isaiah Hodgins leads the conference in receptions and receiving yards with 51 and 709 respectively. The Bears have held 13 straight opponents under 25 points, the longest active streak in the country. Cal’s secondary has logged 29 passes broken up, and ranks 13th nationally in team passing efficiency defense.

#12 Oregon (5-1, 3-0) at #25 Washington (5-2, 2-2)

Saturday, October 19

12:30 p.m. PT, ABC

Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA

Straight-Up Pick: Oregon in a Close Win

Against the Spread: Oregon (-3)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Ducks Must Do to Win

The Ducks will look to grab an early lead and take the hostile Husky Stadium crowd out of the game. Aside from the season-opener against Auburn, this could be the toughest challenge Justin Herbert has faced in his career, with both teams ranked and so much on the line. The senior quarterback will be without star tight end Jacob Breeland, but won’t lack for targets with the majority of his receiving corps now healthy. The Ducks may choose to deploy a run-heavy scheme, nonetheless, to take advantage of their experienced and physical front line. Oregon’s stingy defense, which has held five straight opponents to seven points or less, will try to force UW quarterback Jacob Eason into stressful situations with stunts and blitzes, prompting him to make ill-advised throws and decisions. The Ducks also need to control the point of attack, making the Dawgs one-dimensional by creating uncomfortable down and distance situations. Oregon has looked like the better team this year, but past performances go out the window in an emotion-charged rivalry. This one is as intense as it gets.

What the Beavers Must Do to Win

Eason must play more consistently for the Dawgs to exploit whatever cracks they find in Oregon’s smothering defense. If the junior signal caller misses routine passes, the ball-hawking Duck secondary will likely make him pay. Look for the Huskies to target wide-out Aaron Fuller on quick slants and screen passes to gain momentum early. On the ground, Washington needs to get multiple backs involved to sustain drives and try to wear down Oregon’s defensive line. Salvon Ahmed is the most explosive of the group, but Sean McGrew and Richard Newton (if available) will provide the meat-and-potatoes pounding. Defensively, the Huskies must give Herbert different looks. If they rely on zone coverage, their secondary could get picked apart. A press man-to-man scheme would make Oregon’s receivers create their own space, but it’s a risky strategy with two freshman starting cornerbacks. This game will reveal the Huskies for who they really are: Beat Oregon and they’re still among the nation’s elite; lose and they’ve officially fallen off the pedestal.

What Happens on the Field

Herbert will show why he belongs in the Heisman conversation, leading the Ducks to a close victory. Expect running back CJ Verdell to slip through the Washington defense when it matters most. This is a critical checkpoint for the Dawgs, and especially for Eason. The junior transfer has played brilliantly at times, but having dropped two games against stiff defenses, he hasn’t proven he’s ready to take down one of the best units in the country. His mistakes, or lack thereof, could be the difference. The UW defense will play tough as usual, but Oregon has plenty of offensive weapons, and will score enough points to squeak out the win.

Notes: Washington leads the all-time series 60-46-5, with Oregon winning last year’s matchup 30-27. The Ducks have won 13 of the last 15 matchups against the Dawgs. Oregon is 3-0 in conference for the first time since 2013. Over the last four years, the Husky defense has led the conference in yards and points allowed. Washington has outscored opponents 90-6 in the first quarter. Herbert has strung together 34 straight games with a touchdown pass, the longest such streak in the nation. Washington has forced 13 turnovers and has scored on 11 of 13 of the ensuing drives. The UO defense has allowed just one touchdown in the last 63 drives, and has not allowed a touchdown in the last 33 second-half drives.

#17 Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) at #13 Utah (5-1, 2-1)

Saturday, October 17

3:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT

Straight-Up: Utah in a Close Win

Against the Spread: Arizona State (+14)

By Nicholas Bartlett

What the Sun Devils Must Do to Win

The Sun Devils need to limit Utah’s explosion plays and not fall behind early. ASU may consider a heavy man-to-man scheme, forcing the Utes to rely on their run game, while applying pressure on Tyler Huntley. But such a plan could backfire, as the Utah quarterback is playing as well as any in the Conference right now, and Devil defensive backs must help bring down hard-running Zack Moss. On offense, ASU needs to open holes for running back Eno Benjamin, minimizing collisions with quick and massive Utah defensive lineman Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu. True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has already beaten some quality opponents, but this matchup has a different feel to it. Utah’s crowd is going to be rocking, and he’ll need to keep his poise. That means avoiding sacks and picks, using his legs only when he needs to, and distributing the ball to dangerous wideout Brandon Aiyuk and his other playmakers in space.

What the Utes Must Do to Win

With Zack Moss back from injury, the Utes looked scary in their win over Oregon State. Utah needs to carry over that confidence and intensity to its potentially division-deciding matchup with ASU. Offensively, the Utes must adapt their game-plan to the defense, as they have all season. Huntley has been as smart as he is mobile, making the right reads in the majority of cases. His leadership could be the difference, but as always, expect a steady dose of Moss, who is never fun to tackle. Defensively, Utah must stay committed to tackling Arizona State halfback Eno Benjamin at or near the line of scrimmage. The Utes may be able to stop him in the first quarter, but he gets harder to bring down as the game progresses. Utah must also contain Daniels, who can change the game quickly with his feet, or with a soft-touch pass to a speedy checkdown receiver. Having lost one of the season’s biggest matchups at USC, the Utes can’t afford to lose another.

What Happens on the Field

The Utes know their season hinges on this contest, and will come in prepared for a fight. Huntley will be at his best, moving the chains regularly. And Moss will find the red zone more than once. The Sun Devils have played well on the road this season, but will find themselves outmatched by the more-experienced Utes in an intimidating environment. Daniels will struggle to find open targets, and won’t have much room to scramble, leading to freshman mistakes. Aiyuk will make some plays, but the Utah secondary won’t let him emulate the success of USC’s talented receivers. Utah wins this game in a close one.  

Notes: ASU leads the all-time series 22-8 and won last year’s matchup 38-20. The Utes are one of only six teams nationally that rank in the top 25 in total offense and defense. They rank second nationally in rushing defense, and eighth in scoring defense. The Sun Devils are 2-0 against ranked opponents this year. In four of the past five seasons, Utah has started with a record of 5-1 or better. ASU wideout Aiyuk is second in the country with 424 yards after the catch, and fourth in the nation in forcing missed tackles with 11. The Sun Devils have scored in double-digit points in 125 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the FBS.

Colorado (3-3, 1-2) at Washington State (3-3, 0-3)

Saturday, October 19

4:00 p.m. PT, ESPNU

Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA

Straight-Up: Washington State in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: Washington State (-12.5)

By Jace McKinney

What the Buffaloes Must Do to Win

Colorado must play more consistently in the wake of their blowout loss last week at Oregon. While the Buffs ran into a buzz-saw defense in Eugene, critical mistakes contributed to the collapse of  an offense averaging more than 29 points per game. Ultimately, the four interceptions of normally reliable quarterback Steven Montez did them in. Montez must stay focused in the Palouse, though Martin Stadium isn’t likely to phase him the way Autzen appeared to have at times. Colorado should also get more production out of sophomore running back Alex Fontenot against a struggling Wazzu defense. On the other side of the ball, the Buffs need to pressure WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon, who does not throw as well when flushed and rushed. While Colorado is capable of winning a shootout, as it did against ASU, it’s less-advisable against WSU.

What the Cougars Must Do to Win

Coming off a tough loss in Tempe, Washington State must regroup and find some mid-season mojo. WSU’s best bet is to get a big lead early, and not stop scoring. The moment they let opponents see a little daylight, they tend to fold. Anthony Gordon needs to lead the charge again. He has been great all season, throwing for 2,612 yards to go with his 25 touchdown passes. On defense, the Cougs need to keep building off last week’s solid performance, in which they held the Devils in check until late in the game. Specifically, Wazzu must pressure Montez, forcing errant throws. If the Cougs can get some key stops in the first quarter, it could take the life out of Colorado, which wilted under Oregon’s stifling defense last week. It’s homecoming on the Palouse, and WSU fans should be anxious to will the Cougs to a much-needed victory.

What Happens on the Field

This game has all the markings of a high-scoring affair, with both defenses having struggled throughout the first half of the season. Both offenses are explosive and capable of gaining yards by the truck load. But while WSU regained its footing last week, Colorado has new questions to answer. Gordon will have a big night, slinging the ball downfield to Easop Winston and Dezmon Patmon. If Washington State isn’t able to bury the Buffs in an avalanche of points, the game will come down to who can force the most turnovers. Either way, WSU prevails.

Notes: The all-time series is tied 6-6, with WSU winning three of the last four meetings. The Cougs hold a 2-1 advantage in Pullman after last year’s 28-0 win. Washington State has lost three consecutive conference games for the first time since 2014. Colorado linebacker Nate Landman had 14 tackles at Oregon, his fifth double-digit tackle game of the season, and the 12th of his career. Gordon has recorded five 400-yard games and 25 touchdown passes in just six games. Montez now has 8,435 passing yards, trailing only Sefo Liufau, who threw for 9,568 from 2013 to 2016. Winston had a career-high 14 receptions last week.

Arizona (4-2, 2-1) at USC (3-3, 2-1)

Saturday, October 19

6:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA

Straight-Up: USC in a Comfortable Win

Against the Spread: USC (-9.5)

By Dane Miller

What the Wildcats Must Do to Win

Arizona needs Khalil Tate to play mistake-free while efficiently passing the ball to have a shot at pulling off an upset. The Run-Pass Option attack must keep drives up-tempo, forcing the Trojans on their back feet. The Wildcat receivers have to create separation and shed tackles in the open field to allow J.J Taylor to have a big game on the ground. And the offensive line must hold blocks long enough for receivers to get open. Noel Mazzone may want to show a few different looks to confuse the Trojan defense and get them off-balance, by keeping the play-calling unpredictable. Tight End Bryce Wolma has to be involved to counteract the heavy pressure USC’s defense will bring, while also providing easy checkdowns for Tate in blitz situations. On defense, the Cats need to force interceptions and generate third-down stops. The defensive backs have to step-up in their one-on-one battles against the speedy and talented Trojan receivers, limiting explosion plays over the top.

What the Trojans Must Do to Win

Coming off a close loss against a Top 10 Notre Dame team in South Bend, the Trojans must guard against overconfidence in their ability to handle the recently blown-out Wildcats. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis has to take care of the ball against a dangerous secondary, trusting his athletic receivers to find open space and not rely on contested catches. The freshman can’t allow his decision-making process to be sped-up by blitz packages, and Markese Stepp needs to ease that pressure with efficient runs. On defense, USC should bring heavy pressure on Tate using multiple defensive sets to confuse him, and force him into poor reads. The corners can be left on islands, allowing more blitzing with an emphasis on suppressing the Arizona rushing attack. In all three phases of the game, the Trojans need to capitalize on their superior speed and talent to outmatch the Wildcats, utilizing aggressive play-calling and taking shots down the field, while also creating turnovers and winning special teams battles.

What Happens on the Field

USC takes an early lead they never relinquished. The Trojan receivers dominate the Wildcats’ defensive backs, allowing Slovis to pass for more than 350 yards and several touchdowns. Michael Pittman Jr. shines with five or more receptions and more than 100 yards receiving. Tate isn’t able get the Arizona offense going, forcing him to make risky throws that lead to interceptions. The Wildcats lose the field-position battle and play from behind the entire game, diminishing their rushing attack, and forcing Tate to pass more than thirty times. The Trojans win easily.

Notes: USC leads the all-time series 34-8, including a resounding 20-4 advantage in L.A. Nineteen of those USC-Arizona meetings have been decided by 8 points or less. The Wildcats haven’t won in the Coliseum since 2009. The Trojans are 8-2 against the Cats over the last ten years. Arizona’s defeat last week snapped a four-game winning streak, its longest since 2017. USC’s offense continues to average nearly 30 points and 430 total yards per game, despite starting 3 different quarterbacks.  Arizona kicker Lucas Havrisik became one of only nine kickers to hit two 50+ yard field goals this season when he drilled a 50-yard boot last week. Slovis ranks fourth nationally with a .750 completion percentage.

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

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