Pac-12 Recap: Washington Dominates as Oregon Avoids Upset to Remain Unbeaten

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Only four of the six scheduled Pac-12 made it to kickoff on Saturday, as plenty of other high-profile games weren’t so lucky. Such is life in 2020. The conference’s two best chances at the College Football Playoff—Oregon and USC—handled their business this week, though this time it was the Ducks who needed to white-knuckle their way to a win over an inferior opponent, while the Trojans were more businesslike in dispatching Utah.

As we reach the halfway point of the Pac-12’s regular season, let’s unpack all that happened in Week 3.

Team of the week: The final score of Washington’s 44–27 win over Arizona was not indicative of just how one-sided things were in Seattle. The Huskies out-gained the Wildcats on the ground, 233 to 72, controlling the game to the tune of 37:17 in time of possession. They led 37–0 after three quarters and 44–6 with 11 minutes left before Arizona scored three garbage time touchdowns to make things look more respectable (and flirt with covering the 11.5-point spread). Washington caught a break last week with a dubious officiating blunder in its 27–21 win over Oregon State, but the Huskies left no doubt in this one. Their regular season finale at Oregon in three weeks could decide the Pac-12 North, though looking that far ahead this year feels like wishful thinking.

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Best game: Turnovers undid the Bruins again Saturday, though sloppy play on both sides made for the most entertaining game of the weekend as the Ducks held on for a 38–35 win. A pick-six just before halftime gave Oregon a 24–21 lead that quickly turned to 31–21 early in the third. UCLA hung around behind a strong performance from backup quarterback Chase Griffin—making his first career start—and a workmanlike effort from running back Demetric Felton. The Bruins actually had a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the final minute, but were unable to convert on fourth-and-12 from the Oregon 41, as the Ducks hung on for a 38–35 win.

Oregon has a lot of issues to figure out. The Ducks were out-rushed, 267 to 88, and were just 3-for-11 on third downs. A constant bright spot has been the play of first-year starting quarterback Tyler Shough, who was again excellent, passing for 334 yards and three scores with no turnovers. He’s averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt (tied for 10th-most nationally) with eight touchdowns and two interceptions on the season to go along with 197 rushing yards.

Highlight of the week: There were a few worthy candidates from Oregon State’s 31–27 win over Cal, but the Beavers’ defense gets the nod here for its game-saving interception of Cal quarterback Chase Garbers. With just over a minute left and Cal at the Oregon State 10-yard line, outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. came on a pass rush and tipped Garbers’s pass high in the air. John McCartan won the jump ball among the scrum, securing the Beavers’ first win of the season.

#Pac12AfterDark moment of the week: During the third quarter of USC’s 33–17 win over Utah, ESPN’s cameras went out coming back from a commercial break. Broadcasters Dave Flemming and Rod Gilmore, who were working remotely, were left to narrate the action as the cameras faced them, creating a truly bizarre viewing experience that could only happen to the Pac-12.

Offensive player of the week: Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson is one of college football’s best-kept secrets. The Bears had no answer for him on Saturday, as he rushed for 196 yards on 18 carries—good for an average of 10.9 yards per attempt.

Jefferson has rushed for 120 or more yards in all three games this season, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. He’ll face an Oregon defense next week that was just gashed by UCLA and has allowed 188 rushing yards per game.

Defensive players of the week: UCLA was loose with the ball again on Saturday, and Oregon safety Verone McKinley III was there to take advantage. The sophomore had two fumble recoveries and one interception to go along with seven tackles. His first fumble recovery featured a savvy play to keep the loose ball away from a UCLA offensive lineman.

Not to be outdone, senior safety Jordan Happle sent the Ducks into halftime with the lead by intercepting the Bruins’ Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the second quarter.

Elsewhere, Oregon State linebacker Omar Speights had a team-high 10 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. Washington outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui continued to be a menace to opposing quarterbacks, notching two sacks for the second straight week.

Special teams player of the week: Oregon State’s eventual game-winning touchdown was set up by its special teams, as wide receiver Jesiah Irish came through to block Washington’s punt with just over five minutes left and give the Beavers a short field.

Oregon State scored three plays later on a 1-yard rush by quarterback Tristan Gebbia, who also threw a touchdown and caught a score on a trick play earlier in the fourth quarter.

Glenn Close “In a Losing Effort” player of the week: A new category named in honor of screen icon Glenn Close, who’s been nominated for an Academy Award seven times without a win (criminally, one of those nominations was not for her role in 101 Dalmatians). This week’s inaugural winner is UCLA’s senior running back Demetric Felton, who rushed for 167 yards on 34 carries (both career highs) with two touchdowns. Felton has been the Bruins’ most dangerous offensive weapon, with 411 yards from scrimmage and four scores on the season. Aside from its turnover issues, UCLA’s offense has come to play this season, averaging 37 points per game. Felton went home empty-handed this week, but he’ll get another crack at it when Arizona visits the Rose Bowl next Saturday.

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Big picture: USC fans were given the gift of a relatively stress-free game Saturday night, as the Trojans handled their business against Utah without the need for a last-minute comeback. USC won the turnover battle, 5–2, as its defense turned in its best performance of the season, holding the Utes to just 111 rushing yards and notching three sacks. The Trojans still have their issues to iron out—they couldn’t run the ball consistently, and their red zone offense continues to struggle. The team will not have to leave Los Angeles for the remaining three games on its regular-season schedule—though that is, of course, subject to change. Through three weeks of action, only four teams—USC, UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State—have actually played three games. The Pac-12’s dream scenario is a USC-Oregon championship game matchup, with both teams 6–0. That’s still on the table heading into Thanksgiving weekend, which is as big a win as the conference could have hoped for at this point.

Lookahead: It’s rivalry week in the Pac-12 North, with all three games scheduled for Friday. The prospect of getting all three games in is tenuous, as Washington State was forced to cancel its game against Stanford this week due to COVID-19 and contact tracing issues. Of the three matchups, Oregon’s trip to Corvallis should be the most compelling. In the South, Colorado visits USC in a game that could decide the division. Arizona State’s been dealing with COVID-19 issues as well, and if the Sun Devils are cleared to play, they’ll host Utah in a matchup of two teams looking to avoid an 0-2 start.