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Picking the Pac Week 5: Coming Round the Bend

Trojans Battle Cougs in a Sunday Showdown and ASU Returns to Action

Washington v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

2020 Pac-12 Picks

1 3 1 0 2 2 19 13 0 21 11
2 2 3 0 3 2
3 1 3 0 3 1
4 3 2 0 4 1
5 4 2 0 3 3
6 4 0 0 4 0
7 2 2 0 2 2

Oregon (-10) @ Cal

Stanford v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Cal, we’ve reached the point in the season where excuses for individual games don’t hold up to the weight of the evidence that the team isn’t very good this year. Twenty points per game won’t cut it in 2020. The supposedly steady hand of Chase Garbers has wobbled in the transition to a pro-style offense. The defense has shown a propensity to give up big runs and the Ducks are averaging over two bills per game on the ground. Oregon State and UCLA both demonstrated that Oregon is vulnerable to the run, as well. The Ducks have given up 32 points per game against teams that didn’t lose their QB to false positive Covid tests the day of the game. Even so, it’s hard for me to imagine the Bears offense getting into gear in this matchup.

Oregon 38 – Cal 24

Colorado (-7) @ Arizona

The Buffs sit at a surprising 3-0 by doing what has been necessary to beat each opponent in front of them. Their first two games were shootouts. When they jumped out to an early lead against last minute sub San Diego State, they pivoted to a ball control approach that let them walk away with a 20-10 win. The teams combined for 427 yards of offense; Colorado racked up 525 in week 1 against UCLA. Arizona lost Grant Gunnell early against UCLA and the offense showed minimal vitality without him. Colorado wouldn’t be too close to the top of any Pac-12 power rankings, but they are solid enough in every phase of the game to likely get to 4-0.

Colorado 28 – Arizona 17

Oregon State @ Utah (-11)

Husky fans probably look at this game as the Sigh of Relief bowl. The Utes showed against UW that their interior defensive line has ability beyond its experience and might be the unit to finally slow down the spectacular Jermar Jefferson. If that’s the case, it would shift more playmaking responsibility to Triston Gebbia and he finally showed an inkling of explosiveness in the win over the Ducks. The Beavers have not defended other teams like they did the Dawgs in Dylan Morris’s conservatively-called debut. Utah will have to throw the ball more efficiently and without so many turnovers to capitalize on the defensive matchup advantage. I’ll peg them to do so enough to get their first W, but not enough to cover.

Utah 31 – Oregon State 27

UCLA @ Arizona State (-3)

ASU’s painfully delayed schedule creates a boatload of uncertainty. They looked solid in nearly beating USC in their debut, but a full month has passed without another game. During that time, UCLA has grown from a week one loss in Boulder with three consecutive positive results (blowout wins over Cal and Arizona and a 3-point loss to Oregon). On paper, I like ASU’s stout defensive front against UCLA’s run-heavy approach. I’m also a fan of Jayden Daniels’s dual-threat qualities. But the month of inaction gives me pause and I’ll credit this pick to the general instability of 2020.

UCLA 30 – ASU 27

Washington State @ USC (-13)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Oregon at Washington State Photo by Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cougars have been shut down for two weeks and the Trojans for one, and they won’t get together until Sunday. True freshman Jayden de Laura has impressed in his first two starts and has probably played better than Kedon Slovis so far. Washington State’s defense was gashed in both of the team’s games and USC has not had trouble moving the ball, even if their games have been closer than one might expect. WSU’s secondary is young and somewhat shallow, which is a recipe for disaster against USC’s stable of pass catchers. With a 67.5 point o/u, this game promises to be one of the biggest shootouts in the country this week. I believe the Cougs can score enough to keep it within two touchdowns, but won’t seriously threaten in the end.

USC 42 – WSU 33

Stanford @ UW (-11.5)

Over the last decade, it has felt like Stanford has been a thorn in UW’s side no matter how well the Huskies have been playing coming into the game. While that feeling has generally been rooted in reality, this year’s Stanford team retains little of the legacy that made the Cardinal such a challenging adversary. Stanford no longer boasts the strength in the trenches to establish a substantial advantage on both sides of the ball. The offense no longer revolves around big sets with multiple tight ends and power running. Most importantly, they haven’t executed with the precision one would expect from a David Shaw team.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 28 Utah at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The aspect of this Stanford team that stands out most is the poor rush defense. For a team known for being big, tough, and smart, giving up 229 yards per game on the ground markedly undermines their reputation. The Utah game painstakingly demonstrated that John Donovan will stick to the RTDB offense regardless of success rate or game circumstance. That stubbornness should be rewarded in this game and the interior offensive line will have a less prodigious challenge on its hands. The Cardinal narrowly escaped with a (largely undeserved) win in Berkeley last week due to Cal turnovers. Dylan Morris will have to take better care of the ball after he threw his first three career interceptions against Utah. If the run game functions as the stats indicate it should, he won’t have the same amount of pressure to create offense by himself.

Even Stanford’s offensive approach looks foreign to the team’s established norm. Davis Mills is a skilled QB and both Conor Wedington and Simi Fehoko bring unique talents to the pass game. Even so, it’s bizarre to see a Cardinal team averaging twice as many pass yards as rush yards. They will still line up in pro-style sets and try to run the ball with Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat. The run offense has been neither efficient nor explosive so far, but we have seen that the Huskies defense tends to bring out the best in opposing rushers (to put it kindly). UW also has the best pass defense the Cardinal will see all year, so taking the ball out of Mills’s hands might make sense, even if it comes at the expense of getting it to Wedington, Fehoko, and Michael Wilson. Shaw has seen the tape and he’ll know that the offense will be better served by going back to its roots.

The relative strengths of the teams indicate that this one will be a slowed-down game where both teams run clock and possessions are at a premium. It’s harder to cover a double-digit spread when the game as a whole is lower scoring. It would be great to see the Huskies come out more aggressive, establish a lead, and force Stanford to put some air into the ball. If they do so, I can see a Husky win of two or more TDs. I think the opportunity to ground and pound will be too much for Donovan to pass up and the game will stay closer than we’d like.

UW 30 – Stanford 21