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Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 9 Pac-12 Football Previews

The featured matchup between No. 8 Oregon and No. 13 Utah has Playoff implications

Posted on October 27, 2023


  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Pac-12All 12 teams in the Conference are in action for Week Nine, highlighted by No. 8 Oregon facing No. 13 Utah.

The game has College Football Playoff implications and gets a primetime slot on Fox.

With intriguing matchups throughout the league, a few surprising results are arguably expected.

I preview all six games here and the picks of our writers and broadcasters appear at the bottom.

Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12No. 8 Oregon at No. 13 Utah

Saturday, October 28
12:30 pm PT, Fox

The Oregon-Utah series is the West Coast’s premier rivalry.

Despite facing each other twice in the Pac-12 Championship Game and consistently battling for supremacy in the Pac-12, the fanbases have a surprising mutual respect for each other.

Unlike more traditional rivalries based on hate, the UO-UU matchup is more akin to a love affair. The Ducks won last year’s game in Eugene, yet the series is split evenly at 4-4 dating back to 2015.

Still, it’s been seven years since Oregon beat Utah in Salt Lake City and UO is seeking to win back-to-back games against the Utes for the first time since 2016-17.

For Dan Lanning’s team, the matchup is their first test against an elite defense.

The Utes are No. 11 nationally in points allowed per game, No. 5 in rushing yards allowed per game, and No. 2 in third down conversion percentage defense.

As a comparison, the strongest opponents Oregon has faced in those three categories are No. 23 in scoring defense (Washington), No. 61 in rushing defense (Washington), and No. 78 in third-down defense (Texas Tech).

Utah DE Jonah Elliss is on the Lombardi Trophy watch list | Utah Athletics

In other words, this is far and away Oregon’s toughest opposing defense to date.

Morgan Scalley’s unit doesn’t have any weaknesses. Utah has strength along its defensive line, quality linebackers, and an elite secondary.

Lineman Jonah Ellis is second nationally in sacks per game and safety Cole Bishop is arguably the best defensive back in the Pac-12.

Star linebacker Lander Barton is out of the year, but Karene Red and Levani Damuni figure to make up for his production.

One of the keys to Oregon’s success could be its effectiveness in the run game. If the Duck offensive line wins the battle in the trenches, Bucky Irving and Jordan James could be the difference-makers.

At the same time, Tosh Lupoi’s defensive line has to get pressure on Bryson Barnes. If Barnes is given time to sit in the pocket or is able to scamper effectively for first downs, Oregon could be in trouble.

With each program entering the game with one loss, a chance to remain in the Playoff discussion is on the line.

usc logoNo. 24 USC at California

Saturday, October 28
1:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

Lincoln Riley’s program is teetering on the brink of collapse.

The local Los Angeles media seems to be turning against him and the fanbase’s patience is wearing thin.

A defeat on the road to California would all but seal the deal and arguably make the NFL Riley’s most likely destination for next year.

Facing a Cal team coming off a bye, the game might be closer than some are anticipating.

Justin Wilcox has a respectable defense and a strong ground game. Jaydn Ott leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards per contest while Isaiah Ifanse is tied for second in the Conference in rushing touchdowns.

Cal redshirt freshman QB Fernando Mendoza | Cal Sports Report

But the Bears have struggled under center. Former third-string quarterback Fernando Mendoza has been elevated to the starting role and has rallied the team around him.

Just mobile enough to get by, Mendoza’s decision-making and execution have secured him the job.

He’s not flashy or spectacularly athletic, but Mendoza operates the offense the way it needs be done considering the strength of the run game.

One of the keys for USC, then, will be containing Cal on the ground. If the Bears establish their rushing offense throughout the matchup, Alex Grinch’s defense could struggle to keep them off the board.

But if the Trojans relatively contain California’s three-deep rushing attack, Caleb Williams and the offense should take care of business.

Washington football pac-12No. 5 Washington at Stanford

Saturday, October 28
4:00 pm PT, FS1

The Huskies have a Stanford problem.

Since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011, Washington is 1-5 in Palo Alto and is 4-4 in the series over the last eight games. Of course, this isn’t the Cardinal teams of old and the Dawgs have won the last two meetings.

But the struggles of beating the Tree on the road can’t be overlooked.

In some ways, the close victory over Arizona State may have been what the program needed. Kalen DeBoer’s roster now knows they can’t overlook anyone in a league this deep.

The result should be a Dawg offense that comes out hitting on all cylinders.

Why?

Michael Penix played with hurt ribs vs ASU | Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Stanford is the second-worst team in the country at pass defense. The Tree enter the game 129th in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game, giving up 315.9 yards through the air per contest.

And from a passing defense efficiency standpoint, Stanford is fifth-worst in the country (126th in the FBS). In other words, the Cardinal secondary is a certified liability that figures to get exposed by DeBoer’s offense.

Turnovers can change the game, but the Tree are frankly outmatched facing the No. 1 passing offense in America.

Unless Stanford’s offense can run the ball effectively and create chunk plays through the air, a blowout Washington victory is arguably expected.

Colorado at No. 23 UCLA

Saturday, October 28
4:30 pm PT, ABC

D’Anton Lynn probably had this game circled for weeks.

Despite playing three ranked opponents so far this season, UCLA has flown under the national radar. Most of the country likely has no idea who Lynn is or how well he has coached the Bruin defense in his first season.

But facing Colorado on ABC, the rest of the country is about to find out.

UCLA tops the Pac-12 in points allowed per game (10th in the FBS) and does it on the back of an elite defensive line.

Facing a Buffaloes offensive line that might be the worst in the nation, it’s fair to wonder if CU will score a single touchdown.

QB Ethan Garbers started for UCLA last Sat | Jake Greenberg-Bell/Daily Bruin

The other side of the ball, however, is a more open question. The quarterback situation in Westwood has become murky and it’s unclear if Ethan Garbers has taken over the starting role.

The junior dominated Stanford last week but Chip Kelly seems to be more interested in developing Dante Moore for the future.

Moore has struggled the last few games he played, throwing three pick-sixes and collapsing under pressure.

If Garbers gets the nod, UCLA figures to put plenty of points on the board. But if Moore is given the keys, Colorado could create enough turnovers to make the game interesting.

Regardless of who starts under center, the Bruins must establish their ground game and bring pressure on Shedeur Sanders all day.

Washington State at Arizona State

Saturday, October 28
5:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network

If Arizona State is going to break its 10-game losing streak against FBS opponents, the matchup with Washington State in Tempe feels like the moment.

Despite all the injuries, Kenny Dillingham has re-energized his team after taking over the playcalling duties in Week Four.

The Sun Devils’ last three games have all been decided by a single possession and the on-field performance is trending in the right direction.

Much of ASU’s strength, however, is attributable to defensive coordinator Brian Ward. His command of the Sun Devil defense has been impressive and his group presents a significant challenge for Washington State.

WSU quarterback Cam Ward had 438 yds passing vs Oregon | Andy Nelson/AP

Matched up against a largely one-dimensional offense, the key is getting pressure on Cam Ward to force mistakes. The Cougars fall apart when Ward turns the ball over and the Wazzu offensive line isn’t a strong point.

Brian Ward knows all of that and will likely call an aggressive gameplan. If ASU’s pressure doesn’t get there in time, though, the Washington State wide receivers can make plays in open space.

On the other side of the ball, establishing the ground game will be key. Cameron Skattebo and DeCarlos Brooks are an effective one-two punch and WSU is 94th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game.

If the Sun Devil running backs have an efficient night on the ground, ASU should be able to put up enough points to break the losing streak.

No. 11 Oregon State at ArizonaArizona football Pac-12

Saturday, October 28
7:30 pm PT, ESPN

Jonathan Smith and the Beavers bring their run-first offense to the desert.

Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen has been a schematic genius this year and his base 4-2-5 defense is strong against the run.

The Wildcats are No. 13 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game and the UA staff likely has variable formations up their sleeves for this game.

Facing a strong defensive line that boasts depth and a healthy rotation, Oregon State could struggle to move the ball on the ground.

But, if OSU gashes the Cats over the top with playaction passing, the lanes could open up. That could make the game come down to play of Arizona’s secondary.

The group has taken several steps forward over the last few games but faces an offensive scheme that is unlike any they have faced this season.

DJ Uiagalelei hands off to Damien Martinez vs UCLA | Amanda Loman/AP

DJ Uiagalelei is mobile and a willing runner, complicating the job for UA’s defensive backs and linebackers. Nansen might employ some traditional 4-3-4 formations with the third linebacker acting as a spy.

The Wildcats have run very few plays utilizing that particular formation, but Nansen has proven to be unconventional this season with his 3-1-7 looks against the pass-happy offenses in the Pac-12.

It’s the chess match between Smith and Nansen that could decide the game.

On the other side of the ball, Noah Fifita and the Arizona offense figure to have an efficient night. The Wildcats have a strong offensive line, skilled depth at running back, and elite wide receivers.

Mix in a hungry home crowd and it’s a recipe for an upset in Tucson.


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