Posted on September 30, 2021
With five matchups reasonably spaced throughout the day, Week Five presents an opportunity to check in on teams you may not have watched as often as others.
Struggling USC opens the day against Colorado in Boulder, California takes on Washington State in the middle of the afternoon, and Oregon State seeks a 4-1 start to the year, but faces a tough challenge in Washington.
I preview all five games here, and our Football Writer’s picks appear at the bottom.
USC at Colorado
Folsom Field, Bolder, CO
Saturday, October 2
11:00 am PT, Pac-12 Network
The Buffs are 0-14 against USC dating back to 1927, with 10 of the defeats coming by double-digits. But all four of the single-digit losses have been by less than a touchdown, and three have come in the past five seasons.
That would normally ring alarm bells for a Trojan program that has struggled in Boulder over its last three trips, but the CU offense appears broken beyond repair.
Averaging the nation’s third-lowest total yards per game with 239 and owners of the country’s third-lowest scoring offense at 13.8 points per game, Colorado is entirely reliant on its defense to win games.
Yet, Karl Dorrell is catching USC coming off a loss with an appetite for revenge.
Graham Harrell’s scheme puts up 32.5 points per game and boasts the top passing-offense in the Pac-12. And with a middle-of-the-road passing defense, the Buffaloes face an uphill struggle.
Generating turnovers and holding stout on third down are two keys to pulling off the upset, but it arguably won’t make a difference if Brendon Lewis and the CU offense struggle to move the ball.
By the end of the first quarter, it will be clear if Colorado can notch its first victory over USC: The tell-tale sign being the Buffs’ ability to move the ball on the ground.
No. 3 Oregon at Stanford
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
Saturday, October 2
12:30 pm PT, ABC
The Ducks and Cardinal are 5-5 against each other since the Conference expanded in 2011. The rubber match on national television pits Stanford’s passing attack against the Duck secondary, and the Cardinal’s run defense against Oregon’s zone reads.
The Tree’s Tanner McKee has yet to throw an interception, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 863 yards in four games. But the UO defensive backs are deadly, leading the nation with nine interceptions.
And with Oregon’s offense lined up against the Pac-12’s worst run defense, the scales are tipped in the Ducks’ favor.
CJ Verdell was under-utilized against Arizona last weekend and Travis Dye exploited the minimal opportunities he was afforded.
Both of those abnormalities should change at Stanford Stadium, with Mario Cristobal more focused on running the ball against the porous Cardinal front seven.
The decision-making of Anthony Brown figures to be the X-Factor that could make the game closer than expected, but the veteran leader should fix the mistakes he made last week in the option play calls.
The end result could be a dangerous Oregon ground game that leads to strikes over the top and long touchdown throws.
Washington State at California
California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, October 2
2:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Each holding a single win against an FCS opponent, the winner of this matchup will keep its bowl eligibility hopes alive while the loser will almost surely miss the postseason.
The Bears are a play or two away from being 4-0, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And dealing with an injury to Jayden de Laura, Washington State has yet to hit its offensive stride.
The matchup to watch at Memorial Stadium is Jake Dickert’s 4-2-5 scheme and its ability to slow down Chase Garbers. The system worked against Utah last Saturday, forcing the Utes to become mostly one-dimensional through the air.
But Garbers is playing at an All-Conference level and won’t be as easy to slow down. Buffeted by a strong running back in Damien Moore, Garbers’ ability to move the chains with his legs is what makes this matchup more difficult for Dickert’s defense.
Play calling designed to contain the quarterback could backfire and lead to open areas in passing plays, but it’s a pick-your-poison choice that WSU must make.
And with Garbers’ four interceptions on the year, forcing Cal to beat them through the air might be the right strategy.
Washington at Oregon State
Reser Stadium, Corvallis, OR
Saturday, October 2
6:00 pm PT, Pac-12 Network
Sitting second in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation in interceptions forced, Oregon State has a favorable matchup against Washington’s offense.
The Dawgs have struggled on the ground, averaging a Conference-low 101.8 yards rushing per game, requiring Jimmy Lake to get the job done through Dylan Morris’ arm. But the second-year starter has thrown five picks and isn’t a consistent threat to run.
That should allow Jonathan Smith to bring pressure throughout the night, forcing Morris into bad throws, negative plays, and interceptions. The blitzing play calling could change, though, if the UW rushing attack is successful against the Beaver defense.
Games are won and lost in the trenches, and the battle of the two lines figures to determine the outcome in Corvallis.
Yet, the Oregon State offense is on a roll with Chance Nolan under center. His efficiency running Smith’s offense is turning Nolan into a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year candidate, with B.J. Baylor reaping the benefits.
Defenses have yet to figure out how to slow the duo down, and that doesn’t figure to change at Reser Stadium.
Arizona State at No. 20 UCLA
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Saturday, October 2
7:30 pm PT, FS1
In the Pac-12’s Game of the Day, the battle for the South Division could be decided. While the rest of the division struggles, the winner of this matchup will have a leg up the remainder of the year.
The Sun Devils are 1-3 against the Bruins over the past four seasons and last came away with a victory at the Rose Bowl in 2015. And facing a defensive scheme designed to slow down the run, Jayden Daniels must get the job done by passing the football.
Jerry Azzinaro’s 4-2-5 system has struggled to contain pass-heavy offenses, giving up 330.2 yards per game through the air. The UCLA pass defense is at the bottom of the Pac-12 and fifth-worst in the country.
But Daniels hasn’t thrown a touchdown since facing UNLV in Week Two, and has failed to throw a pass for a TD in three of the four games Arizona State has played.
His 2-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio is confounding given the Sun Devils’ potent ground game, which should open up its passing attack.
Yet, the Bruins’ run defense is top in the Pac-12 and fifth in the nation, holding opponents to just 64 yards per game.
At the end of the day, if Herm Edward’s offense moves the ball effectively through the air, it could score enough points to win the game.
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