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Pac Mentality Week 9: Utah Utes announce themselves as contenders

The Utes are for real.

Even those who were impressed by what Kyle Whittingham’s team had done before Saturday (myself included) were a little wary of what was on the horizon. After blowing a big lead at home to Washington State and then beating UCLA and Oregon State to start Pac-12 play, Utah would have to face USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona in five consecutive games.

So far, so good. Travis Wilson hit Kaelin Clay on an 8-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to lift the Utes to a 24-21 win over #20 USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium, pushing their record to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference, just a half-game behind Arizona State for first place in the South. Those two teams meet Saturday night in Tempe.

USC had a chance to melt the clock, or at least kick a field goal to put them up by six late in the game. Quarterback Cody Kessler advanced the Trojans all the way to the Utah 28-yard line, which would have meant a 46-yard field goal or so. But head coach Steve Sarkisian opted to go for it on fourth down. A pitch went to wideout Nelson Agholor, who looked like he had gained the first down, but the official near the play ruled Agholor stepped out of bounds (which he did) short of the marker to gain. Utah would take over with 2:08 remaining.

Wilson then took over. He completed 5-of-8 passes on the drive for 44 yards, and had an 18-yard scramble that got the Utes to the 1-yard line, setting up the touchdown pass.

“We knew we were going to score,” Wilson said. “We executed a play that was called really well and I’m glad that we got it into the end zone.”

The Utes have now shown that they can a) hang with and beat the “big boys” in the South (UCLA, USC) and b) win without a sterling effort on special teams. USC’s Adoree Jackson had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game.

What Else Transpired

#6 Oregon 59…..California 41 (Friday) – Marcus Mariota continued to build his Heisman résumé with a tremendous game at Levi’s Stadium. The junior threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns — including two each to Dwayne Stanford and Pharaoh Brown — as the Ducks waltzed past the Bears. Freshman running back Royce Freeman also ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s latest win. The Ducks continue to hum on offense, while Cal’s defense continues to struggle. Friday marked the 17th straight Pac-12 game in which the Bears have allowed at least 30 points.

#25 UCLA 40…..Colorado 37 (2OT) – The Buffaloes rallied for 17 fourth-quarter points to force overtime, but it was UCLA getting the last laugh. Brett Hundley’s 8-yard touchdown run in the second overtime was the game-winner for the Bruins. UCLA used a punishing ground game Saturday, racking up 309 rushing yards. Paul Perkins ran for 180 and two scores — his fourth 100-yard game this season.

Stanford 38…..Oregon State 14 – What is wrong with the Beavers’ offense? OSU managed just 221 yards against Stanford’s defense in a 24-point loss. Kevin Hogan threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns and the Cardinal used a very balanced running attack (nine different players got carries) to dispose of the Beavs. Meanwhile, highly-touted quarterback Sean Mannion continued to struggle. He completed just 14-of-30 for 122 yards and was sacked six times.

#15 Arizona 59…..Washington State 37 – The Wildcats were looking for a quick start, and they got one thanks to DaVonte’ Neal, who returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown just 1:06 into the contest. The fun was just getting started for Rich Rodriguez’s team. Quarterback Anu Solomon threw touchdown passes to five different players in the Arizona rout. The Wildcats outscored the Cougars 45-0 in the first and third quarters.

#14 Arizona State 24….Washington 10 – It wasn’t pretty (again), but the Sun Devils just keep chugging along. Taylor Kelly returned to the starting lineup and battled stiff winds to throw for 180 yards and two touchdowns for the Sun Devils. The second was a desperation throw to the end zone while being sandwiched by two Washington defenders. Gary Chambers made a lunging catch for the TD, which put ASU up 17-10 with 3:00 to go. Armand Perry then sealed it with a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Marotta’s Players of the Week

Offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – He did throw his first interception of the year, but Mariota was outstanding Friday night. In the three games since the Ducks lost to Arizona, he’s thrown for 872 yards and nine touchdowns. His TD-to-interception ratio for the season is 24-to-1.

Honorable Mention – RB Devontae Booker (Utah), RB Royce Freeman (Oregon), QB Brett Hundley (UCLA), WR Vince Mayle (Washington State), RB Paul Perkins (UCLA), QB Anu Solomon (Arizona)

Defense: Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona – It was an unbelievably deep group of candidates in Week 9, but Wright did the most stat sheet filling. The linebacker had 3.0 sacks and forced three fumbles against Washington State, continuing his outstanding season.

Honorable Mention – LB Su’a Cravens (USC), CB Troy Hill (Oregon), LB Hau’oli Kikaha (Washington), LB Eric Kendricks (UCLA), LB Blake Martinez (Stanford), LB Laiu Moeakiola (Arizona State), DB Davion Orphey (Utah), S Jared Tevis (Arizona)

Special Teams: DaVonte’ Neal, KR, Arizona – Again, there were plenty of players to choose from, but Neal’s punt return was the biggest single special teams play of the week.

Honorable Mention: P Matt Haack (Arizona State), KR Adoree Jackson (USC), KR Charles Nelson (Oregon)

Play of the Week

Neal’s punt return was a tone-setter. Nelson’s was just prettier to watch. Anybody else see #6 in Oregon colors and think of DeAnthony Thomas on this one?

Quotes

“I think when it got to 31-14, a few of our guys took a deep breath and relaxed too much. That’s on all of us, collectively of just having the killer instinct mindset of finishing the deal and against those guys, you’re not going to finish it in the first half. They’re too talented.” — Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich

“I told the guys after the game that I was really proud of how hard they played. I thought they played really, really hard. We had a bunch of guys that were a little beat up physically that were able to come back and compete hard for us. We just made too many mistakes in the ballgame to beat a team as good as Oregon, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys.” — Cal head coach Sonny Dykes

“Okay, we wanted to see what overtime felt like. We haven’t had one. You know, keeping it interesting, you know I think that’s kinda who we are right now. Fight and scrap and we are not perfect, got a lot of growing to do but we are resilient and we know how to win on the road. We are 5-0 on the road. We won our first overtime game and there is a lot to improve on as always, that’s about it.” — UCLA head coach Jim Mora

“What a game. I tip my hat to UCLA for winning it; they did a heck of a job. I tip my hat to our players and coaches, what a game, what a battle.” — Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre

“There wasn’t anything good about that game. I hated it. We were not very good in any area. We got outplayed in every area. We didn’t tackle well, we got outplayed offensively and we played poorly on special teams. I’m really disappointed.” — Oregon State head coach Mike Riley

“For the first time offensively, it felt like us. It felt like what we wanted to have.” — Stanford head coach David Shaw

“It was a long game. We knew it was going to be a big challenge and that they’d throw it all over the place, with some really good football players that are well coached. Being on the road, I thought our guys handled everything really maturely and were focused on the sidelines. We got contributions from all three phases which was nice. The defense made some plays, special teams was huge, and offensively in both the first quarter and the third quarter, we executed pretty well coming out of the gates.” — Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez

”I think we dug a huge hole early. We came out of the week very intense. Everyone wanted to play well and we played tight in the first quarter. In the second quarter, we played very well. In the third quarter, basically they came out and hit us in the mouth.” — Washington State head coach Mike Leach

“I think the wind really surprised us. We started hearing the reports coming in last night. We’re used to playing in the rain, we can handle that but they (ASU) played better in the weather tonight than we did. We’re going against a really good defense and then to have to deal with that also was tough. They executed their kicking game better than we did ours.” — Washington head coach Chris Petersen

“And then our defense—I’m really proud of these kids. They are put under so much scrutiny. They’ve had to listen all year long about how we’re inexperienced and how great everybody else is. I’m really excited for them that they’re playing at the caliber that they are. We’ve strung together three pretty good defensive performances. Tonight was a defensive struggle, and you’re going to have that. I’m just really proud of our team collectively.” — ASU head coach Todd Graham

“That’s our season right now. We’re living and dying by these moments. It obviously hurts a lot when you lose the way we lost tonight.” — USC head coach Steve Sarkisian

“It’s so amazing. Words can’t really describe how I’m feeling right now.” — Utah QB Travis Wilson

Looking ahead to Week 10

Did you ever think that the Stanford-Oregon matchup would be the third-best on the Pac-12 schedule in any week?

That’s the reality of Week 10. Arizona State hosts Utah in a crucial South battle, while Arizona travels to UCLA in another.

Here’s what the full slate of games looks like:

• Washington at Colorado – 11:00 a.m. – Pac-12 Network

• USC at Washington State – 2:30 p.m. – Pac-12 Network

• Stanford at Oregon – 5:30 p.m. – FOX

• California at Oregon State – 7:30 p.m. – Pac-12 Network

• Arizona at UCLA – 7:30 p.m. – ESPN

• Utah at Arizona State – 8:00 p.m. – FOX Sports 1