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Pac Mentality Week 14: Arizona Wildcats swoop in to take the South

Nov 30, 2014, 7:01 PM | Updated: 7:02 pm

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A few things had to happen for the Arizona Wildcats to capture the Pac-12 South title over the last handful of weeks.

Rich Rodriguez’s team needed Stanford to beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl last Friday afternoon — and the Cardinal obliged. Once it became clear that Stanford would prevail, the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State became the Pac-12 South championship game.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson had three touchdown runs, including two in the decisive third quarter, and Arizona held off the Sun Devils for a 42-35 victory and a ticket to the Pac-12 Championship game Friday in Santa Clara, California, against second-ranked Oregon.

ASU (9-3) operated with desperation. Head coach Todd Graham even pulled starting quarterback Taylor Kelly late in the third quarter and inserted junior Mike Bercovici.

Bercovici got the Sun Devils within a touchdown when he found tight end Kody Kohl on a 2-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter, but he also threw a costly interception on ASU’s next drive. Jourdon Grandon picked off a pass at the ASU 16-yard line, and the Wildcats cashed in. Anu Solomon hit Samajie Grant on a 20-yard touchdown pass two plays later to stretch the lead back to 14.

Arizona State would still have a chance, but Bercovici’s fourth-down pass to Jaelen Strong fell incomplete, giving Arizona its first Pac-12 South crown.

What Else Transpired

Stanford 31, UCLA 10 – Kevin Hogan had his best game of the season, completing 16-of-19 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and Remound Wright ran for two more as Stanford dominated the Bruins at the Rose Bowl.

After dominating USC the week prior for its fifth straight win, UCLA looked like a different team altogether. The Bruins were held to a season-low 264 yards of offense. Their previous season-low came in the first game of the year — when they had 358 yards against Virginia.

It was Stanford’s seventh straight win over UCLA.

Utah 38, Colorado 34Dominique Hatfield intercepted a Colorado screen pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown with 10 minutes left in the game to provide the winning margin for the Utes.

The Buffaloes would have two more possessions, but they couldn’t advance any farther than the Utah 46-yard line.

Travis Wilson threw for a season-high 311 yards and three touchdowns as Utah handed Colorado its first winless conference season since 1898, when the Buffaloes were a member of the Colorado Football Association.

USC 49, Notre Dame 14 – Cody Kessler picked apart the Fighting Irish defense, completing 32-of-40 throws for 372 yards and six touchdowns as the Trojans rolled to an easy 35-point win.

The first five touchdown passes came in the opening 25 minutes of the contest as USC built a very comfortable cushion in the annual rivalry game.

It was the first time anyone has ever thrown six touchdown passes in a game against Notre Dame, which collapsed down the stretch of the season, losing its last four after ascending to as high as No. 5 in the polls.

BYU 42, California 35Christian Stewart hit Jordan Leslie on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 2:39 remaining in the game as the Cougars knocked off the Bears and prevented them from gaining bowl eligibility.

The loss diminished another great day from Cal quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns — three to receiver Kenny Lawler.

Despite major improvement in 2014, the season ends in disappointment for Cal and head coach Sonny Dykes. After a wild 60-59 win over Washington State on Oct. 4, the Bears were 4-1 and atop the Pac-12 North with a 2-1 mark. They would go on to lose six of their last seven contests, yielding an average of 40.7 points per game.

Oregon 47, Oregon State 19 – It’s getting almost tiresome writing every week about how good Marcus Mariota is. The Oregon quarterback strengthened his Heisman campaign by throwing for 367 yards and four touchdowns and running for two more in the Ducks’ latest romp.

Oregon built a 30-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of the game and never looked back in winning its seventh straight Civil War contest over the Beavers.

Washington 31, Washington State 13 – Dwayne Washington had two long scoring runs and Cyler Miles threw for two touchdowns as the Huskies won the Apple Cup for the second straight season.

Washington ripped off a 51-yard touchdown jaunt on the Huskies’ second play from scrimmage, and from there, the rout was on. The sophomore would add a 60-yarder in the second quarter to increase UW’s lead to 21-0.

Washington finished with 135 yards on the ground — his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game.

Washington State (3-9, 2-7) got two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Luke Falk to make the score look a little less lopsided.

Marotta’s Players of the Week

Offense: Cody Kessler, QB, USC – There were so many to choose from this week, but Kessler continues to amaze, accomplishing something that had never been done against Notre Dame in its long and storied football history. The junior has 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions this season.

Honorable Mention: Cal QB Jared Goff, Arizona WR Samajie Grant, Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, Cal WR Kenny Lawler, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong, Washington RB Dwayne Washington, Arizona RB Nick Wilson, Utah QB Travis Wilson

Defense: Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona – Wright was a one-man wrecking crew against ASU, but that’s nothing new for the sophomore. His strip sack of Taylor Kelly on the third play of the game led to an Anthony Lopez touchdown and was easily one of the biggest plays of the contest. In all, Wright had 13 tackles, including five for loss, and two sacks. He’s likely the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Honorable Mention: Cal CB Darius Allensworth, Stanford DE Henry Anderson, Utah LB Jason Fanaika, Arizona State LB Salamo Fiso, Arizona S Jourdon Grandon, Utah CB Dominique Hatfield, UCLA LB Eric Kendricks, Colorado LB Kenneth Olugbode, USC LB J.R Tavai, Washington LB John Timu

Special Teams: Andy Phillips, K, Utah – Phillips booted two field goals and put four of his eight kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks in Utah’s win.

Honorable Mention: Utah P Tom Hackett, Arizona S Tellis Jones, Colorado K Will Oliver, Arizona P Drew Riggleman

Quotes

“I didn’t know if this would happen in year three. But I knew it could happen, otherwise I wouldn’t have come here. This is the perfect environment to build one of the best programs in the country. We aren’t there yet, but we’re on our way.” – Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez on winning the Pac-12 South

“Everyone gave us everything they got, but it was not enough. So we went ahead and attempted to spark our offense sitting out Taylor Kelly. Being behind, we thought Mike (Bercovici)’s ability to throw the ball so well would help us. Whether that was a mistake or not, I don’t know. But we had to do something to generate some offense. What killed us what getting on the one-yard line and not scoring. That’s just really bad.” – Arizona State head coach Todd Graham

“This is the worst they have beaten us in the four games we have played them. They are just big and physical. I thought we had closed the gap, but we still have work to do. We will continue to do that: We will continue to work hard on getting bigger and faster and stronger and more physical in recruiting the type of athletes that we think can help us win those types of games. That’s what we have to do.” – UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr.

“Absolutely, this is the kind of game that we are capable of. We are not looking back. Hopefully lessons have been learned from the past by the coaches and players, but we’re looking forward, and this is a great team win by our guys. We have one more game to play and I can’t wait to play it.” – Stanford head coach David Shaw

“Well, I’m happy for our seniors and for the whole team overall. It’s been a tough year — real difficulty this year — and they kept fighting and finding ways to get it done. It wasn’t a perfect season, by any means, and we have a lot of things we’ve got to get better at — things we’re not there yet with — but as far as taking steps forward, I don’t think there is any question about that (ending) up 8-4 for the regular season (and having a) winning Pac-12 record for the first time since we joined the conference. So a lot of things we can build on off this season. We’ve got to get better. The conference itself is a moving target, and so we’ve got to get better at a faster rate than everyone else.” – Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham

“We’re getting closer, and eventually we’ll pop through and keep climbing that mountain, get through the clouds and it’ll roll like dominoes. We have to keep working in spring and summer. I can’t tell you how proud I am of those seniors and how they bought in to everything and how their attitude has always been phenomenal.” – Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre

“At some point, people are going to recognize him. He has thrown 36 touchdowns and gave up just four interceptions. Those are ridiculous numbers. At some point, people will recognize it. We see the way he prepares and studies and fights, and this year it wasn’t easy. It is not about that stuff. That stuff comes with a team that performs consistently at a high level. I know that is what he wants more than anything. At some point, you can’t ignore it. That is what this guy is doing: playing at a very high level.” – USC head coach Steve Sarkisian on quarterback Cody Kessler

“It’s tough for me. I think getting over the hump in college football is a hard thing to do, and we had opportunities to do it this year (but) just didn’t get it done. As a program, we just have to keep improving and getting better. We’ll start working on that on Monday. Our guys will get back in the weight room and continue to get bigger and stronger and faster, which we need to do. We’ll leave tomorrow and start recruiting. That’ll be a primary focus for us.” – Cal head coach Sonny Dykes

“He missed a couple throws today … unbelievable. That guy is such a stud and it starts at the beginning of last week just in terms of his approach, which is just infectious to everybody else. When your best player is the guy setting the tempo of improvement, of getting better and just that whole mindset, that’s big.” – Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich on quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“Sean really did have a great career. It wasn’t an accident. He is extremely talented and a very hard worker who had the respect of his team from the beginning. He was a three-time captain. It’s important not to just single him out. There are some fabulous players and guys in this senior class. It’s a very good group of people who played a lot of football for us.” – Oregon State head coach Mike Riley on Sean Mannion and his senior class

“It feels freaking awesome. It’s all that hard work we put in this whole season.” – Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton

“I think the biggest thing is we tried to do too much. We went out there and tried to play perfect. You don’t play perfect. You have to turn loose and not hesitate. I think offensively we went out and tried to play too perfect. We never relaxed and got into a good rhythm.” – Washington State head coach Mike Leach

A Look Ahead To Week 15

OK, everyone who had Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship game, raise your hands. Nobody?

Big credit to Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats, who didn’t know who their starting quarterback and tailback were going to be until right before their season opener against UNLV. At least they didn’t publicize it. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon was solid at quarterback, spectacular at times. Nick Wilson, despite being hampered by an injury in the middle of the year, finished the regular season with 1,263 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

Arizona certainly doesn’t have a physical edge over Oregon, nor do the Wildcats have an advantage in talent level, but they’ve got the psychological one. They have beaten the Ducks the last two times they played, including a 31-24 triumph in Eugene in early October.

Things have changed for Oregon since then, of course. Most notably, its offensive line is healthier, although All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu has missed the last two games with a leg injury. Redshirt senior Hamani Stevens has started the last two games at center for the Ducks, but that’s something to keep an eye on as we get closer to Friday.

In all, eight Pac-12 teams are eligible for bowls, and seven teams had eight or more wins in 2014. Not too shabby.

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