Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week.
Stanford makes a statement: Behind a powerful rushing performance from Tyler Gaffney (36 carries, 171 yards, two touchdowns) and a pair of interceptions from safety Jordan Richards, the Cardinal reminded everyone that they aren't going to go gentle into that good night, topping No. 9 UCLA 24-10 at home. Stanford's defense shut out the Bruins in the first half and held them to just 266 yards of total offense. The Cardinal are at their best when it's them against the world. And that was certainly the case this week. The home stretch is brutal, with showdowns yet to be played against Oregon State, Oregon, USC, California and Notre Dame. Stanford could run the table. Or lose two, three or four of those games. But the Cardinal showed us this week -- as they did last year -- never to count them out.
Devils trending up, Huskies trending down: In a must-win game for conference-wide credibility, the Sun Devils weren't just outstanding offensively against Washington -- the run defense was also absolutely stellar. They held Bishop Sankey, the nation's leading rusher in yards per game coming in, to just 22 yards on 13 carries. And when you factor in sack yardage, the Huskies "mustered" minus-5 yards. On the flip side, Marion Grice was his dominant self on the ground and in the air. He rushed for 158 yards and two scores and caught another ... giving him 18 total touchdowns on the year. The Sun Devils probably get back into the Top 25 with this win -- or at least closer to the bubble. Make no mistake, this was a very important win for the Sun Devils and their confidence. The Huskies have dropped three straight, and the special season they were hoping for in August is suddenly looking a lot more mediocre. This was supposed to be one of those games the Huskies could win to take the next step. Instead, the Sun Devils are trending up.
USC missed an opportunity: Things were set up so nicely early on for the Trojans. A huge goal-line stand followed by a 94-yard touchdown drive and a 7-0 lead on the road. A field goal gave them 10 points early in the second quarter. And then the offensive inefficiencies that plagued the twilight of the Lane Kiffin era reared their head in South Bend. The Trojans went scoreless the rest of the way and had 10 drives that included six punts, two failed fourth-down conversions, a missed field goal and an interception. Twice in the fourth quarter the Trojans were at or inside the Notre Dame 25 but were unable to capitalize. This loss doesn't do much in the way of the Pac-12 standings. But for a team trying desperately to salvage its brand, this one hurts.
What to make of the South: All week long, the question surrounding the Utes was whether they could keep the momentum from their Stanford win rolling. We got our answer. Would things be different had Travis Wilson played the whole game? Maybe. Maybe not. Adam Schulz looked good enough in relief of the injured Wilson, throwing for 142 yards and a score. It still looks like ASU's trip to Pasadena on Nov. 23 is going to be the decisive tilt in the South Division. But half of the division sits at 1-2, with ASU on top at 3-1 and UCLA not far behind. Colorado is still winless in league play but is 3-3 overall. Two of the wins have come against FCS teams, but hey, it's two more wins than they had against the FCS last year. Ka'Deem Carey makes Arizona dangerous, no matter what. Utah, albeit inconsistent, is the team no one wants to play. USC, well, who knows what to make of them? The top of the division still doesn't have a front-runner, and Spots 3 to 6 are a mess.
And then there's the North: Oregon scored 62 points and totaled more than 700 yards in its win over Washington State. The scary thing is, the Ducks can be better. And the Cougs, as they did last year, made things interesting in the first half. But unlike the South, there is a true front-runner in the North. The Ducks are 4-0 in the conference and also perfect overall. Without question, they are the team to beat. Speaking of perfect in conference play, the Beavers are also 4-0 behind another stellar performance from Sean Mannion in a win over Cal. But we'll know more about the Beavers when they take on Stanford next week in a game sure to impact the pecking order. Washington's stock is falling, and Cal is already rock bottom. Washington State, which is on bye next week, has four cracks left at two wins to become bowl eligible. The North, at least this week, has a little more clarity. But don't be shocked if that clarity gets muddied in the coming weeks.