The competitive Pac-12 South race projected before the season is coming to fruition.
Arizona State and UCLA are tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 South after the Bruins' 24-10 loss at Stanford, and the Sun Devils’ 53-24 rout of Washington.
Pac-12 media were almost split on their votes for Arizona State and UCLA in the preseason projections. Arizona State garnered 10 first-place votes, and defending division champion UCLA received 12.
The narrow margin of votes between the two is looking like an appropriate indicator of the competition ahead.
Arizona State suffered through inconsistent play in the first half of its schedule, particularly from its ballyhooed defense. However, the Sun Devils’ most complete performance of the season catapults them into the conversation for the conference championship.
UCLA showed its first real signs of weakness, struggling with the tenacious Stanford defense. With Arizona State employing a similar style, the Nov. 23 Bruins-Sun Devils clash in the Rose Bowl is suddenly all the more intriguing.
Safe to Say Arizona State Solved Its Rush Defense Concerns
“We dominated the line of scrimmage,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said in his postgame press conference, per TheSunDevils.com.
That’s a fair assessment.
The Sun Devil rush defense was conceding 168.8 rushing yards per game prior to Saturday’s blowout of Washington. With the nation’s leading rusher coming to Tempe, Ariz. in running back Bishop Sankey, there was little reason to think Arizona State wouldn’t continue to give up substantial real estate on the ground.
Instead, all the Sun Devils did was hold Sankey to 22 yards—1.7 per carry—and stymie the Huskies to -5 yards as a team.
“It was a really good week of preparation for us," defensive lineman Gannon Conway said in his postgame press conference. "Did our job, did our one eleventh, and made plays happen. Everybody did. When the play came to them they made the play happen, so I think the preparation in the week is what really allowed us to have a lot of success on defense."
Defensive tackle Will Sutton, the 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, had his best individual performance of 2013. He made three tackles for loss, a sack and broke up a pass attempt.
When Sutton is disrupting opposing offensive lines up the middle, it creates headaches on the outside. That was certainly the case against Washington, which gave up sacks to Carl Bradford, Davon Coleman, Salamo Fiso, Anthony Jones and Conway.
Expect the Steve Sarkisian-USC Chatter to Fade
At the same time USC was coming off a 62-41 pasting at Arizona State that cost Lane Kiffin his job, Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian had his team undefeated and ranked in the Top 15.
Sarkisian's success at Washington and USC made him an ideal candidate to take over the Trojans' head coaching vacancy, but three straight Pac-12 losses—including Saturday's blowout at Arizona State—should quell that speculation.
"That was embarrassing," Sarkisian said in his postgame press conference, per TheSunDevils.com. "We weren’t good enough. We weren’t coached well enough, we didn’t perform well enough, and we weren’t physical enough, not nearly physical enough against a good football team."
Washington threw everything it had at Pac-12 North rivals Stanford and Oregon, but twice fell short. The Huskies' efforts seemingly spent them for the third test in their treacherous, three-game stretch.
Washington could not match the energy Arizona State brought Saturday, conceding 26 points in the second quarter it could not match.
Sarkisian immediately dismissed the USC talk last month, and the job there probably couldn't be too much further from his mind amid this tailspin.
Washington finished the previous three seasons 7-6, and getting over that hump this season is crucial. This is Sarkisian's most talented team since he became head coach in 2009, but that distinction only carries weight in the end result.
With senior quarterback Keith Price nursing injury, the uncertainty in Seattle is much more immediate than where Sarkisian might spend 2014 coaching.
Ka’Deem Carey Continues to Carry Arizona
Junior Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey’s production coming into Saturday’s game with Utah flew below the radar.
Sure, the nation’s leading rusher a season ago eclipsed 100 yards rushing in each of his four appearances, but after serving a one-game suspension in the opener and gaining yards in losses to Washington and USC, Carey had fallen off the national map.
His 236 yards in the Wildcats’ win over Utah should change that. Carey surpassed the Utes’ per game rushing yield in their previous six games by 103 yards.
He is back to leading the nation in rushing yards per game with 161, and his 44-yard scoring run in the late fourth quarter slammed the door on the Utes.
One person not surprised by his play against the previously stingy Ute rush defense is Carey. According to FOX Sports Arizona’s Steve Rivera, Carey predicted his breakout effort in the week leading up to game day.
Nick Aliotti Is Not Happy with Mike Leach
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's unit gave up a season-high 38 points to the Washington State air raid Saturday. Aliotti was not pleased when speaking with reporters after the game—but not with the effort of his defense.
Rather, Aliotti voiced displeasure with Washington State head coach Mike Leach’s “low-class” decision to continue passing well after the outcome was decided, and leaving his first-string players in against Oregon's reserves.
The Cougars scored two passing touchdowns in the final 3 minutes and 48 seconds. Quarterback Connor Halliday set an NCAA Div. I record with 89 throws.
The lesson Aliotti should take away from Week 8: Never try to predict a pirate.
You Wouldn't Like Mike Riley When He's Angry
It's rare when Oregon State head coach Mike Riley gets visibly upset. When he does, it's fair to assume he's right, as NFL.com reporter Dan Greenspan noted.
Play of the Week: Kodi Whitfield's Catch
Stanford-UCLA was largely bereft of offense, but Cardinal wide receiver Kodi Whitfield delivered what was undoubtedly the play of the week in the Pac-12, if not the play of the season.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.