Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: The season is here
The Pac-12 football coaches had the first of their weekly in-season teleconferences with the media Tuesday. Here are the highlights:
UCLA's Jim Mora
On whether Nevada QB Cody Fajardo is a Pac-12-caliber quarterback: “Absolutely. I think he’s an outstanding quarterback… He’s a heck of a football player; he’s able to stay alive [in the pocket] and make things happen.”
Mora’s biggest concern with the Wolf Pack offense is its uncertainty. Gone is Chris Ault, the father of the pistol offense, and in his place is first-time head coach Brian Polian. While the Pistol is still going to be around in Reno, Mora commented that they don’t have any real game film to go off of in trying to scout the Polian-coached Wolf Pack.
Mora on what he likes about Brett Hundley: “I like his leadership ability. I like the fact that he’s extremely smart and very conscientious. I like the fact that he has 14 games under his belt. He’s much better now than he ever was in 2012.”
The coach said his linebacking corps was very good “on paper,” but that he wants to push up the standard that group set last year. He is still unsure who will start at left outside linebacker against Nevada.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
MacIntyre gave numerous reasons as to why Connor Wood earned the starting job. As far as the physical tools go, MacIntyre mentioned his athleticism and strong arm. Beyond that, he has a strong hold on the playbook, saying, “He’s really capturing the essence of our offense.” It also didn’t hurt that he was voted a team captain by his peers.
The coach also confirmed that Sefo Liufau is “the No. 2 guy right now,” saying he expects a lot out of the true frosh in the future.
MacIntyre and his staff feel like they have eight guys “who can really play” on the offensive line, but noted that there will be some learning curves as the season goes on.
Oregon State's Mike Riley
With respect to the QB battle, Riley said he never intended to have a rotation situation; there was always an intent to name a starter. He would like to play Cody Vaz in games as well, but there is no set rotation. Sean Mannion is the guy.
As for other hotlycontested position tussles, there is “an ongoing competition” at split end between Obum Gwacham and Richard Mullaney, as well as at corner between Sean Martin and Steven Nelson. All four figure to play a good bit; it’s just a matter of naming a starter.
Sean Harlow, a true freshman, is starting at right tackle, but Riley said they could potentially move Grant Enger out to that position. Gavin Andrews, the presumed starting right tackle, came down with mono a week ago.
On playing FCS opponents: “You can’t take anything for granted, and we’re playing Eastern Washington, a team that has been very good on a national level. I think it’s about how your team approaches every game.” The Eagles enter the season ranked fourth in the coaches' poll for FCS.
Rush Limbaugh made an unintentional appearance during Riley's time slot due to a technical glitch. Moving on.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham was blunt about last year’s loss to Utah State, saying it had a little bit of a hangover effect on the team en route to the team’s first losing season in a decade. “Squarely on my shoulders, it’s my fault.”
He doesn’t expect Utah State to look much different under new head coach Matt Wells: “If it’s not broke, you don’t fix it.” As for a guy to look out for on Utah State defensively, that would be No. 52 Kyler Fackrell, who reminds Whittingham of Trevor Reilly.
His players have embraced the new up-tempo offense. “Up-tempo is all fine and dandy; it seems to keep [the defense] on their heels and make them play more vanilla… but we have to make sure we have great execution.”
With respect to the receiving corps, Whittingham said Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson really separated themselves from the pack in fall camp. Anthony Denham is the No. 3 guy and Sean Fitzgerald can sub in for any of those three, but there won’t be a whole lot of playing time to go around beyond the starters. Scott and Anderson “will be on the field for every snap unless they need to catch their breath.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
On Auburn cornerback-turned-starting quarterback Nick Marshall: “He’s a real athletic guy, which is why has had the opportunity to play two major positions. Hopefully he doesn’t get it all figured out before we leave town.”
Taking into account that Saturday’s game will be in Alabama, Leach is thankful for it having actually been hotter in the Palouse than it has in Auburn over the last couple of weeks. Probably not the same humidity, though.
Auburn’s defensive coordinator is Ellis Johnson, one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. One of the previous times he faced off against a team that had Ellis Johnson on its staff was 1997, when Hal Mumme and the air-raidin’ Kentucky Wildcats knocked off Alabama for the first time in 75 years.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
RichRod didn’t seem too concerned with not having a quarterback who really separated himself enough to be named a starter yet. “I’d be more concerned if we hadn’t made any progress.”
It being year two in Tucson for Rodriguez and all, there’s a higher comfort level. “The second year is always easier to establish a mindset.”
Seven or eight freshmen could play on defense. Might be cause for some nervous moments with all that experience, but Rodriguez likes the depth the freshmen give his defense. However, some issues won’t be solved overnight.
Cal's Sonny Dykes
On the importance of naming a starting quarterback early in fall camp: “Anytime you have a starting QB, you’re more comfortable. The skill position players can start to get on the same page as the quarterback and you develop a QB-center relationship. You get clarity and it allows you to improve.”
Dykes noted that, having coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech for six years, he learned quarterback evaluation from the Washington State head honcho. Some of the characteristics he (and Leach) looks for: “It starts with leadership and ability to run the team… I don’t think either one of us puts a huge value on arm strength. It all starts with how they can handle the team, and Jared [Goff] has inspired confidence in the team.”
Having such a young team and new staff, Dykes expects some kinks in the opener against Northwestern. “We’re playing a lot of guys who are playing in their first college football game.”
One thing that can help, at least against Northwestern, is defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who coached in the Big Ten last year when he was with Wisconsin (that said, Northwestern and Wisconsin did not play each other in 2012). “He’s familiar with their style of play to an extent. They’re so diverse with what they do offensively with the two quarterbacks.”
USC's Lane Kiffin
Kiffin followed RichRod in the no-concern-despite-not-having-named-a-QB department. “I see it completely opposite. [Cody Kessler and Max Wittek] have both performed so well. I see it as a positive.” He doesn’t have a set game plan on how equally he will play Kessler and Wittek against Hawai’i on Thursday.
On how Marqise Lee helps out the quarterbacks: “He makes their job a lot easier because his catching range and his speed is unbelievable, so it should be fun to watch.”
Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan have been ruled out for the opener in order to rehab from injury, so Kiffin anticipates that Justin Davis, Tre Madden, Ty Isaac and Javorius “Buck” Allen all will play against Hawai’i.
Washington's Steve Sarkisian
Sark sees a lot of use in watching film from last year’s bowl-game loss to Boise State. “They still have the principles in place from last year; there’s plenty to take from it.”
He likes the maturity of his defense, and he especially likes Hau’oli Kikaha, the defensive end formerly known as Hau’oli Jamora (he legally changed his name, taking the last name from his mom’s side of the family), and thinks he is “better than ever.” He hasn’t played in two years but was voted one of three defensive captains. Kikaha has been “flying around all over the field” in practice.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
On starting the season with a bye: “Initially I didn’t like the idea of having an open week, but we had injuries and a lot of newcomers, so it helped.”
Graham took great pride in getting his guys prepared to adhere to the new targeting rule that leads to an automatic ejection, noting that he spent an “enormous amount of time” in practice trying to simulate situations where helmet-to-helmet collisions could potentially occur. The Forks also brought in officials to discuss how they were going to interpret that rule. It’s all about discipline in Tempe.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Boseko Lokombo has gone under the radar a little bit the last few years because of Dion Jordan, and while Helfrich thinks he needs to be more consistent, he also said Lokombo “is almost limitless from a potential standpoint.”
Overall on the linebacker group: “We have a lot of unproven guys on Saturdays, but a bunch of guys who, up to this point in camp, are playing really hard and really well.”
On Mariota: “We just want Marcus 2.0 -- a little better, faster, a better leader.”
Helfrich was very complimentary of running back Byron Marshall. “Byron had a really good fall camp. He’s playing fast.”
Big-time recruit Thomas Tyner is further down the depth chart behind the likes of Marshall and De’Anthony Thomas, “but he showed flashes of that guy you saw in high school.”
Stanford's David Shaw
The big position battle still going down on The Farm is at center. Kevin Danser is likely to stay at right guard, so it’s down to Khalil Wilkes and Conor McFadden, as David Lombardi previously reported for The Bootleg.
On Devon Cajuste working himself into a starting receiving spot: “He has grown so much... it’s obvious he worked hard in the offseason.” Despite weighing 230 pounds, Shaw is impressed by how nimble Cajuste is and likes his pass-catching and run-blocking abilities.