Pac-12 coaches teleconference: Sonny Dykes fights for the league
A number of Pac-12 squads head into week 4 of the college football season with byes, but that doesn't mean the chatter is stopping. This week on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference call, Sonny Dykes expects flak to come his way for touting the Pac-12 as one of the best leagues in the country. Also, Todd Graham explains his thoughts on the controversial ending to the Wisconsin game, and Stanford's David Shaw discusses the biggest matchup of the week as the Cardinal hosts Graham's Sun Devils.
California's Sonny Dykes
Cal has a bye this coming week but with Oregon on the horizon the week after, there's a lot of work to be done. Namely, Dykes will hope he can get his defensive front to put on a better pass rush. That said, it'll be difficult against the Ducks, who like the Golden Bears' first two opponents have a mobile quarterback in Marcus Mariota. “We haven't done a great job rushing the passer ... haven't won a lot of the one-on-one battles that we get,” Dykes said. “We haven't pressured a ton. You want to be able to blame it on one thing but there are a lot of contributing factors.”
Dykes was asked to compare the current state of the Pac-12 to the same league he left four years ago, when he was an offensive coordinator at Arizona. He said it was one of the best, if not the best, leagues in the nation and then admitted by saying that, he might get his house firebombed. “I was surprised how deep the league was four years ago,” Dykes said, “And I think the league has done nothing but significantly improve.”
Dykes was asked to back up his comment about the Pac-12 being with the SEC as the best football league in the NCAA. While he acknowledged the SEC's run of national championships, Dykes said the depth matters as well. “I don't know that's necessarily the way you judge a league," he said of championship wins. "I think you judge a league by the strength of the teams in the middle and the teams at the bottom of the league."
UCLA's Jim Mora
UCLA overcame a 21-3 first-half deficit against Nebraska for a win last week. Mora said the differences between the first and second halves had to do with the pressures of playing on the road and with heavy hearts following the death of Bruins teammate Nick Pasquale. “We were extremely tight. I think with the emotions of the week, I think our kids all wanted to do so well,” Mora said. “I think we were pressing. We just weren't playing how we typically play, which is kind of loose and fast and with a lot of passion. There were no adjustments in terms of Xs and Os; it was just a mindset.”
It hasn't taken UCLA long to turn things around in the Mora era. The head coach credited much of the recruiting success to his coaching staff, which is able to sell high school players easily because of its credibility. “There are six Super Bowl rings on this staff,” Mora said. “Players recognize that early and so there was a level of trust, there was a level of – they just saw that we have the ability to lead them in the right direction.”
Mora on the play of sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley: “I'll tell you this: He's not a guy who's going to leave his potential unfulfilled.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Colorado's game last week against Fresno State was canceled because of flooding in Boulder, but that didn't mean the Buffaloes had much free time. MacIntyre said that the team fed 800 displaced families at their athletic club on Saturday. Then, players went back to their neighborhoods to help neighbors clean up.
Colorado did attempt to fill its bye this week with a game against Cal in order to open up a weekend to make up the game against Fresno State. But it was simply too much change with short notice. The Buffs coach admitted it was tough to ask the Golden Bears to move around their schedule so quickly after playing a top-five Ohio State team.
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Through three games, the Beavers are averaging 438.7 passing yards per game, good enough for first in FBS. Quarterback Sean Mannion has accounted for 1,237 of those yards, throwing 12 touchdowns to one interception. Not bad. To Riley, the success is nothing more than experience, confidence and preparation this offseason. “He really was obsessive with getting ready for this season,” Riley said.
While the passing game has been exceptional, Riley isn't happy with the Beavers averaging 70 rushing yards per game. Injuries might be a reason for the lack of success. A banged up offensive line might not be completely healthy until a few weeks down the road. “I'm still very concerned about our running totals,” Riley said. “We're way down for where we want to be.”
Running back Storm Woods was taken to the hospital after being injured while pass-blocking in Saturday's 51-48 win at Utah. Riley said Woods was concussed and will not play this week at San Diego State. The coach expects Woods to recover “soon” and said he is making good progress in doing so.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham was asked how close he felt the Utes are to contending in the Pac-12, and while he believes Utah has “closed the gap,” there's still a ways to go. That said, the league hasn't gotten any easier. “We feel we're a much better football team right now than we have been the last couple years,” Whittingham said. “The league is a lot better than it was the last few years, so it's a relative statement.”
The Utes' overtime loss to Oregon State this weekend didn't get them off to the start in conference play that they'd like. It's not quarterback Travis Wilson's fault, even though the sophomore tossed three interceptions in the defeat. Whittingham said that miscues by receivers and solid playmaking by the Beavers' defensive backs led to the turnovers. Wilson passed for 279 yards and ran for another 142 while accounting for five touchdowns. What grade does Whittingham give his young signal-caller thus far? “Solid A, as far as our expectations and what we're hoping for,” the head coach said.
Stanford's David Shaw
Shaw knows he'll have a tough test this week as No. 23 Arizona State visits Palo Alto. The Sun Devils' dynamic offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, and Shaw said that in watching film, Kelly's “desire comes through and his competitive nature comes through. He's phenomenal. He'll come back from a negative play. You can tell from the film he's a fighter.”
After coming off a victory against Wisconsin, the Sun Devils will have a distinct advantage against the Cardinal. Shaw acknowledged that it's easier to play two similar teams in consecutive weeks. ASU has that, as Stanford and Wisconsin are both down-hill, smash-mouth types of teams. The Cardinal, however, is coming off a game against Army and its triple-option offense – that's much different from the Sun Devils' spread, speedy attack. Shaw said he likes to tell his players to flush the game plan from a week prior down the toilet.
On playing against ASU defensive tackle Will Sutton: ”For us that's the game. The game is up front. The game is run-blocking, the game is run defense, the game is pass rush, the game is pass-blocking.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach was asked if it's difficult to act both as the head coach and as the play-caller during games. The former offensive coordinator admitted it was difficult. He's not thought about turning over the play-calling duties, however. “I might stop if I get tired of it but there's no end in sight,” Leach said.
Washington State is attempting to build depth and toughness under Leach. It's still a major work in progress, but the Cougars have, however, been able to find some diamonds in the rough. Leach said there are several key contributors on the roster that are walk-ons or former walk-ons. One of the biggest contributors has been linebacker Cyrus Coen, who walked on after playing running back and safety at Pearl City High School in Hawai'i. Coen had 10 tackles last week against Southern Utah, but Leach said he thought Coen played better in the first two games of the season.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Though Arizona has last season's NCAA leading rusher in Ka'Deem Carey back in 2013, the Wildcats have often gone with two-back sets. Rodriguez said it's important to spread the wealth considering there's so much required of running backs. Additionally, both Carey and backup Daniel Jenkins deserve to play. “I think for us, we tell the whole team, 'If you're good enough to win with, you'll play,'” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez on the head coach calling plays on the field compared to an offensive coordinator calling plays from the press box: “Part of it, it's easier to call the game coordinator up in the box. Down on the field you can kind of feel the emotion, the tempo of the game.”
A lot has been made of Arizona's lack of a passing attack, but Rodriguez has put himself fully behind starting quarterback B.J. Denker. The Wildcats are averaging just 108.7 passing yards per game, but there hasn't been much reason to throw it. Arizona has led for nearly the entirety of its first three games and has simply shut down any thought of passing in second halves. “First couple games in August, I thought our execution could be better,” Rodriguez said. “Over the last three or fours weeks, we've gotten better and better. We haven't had to throw the ball a whole lot.”
USC's Lane Kiffin
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler completed 15 of 17 passes last week in a win against Boston College, and the confidence only grew as the game wore on. It helped that his receivers and offensive line were supporting him better than they had in a tough loss to Washington State a week earlier. “He was very comfortable, he was having fun, really loose,” Kiffin said. “He really seemed different. That's normal. Confidence is fragile. When stuff isn't going well around you, it's hard.”
Speaking of USC's loss to the Cougars, Kiffin was especially proud of how his players drowned out the negative noise. This week, it should be better for the Trojans. The feeling a day or two after a win compared to a loss is quite different, after all. “I think they did a great job of keeping the noise out,” Kiffin said, referring to the WSU game. “It was just a classic week of after playing really bad and getting upset at home, all the negativity starts swirling around.”
Washington's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian on the well-rounded game of junior running back Bishop Sankey, who came on strongly in the middle of last season: “He's got a great deal of comfort in the schemes we run. He's a physically gifted kid, very bright. The end result is when you give him the ball like we did last week 35 times, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between his first run of the game and last run of the game.”
The running game and the success therein can be credited to Washington's evolving offense line. Playing at a faster tempo this year, Sarkisian has noticed that his Huskies are only getting stronger in the second halves of games. Against Illinois in a 34-24 win at Soldier Field last weekend, UW scored 21 third-quarter points to put some more distance between itself and the Fighting Illini. “You see us running the ball better in the second half," Sarkisian said.
Offensive variety is the one thing that defines the Pac-12, Sarkisian said. From the up-tempo offenses at Arizona and Oregon, to the traditional sets of USC and Oregon State, the game-to-game competitiveness comes from those differences – and the success in those differences. So, does Sark think the Pac-12 is getting enough credit? “I don't know,” the Huskies coach said. “I think we have five teams ranked right now in the top 25. Not all those votes are coming from the West Coast.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham said that a confusing ending to the Wisconsin game this weekend was a factor of, perhaps, human error mixed with a matter of circumstance. Wisconsin thought it had kneed the ball in the finals seconds and was looking for a field goal, but ASU jumped on the ball thinking it was a fumble. That took enough time off the clock to prevent the Badgers from spiking the ball and running out their field goal unit, down 32-30. “It was just one of those things, a little bit of the human error involved there,” Graham said. “When (the Wisconsin quarterback) put the ball on the ground, that's what caused that. Their guys flinched at the ball, our guys flinched on the ball, then we jumped on the ball.”
The controversial win by ASU against Wisconsin was followed up by Graham saying afterward that the best team won. He backed that up with more clarity on Tuesday, saying that his team put itself in position to win despite making a number of mistakes. “We had 32 first downs. They had 15,” Graham said. “We had 30 more plays (than the Badgers). We did not play well. What I meant by that statement (was) the way our guys battled and overcame … I'm not trying make any case.”
A telling trip to Stanford is on deck for ASU, and Graham said the Cardinal offense has been very vanilla so far this year. But he also said that David Shaw's team doesn't get enough credit for being as dynamic as the fast-paced spread offenses in the Pac-12. “They're very unique, very innovative. They're equally dynamic in their schemes," he said.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
There wasn't a whole lot of turnover at Oregon despite losing coach Chip Kelly to the NFL after last season. Helfrich was promoted in Kelly's place, but he gives a lot of credit to the staff that stuck around. “If it had been a time where the rats were going to scurry away,” Helfrich said, “that's a big deal.”
On how the new football facilities have helped Oregon recruit: “Oregon's always tried to be different in that regard, recently in terms of facilities. The key, like we've talked about before, is to make sure we've got the right guys in that facility. We have a lot of shiny stuff. But the people inside those buildings are what makes it go.”
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