Pac-12 coaches teleconference: What metrics does Mike Leach want?
Pac-12 action gets started early this week with Arizona State and Washington State showcasing their unique offenses on ESPN Thursday night. During Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call, Cougars coach Mike Leach discussed which metrics he pays attention to and which are simply fodder for over-analyzing; and Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham discussed what makes running back Marion Grice so skilled at finding the end zone.
Washington State's Mike Leach
The Pirate of the Palouse causes head-scratching at times because of his affinity for throwing the football over and over and over. Against Oregon a few weeks ago, the Cougars threw the ball an NCAA-record 89 times. WSU doesn't have a great yards-per-attempt average, and Leach was asked which metrics are worth keeping track of. Leach said the rate of drives that end in scores and the first- and third-down conversions are important to him – yards per play aren't so important. “The biggest thing is distribution,” he said. “I want all the positions to touch it. When we played Oregon, even though our running backs didn't carry it, they had (touches).”
On safety Deone Bucannon, who leads the Cougs with 73 tackles: “He's real physical. He's got kind of a nose or a knack for the ball, getting turnovers and forcing turnovers – that kind of thing. He has some leadership qualities, and that's good for us.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Sun Devils running back Marion Grice leads the NCAA with 108 total points scored off 12 rushing touchdowns and six receiving scores. The total is 18 more than Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, who is second in the nation. But Graham can't explain why Grice is so special, or who he can be compared to. “That's exactly the conversation I had with (assistant) Coach (Mike) Norvell. What is it about him? He has a knack for sliding, slipping; made an unbelievable catch to score a touchdown (last week). He doesn't remind us of anybody; he's really unique. He never takes a direct hit. He slides, you know, he's a glider.”
Graham is wary of the Sun Devils' next opponent, Washington State. The head coach knows his secondary crew led by his MVP of the group, Osahon Irabor, will be challenged against WSU's Air Raid offense. “They turned some footballs over on some tip passes and things that were unlucky,” Graham said of watching the game tape, like Leach knowing that the numbers can lie.
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oregon State is coming off a hard-fought 20-12 loss to Stanford. Riley said his team isn't discouraged by how it played, but there were lessons learned. “They're every bit as good as advertised,” Riley said of the Cardinal. “We didn't take advantage of opportunities.”
Riley on Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy: “He's a physical, versatile, talented player. Smart, too. I can't say anything else about him at point blank.”
The USC Trojans visit Corvallis, Ore., this week, and Riley said his main concern is winning the battle in the trenches. OSU allowed Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney to rush for 145 yards on just 22 carries last week, and the Beavs themselves had a net total of 17 rush yards because of continued struggles in the run game – and for the first time, Oregon State couldn't protect quarterback Sean Mannion.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
MacIntyre's appearance on Tuesday's teleconference call was brief, but when asked what specific thing he needed to change about his Buffaloes, he simply said CU must learn how to beat Pac-12 teams. Simple enough, but easier said than done.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham called the Utes' 19-3 loss to USC last week the “poorest performance by far on the season,” which is of course a stark contrast to where the team was in a win against Stanford two weeks prior.
So where are the Utes' heads heading into a bye week? Oddly enough, in different places. “We got a great deal of confidence defensively,” Whittingham said. “I think the defensive guys are in a great state of mind. Offensively, we have to regroup and get back to where we were playing football the first five weeks.”
On sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson's hand, which has been injured the last two-plus games. “Realistically, his hand is pretty banged up. The bye week comes at a good time in that respect.”
Stanford's David Shaw
Shaw said linebacker Trent Murphy worked in the offseason to grow in terms of versatility. The ability for the senior to potentially play in the NFL as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, or as a defensive end, was helped as Murphy developed a bull rush, worked on a speed rush and added interior moves. “I think the big thing is he's worked on more specific pass-rush moves," Shaw said. “This offseason he wanted to improve his repertoire, so to speak.”
Stanford has a week off before it clashes with Oregon for a Pac-12 North showdown. Shaw is especially wondering how to handle the Ducks' defense. Oregon's length up front is what stands out to the Cardinal coach. “The holes that are there (for an offense), they close up very quickly,” Shaw said. “It's a different scheme than most 3-4 schemes, so it takes some getting used to. It just makes it hard to move the ball.”
Shaw announced on the conference call that senior defensive end Ben Gardner will miss the rest of the season with a left pectoral injury. Defensive end Henry Anderson, who is out with a knee injury, could be reevaluated this weekend for a potential return next week against the Ducks.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
The surprising story for Arizona has been the improvement of senior quarterback B.J. Denker, which proved not to be a fluke once again in a 44-20 victory against Colorado on Saturday. “He's understanding what we're doing, why we're doing it and how teams are defending it,” Rodriguez said. “He's really like a redshirt freshman (experience-wise). He's tough mentally and he's also really, really competitive and I think his competitiveness has helped him get better every week.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Rodriguez pointed to an improved attack that has started with the big boys up front. “The guys up front, Reggie Gilbert, Sione (Tuihalamaka) and Tevin Hood are playing better football,” the Wildcats' coach said.
California's Sonny Dykes
Injuries and failed recruiting classes have led to the California Golden Bears fighting to keep their heads above water. At 1-7 and without a Pac-12 win in five games, Cal hosts Arizona this week, but the same issues that have haunted it all season remain. Dykes said the approximately 40 players in two recruiting classes from 2009-10 have produced just one current starter.
Dykes said Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker is playing with better decision-making, getting quick throws out of his hands and gaining more confidence pulling the ball on zone reads, then running with it. “He's probably improved as much as anybody in the league,” Dykes added. “I think he's playing with a lot of confidence, I think that's the biggest difference.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Like the Ducks' next opponent, Stanford, Helfrich said he will use a bye week to boot players and coaches out of the team offices in a “sharpen-the-saw kind of analogy,” as he put it. “You get so dialed into the routine of the week; definitely, definitely trying to kick some guys out of here and get fresh.”
Helfrich admitted he doesn't discuss a lot of scheme with defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. But he does like what the defense is doing. “Our players believe in what they're doing,” Helfrich said, adding his team doesn't get concerned or distracted by player turnover or injury problems from week to week. “The staff has done a good job of taking advantage of our strengths and maybe hiding our weaknesses.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
The Bruins were tied with Oregon at halftime in last week's game. They trailed 21-14 after three quarters. And then it all fell apart. The Ducks scored 21 fourth-quarter points to win 42-14. “I'm not sure it was our defense opposed to our entire team,” Mora said. “We need to execute a lot better.”
UCLA is on a two-game losing streak to Pac-12 powers Stanford and Oregon, but it faces a rebuilding Colorado team this week. “I've been very impressed with what they've done in a very short time there,” Mora said of Mike MacIntyre's staff, adding that he likes the Buffs' mix of traditional offensive schemes with newer concepts. “It appears to me they understand their personnel and they're doing a great job of utilizing.”
USC's Ed Orgeron
Several of USC's powerhouse teams in the past decade have visited Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore., and fallen flat on their faces. Is there anything in the air, water or otherwise to explain the Beavers' home success against the Trojans? Nope, just coach Mike Riley. “They're always ready to play for us, great game plan,” Orgeron said. “It seems like they're playing awful fast up there.”
Orgeron seemed positive about the status of tight end Xavier Grimble, who could return this week against the Beavers from an ankle injury suffered against Notre Dame.
USC could avoid falling to OSU by taking a peek at what Stanford did well against the Beavs last week. “(They did a) tremendous job of pressuring the passer,” Orgeron said, referring to OSU quarterback Sean Mannion.
Washington's Steve Sarkisian
Every week, Sarkisian is asked why running back Bishop Sankey is so successful – and consistent, at that. Every week, Sarkisian praises Sankey's game preparation and game shape. But two weeks ago, Sankey was limited to 13 carries for 22 yards in a loss to ASU. Said Sarkisian of Sankey's 241-yard performance on 27 carries last week against Cal: “He got the ball more.”
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