Pac-12 coaches teleconference: David Shaw, Mark Helfrich talk showdown
It wasn't hard in the preseason to sort out which Pac-12 game would highlight the 2013 football schedule, and nothing has changed since. The Stanford Cardinal hosts the Oregon Ducks in a Pac-12 North battle with BCS implications this Thursday – it's a big one. Ducks do-it-all speedster De'Anthony Thomas set a pregame spark with a confident proclamation, but neither his coach, Mark Helfrich, nor Stanford's coach, David Shaw, seemed too worried about it in Tuesday's Pac-12 football teleconference.
Stanford's David Shaw
Shaw isn't sure whether facing Oregon this year is different than facing Oregon last year, when the Cardinal beat the Ducks 17-14. “It's similar, it just seems like – I don't want to blow smoke and talk about how great they are – but they're more efficient than a year ago. The running back situation is stabilizing. The quarterback (Marcus Mariota) now is not a young quarterback that's playing above his head.”
Oregon multi-faceted offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas was asked by GoDucks.com if he thought Stanford would hold the Ducks to 14 points like last year, and Thomas said he thought the team could put up 40 points. Shaw doesn't have an issue with the comment. “He's a confident young man. I've seen them play ... they've done it. I'm just glad he only said 40.”
Where did David Shaw come to appreciate a run-heavy style of football that's become a staple at Stanford? While his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh, and his previous gigs with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens helped mold Shaw's philosophies, it all goes back to eighth grade, where his coach taught him to “run the ball and stop the run.” And it didn't hurt that Shaw's father, Willie, was an NFL coach. “It actually goes all the way back to being a coach's kid,” said the former receiver who went to high school in Michigan. “That was the beginning of understanding football. I'm in the Midwest, in the land of Bo Schembechler. If you're going to play receiver, you're going to block.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
By no means does Oregon's head coach think last year's loss to Stanford was the best game played by the Ducks. That said, he believes the effort by the Cardinal caught his team off guard. “They played harder than we did, which for us is really revolutionary,” Helfrich said of the 17-14 loss to Stanford a year ago. “They do a great job of game planning each team for what they think are your tendencies, your protections … they do a great job of attacking those. I think they just out-executed us.”
Helfrich is possibly among the minority of coaches who don't put a lot of stock in penalty numbers indicating good versus bad teams. Penalty yardage can often result from aggressive teams crossing a thin line bordering over-aggressiveness and impactful play. To Helfrich, the important type of penalties portray teams that make good decisions versus those who don't. “I think, in general, any pre-snap penalties or post-snap penalties are not good,” Helfrich added.
On the context of De'Anthony Thomas' comment about dropping 40 points on the Cardinal: “I think he was responding more to, or expressing, the confidence in his teammates and confidence in himself.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Coming off a 55-21 loss to Arizona State but heading into a bye week, the Cougars realize one of their Achilles' heels this year has been defending zone-read offenses. “It looked like a lot of other teams,” Leach said of losing to the Sun Devils. “We had guys in position, but what they'll do is (opposing quarterbacks hide the ball) as long as they can where they hand it or keep it or throw.”
On how receivers have to be physical against close defensive back coverage used to stop the screens prevalent in Leach's Air Raid offense: “If you come off the line of scrimmage passive, you're going to get hung up, you're going to get tied up.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
In 2012, the Wildcats were coming off a huge victory against the USC Trojans but the next week laid a 66-10 egg against the UCLA Bruins. Arizona hosts Mora's squad for its homecoming game Saturday, and Rodriguez is having bad memories of the last time out. “It was a combination of obviously we didn't play well at all, and you've got to give them credit; they played extremely well,” Rodriguez said. “We had to watch the film this week. If you want to know what went wrong – everything. Everything went wrong in all three phases.”
Rodriguez said the Wildcats' health has been much improved this season compared to his first year at the helm. But he's also enjoyed watching the players evolve in the second year working with the current coaching staff. “That's the fun part about watching guys mature and grow in the system,” he said. “Each year they should get better at it.”
On if he has talked to the team about its Pac-12 South Division chances: “I only talked to them about it briefly … we can control our own destiny in a lot of regards. This is where you want to be in November, with a chance to play meaningful games with a lot at stake.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
Mora was asked how the Bruins hope to stop Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who currently leads the NCAA with 153.1 rushing yards per game. “This guy, I don't think you stop him,” Mora said. “You can contain him a little bit, not let him break the long ones, which break your will. He's got all the attributes you look for in a great running back.”
One notable observation from Mora on Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker: “I think he's got a great feel for when to hand it off, and when to pull it back and run on his own.”
Mora said he's surprised that freshman Myles Jack has made such an early impact, but he's also not surprised because he knew the Bellevue, Wash., native as a 12-year-old. “I've watched the kid grow up,” Mora said.
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Last week, Oregon State fell to the USC Trojans by a 31-14 final score. Suddenly, all of the things fixed since the season-opening loss to Eastern Washington reared their heads once again. “We did a bad job of tackling, and they're good runners, but I think we've got to do that better,” Riley said. “We gave up big plays. Offensively, we made mistakes we haven't made all year. So I was just very disappointed we did not make that a better game than it was.”
Red zone failures were the biggest issue for OSU, which has a bye this week. Between botched field goals and Sean Mannion's three interceptions – all of which were inside USC's 20-yard line – it was about mistakes rather than the Beavers not putting themselves in a position to play competitive football. “He would tell you this,” Riley said of Mannion, “they were bad decisions. Again, he's had a great year making those type of decisions and I expect him to be back this week.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has been reeling from a banged-up hand in the last few weeks, but after a week off thanks to a bye, he should be ready to play against Arizona State. ”By all indications in practice, the week off did him a world of good,” Whittingham said. “He doesn't have to wear the glove or any of that nonsense. He's looking very sharp in practice so we hope that translates into games.”
The Utes host ASU this year with “horrible” memories of last year's early-season, 37-7 loss to the Sun Devils. “They jumped on us early, (we) couldn't make a play on either side of the ball for a quarter and a half, and by that time it was out of hand,” Whittingham said.
On offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson playing against the Sun Devils, whom he coached from 2007-2011: “He really keeps his emotions in check. I haven't noticed any difference in his demeanor this week opposed to any other week.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
ASU athletics director Steve Patterson has decided to leave the school for the same position at the University of Texas. Graham, a one-time head coach at Rice, knew Patterson when he was in the NFL's Houston Texans' business office, and said that connection played a part in Graham taking the Sun Devils' head coaching position two years ago. “I think the world of Steve,” Graham said. “Steve is a tremendous reason of why I came here and has been a great partner here with me. Nothing but the best for him.”
Quarterback Taylor Kelly has been dubbed a fine decision maker, and part of that has to do with him taking what the defense gives him. The other thing Graham has preached with his quarterback? “One of the things we tell him is take what the defense gives you, and establish yourself as a runner,” Graham said. “He does a lot of great things with his legs.”
Asked about the relationship Kelly has with running back Marion Grice, Graham said Kelly's nature makes the chemistry fit well with everyone on the team. “(Taylor) is a tremendous listener and he's a tremendous giver of respect … he's a giver. He gives respect.”
Washington's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian was asked to preview the Stanford-Oregon game, and he said it will come down to the interior play. Can Stanford's defensive line contain the inside game, force the ball to the perimeter and then contain big plays? Can the Ducks stay home on play-action situations from Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan?
On the general relationship between the Pac-12 coaches: “I think we're all very cordial. Obviously, there's different personality types and whatnot. I think just like in society, we'd naturally gravitate to some individuals more than others.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
The Buffs fell to UCLA last week, 45-23, but found themselves in the game at halftime. CU trailed 21-13 before UCLA turned it on in the third quarter. ”I do see improvement,” MacIntyre said of his team. “Four or five plays … if we made those plays, we're right there. We've got to make sure we do that and keep improving. We got to improve and start making things happen.”
Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker two weeks ago rushed for 192 yards against Colorado, but MacIntyre said it was Denker's passing ability that was most impressive. “He was on target,” the CU coach added. “We were all over the receivers.”
USC's Ed Orgeron
USC heads to Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, where a pass-happy, 1-8 Golden Bears team is hoping for its first Pac-12 win. The Trojans will be most conscious of freshman quarterback Jared Goff. “A lot of screens, a lot of quick throws – they spread you out, then they pop you in the run game,” Orgeron said. “They have a great vertical passing game. (Goff is) in a great system that fits him, and I think the guy's going to be an excellent quarterback.”
Orgeron said linebacker Morgan Breslin won't play Saturday against Cal because of a lingering injury. “In my 27 years of coaching,” Orgeron added, “Morgan Breslin is absolutely one of my favorite players I've ever coached.”
On the Trojans picking off three passes in each of their last two games against Oregon State and Utah: “The move with (former safety) Josh (Shaw) over to corner has really solidified our secondary.”
Note: Cal coach Sonny Dykes did not participate in this week's teleconference.