Pac-12 coaches teleconference: Oregon, Utah seek emotional rebounds
Utah has only an upset of Stanford to show for its competitiveness in Pac-12 play. Coming off a heartbreaking 20-19 loss against Arizona State, the Utes now head to Oregon and will face the Ducks, who are coming off their first loss of the year. So that means Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich are hoping their players' emotions are in check. Also in this week's Pac-12 football teleconference call, UCLA's Jim Mora discusses how he found his love for the college game.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Utah is 3-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and Whittingham expressed frustration over the oh-so-close record. “We've been able to stand toe-to-toe with the best teams in the Pac-12, but nobody cares about being close,” Whittingham said Tuesday. “There are positives and there are negatives. The bottom line is you are what your record says you are.”
At Oregon this week, the Utes will follow the model built by Stanford that was used to topple the Ducks last week. What's the foundation for such a model? “I think the first starting point is try to slow the run game down so they don't get in high gear,” Whittingham said.
Sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson started off the season in cruise control but hasn't been the same since missing time because of a hand injury. He's returned and last week struggled mightily by completing 6-of-21 passes and throwing two picks. But Whittingham said Wilson is healthy, and there's no quarterback controversy. “He gives us the best chance to win,” the Utes' coach said. “There's no debate.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Helfrich didn't duck the fact that Stanford schematically beat Oregon up on Thursday in the Ducks' 26-20 loss. The Cardinal hammered the Ducks with the run game and kept the ball out of the offense's hands. Red zone turnovers, dropped balls and the like hurt, but Helfrich admitted that, overall, Stanford's philosophy of slowing the pace and limiting Oregon's possessions worked. “Everything's magnified,” he said of the pace. “Defensively, we need to get off the field.”
On the state of the Ducks after a loss that likely ended their BCS title hopes: “I think our guys, our leadership, showed immediately afterward in the locker room,” Helfrich said.
Helfrich joked that Oregon's next opponent, Utah, looks a lot like Stanford between their red and white color schemes and their football philosophies. He added that Oregon will be able to get up for Utah, without a doubt. “We don't need any bit of motivation other than they beat Stanford,” he said.
Oregon's State's Mike Riley
A two-game losing streak has coincided with two relatively quiet outings for Beavers receiver Brandin Cooks, but he still leads the NCAA in receiving yards. The recent games aren't on Cooks, however. Oregon State knows it'll have to be more inventive in getting the receiver more looks against now-wary defenses. “We have to find ways to get him the ball better than we have in recent games,” Riley said. “I know always what we're going to get from him, which is very well-prepared, good plays.”
Oregon State visits Arizona State this week, and the Beavs will be taking notice of Utah's defense from last week that nearly helped the Utes pull off a win by holding the Sun Devils to 20 points. “I think Taylor Kelly, he's a ball player,” Riley said of the ASU quarterback. “It's been interesting to see his growth as a player. The more he's played, I think he's got real good command of what they do.”
On if reaching bowl eligibility is enough: “We're in a pretty good position ourselves as our season ends in the fourth quarter here. Certainly, just being bowl eligible is nothing to be complacent about. This season will be defined by the next few games and it all starts against Arizona State.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
This past week, Arizona State scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to rally and beat Utah on the road by a final of 20-19. Graham is actually liking that his team needed to play with such a sense of urgency. “I couldn't have scripted it better,” he said. “There wasn't much panic. We couldn't have won that game in better fashion, coming from behind and winning the way we did.”
On stopping OSU receiver Brandin Cooks this week: “I personally, going against him, think he's the most explosive player in our conference. He runs the ball on speed sweeps … then he'll burn you deep. He runs incredible routes.”
Graham is pleased with the improvement of his secondary, and he especially likes his players' ability to bump up on receivers and win the physical battles. “We were pretty good last year with them,” Graham said of his experienced group. “We're a lot better this year. We're a lot better right now than where we were four weeks ago.”
Stanford's David Shaw
The Cardinal coach doesn't believe USC has changed much since it fired coach Lane Kiffin and promoted Ed Orgeron. “I think they're playing better,” Shaw said. “I'll throw on top of that, they're healthy. You take the top-two fastest guys off any team (once-injured receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor), you're not going to have the same production.”
Stanford's one slip-up this year, a game against Utah, just might be the seminal moment of the Cardinal's season. Shaw's team isn't viewing it from a could-have, should-have perspective but rather using it as a rallying point. “It wasn't our best effort and when you don't bring your best effort against a Utah team that's giving their best effort at their home, you're going to lose,” Shaw said. “There's no question that that was similar to our Notre Dame loss from a year ago, where you have that moment and it creates a sense of urgency on your team.”
Stanford's biggest defensive concern comes in facing three or even four USC running backs who fit the traditional Trojan model of physical, in-between-the-tackle runners. That said, “if you're playing too hard (up front), the passing game can kill you,” Shaw added.
USC's Ed Orgeron
Orgeron said the same thing about Stanford's run game as Cardinal coach David Shaw said about USC's run game. “Very similar,” he said of the two. “Anytime you overcommit to the run, they can hit you deep. It's going to be a dog fight.”
On Stanford and Oregon perhaps being considered BCS contenders even though they each have a loss: “One of the things (former USC) Coach (Pete) Carroll taught us … take control of what we can control. Just let the chips fall where they may.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Washington State heads to the desert on Saturday, where it will find an Arizona team coming off a painful loss to UCLA. The most difficult task will be making plays off the Wildcats' zone-read options. “There's been other teams that did this, this type of thing,” Leach said. “You've got to react and sort it out quickly. You don't want to hesitate.”
The Cougars got blasted by Arizona State on Halloween against a similar zone-read team. ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly rushed for two scores and passed for five more, and that dual-threat defense will test WSU again. Leach said Arizona's more run-happy quarterback, B.J. Denker, will present new challenges. “The exchange between the quarterback and the back are similar," Leach said. “There are differences after that.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
In Arizona's 31-26 loss to UCLA this past weekend, the Bruins used linebacker Myles Jack as a running back. Jack ran for 120 yards on just six carries, including a backbreaking 66-yard touchdown jaunt for UCLA's final score. While Jack surprised Arizona, Rodriguez stopped short of saying the final run was anything but poor playmaking by his defense. “Obviously, the first few times we saw it we had to make some adjustments,” he said. “The big run at the end we had already seen a little bit.”
The Wildcats can get back on track against Washington State this week, but they'll do so with a conscious approach against the Cougars' secondary. “They got a couple secondary guys who have a chance to play in the NFL,” Rodriguez said. “They're well coached. (Safety Deone Bucannon) is very active. He picks passes off, he breaks passes up. He's quite a presence.”
Rodriguez didn't seem optimistic about the chance receiver Austin Hill, who was cleared to practice individually this week following an ACL tear, can return this year. The Arizona coach reminded the media that there are just three games left on the schedule. “Obviously, that's a hypothetical situation,” Rodriguez said. “He's already had a redshirt year his first year. Still, you can come back and as good of a player and athlete as you are … there's still an adjustment.”
California's Sonny Dykes
Asked if he thought his team could be extra hungry to beat Colorado this week because it's the most winnable game on the schedule, Dykes promised he thought his team believed it had a chance last week against USC. Despite the 62-28 final score, Cal was only trailing 21-14 in the middle of the second quarter before special teams play killed their hope – and momentum. “I felt like our guys felt like we were going to win last week,” Dykes said. “I know you're supposed to say that as a coach. I think in a lot of ways, this team is not any different (from game to game).”
On how easy it has been to “buck up” his team considering the 1-9 record. “It's been hard. It's been a tough season. We've had a lot of bad things happen to us. Our kids have continued to work hard, we've practiced well. We've just made too many mistakes on Saturdays. It just seems like it's been one thing after another this season.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Under the circumstances, it's understandable why both Colorado and Cal remain winless in Pac-12 play this season. First-year head coaches in the Buffs' MacIntyre and Dykes are dealing with a lot of youth, and both have a freshman at quarterback. One of either Colorado's Sefo Liufau or Cal's Jared Goff can earn the first conference victory of their respective careers on Saturday. Goff has the head start as the Golden Bears' quarterback for most of the year and has thrown 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions. “Goff is a really, really good player,” MacIntyre said. “He can make all the throws.”
Defense might be the bigger concern for MacIntyre, who said his team missed 37 tackles in last week's 59-7 loss to Washington. “I've never seen that,” he said.
UCLA's Jim Mora
As a long-time NFL coach, Jim Mora never thought he'd coach college football, but after blowing out his knee while skiing in 2011, fate made him find a hankering for the college game. UW athletic director Scott Woodward and current coach Steve Sarkisian allowed Mora to rehab his knee in the school's facilities while Mora lived in the Pacific Northwest, and there he rubbed shoulders with college athletes. “That really crystalized (pursuing a college career) for me,” Mora said. “It was just having that interaction with the student-athletes. It wasn't just the football players. It was getting to talk to volleyball players, basketball players, track athletes.”
As a coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Mora created headlines when he went on radio and said he'd leave his NFL post to coach Washington, his alma mater. Mora, who has all along promised it was a joke, called it the biggest mistake of his life. But he added he's never been contact by UW for a coaching vacancy. “I never considered that job nor was I considered for that job. I think they've got the right man there in Steve Sarkisian," he added. "I've never been approached by the University of Washington.”
Mora said he'd remain cautious about putting too much of a load on linebacker Myles Jack's plate. The freshman played a huge role in UCLA beating Arizona on Saturday – he played running back and took six carries for 120 yards.
Washington's Steve Sarkisian
The challenges at UCLA this week come down to standing tall against a UCLA defense that, among other things, has length. “I think they play with a lot of attitude,” Sarkisian said. “That's a tribute to coach Mora and his staff.”
After watching UCLA linebacker Myles Jack be utilized as a running back against Arizona last week, Sarkisian said UW will continue to run its defense as is. “We have to be cognizant of Myles, where he is,” the UW coach added cautiously. “I think he'll continue to be a linebacker … I don't foresee him getting 30 carries Friday night."
On UW senior quarterback Keith Price's career hitting its stretch run. “I think Keith has an opportunity … to leave a legacy. He's playing really good football right now. He's confident. He's exuding a tremendous amount of leadership.”