Pac-12 coaches teleconference: Can young Bruins O-line combat Sun Devils?
A battle in the trenches will be featured as the UCLA Bruins host Arizona State Sun Devils, but the critical game for both Pac-12 South squads isn't strength versus strength. The Bruins' young offensive line will need to protect quarterback Brett Hundley despite a push coming from All-American candidate Will Sutton and company. Neither UCLA coach Jim Mora nor ASU coach Todd Graham were ducking the crucial matchup in this week's coaches teleconference call.
Meanwhile, Arizona and Oregon will try to out-fast one another, while Oregon State and Washington will clash in a battle of two very good 6-4 teams. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham also discussed the end of quarterback Travis Wilson's season.
UCLA's Jim Mora
Part of UCLA's gameplan this week will involve stopping touchdown machine Marion Grice, the Sun Devil running back who is second nationally with 20 touchdowns and 120 points scored. “He's very versatile,” Mora said. “We did OK against (Washington running back) Sankey, we did not as well against (Arizona running back) Ka'Deem Carey. This guy to me, along with D.J. Foster, presents a unique challenge. I haven't evaluated his future, but I have evaluated him in their scheme … it's perfect for what he does.”
Mora, on if he has addressed the must-win nature of the game against ASU with his players: “I addressed it but they also understand the significance of it. We talk about having to get into playoff mode after we lost to Oregon. I think we've been acutely aware of the significance of each game.”
Mora said that while his offensive line is young, he's been very impressed with the young trio of Alex Redmond, Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Arizona State has a few similarities with UCLA. Both teams are fighting for the Pac-12 South title in just the second season under their respective coaches. If there's one key for the matchup on Saturday, it'll be the Bruins' young offensive line against ASU's defensive front led by Will Sutton. “It's not like those guys they have aren't really talented,” Graham said. “They're young. We have to dominate up front.”
Graham expects UCLA linebacker Myles Jack to continue getting a few plays at running back this week. “I think he'll have his 15 or so plays,” the ASU coach said. “If he did that full time, there's no doubt in my mind he's be a starter.”
On the improvements of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and ASU signal caller Taylor Kelly over the last year: “(They have) tremendous maturity ... and have a command in their offenses. You can tell the difference. Again, Taylor for us – he's the key to our success. He's like a coach on the field.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Arizona goes fast. Oregon pushes the pace, too. But did Mark Helfrich really just say that a team could be faster than the Ducks? Sort of. “It's going to come down to who executes the best when they go fast,” the Ducks coach said of this week's matchup. “We use a few more formations than they do, which probably allows them to go faster than us.”
On Marcus Mariota's Heisman candidacy being shelved following the loss to Stanford: “Obviously it's unfortunate of how we played in, quote-on-quote, the marquee big game of the year, and a lot of it was not his doing.”
Helfrich has one of those nice problems to have – he has a lot of options at running back. Oregon came into the season with a to-be-decided approach regarding how offensive dynamo De'Anthony Thomas would be used at running back, receiver and in the special teams game. Throughout the year, it's been an ongoing process only complicated by the emergence of running backs Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall. “Trying to mix-and-match from a gameplan standpoint, how we want a formation … it's just kind of an ongoing thing,” Helfrich said.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Rodriguez hesitated to say his young receiving group was to blame for the lack of diversity in Arizona's passing attack. From play-calling to protection, the Wildcats haven't been capable of doing anything more than dinking and dunking their way down the field in the last two games. “We probably didn't take as many shots as we could have,” he said. “They way teams have been playing us, they've taken it away a little bit. When you go downfield, you also have to have the protection and everything has to hold up.”
Per usual, an opponent of Oregon made sure to butter up the Ducks' defense. “They move around a lot. They disguise a lot of coverages, a lot of looks,” Rodriguez said. “How they play is a little bit different than a lot of our opponents.”
Arizona hosts Oregon aiming to secure itself a bowl bid with a seventh victory. Rodriguez said the lack of Heisman talk surrounding Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota has been unfairly quiet since Oregon lost to Stanford. “I think he's one of the best players in the country,” the Arizona coach said. “Not only should he be obviously invited (to the Heisman presentation ceremony), I think he should be one of the frontrunners.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Washington and Oregon State might be two of the better 6-4 teams in the NCAA. Their records are products of many close losses against very good teams, but Riley doesn't know how that will affect each team's psyche coming as the Beavers' host the Huskies this week. “It's all how you respond to that (adversity),” Riley said. “You don't know how it's going to play out until you're in it and playing. (The Huskies) had a kind of murderers row in there, and they played well. They had a chance to beat Stanford, like we did.”
Riley is confident his Beavs aren't feeling down on themselves after losing three games in a row to Stanford, USC and ASU. “I think there's some disappointment, but this is a good group,” he said. “They're not quitting or anything like that. I'm not worried about that.”
While the Beavers can be proud of how far the defense has come since losing the opener to Eastern Washington, Riley knows that other issues have begun to pop up over the course of the three-game skid. “We've turned it the wrong way in terms of turnovers,” he said of OSU, which has eight turnovers in the last two games and is minus-five in turnovers differential over the last three games.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham said quarterback Travis Wilson addressed his team about his health condition that has ended his season. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that a concussion test uncovered an unrelated intracranial artery issue, and that could end Wilson's football career. Whittingham didn't discuss the health concern, but did say he's holding out hope Wilson is able to play football again. “He's obviously struggling right now, he's a competitor, he loves football,” the Utes coach added. “He just expressed to the team that he's still with us, obviously, and wants to remain a part of what we're doing. It's not a done deal … we're still hoping at some point he's able to return.”
Adam Schulz, who has played this year as Wilson battled through a hand injury, has received 40 percent of the snaps during practices, and Whittingham said the former walk-on didn't get recruited by other schools because he primarily played in a wing-T offense that hardly passed the ball. “His primary strength is his arm, by far has got the strongest arm on our team,” Whittingham said. “He's a pocket passer, he's not a great runner. He's an adequate runner but his main strength is throwing the ball.”
The Utes travel to Washington State this week and face the Cougars and their surprising 2-3 home record. It's surprising because WSU is 3-2 on the road -- the individual talent of their opponents certainly has something to do with the discrepancy. Whittingham only need worry about his own team's home-versus-away records. “I can't speak for them but we haven't played well on the road at all,” he said.
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach on offensive lineman and former walk-on lineman Elliott Bosch: “He's one of the biggest overachievers I've ever coached.”
Stanford's David Shaw
Baseball players often make the best punt returners, according to Shaw. He doesn't look for fast players or ones with good hands, but rather those who can read a punt's rotations and get to the spot quickly. Barry J. Sanders has been “one of the combination guys who not only reads the well and catches it well, but does something afterward,” Shaw said.
So has the college punting game changed with the influx of rugby-style kicks and pooch kicks? Maybe, Shaw said. “But sometimes it's bad on them because if it's a bad rugby punt, it's only a 20-yard punt.”
Shaw, answering a question about what went wrong in the red zone for Stanford in its 20-17 loss to the USC Trojans on Saturday. “Not scoring touchdowns,” Shaw said, bluntly. “We threw an interception and got a field goal blocked.”
Cal's Sonny Dykes
Dykes can list off all the improvements he wants for the 1-10 Golden Bears to succeed, but in the end, he realizes that many things will take time -- and we're talking about injuries healing by the spring, not for this weekend's game where Cal visits Stanford. The Cal coach said he believes in the talent on the roster, but admitted much of that talent isn't even physically ready to play right now. “We got some guys who can really develop, and that's on us,” Dykes said.
On senior defensive lineman Deandre Coleman: “Especially toward the back end (of the year), he's gotten better and better and better. I think he's playing with a little more confidence a little more consistently. He's a big kid, he's athletic and you know, has a chance to be a good football player.”
USC's Ed Orgeron
Orgeron has often said USC's secondary was solidified when do-it-all man Josh Shaw moved from safety to cornerback. The Trojans' interim coach said defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast initially wanted Shaw at safety because his smarts made him the ideal “quarterback of the defense.”
That Trojans secondary will be tasked with covering speedy Colorado wideout Paul Richardson this week. “Paul is one of the better receivers we've seen,” Orgeron said. “We'll need our best guys to cover him, no doubt.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
A 41-24 breakthrough victory against struggling Cal gave the Buffaloes evidence that their hard work wasn't all for naught after losing the first six Pac-12 games of the year. Yet, MacIntyre said it wasn't anything necessary to prove to his team that they're on the right course. “As you prepare and they get more confidence, they're able to finish games and you'll get the big victory,” he said. “Then you'll get another one. It's all part of a process.”