Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Rich Rodriguez and Sonny Dykes talk Arizona's Hail Mary
Rich Rodriguez and Sonny Dykes talk about their perspectives of the Arizona Wildcats' Hail Mary victory against Cal, and Jim Mora and Todd Graham discuss their preparations for a Pac-12 South showdown between the Bruins and Sun Devils on Thursday night.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Arizona enters a bye week, which to Rodriguez is a good thing after a stunning Hail Mary play helped his Wildcats beat Cal this past week. Rodriguez allowed his players to break one of their rules: the Wildcats are usually only allowed 24 hours to celebrate wins. “We said maybe extend that to 48 hours, maybe 52 hours,” Rodriguez said Tuesday. “Today we start focusing on Oregon.”
Rodriguez said the Wildcats typically practice Hail Mary plays once at the end of Thursday practices. Leading into the 49-45 victory against the Golden Bears, however, Arizona took a extra reps after adding in a wrinkle. So do the Hail Mary plays work as well in practice as it did Saturday? “It does because for us it's uncontested,” Rodriguez said. “We don't let the defensive players play (to prevent injury).”
Freshman running back Nick Wilson left the Saturday win with an injury, but Rodriguez expects him to be healthy for next week's game against Oregon. Wilson's replacement, Terris Jones-Grigsby, returned to action this weekend healthy enough after missing the last two games with an ankle issue. “We feel, now, we have two starting tailbacks,” Rodriguez said. “They'll probably share equal time or close to it.”
Rodriguez was asked whether he'd rather coach a great team in a bad league or if he'd coach a good team in a deep conference, such as this year's Pac-12. As usual, Rodriguez gave an honest answer. “I'd rather be really, really good in a crappy league,” he said. “That ship has sailed.”
California's Sonny Dykes
Dykes seemed upbeat despite the gut-wrenching loss his Golden Bears experienced in Tucson. “The good thing about football is you really don't have time to wallow around in your own self pity and all of that,” he said.
There were a lot of things Cal could have done better on the game's final play, a Hail Mary completion from UA quarterback Anu Solomon to receiver Austin Hill. Dykes said there were issues with the Golden Bears' alignment (the safeties weren't deep enough because of a quick snap), body position (nobody got in front of Hill), and containment (Cal allowed Solomon to get out of the passing pocket to buy himself more time).
Dykes admitted the Golden Bears lost some air on the defensive end against an Arizona team that scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and in the process topped 100 plays for the game. “I don't think much went wrong on offense. We scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, which is typically enough to win a ball game, “ Dykes said. “Defensively I think we just got tired. We're young, we don't have a lot of depth.”
California turns around to play against Colorado this week. The Buffs have gotten a good amount of production from receiver Nelson Spruce, and that has Dykes' attention. “The thing I like about him is he really competes hard for the football in the air,” Dykes said.
USC's Steve Sarkisian
The Trojans have had a lot of time to think about their loss to Boston College. It's been a long week with one more to go before facing Oregon State. “One of the beauties of football is if you lose a ball game you have seven days to sort of redeem yourself,” Sarkisian said. “The hard part is when you have a loss and then a bye.”
Shoring up the offensive line play is one of the keys for Sarkisian moving forward. “We've got quite a bit of youth up front on the offensive line. People are challenging those guys,” he said.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Running back D.J. Foster has developed into not only a great player, but one admired by his teammates because of his intensity. It's not so great in practice when he's making dangerous dives to catch balls – Graham cringed at such an occurrence recently – but in games it's another story. “I think our offense really feeds off his energy and his toughness,” Graham said.
After a week off, ASU is back at it and facing Pac-12 South rival UCLA, which is keeping quarterback Brett Hundley's health status under wraps. How do the Sun Devils prepare without knowing who will take snaps? “Always prepare for the best one,” Graham said. “If Brett Hundley didn't play, it would shock me, but that makes it easier for us. You better prepare for the best one.”
On the necessity for current football teams to have multidimensional quarterbacks: “In today's modern offense, I personally believe if your quarterback can't extend plays – if your plays have to go how they draw them up – you're in trouble.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
UCLA's sack issues aren't completely on the offensive line, and Mora said he's seen positive improvements from that group over the last two weeks. “I think there's a real misnomer when it comes to our offensive line,” he said. “People see the sack numbers … sacks belong to everybody.”
The Bruins got off to a slow start against ASU in 2013, and that was enough for the Sun Devils to win the game. How can the Bruins avoid a sluggish start this year? “We've got to play better on defense,” Mora said. “We've got to put some drives together on offense and hopefully score some points. I think that's how you start faster.”
On ASU running back D.J. Foster: “He stresses defenses because, like you said, he can run and catch like he does. He's a dynamic playmaker. You focus too much on him though, and somebody else is going to beat you.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
A close call against Washington State has Helfrich preaching the basics. The Ducks head coach said his team allowed the Cougars around 200 yards of preventable offense on Saturday in what he dubbed “day one type of issues.” That meant pad levels not being correct, missed assignments and, in general, poor execution.
Oregon does have a week off to fix its issues before a game against Arizona, which ruined the Ducks' bowl hopes toward the end of last season with a big win in Tucson. “It was a very weird week,” Helfrich said of last year's matchup. “... self-inflicted wounds. (We) doinked it off our hands for a pick (to start the game). That was kind of a microcosm for the game.”
Helfrich typically doesn't have time to catch NFL games and keep an eye on old Ducks, but he does have a rooting interest. “I've been a lifelong Cowboys fan and now I'm an Eagles fan,” he said. “That's how much I like (former Oregon coach) Chip Kelly.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oregon State's depth at flanker receiver is suddenly lacking. Victor Bolden is out against USC this week after suffering a finger injury, and Rahmel Dockery is also banged up, but is more likely to give it a go on Saturday. “I think the crew is going to have to do it together,” Riley said of his receivers, which will be led by Richard Mullaney and Hunter Jarmon. He added that the tight ends and halfbacks will also have to step up.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
The Buffs' next opponent, Cal, lost by way of Hail Mary last week against Arizona. In watching tape, MacIntyre didn't think the Wildcats did anything extraordinary to make a fourth quarter comeback. “I think Arizona just got hot,” he said. “Arizona's always had, since RichRod's there, has always been good on offense. I think their quarterback (Anu Solomon) began growing up, so to speak, before your eyes."
Cal sophomore quarterback Jared Goff has a stronger arm than he did as a freshman, MacIntyre said. That's not the only thing he's improved. “Jared to me is more accurate than he was last year,” the Buffs coach added. “He's keeping his feet under him.”
MacIntyre will see a familiar face on the Cal sideline. Golden Bears defensive coordinator Art Kaufman and Colorado's head coach were both on the Ole Miss staff from 1999-2000. They even lived across the street from one another.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Miami transfer Gionni Paul sat out last year and missed the Utes' first two games with a foot injury suffered in the spring. So it was impressive that after his first game, a 26-10 Utah win against Michigan, he won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. “His outing was exceptional,” Whittingham said. “Not only in and of itself, but if you consider he hasn't played a game in a couple years … he only practiced a week or two in spring before he went down with injury.”
Utah kicker Andy Phillips earned Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors, but he's not the only Ute specialist that's helped the team to a 3-0 start. Kaelin Clay has been a dangerous punt and kicker returner, while punter Tom Hackett also drew compliments from Whittingham. “So far, specialists and special teams in general has had a big impact on our season,” the coach said.
Quarterback Travis Wilson took a nasty hit in the second quarter against the Wolverines and missed some snaps before returning in the second half. Wilson attempted to leap past defenders, but the play turned scary when he was flipped by a defender. “He'll be the first to admit that was a poor decision on Saturday,” Whittingham said.
Stanford's David Shaw
Shaw on having played at Stanford before becoming the head coach: “There are a lot of positives as far as having familiarity with the campus, how the campus works. Having familiarity for the student athletes, I can give personal experience to the players in certain instances.”
Shaw says he has a lot of question marks about the college football playoff system, and he said there is a scenario where all the Pac-12 coaches could ask for reform to the schedule format – the Pac-12 is the only league with nine conference games plus a championship game. “That's the biggest unknown in this deal,” Shaw said of the new playoff system. “It all hinges on this committee. If you've got a two-loss Pac-12 champion that's played a hellacious schedule … do they get bumped?”
The domino effect of Washington hiring Chris Petersen away from Boise State impacted the Huskies opponent this week. New Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford was a former Stanford assistant and is very familiar with the Cardinal. “Mike Sanford was a young coach when I came here with coach (Jim) Harbaugh, he was an intern,” Shaw said of the Boise State graduate. “This opportunity came up for him and it was too good to pass up.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
A 38-31 loss to Oregon on Saturday gave the Cougs a moral victory of sorts. “I thought the important thing is we played well,” Leach said. “We didn't win,s but we played well. We just have to keep improving this week.”
Will Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday need to focus on Utah linebacker Nate Orchard, who the Utes tend to move around in different defensive looks? “No, but (Halliday has) got to keep track of how their leverage is and how they set their front,” Leach said.
Leach, on Utah quarterback Travis Wilson: “He can move around a little bit. He can throw it good. Just a multi-dimensional guy.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
On Stanford's defense: “They're physical, they have a lot in their system there. They keep you off balance. They're very aggressive from their D-line to get up field, to their linebackers blitzing. They're just really sound.”