Pac-12 coaches teleconference roundup: More Hail Mary talk
The Pac-12 started and finished the craziness that was week 6 in the 2014 college football season. Arizona upset then No. 2 Oregon on Thursday, Arizona State beat then No. 16 USC with a Hail Mary and the weekend closed with a shootout between Cal and Washington State. That, and more, are covered in the week's coaches teleconference call.
USC's Steve Sarkisian
USC fell victim to ASU's Hail Mary, but just a week earlier it was the Trojans who were successful on their own Hail Mary. That play from Cody Kessler to Darreus Rogers ended the first half in what would become a 35-10 win against Oregon State. “The point of emphasis on them has been the same,” Sarkisian said of whether he's discussed changes in how he handles Hail Marys. “We've prepared for them every week. It just happens that we've seen them on each side of the ball in two weeks.”
Sarkisian was pleased with the Trojans' defense against ASU – until USC gave up more than 200 yards in the final three drives of a 38-34 loss. “We've played pretty good defense in the game until the final five minutes of the game,” he said.
Next up for USC is a game at No. 10 Arizona. The Wildcats' defense was surprisingly the storyline in their 31-24 win against Oregon on Thursday. “The Wright kid (linebacker Scooby Wright) is a kid who makes plays in the run game, passing game – a tremendous strip fumble against Oregon,” Sarkisian said. “They keep the ball in front of them, they make plays … they create turnovers when they need them.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Two weeks after Arizona receiver Austin Hill caught an incomprehensible Hail Mary against Cal, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong stole a victory from USC with a game-winning grab. USC also converted a less important Hail Mary before halftime of a win against Oregon State a week prior. Was there a common theme between the three plays? “Probably the personnel. All you got to look at who's on the receiving end of them, who's throwing them,” ASU's coach said. “All the guys who caught them are big, tall, athletic, physical wide receivers.”
Graham thinks the college football playoff system works for now, but he's one that believes scheduling tough non-conference games might put a Power 5 conference team in trouble. One non-conference loss and one conference loss mean doom, so Graham thinks a conference championship for a Power 5 school should give them an automatic berth in the college football playoff. That's five in – the other three can be at large bids in an eight-team playoff.
On Colorado, who ASU played two weeks ago: “I've just seen the heart they play with. The first year that we played them here, our starters didn't even play them two quarters. Just seeing a lot better fundamentals. They're just playing like the personality of their coach.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Utah started an upset over previously-undefeated UCLA with Travis Wilson behind center. The Utes ended it with Kendal Thompson at quarterback, and Whittingham said he's currently evaluating the situation and will know the starter in a few days. He won't announce it publicly.
Whittingham doesn't expect his offense needs to score with the up-tempo offenses in the Pac-12 to come out with a victory. “I'm a defensive guy, so I hate to think our offense has to put up 40 points every week to win,” the Utes coach said. “I know Stanford's in that (same) mode. We don't have that opinion here.”
Before dropping UCLA, Utah fell to a Washington State team that now has a 2-4 record. Whittingham admitted that the loss led to a change in his defensive scheme. “We had a plan against (WSU quarterback Connor) Halliday to do a lot of drop eight – we were rushing three against Halliday a great percentage of the time,” Whittingham said. “We changed that philosophy. For us, after seeing the last couple of weeks, the defensive line of ours is a strong suit.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
Mora wasn't overly disappointed with UCLA's offensive line despite the way its last opponent, Utah, dominated up front to get hits on Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley. “We just struggled against a very good pass rush on Saturday night. I'm excited with the way they came back today,” Mora said.
The Bruins follow a 30-28 loss to the Utes with a home matchup against an Oregon team coming off a loss. “It's the same ol' Oregon team where quick-strike capabilities are amazing,” Mora said. “They are a dynamic, dynamic group of athletes with the ball.”
During the teleconference, Mora, a longtime NFL coach, seemed impressed over the delicacy of resumés in college football and the entertainment value it creates in each game. “One single loss can be so devastating,” Mora said. “In the NFL, if you go 12-4, that's a heck of a year. You're seeing these ultra-competitive games and these amazing contests. The stakes are so incredibly high. They're much higher than they are in the NFL.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Beating a former No. 2-ranked Oregon team was by far Rodriguez's biggest win of the year. How did the Wildcats do it? “We didn't get greedy, which is a good thing for the most part,” Rodriguez said. “We tried to take what they were giving us throughout the course of the game.”
Arizona is doing well in the recruiting department since Rodriguez's arrival. Beating the Ducks should only help. “I think we had some pretty good players, but we weren't as deep or talented, particularly defensively,” the Arizona coach said. “We probably didn't have the attitude of loving football. We think we've slowly gotten more athletic, but we've still got some work to do.”
On television cameras in the locker room during postgame speeches: “I'm still a little nervous about it because it's the privacy of the locker room, the sanctity of it. I think you got to be a little more careful (what to say), even if you win.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
A loss to Arizona in the first half of the 2014 schedule doesn't bode well for the Oregon Ducks and their expectations. There's no “sky is falling” mentality within the program – but maybe outside of it. “That's for other people to decide where the sky is,” Helfrich said.
Oregon broke down defensively in a few spots against Arizona. The issues are correctable heading into a game against UCLA. It's on the Ducks coaching staff to determine whether the issue lies with a certain player, how things are communicated or in how the schemes are prepared. “We had a couple of really huge communication errors and a couple assignment errors,” Helfrich said. “We had a couple guys check to a coverage that wasn't in the game plan. You don't anticipate those things coming up. Two ways Arizona aligned on two wheel routes … in both instances, two of the three guys were communicating correctly.”
Helfrich, on the Arizona running back duo of Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson: “Both the backs kind of remind you of Ka'Deem Carey more than you like.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oregon State's defensive line has been hit by a few injuries, most notably tackle Jalen Grimble's knee issue, but Riley likes what he's seen from that group in terms of the depth. “Thankfully (Grimble is) not gone for the long-term. It's good to have depth and go in and play solid football. Guys have to run. We try to keep them fresh and keep them going,” Riley said.
A 36-31 win against Colorado this weekend got Oregon State on track, but also lent more evidence to say Colorado is much improved from even a year ago. “I think they're really dynamic offensively. The guy pulling the trigger (quarterback Sefo Liufau) is a nice player,” Riley said. “I think their offensive line is very, very well coached, do a good job in both phases of the game: running and pass protection.”
Defensive back Victor Bolden returned from injury in a win over Colorado on Saturday, but Riley expects him to be in much better shape when the Beavs play after a bye this week. “He wasn't overly comfortable in the game (this weekend), I don't think, but he will be by the time we play again,” Riley said. “It could have been very easy for him to opt out of that game.”
Stanford's David Shaw
Like Kyle Whittingham, Shaw refuses to buy into the philosophy that his Stanford offense must score points to keep up with the high-scoring Pac-12 offenses. “I always stammer when I answer these questions,” he said. “To me, it's common sense when you watch the 49ers play, the Seattle Seahawks play … if we play great defense there aren't 40, 50 points on the board. Our thing is to say, hey, let's play great defense.”
So with that said, a 17-14 loss at Notre Dame wasn't as big of an offensive issue as many might think it is. Neither was a 13-10 loss to USC in the second game of the year. To Shaw, those games came down to making plays at the right time – offensive or defensive. “We had a chance to stop Notre Dame and we didn't,” Shaw said, noting his team gave up a 23-yard touchdown with a minute to play. “We had a chance to score against USC … we didn't.”
Getting a win against one team that plays with an offensive emphasis comes on Friday, when the Cardinal host Washington State. Shaw wasn't surprised by quarterback Connor Halliday's offensive numbers (an FBS record 734 passing yards) from this past week. “It's only a matter of time,” he said. “Every once in a while, they keep you honest with their running game, but their running game is their passing game. “
Washington State's Mike Leach
A shootout against California saw WSU quarterback Connor Halliday break that NCAA single-game passing yards record, but it came in a 60-59 loss for the Cougars. Overall, the Pac-12 has been filled with high-scoring affairs. There's a reason for that. “I think some of it has to do with most teams have their quarterback back,” Leach said.
Washington State experienced Cal quarterback Jared Goff at full efficiency, but Leach made sure to credit what has helped Goff and California improve the most from last year. “I think the receivers, the quality of the receivers, I thought they were all pretty good," he said.
Leach, after making a change to his special teams coaching position by firing coach Eric Russell, said he wanted his entire staff to have a hand in developing the special teams unit. Giving each player more attention is a priority. This comes after the Golden Bears scored two touchdowns off kick returns in the third quarter of the loss on Saturday. WSU also missed a potential game-winning field goal from 19 yards late in the fourth.
Cal's Sonny Dykes
The week's night cap of Cal and Washington State saw 119 combined points in the Golden Bears' win. The loss dropped Dykes' former mentor, Mike Leach, to 2-4 on the year. “He wants to win,” Dykes said of Leach. “It's hard sometimes when you go someplace that maybe hasn't won recently. Just trying to grow the program, it's difficult to do in this league. It's tough sledding in this league because everybody is good. There's no gimmes.”
Dykes likes that Cal is not only 4-1 but has found itself with that record by going through a number of different scenarios. ”If you just look at every game individually, there's been a lot of lessons for us," he said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
MacIntyre likes where Colorado is despite a 2-4 record. The next step after a 36-31 loss to Oregon State is learning how to finish games. “The thing that we've done, we've been in every game going into the fourth quarter. That hasn't happened around here in a long time. We had opportunities to win 'em and didn't get it done.”
On Cal's Jared Goff: “I think he's extremely accurate. He's understanding the timing routes … they throw it to spots a lot. He's able to move in the pocket and still be accurate.”
MacIntyre said he's always made sure his teams spent time practicing against Hail Mary plays. His father, a one-time defensive coordinator at Ole Miss, lost a game to South Carolina via Hail Mary, and that stuck to MacIntyre into his own coaching career.
Washington's Chris Petersen
Following a bye, the Huskies get back at it this week against an explosive Cal team. “We saw these guys when we were at Boise and they were at Louisiana Tech,” Petersen said of the Golden Bears coaching staff. “It's just a really good system. Their run game is really, really efficient, effective, which really helps your pass game.”
Petersen and his team had time to watch the Pac-12 action during their off week, and none of the close battles have surprised him. “I don't think it's tremendously different than we've been saying,” he said. “Every week is going to be a scratch and claw dogfight.”