Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: ASU could play both Taylor Kelly, Mike Bercovici
Arizona State could see the return of starting quarterback Taylor Kelly this week. After a few strong performances by backup Mike Bercovici, coach Todd Graham isn't in a hurry to rush his starter back as the Sun Devils enter a rematch of last season's championship game against Stanford.
Meanwhile, Utah has its own quarterback situation to handle, while Oregon and Washington clash in a rivalry despite two head coaches who are friends.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham revealed that starting quarterback Taylor Kelly may be able to return this week after throwing the ball in practice on Tuesday. Kelly could be eased back into action and see time alongside his backup, Mike Bercovici. “When he's able to go, he'll go,” Graham said of Kelly. “If he's not 100 percent ready to go, they'll both play. Mike will play and Taylor will play sparingly. We'll take the whole week to decide that. Both of them will be suited up and ready to play.”
Stanford handled ASU twice last season, and Graham hopes his Sun Devils can win special teams and the turnover battle. “There's not a team I've got more respect for,” he said of Stanford. “We're trying to do character, strong, disciplined, tough. I think they've defined that the last several years.”
Does the Sun Devils' offense have exact statistical goals to strive for? Yes, as does their defense. “We try really hard to manage that here,” Graham said. “We would like to have 85-snaps-plus, and we'd like the other team to have 65. I just think the way you look at stats is real different now.”
Stanford's David Shaw
This week Stanford returns to Tempe, where the Cardinal won the Pac-12 Championship last season. So will the Cardinal see a different ASU offense whether it lines up against Taylor Kelly, Mike Bercovici or both? “It looks a little different,” Shaw said. “I think Taylor Kelly ran a little more. After watching (Bercovici) throw for 500 yards, I'd hate to say it's not as good. It's just as explosive.”
Setting their feet before the snap to keep running lanes covered is key for Stanford's defense against ASU. But Shaw wants to force the Arizona State offense to think on its feet as much as it'll make the Cardinal defense improvise. “I think we have to be multiple in our fronts and our coverages,” Shaw added, “We have to have some disguise factor.”
On ASU receiver Jaelen Strong's strong suits: “Number one is just his size. The other thing about him is his uncanny ability to make difficult catches, catches with guys draped on his back (in) double-coverage. Even if you don't throw it in the perfect spot, he just swallows it up with his big hands.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
There's a quarterback decision to make this week for the Utes, who face Oregon State. Whittingham wouldn't divulge – or hasn't decided – whether Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson will start, but he knows how he'll make the final call. “Very simply, the guy who gives us the best chance to win in our estimation (will start),” Whittingham said. “We have two good ones.”
Utah has run out some impressive defensive fronts in past years, and while Whittingham isn't ready to crown this current unit as the best in school history, he is willing to point out some statistics that say it's well on the way. “We're only five games in … we're leading the nation in sacks per game and Nate Orchard is leading the nation individually in sacks. I'd say we're very pleased so far,” the Utes coach said.
Oregon State is next on Utah's docket, and while Beavers coach Mike Riley doesn't change much, the Utes should expect a little different team than they saw last year in a 51-48 overtime loss. “Sean Mannion is an excellent player – not quite putting up the numbers he did last year, but (he) doesn't have a receiver like Brandin Cooks,” Whittingham said. “With him being gone (to the NFL), they're spreading the ball around a little more, a little more emphasis on the run game.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oregon State will prepare for both Utah quarterbacks this week because Utes coach Kyle Whittingham has yet to name a starter. “We played against Travis (Wilson) last year and he gave us all sorts of fits. The new guy has come in there and done a good job,” Riley said.
Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson took over for Wilson last week and presents a different set of problems for the Beavs. “He's a good athlete, a very good quarterback in their offense. I think he just entered into the game against Michigan and had poise. Like I said, it's unique and very nice for Utah to have that depth at that position,” Riley said.
Junior college transfer Kyle Peko has battled academic issues and hasn't played this season. Riley said the latest news, a report from the Portland Tribune indicating the defensive lineman is done for the year, is not accurate. “There is a chance for him to still be eligible,” Riley said. “The class, as I found out, is ongoing. He can extend it … and try to get eligible.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Pac-12 road teams have a surprising 14-4 record so far in conference play, and that statistic is telling of a league with so much parity. On Tuesday's call, no coach could exactly say why road teams are winning, but Helfrich had the best zinger. “It's a non-leap year,” he said dryly.
Washington visits Oregon this week, and Helfrich explained how he and Huskies coach Chris Petersen can be such good friends off the field despite being part of a bitter rivalry. It's about being consistent in the week-to-week preparation, no matter the opponent. “Part of it is how you prepare for every game, after the game, win or loss,” Helfrich said. “The more consistently you approach those things, the more credibility there is in your process.”
Left tackle Jake Fisher returned from injury to help the Ducks beat the Bruins, 42-30, this week, and Helfrich gave him a hot-and-cold assessment. “He didn't win the Outland Trophy (given to college football's best interior linemen),” the Oregon coach said. “He was good. You could definitely see he had some rust as far as getting back into full speed mode against a very good team.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
Petersen also addressed his friendship with Helfrich and how it doesn't involve the rivalry between Washington and Oregon. “I don't even think about it like that. You go to compete, play as hard as you can. After the season, you talk to your friends. You know, during the season, we don't talk to anybody but our players, our wives and our coaches,” Petersen said.
A simple explanation for linebacker Shaq Thompson and his multiple defensive scores this season: “I think he just kind of has that 'it' factor.”
California's Sonny Dykes
California's high-powered offense finally met its match last week. After the Golden Bears scored 31 or more in its first five games, Washington held them to a touchdown in a 31-7 loss. The pass rush on quarterback Jared Goff was an issue. “The problem that gave us issues last Saturday wasn't necessarily some blitzes,” Dykes said. “We got beat in some one-on-one matchups. We've really challenged those guys. I think they'll respond and hopefully play better on Saturday.”
Brennan Scarlett has been Cal's best pass rusher, which could be key against UCLA this week. A knee injury has Scarlett listed as day-to-day entering the game. ”We're hoping to have him, first of all,” Dykes said. “He's been our most consistent defensive player all year long. The thing about Brennan, he just hasn't had a lot of chances to play football (because of injury).”
On UCLA's defense: “They don't change it a lot week to week. They've got good players, a lot of experience on the back end. Obviously the strength of their defense is their linebackers.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
UCLA heads to Berkeley hoping to beat California by learning from Washington's blueprint drawn out a week ago. “They played well, they tackled well in space,” Mora said. “I think that's always important when you're playing an explosive offense like Cal.”
Mora, on UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and his NCAA-leading completion percentage of 72.2: “His decision-making is excellent. He's not flustered. He learns from play to play.”
Like the other coaches, Mora had no explanation for the Pac-12 road teams having so much success to this point. He could use all the help figuring it out. “I've actually given it a lot of thought. Maybe there's a psychological element … that sense of mission (on the road) maybe helps you a little bit,” he said. “That just doesn't seem logical to any of us. If you find out, if somebody gives you a good answer, give me a call, will ya?”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
A rally fell short in Tucson when a missed field goal ended Arizona's shot of overcoming a 28-26 deficit against USC. "It may have appeared to come down to one play,” Rodriguez said, “but there were about 20 plays that could have made an impact. You got to execute better so it doesn't come down to that final play. We've got to execute better in the first three quarters and not just the last five minutes.”
Rodriguez, on the missed field goal by kicker Casey Skowron: “I don't know if he was rushed. Coach (Charlie) Ragle looked at it mechanically, fundamentally … the protection was solid on that one. It just wasn't his best kick, obviously.
The Wildcats didn't throw the ball deep against the Trojans much, and credit for that goes to the USC front led by Leonard Williams. “We didn't want (quarterback Anu Solomon) to hold on to the ball too long because I didn't know how long we could block them,” Rodriguez said.
Ever since its opener, Arizona has been in four games in which the opponents' final scores were within seven points of one another. “It ages these coaches a lot, that's for sure,” said Rodriguez, whose team has a bye before facing WSU in two weeks. “It's probably exciting for the fans. Our mantra to the team: we're going to play 60 minutes and look up at the scoreboard and see what happens.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian didn't have problems with how his defense performed late against Arizona, which rallied to give it a chance at winning. The rally had a lot to do with USC's offense failing to run out the clock or move the ball. “At the end, I really felt like offensively we could have helped them more,” the USC coach said. “We really tried to milk the clock at the end and give our defense a rest. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have remained aggressive.”
USC graded 114 plays by its defense, and Sarkisian doesn't have a problem with how much he relied on his first-string players to take on the majority of the snaps. “I'm not naïve to the fact of what our numbers are. I won't let it be an excuse,” he said, noting Williams took all but 10 defensive snaps. “That being said, I have to be aware and do what's best for our team,” adding that he is consumed in monitoring how much players sleep, eat, practice and play in games.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
During a bye week after a five-point loss to Oregon State, Colorado is refreshed physically but also hit reset on its message from where it started at the beginning of the year. “I think everybody sees it, I definitely see it: I think we have really improved,” MacIntyre said. “But they got to understand they have to keep working, keep fighting.”
Nothing like taking on a No. 22-ranked team at the Coliseum after a week off. MacIntyre said the Buffs touched up their fundamentals and had extra time to work with the younger players during a bye week. “We've got to be the youngest team in America on defense,” MacIntyre said. “Seventeen of 22 (who play) are freshmen, sophomores or redshirt freshmen.”
That young Colorado defense will need to find a way to stop Buck Allen, the USC running back who topped 200 yards last week at Arizona. “If you tackle him high, he runs right through you,” MacIntyre said. “He stutters his feet and makes his defender stop and then (he) takes off and accelerates.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach looks at ball control not by time of possession, but how many first downs, third-down conversions and snaps his teams gets. “I've always liked as many (snaps) as you can get,” he said. “There's a level of ball control that goes along with that. I've always thought ball control doesn't have anything to do with the clock.”
Offensive records will continue to drop as teams speed their offenses up, but Leach isn't sure that even two fast offenses are enough to rewrite the books too often – defense still exists, after all. “I think it's got to be kind of a unique game,” Leach said. “You're either getting the other guy off the field quickly or he's scoring fast.”