Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Jim Mora calls Marcus Rios' interception 'inspiring'
UCLA coach Jim Mora discussed the emotion felt when a player who has battled a life-threatening illness made a big play to seal a victory last week against Cal. Meanwhile, Todd Graham again says ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly will play and David Shaw admits that Stanford needs him to utilize his offensive weapons in a better way.
UCLA's Jim Mora
Cornerback Marcus Rios has battled a life-threatening illness. But in the last several weeks, he's looked like his old self. An emotional moment came this past weekend, when Rios picked off Cal's Jared Goff to seal a slim Bruins victory. “It was, I guess, fulfilling, inspiring," Mora said. "It just meant a lot to a lot of people. Young man was fighting for his life. He's a Bay Area kid – to make a game-saving play like he did, was huge. I'm not going to lie to you … it was one of those great moments that make college football so special.”
Opposing defenses are usually attacking UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley with zone defenses, though “teams mix in a little man,” Mora said. “When you're playing an active quarterback … it gets a little dicey when you go pressure. When you don't get them, you tend to have a lot of guys with their back to the quarterback.”
The Bruins perhaps expect too much out of Hundley. He threw for 330 yards and ran for another 94 in the win against California, and the UCLA coaches “sort of went ho-hum,” Mora said.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Utah kicker Andy Phillips is not a “typical kicker,” according to Whittingham. The former skier has a lot of respect from his teammates, something that's as uncommon as you might think it is for college kickers. “He's a guy who's really well-liked by his teammates,” Whittingham said. “If he wasn't a kicker, he'd probably play another position. That's how tough he is and how athletic he is.”
Kendal Thompson and Travis Wilson have split time at quarterback as the Utes have relied on the run game over the last few weeks, but Whittingham hopes that changes. “We wish it wasn't a two quarterback system,” he said. “We don't call it that. We're waiting for someone to separate themselves. We've had some back-and-forth in the last couple of weeks – it wasn't by design.”
Whittingham, a man who is careful about word choice when describing the Pac-12: “I hate the word parity. I like the word balance. Parity, I think, has a negative connotation.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Colorado got beat up against USC last week, and MacIntyre said it had to do with a turnover and then penalties by the Buffs that kept early USC drives alive. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “We got them out to a track meet we couldn't catch up with.”
From one Los Angeles school to another: The Buffaloes face UCLA this week hoping to find an answer against another dynamic offense. “They spread you from sideline to sideline,” MacIntyre said. “I've been impressed with their big receivers. (They) catch the ball well, run well. Overall, they have a lot of skill talent. Getting you in space is tough trying to get those guys down.”
Stanford's David Shaw
Following a loss to Arizona State, Shaw took much of the responsibility for a struggling offense. “The thing for me is, I've done a poor job at structuring our offense so our guys can be successful. We have to utilize our personnel better. Put that on me,” the Cardinal coach said. “I can't sit here and say, keep doin' what we're doin'.”
The goals for Stanford haven't changed despite owning three losses in the middle of the season. “Our goals right now are still within our conference,” Shaw said. “As bad as we feel, we're tied for second in the Pac-12 North.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Washington State faces Arizona this week hoping to replicate what it did last year in surprising the Wildcats late in the season in Tucson. How has Arizona changed since then? “I think they're similar. Probably a little more polished, a little more experienced team,” Leach said.
On the Cougars' defensive backfield and who has stood out: “Well, it's kind of a committee of young guys back there. I think (sophomore cornerback) DaQuawn (Brown) is playing quite well. They've all improved.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
The Wildcats will have to solve the WSU offense much better than they did a year ago, and Wazzu is bringing in a young and rotating secondary group. Rodriguez said all the changes haven't made the Cougs hard to scout. "Obviously you watch personnel," he said. "First and foremost you watch scheme. I think they've done really well. Lots of different blitzes, lots of stunts up front. They do bring a lot of pressure. They do it from all angles and a lot of different fronts."
RichRod, on watching Pac-12 games during Arizona's bye week this past weekend: “Saturday is a lot of fun just to sit and watch other people suffer,” he said. “I'm biased of course, but I think the Pac-12 games are so exciting. They're fun to watch, but it'd be a lot more fun if we didn't have to play them.”
Senior transfer Adonis Smith and freshman Jonathan Haden have taken reps in practice for Arizona with Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby banged up.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Helfrich said Oregon's offensive line health led to struggles that were surprising. The Ducks' veterans that remained healthy, he said, were “trying to do too much … they made more mistakes than the new guys. That was what was more frustrating than anything.”
Freshman running back Royce Freeman wasn't deterred by the Ducks' returning backs when Helfrich was recruiting him. “We have been preaching for a long time – unfortunately it shows up each season – you need more than one of those guys,” Helfrich said. “He's always had an incredible attitude about it, going back to recruiting. It's kind of that edge you have to walk of 'gimme the ball' type of attitude and team.”
Quarterback Marcus Mariota may have joined the Ducks as a quiet freshmen, but that hasn't stopped him from being an effective leader. “Coming in he was a guy that was very introverted and quiet,” Helfrich said. “The guys that need to be yelled at, he yells at. The guys who need to be hugged, he hugs.”
California's Sonny Dykes
Receivers Trevor Davis and Chris Harper were both injured in Cal's 36-34 loss to UCLA. Davis, who left on a stretcher, jammed his neck but won't have any long-term issues. He has an undetermined timetable to return but is out this Friday against Oregon. “We think we'll have Chris this week. He's got a pretty sore, bruised back. Got hit with a helmet in his back,” Dykes said, adding Harper practiced on Tuesday.
Dykes thinks Oregon is simply playing more steadily than it was two games ago against Arizona and three games ago against Washington State. The Ducks have more recently blown out UCLA and Washington. “I think Oregon's gotten better. I think their offensive line has gotten better,” Dykes said.
The young Cal players have patience in growing, even through losses, according to Dykes. “Pretty much everyone is coming back. They're excited about our future, they understand there are going to be some bumps in the road to get there,” Dykes said.
USC's Steve Sarkisian
The Trojans visit Utah in what should be a battle of the backs – that'd be USC's Buck Allen and Utah's Devontae Booker, who both ranked in the top-25 in total rush yards. “I think Devontae is a very physical runner, he runs hard,” Sarkisian said. “He's not afraid of contact at all. Sooner or later, if you try to arm tackle him, he makes plays. It's a very in-between-the-tackle running game … zone schemes, and he does a very good job doing that.”
What's the key to Utah's success? According to Sarkisian, it's pretty simple. “If you want to be a really good football team, you have to run the ball and you have to stop the run. They're excellent on special teams … you could argue they should be undefeated right now,” he said.
Washington's Chris Petersen
Washington may have gotten taken to the woodshed by Oregon in a 45-20 loss last week, but Petersen said it doesn't change how they react. This week, it's on to Arizona State. “We just go back to work, put the tape on and figure out what things we didn't do right,” he said.
What makes Oregon running back Royce Freeman – he who poured on 169 rush yards and four touchdowns last week against the Huskies – so good? “I think he's just got really good skill. He's big and he's fast, and anytime a back brings vision to the table, that's what your'e looking for in a back,” Petersen said.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Let's try this again. ASU said last week it might get quarterback Taylor Kelly on the field, but there was no need as backup Mike Bercovici helped the Sun Devils to a win over Stanford. Kelly is going to make his return this week, Graham said. “I'm not a head coach that's going to change quarterbacks very often, especially one we've won 22 games with,” Graham said. “That doesn't mean Mike won't play. Obviously this is Taylor's football team and he's earned that.”
Graham said the Pac-12 South has been brutal over the last two years, and it's the case again in 2014. “The key is, and what we really believe, the team that gets better every week, the team that really improves and the team that stays healthy, (wins),” he said.
Oregon State's Mike Riley
The positive story for the Beavers in a double-overtime loss to Utah last week came in the performance from redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Villamin, who had three catches for 83 yards and two scores in place of the injured Richard Mullaney. “He's a talented young man,” Riley said. “He had to fight some academic issues last year so he didn't even practice.”
Oregon State faces a Stanford team coming off its third loss of the year. Are the Beavs catching the Cardinal at a bad time? Their backs might be against the wall, after all. “Well so are ours,” Riley said of his two-loss team. “The thing I'm just concerned with most is just blocking them. How they feel, I'm not sure. We got to get a win.”
Riley said center Isaac Seumalo, who has been out all year with a broken foot, is still not walking, and unlikely to be healthy enough to join the team this season. It appears a redshirt is going to be used.
MORE FROM PAC-12 POST
TOMORROW | 12:00pm PTLive
TOMORROW | 3:00pm PTLive
TOMORROW | 6:00pm PTLive