Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: David Shaw, Mark Helfrich preview the Stanford-Oregon game
Stanford and Oregon coaches David Shaw and Mark Helfrich preview their highly-anticipated clash, while some Pac-12 coaches also discussed the student-athlete benefit reform in this week's football coaches teleconference call.
Stanford's David Shaw
The big matchup of the week, a battle between Stanford and Oregon, has the usual storylines. The Cardinal, who have two wins in a row against the Ducks, have to attack it as they have the last two seasons. “It goes without saying: Our game plans are completely geared around (Oregon quarterback) Marcus (Mariota),” Shaw said. “We have that much respect-slash-fear of him. It is respect. Every game, there's a streak where you can't do anything about it. It's understanding that that's going to happen in a game.”
Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan has excelled in his two career games against the Ducks, and Shaw says it's about him being opportunistic. Controlling the ball, being decisive and pulling the ball to run at the right times have been key.
Shaw on the Pac-12 student-athlete reforms: “I thought they were all expected. I thought they were all very good. I think they're great.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Stanford comes into the Saturday matchup looking a little more vulnerable than it has in past years. Helfrich isn't buying that Oregon is a heavy favorite after watching the Cardinal find a rhythm and play with more urgency in a 38-14 win against Oregon State last week. “Defensively they've been outstanding all year. On special teams they've been outstanding all year,” he said.
Helfrich said the Stanford offense succeeded last week because it got the ball in the hands of its more explosive players. “They're extremely talented,” he said. “Obviously, it starts with the QB. They've got weapons everywhere. There have just been some minor hiccups.”
Helfrich compared Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan to UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in how he uses his legs. “He's a heavy runner, hard to bring down,” Helfrich said.
Washington State's Mike Leach
The context to Leach's answer was that he was asked the question: Should Connor Halliday be in consideration for the Heisman? Leach believes that the Cougars' quarterback should receive a little Heisman love for his 3,833 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions to this point in the year. The problem is the Cougars aren't exactly in the national championship race. “I think the Heisman shifted in what it means. They used to give it to the best player in college football,” Leach said, citing Notre Dame's 1956 Heisman winner Paul Hornung, who won the honor despite the Irish finishing that season with a 2-8 record. “The trouble with it is, they do the Heisman voting for the national championships. That's what it's sort of evolved to.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham doesn't think the Pac-12 South is more unpredictable this year than last. One loss could do a team in, and that means he's not taking a peek at the standings any more than he did in his first two years at ASU. “I look it as a single elimination tournament,” Graham said of the division. “You cannot afford to lose, especially South division games. You have to go undefeated.”
Arizona State's defense lost too many starters for anyone to accurately predict where they'd start and finish in 2014. The good news for Graham, as his team readies to host Utah, is that he's seen a great deal of improvement on that side of the ball. “I think we're very good against the run right now,” he said. “Your stats on the season aren't accumulative. It matters how you're playing now. I feel very confident where we are defensively.”
On last week's weather during a win at Washington: “I'm telling you, I've never been in a place where the wind is blowing 60 miles per hour in every direction. It was a challenge. Our guys were fired up (in the pregame warmups). Our boys don't get to see a lot of rain.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Utah beat USC on a game-winning drive Saturday that ended with a controversial non-call. A call a few weeks back between Notre Dame and Florida State kept the Irish from scoring because of an illegal pick by a receiver. Last Saturday, did one Utes receiver set an illegal pick on a defender to free up Kaelin Clay for a touchdown catch? Whittingham doesn't think so. “It was run exactly the right way,” Whittingham said. "No, we didn't pick anybody. We ran motion and ran the receiver to the flat. I got to believe that as far as how we coach it and how it's interpreted by officials, it's perfectly legal.”
Juggling two capable quarterbacks wasn't what Whittingham wanted. Last week, he finally saw Travis Wilson pull away to win the starting job against USC, and now Wilson is now the clear No. 1 signal caller ahead of Kendal Thompson. “He's our guy,” Whittingham said. “We took a big step forward to where we need to be. We made up a lot of the deficit (in the passing game) last week.”
There were two key points that Utah set out to improve from last year to this one. So far, so good. “We had to take more takeaways on defense and we had to make winning plays in close games,” Whittingham said.
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Heading to the Palouse this week, the Trojans are attempting to get over another heartbreaking loss, this time to Utah. “That's another gut-wrenching loss,” he said. “What I will say is I've been impressed with our staff. I've been impressed with our team, with our mindset.”
Sarkisian, asked about Utah's controversial game-winning play, said he can't get too caught up with the officiating. “It was legal because no flag was thrown. You can get emotionally hijacked over officiating. I'm not going to let that happen to me,” he said.
UCLA's Jim Mora
UCLA hosts Arizona in a top-25 showdown on Saturday, and that means the Bruins will have to get through UA linebacker Scooby Wright, who last week forced three fumbles from Washington State. “I love him,” Mora said. “First of all, I love his name. Second of all, I love the energy he plays with. I love those types of guys that just play with their heart. “
Sophomore Myles Jack stood out as a linebacker and then at running back last season, but that overshadowed teammate Eric Kendricks. Mora said the senior's performance against Colorado last week was his best ever – that's saying something. “You use that term 'sideline-to-sideline guy.' He is that,” Mora said. “He has tremendous desire to be a great player. His work ethic is phenomenal. The details that it takes to be truly special, he's got all that.”
Mora on the Pac-12 student-athlete benefit reforms: “Having the scholarship waiting for you when you return to school, I think the medical, the insurance coverage … I just think those are tremendous, tremendous signs our conference is at the forefront of helping our student-athletes get the best college experience.”
The benefits given to Pac-12 student-athletes should also help with recruiting. “You can say (to a recruit), look at what we do as a conference. Look at our commiment to the student-athlete as a conference."
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Coaches that use shotgun formations are going away from putting their quarterbacks under center on short-yard situations. Rodriguez, Mora, Whittingham and Cal coach Sonny Dykes believe the only disadvantage is not being able to use the quarterback sneak. “You're bringing the ball off the line of scrimmage and handing it off anyway,” Rodriguez said. “You can be downhill even in the shotgun.”
RichRod on linebacker Scooby Wright, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week: “He's got a lot more physical skills than he gets credit for. He's extremely strong, athletic, has got great instincts. He understands the game of football and he plays so hard on every snap.”
Rodriguez doesn't think the new college football playoff system -- the rankings for which debut on Tuesday night -- changes how coaches approach each season. “We've always had a playoff in Division I football,” he said. “It started in the first regular season game. Now, it's just extended by two teams but it really doesn't change the dynamic. There's probably going to be more controversy, not right now … in three or four weeks, it will be. Sometimes discussing it and having controversy is exciting for the game.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
Without starting quarterback Cyler Miles last week, the Huskies couldn't put together enough of an offensive game in a loss to ASU. The Seattle weather played a big role in how both teams functioned. “I've been in wind probably that strong, but not for the entire game,” Petersen said. “It was a windstorm the whole time. To Arizona State's credit, they did a better job of handling it than us, for the most part. I thought they threw it a little bit better than we did.”
The wind was so strong last week that longsnappers were struggling to connect with their punters. “The ball was just curving in that 14 yards, 15 yards,” Petersen said. “It was really hard for the punters to handle the ball.”
Petersen said the Pac-12 reforms for student-athletes are helpful, though to him, some of the changes won't dictate any alterations in how his program operates. “The four-year guarantee is not that big of a deal. If guys are eligible, doing the right thing academically and staying out of trouble, they should be under scholarship the whole time,” he said. “The stipends are really great. I think all that is really positive.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Colorado's 0-5 Pac-12 record includes two double-overtime losses, two reasonable losses to solid teams and a blowout against USC. It's progress from last year. MacIntyre thinks his team is four plays away from being 4-1 in conference, so there is a mixed feeling between frustration and encouragement. “It's a combination,” the Buffs coach said. “Last year, we were getting blown out all the time. Our kids have come a long way.”
Time of possession might not be too important for many up-tempo teams, but MacIntyre says it is telling of a growing Buffs offense. “We've put together some good drives. That's a good thing for us to do,” he said. “I think it shows we're able to put together, sustain drives … but I think time of possession is a little bit overrated at times.”
California's Sonny Dykes
Seven Pac-12 teams are in the top-20 for the most penalties handed out this season. A number of coaches on the call couldn't assess why that is, though many guessed it had to do with a more strict set of officiating standards compared to other conferences. Dykes had another theory: “Our style of play is going to lend itself to having more penalties,” he said of Cal. “The thing for us: it's really about just getting better.”
After facing several different spread option teams in the past several weeks, including last week's 59-41 loss to Oregon, the Golden Bears have to adjust to a more pro-style attack from the Oregon State Beavers this week. “It's a little different,” Dykes said. “Everybody pretty much runs the same type of plays, whether the quarterback is under center or in the gun. It changes your passing game (defense) a little bit.”
On OSU quarterback Sean Mannion: “He throws the ball with good touch, he can drill it in there when he needs to. Throws a good mid-range ball. Good on the back-shoulder throws and the fades. Certainly somebody who can make all the throws.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oregon State's season hasn't gone as planned, but Riley has been impressed with quarterback Sean Mannion's leadership. He hasn't gotten down despite the turmoil. “He is really, I think, handling it really well,” Riley said. “He's got young receivers and we've got a hodgepodge of offensive linemen going. It's impressive.”
Riley said the Beavers' loss to Stanford didn't include a whole lot of new looks from the Cardinal's previously struggling offense. Instead, it was about execution and making a point to get players like Christian McCaffrey and Ty Montgomery the ball. “They really pinpointed some things with what they wanted to do with those guys,” Riley said.
On the Pac-12 officiating: “I think they've made a great effort in trying to get better, communicating with us. I've been impressed with that with the new group that has come in.”
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