Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: WSU's offense won't change with Luke Falk in charge
Mike Leach addressed how Washington State will move on with quarterback Luke Falk taking over for injured starter Connor Halliday, Todd Graham revealed more about ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly's mysterious injury and more from this week's Pac-12 football coaches teleconference call.
Washington State's Mike Leach
Starting quarterback Connor Halliday was lost for the season with a broken ankle this past week, and Washington State seems comfortable replacing him with Luke Falk. Falk replaced Halliday early on in a loss to USC and could have thrown for 500 yards had it not been for a number of dropped passes, Leach said. “We don't have to change anything (in the offense),” Leach added. “He's a little ahead of schedule. He's a smart and intelligent student of the game.”
Leach said Halliday, a senior who will not take another college snap, is “disappointed but knows it's important to move forward” following the injury.
The Cougars' struggles on kickoff and punt return coverages might be a symptom of WSU's defensive struggles, according to Leach. “In our case, we need more of an identity on defense and our lack of that has hurt us on special teams,” he said. “I feel like we should have played better on special teams across the board.”
Stanford's David Shaw
Shaw, on the Cardinal's struggles in a 45-16 loss to Oregon this past week: “They were just better across the board. They took advantage of a few of our issues.”
Shaw thinks injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday will be prepared for the NFL. “He's got stature,” Shaw said. “There will be of course questions about his mobility.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
A relatively public search for their head coach three years ago led ASU to Graham, who was hired with a bit of scrutiny. Graham said that wasn't lost on him, but he didn't let it bother him. “How the search went here, the expectations of who they were going to hire … (the reaction was) 'Who did we hire?'” Graham said. “It just wasn't a lot of positives. You just roll your sleeves up and go to work. The good thing about this is you reap what you sow.”
Graham for the first time revealed that quarterback Taylor Kelly's injury that kept him out of three games was a broken foot that required surgery to place a pin in it. Kelly has played in the last two games and will start against Notre Dame this week.
On the Sun Devils' defensive improvements since a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25: “Once they got down the system, we can execute now. This group of coaches and players, it's the most selfless group I've been around. Nobody trying to be the superstar.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
After falling to Arizona State in overtime by a field goal, the Utes have to recover and prepare for the 8-1 Oregon Ducks this Saturday. Fixing a still-broken passing attack will be imperative to give the running back Devontae Booker some relief. It's not all on quarterback Travis Wilson. “We haven't done a good job of getting separation on the outside,” Whittingham said. “We haven't been accurate on our throws, we haven't been sound enough in our protection. We're pretty one-dimensional. We're going to see seven men at the line of scrimmage if we can't get it solved quickly.”
Whittingham probably understands what scrutiny is following Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who, like Whittingham replacing Urban Meyer's success at Utah, must continue in the shadow of departed coach Chip Kelly. “There are some similarities, yeah,” Whittingham said. “It's not easy. The difference we had is we transitioned into the Pac-12."
How does a new coaching staff attack taking over a program for a big name coach like Kelly or Meyer? Whittingham said the Utes made sure to keep doing what made them successful. “When we first took over, we had a pretty good thing going,” he said. “We've had a lot of transition, lost a bunch of good players since he left. We had to reload in a lot of respects, but no, we didn't try to put our own stamp on it right away because it was working.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Helfrich gave his running backs an incomplete grade on the year. “Those guys have all done things in a variety of ways, whether as protectors, ball carries, decoys, as receivers. They're getting better,” he said.
The biggest worry as the Ducks visit the Utes is keeping a solid front seven out of the Oregon backfield, Helfrich said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
A 15-point loss to Washington told the same story for Colorado, which is still winless in six Pac-12 games despite playing the majority of those games close. “We haven't been fumbling the ball at running back,” MacIntyre said of the three lost fumbles against the Huskies. “The whole game flipped in about five plays where we were pretty much controlling the game there, holding the ball. We've done a lot of really good things. All of those things show great progress. It's just really frustrating not getting the Ws.”
The Buffaloes approach film study with a positive approach. “We show them the improvement, then we show them what cost us the game,” MacIntyre said. “A lot of times they're little things that turn into big things. The receiver runs an eight-yard route rather than a 12-yard route.”
MacIntyre often ends up reminding those on the Pac-12 conference calls – and probably himself – about what the Buffs are dealing with. He swears the defense is the youngest in the nation, and that only means time will help Colorado improve. “I can't wait until I'm coaching 20-year-olds and not 18- and 19-year-olds,” the CU coach said.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Rodriguez wasn't heaping very much blame on Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon for completing 18-for-48 passes in a 17-7 loss at UCLA last week. “We had a lot of drops. We had a couple breakdowns in protections that we hadn't had before,” Rodriguez said. “I think as a redshirt freshman he's played really well, he's understood the system. I've been proud of how he's played and really thought as a redshirt freshman he's been outstanding.”
On Solomon's composure during the loss to the Bruins: “He's got a quiet leadership about him. We were to the point where we were just pressing and not playing within ourselves. I was really pleased with his attitude all game.”
Arizona punter Drew Riggleman has improved this season by developing consistency on a variety of punting techniques. “Whether you roll punt or traditional punt, he's worked really hard to get good at both of them,” Rodriguez said.
California's Sonny Dykes
Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff has thrown 27 touchdowns and four interceptions, a big step up from his 18 touchdowns and 10 picks tossed last season. Dykes thinks a lot of the turnovers last year had to do with situation. “We were terrible last year. He was just trying to generate some points … he would force some things,” Dykes said. “We had to. We were down early in football games.”
Asked why there have been so many special teams scores across the Pac-12 this season, Dykes surmised it's had to do with the number of opportunities because of the frequent scoring and, for Cal specifically, because of the lack of overall depth. “When you don't have enough depth, that's the first thing that is hurt, is special teams,” he said.
Dykes said the Golden Bears, who are on a bye week, have had a strange defensive season. They have defended passing plays nearly twice as much as running plays.
UCLA's Jim Mora
UCLA comes off a week where it held one of the nation's more explosive offenses to seven points – and those seven came thanks to two drive-altering Bruin penalties. “We played within the system with much more consistency. There was a higher level of trust in the execution,” Mora said. “It contributed to really good team defense.”
On Myles Jack's preference to play at linebacker rather than running back: “Myles is the type of kid who will do anything to help his team win a game. Myles has told me to my face that he prefers defense.”
Asked if he was excited to see Washington's Shaq Thompson and UCLA's Myles Jack square off – both play linebacker and running back – Mora only had this to say: “There's no part of me that's excited to see Shaq running the ball.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
In its first year under Petersen, Washington got a win against Colorado last week and now hosts a UCLA team that has been winning despite questions of how it's won. The Huskies are still working through the transition with a new coach. “You have to give your heart and sole to the process to have a chance at success,” Petersen said. “Certainly when you're tweakin' things and doing things different ways, it just doesn't happen with a snap of a finger.”
Petersen has gone to linebacker Shaq Thompson exclusively at running back over the last two weeks. Last week, Thompson rolled up 174 yards on just 15 carries. “We had a little package for him (to start the year) … just kind of dabbled in it and got mediocre results,” Petersen said, adding that Thompson has found a rhythm with more carries. “We had some backs banged up and we needed to really get some things going there.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Kicking field goals is probably the most intricate process of any football play, and Sarkisian said that's why there are so many inconsistencies in college kicking. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. “I almost equate it to golfing,” Sarkisian said. “It's the one aspect of our game where if you don't have it exactly right, you have a mishap. A lot goes into it."
USC's 44-17 win against Washington State saw Cougs quarterback Connor Halliday's career end to injury. Sarkisian thinks the WSU signal caller will have a good chance at the next level. “Great deal of respect for Connor,” he said. “I told that to Coach Leach before the game. He can make all the throws, I think his release has been quicker.”
Sarkisian said managing two-way players is difficult, but he's not against it. Last year as Washington head coach, he used receiver John Ross as a nickel defensive back. This year at USC, Adoree' Jackson has seen stints at receiver to go with his usual corner duties. “The biggest thing is you have to be fair to the player, to making sure you are putting him in the best position to be successful,” Sarkisian said, adding that Jackson only plays receiver with a relatively small package of plays that he knows well.
Oregon's State's Mike Riley
OSU quarterback Sean Mannion showed his best quality Saturday in a loss to California, when Riley congratulated him in the middle of the game for setting the Pac-12 passing record. “He just said, 'Let's just win this game, coach,' ” Riley said.
What went wrong in the 45-31 loss to the Golden Bears? “We were off balance,” Riley said. “We didn't do a good job with gap responsibility.”