Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Arizona State refocuses after loss to Oregon State
Todd Graham discusses Arizona State's loss to Oregon State, the coaches talk about how they decide whether to run out the clock or to keep running plays for yards and more in this week's Pac-12 football coaches teleconference call.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham took the blame for Arizona State blowing a 24-14 halftime lead against Oregon State this past week. The Beavers scored a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 67-yard touchdown pass, then picked off ASU's Taylor Kelly on a late drive to seal it. “When someone is 0-of-11 on third down, we need to stay with our blitzes,” Graham said, admitting the Sun Devils changed what was working. “We tried to run a new blitz and end up busting and they get a 60, 70-yard touchdown. So they were 1-for-12.”
ASU receiver Jaelen Strong suffered a concussion against OSU and is “50-50” to play this week against Washington State. If he practices on Wednesday, he can play, Graham said.
Safety Jordan Simone could be back this weekend after practicing on Tuesday, while Graham said Laiu Moeakiola also has a shot to return against the Cougs.
Washington State's Mike Leach
There have been rumblings in Tempe that starting quarterback Taylor Kelly hasn't looked the same since returning from a broken foot, but Leach knows it's not easy for ASU coach Todd Graham to simply throw in a capable backup in Mike Bercovici and call it good. “I think he's still the leader of that team,” Leach said of Kelly. “His leadership skills distinguishes him the most. He holds it all together.”
Washington State will play against ASU's deadly passing attack without cornerback Daquawn Brown for the first half after he was ejected from the Cougars' last game on a targeting penalty. “We'll make it work,” Leach said of the secondary. “We've been shorthanded all season though.”
The Cougars visit Arizona State for an early 11 a.m. MT kickoff on Saturday, and Leach said he's only played games so early in the morning twice. That happened in the Cotton Bowl. Does it worry him? “Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “You start the whole thing, it's about 5:30, 6 o'clock (in the morning).”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oregon State suffered a 69-27 loss to Washington toward the end of last season, and Riley imagines that will act as motivation as OSU visits Seattle this week. “I just asked them how much they remembered about that game at the end of practice today,” Riley said. “I guess there are many different buttons that are pushed because of motivation. That one may be very, very appropriate for most of us here.”
Running back Terron Ward is likely out with a knee injury and Riley said the Beavs could need as many as four players to replace him. Ward played on a number of special team units to go with his running back duties that were split with Storm Woods.
The offensive line for Oregon State played a crucial role in holding off a blitz-happy Sun Devil team in the 35-27 upset Saturday. “The line is getting better as it grows together. This group has now been together for three weeks. I know that doesn't sound like much,” Riley said. “Our backs are smart guys and good football players. They're also smart, savvy pass protectors. Against Arizona State, we really needed our backs and our tight ends to help us out at times.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham said he's impressed not only with how the Utes are able to win close games but how they respond by refocusing every week after a win or loss. “I think it starts with the leadership. It's a great group,” he said. “That is really the main factor in the mentality of the team and the way they are able to persevere.”
Defensive lineman Nate Orchard set the Utah record for sacks in a season with two games left and leads the nation in sacks. “He's been everything we'd hoped he would be,” Whittingham said. “He's the leader of the leaders.”
Utah punter Tom Hackett was crucial in a low-scoring 20-17 win against Stanford this past week by changing the field position in the Utes' favor and pinning the Cardinal deep in its own territory six times. Hackett said this week that he's simply kicking bacon down the field, but the Utes have seen him kick a different type of bacon from what he grew up kicking. Former Utah assistant and current Weber State head coach Jay Hill recruited the Melbourne native while he was playing Australian rules football. “I'm not exactly sure what that is,” Whittingham said. “The football down there they play with in Aussie rules is quite a bit different.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
A nail-biting game turned into a loss for Washington at Arizona this past week. The Huskies are back at it this Saturday hosting Oregon State. “We're going to have to rally with our best effort again Saturday,” Petersen said. “Everybody's good. You kind of just throw the records out the window. On any given day, you're splitting hairs.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
UCLA's victories at the beginning of the season weren't pretty, but it has begun to feel like Mora's team is hitting its stride at the right time. Is that the case? “I certainly hope so,” the Bruins coach said. “I know we have made some strides over the last two weeks. Hopefully that trend continues for us.”
Mora thinks the Pac-12 South race is as good as it gets. He just doesn't know if it's perceived as entertaining across the nation. “You look at the teams still involved in the race, it's real quality football. I hope people understand that these aren't bad teams knocking each other off,” Mora said.
Mora also thinks the rivalry between USC and UCLA has a unique feeling to it since both fan bases are strewn about the Los Angeles area. “The schools sit so close in proximity. There's some households that are split,” Mora said. “You kind of live it every day.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
The Trojans closed out a close game against Cal last week by burning clock. Back on the topic, Sarkisian said USC uses a chart to make play calls based on the late-game situation. On the final play, quarterback Cody Kessler ran backward for 19 yards and took the loss as time expired. “Ultimately you want to win the game,” Sarkisian said. “If you saw us the other night, why'd we lose 19 yards on the last play … to win the game.”
Sarkisian on what UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has shown this season: “As you mature, he's a fourth-year junior now. You just get more comfortable. Even when the games are hard, things get hard, he remains poised, he stays calm. He has the ability to go make some plays to generate momentum for their team.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Luck has helped Arizona win close games to find itself with an 8-2 record, but Rodriguez is also proud of his team buying into the mentality of outplaying opponents for a full 60 minutes each week. “If anything else, we're going to be a pretty good conditioned team. I think our guys really believe that plays a role in every game,” he said.
On kicker Casey Skowron, who hit a game-winning field goal to push the Wildcats past Washington, 27-26, last week: “It's a great story considering what he went through a few weeks back when he didn't make a kick against USC (in the final seconds) and got a lot of grief."
Rodriguez said he has a chart for how to operate in late-game situations when his Arizona team is trying to wind the clock. It's not over-elaborate, Rodriguez said, and he has it mostly memorized. The Wildcats beat the Huskies after a UW run attempt, rather than a knee, led to a fumble resulting in Arizona's ability to kick the game-winning field goal.
Arizona's Scooby Wright won't follow Pac-12 linebackers Shaq Thompson and Myles Jack in trying his hand at running back. Rodriguez said Wright plays 75-95 snaps of defense and the added workload “wouldn't be fair to him. We use him everywhere defensively and that's where we'll keep him.”
California's Sonny Dykes
California hosts Stanford this week in better position to play against the Cardinal's balanced attack. Last year, the Golden Bears had to load up the box just to stop run plays, but that left them vulnerable in pass protection. “We can hold up against the run a lot better (this year),” Dykes said. “We were susceptible to a lot of big plays (last year).”
Cal is a win away from becoming bowl eligible, which is an impressive feat considering it won just one game in Dykes' first season in charge. But Dykes isn't talking to his players about bowl games. He hasn't even mentioned it. “We don't need to dangle carrots in front of our players to motivate them,” he said.
On this week's matchup of USC quarterback Cody Kessler and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley: “I think Kessler is doing a really good job executing their offense, taking care of the ball and not making mistakes. (Hundley) is probably at his best when he can freelance a little bit. I think his talent really comes out when he's forced to make plays with his feet.”
Stanford's David Shaw
There is a difference between a 5-5 Stanford team this year and the BCS-bowl-bound Cardinal squads over the past few seasons. It's not about any one thing in particular, however. “Inconsistency is the best word I could use,” Shaw said. “Inconsistency entails not being bad. We're not a bad football team. You turn the film on and you'll see a dominating defensive performance but a few plays that you let go that can hurt you.”
Against Cal this week, Shaw wants the Cardinal to focus on being a balanced attack coming off a game where the running attack put up 190 yards on a 5-yard-per-carry average, but only 104 passing yards and a 3.7 yard-per-attempt average.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau suffered a concussion two weeks ago against Arizona and is still questionable to play this week against Oregon. “I'm still not sure if he's cleared yet, but he feels better today," MacIntyre said.
If the Buffaloes don't have a healthy Liufau, redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Gehrke is the next man up. “We feel very confident in Jordan and Jordan's play,” MacIntyre said of the junior college transfer who so far this year is 11-of-26 for 106 yards.
MacIntyre with a bold proclamation about the tough schedule his Buffs have played this year: “I think we're in the toughest division in college football, period. We're losing some close games to some excellent, excellent football teams.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Oregon stayed put at No. 2 in College Football Playoff standings that were released Tuesday afternoon and, appropriately so, it's business as usual in Eugene. The only worries are about what the Ducks can control. “We talk constantly about us,” Helfrich said.