Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: How to name a starting quarterback
For the first time in a long time, half of the Pac-12 football teams enter the season with questions at quarterback. Stanford, Cal, USC, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State have a good idea of what they're dealing with behind center, but questions remain elsewhere. How do coaches determine when to name their starting quarterback? That topic and more were discussed on the 2015 season's first football coaches' teleconference call.
UCLA's Jim Mora
While many head coaches wait until the final hours to announce a starting quarterback – perhaps to keep the team's first opponent on its heels – Mora made the decision to publicly name freshman Josh Rosen the signal caller for the Bruins as they prepare for the 2015 opener against Virginia. “I don't think our fans thought (naming Rosen the starter) was that early,” Mora joked. “It just felt like the time was right. You want that guy to get a good feel of being in that huddle."
Rosen will start his Bruin career against a blitz-happy Virginia defense, and Mora hopes that UCLA's own affinity to put pressure on the quarterback has prepped the freshman for what he'll face this Saturday. “Our assumption is they will bring massive amounts of heat,” the head coach said before spelling out the obvious. “We have a true freshman quarterback starting his first game.”
Mora has faith that the offensive line troubles that plagued his team over the last three years are in the rear-view mirror. He said the line has played at the same positions and with the same players. The consistency should give both Rosen and reigning Pac-12 leading rusher Paul Perkins the potential to have strong years.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Replacing dangerous return man Kaelin Clay could be the biggest make-or-break challenge for Utah this season. “The return game, we're starting over there,” Whittingham said. “I think that could be the real key to our success, or lack thereof, this year.”
Whittingham didn't find it unusual that the Utes' first opponent, Michigan, has not named a starting quarterback -- at least not publicly. On a Big Ten media call Tuesday, first-year Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said his quarterbacks know who will start against the Utes, according to FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman.
Utah players have discussed feeling disrespected because of the attention on the Wolverines heading into the game Thursday. To Whittingham, it's not a problem. He knows his veteran team will be ready to roll. “Our guys know what's out there and understand what's going on,” the head coach said. “We've got 17 returning starters. If there's any time you want to play a high-profile opener, you want to have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football for you. That's what we have this year.”
Whittingham said Michigan special teams coordinator John Baxter received a look by the Utes when they needed to fill their special teams coaching position this offseason. “A long look,” Whittingham said. “He's a guy that would be desirable I think on anybody's staff. He's got a lot of expertise, a lot of experience.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Helfrich named Eastern Washington graduate transfer Vernon Adams Jr. the starting quarterback weeks after he began practicing with the Ducks. The Oregon coach said it only happened because Adams Jr. made the decision easy. “I think it's different, obviously, with every situation. I think just providing confidence and clarity when it's there is a good thing,” Helfrich said, before jokingly hedging on his decision. “Now, whoever wins or performs the best is probably your right answer.”
Both Adams Jr. and starting center Matt Hegarty, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, have picked up the offense quickly. Oregon didn't hold their hands in learning the offense. “We did that from the start in terms of the installation, the rate we input things offensively, we pushed,” Helfrich said. “We didn't hesitate, and those guys did a really good job of absorbing their position.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach wouldn't address which quarterback, Peyton Bender or Luke Falk, could start the 2015 season. “They're both doing really good," he said.
Leach, on if the Cougs had expectations in terms of win total this season: “We're not going to put any limitations on it, we're just going to worry about one game a week.”
So, is this the most talented team Leach has had in his Washington State tenure? “I think so, yes," he said. "Definitely on the offensive line and defensive line for sure.”
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
As for the Beavers' quarterback battle, it's possible freshman Seth Collins and redshirt freshman Marcus McMaryion with both play in the opener, but Andersen isn't revealing the starter -- it should help cloud Weber State's gameplan since they have different styles. “They both can run our base offense, and then there are specialty plays that fit their ability level,” Andersen said.
Against Weber State, Andersen squares off against head coach Jay Hill, who played for Utah when Andersen was an assistant coach there. “It makes me feel old to have (play) guys that I recruited as a coach,” he said.
Andersen worries about how the Beavs will read and react to Weber State's many shifts and pre-snap motions. “I worry about being able to keep our composure,” he said. “You worry just about, not so much about Weber, but about us.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
What Rodriguez likes most about DaVonte' Neal's switch from receiver to cornerback is that the junior has brought energy to the defensive backfield. “I think it's been a really good move,” Rodriguez said. “It was at his request, but we were thinking about it anyway as a staff. Every day he's gotten better. He's had an outstanding fall camp.”
Senior receiver David Richards has always been a quiet guy, Rodriguez said, but he's become a leader in the receivers room and should contribute a great deal this year. “He's been able to play every position, every receiver position,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez would love to take on recruiting classes of 4- and 5-star rating prospects. Those high school recruits are usually rated accurately, but recruiting services often miss on 2- and 3-star prospects, Rodriguez said. So after judging athleticism and talent, how does RichRod evaluate a player to determine if a he is underrated like, say, two-star Scoob? “More than anything ... they have a desire to get better,” he said.
California's Sonny Dykes
DeVante Wilson, a transfer from Riverside Community College, could make a big impact as a pass-rusher. Dykes likes his maturity off the field, but at 6'5, 265 pounds, it's Wilson's physicality that could be the difference on it. “He's got good size, he's got really good strength. He's very long, is a good athlete,” Dykes said. “I think what he did is he lost some weight over the summer … and is moving much better than he was over spring football.”
Dykes announced that Matt Anderson won the placekicker job thanks to his consistency over the last 10 days or so. The California head coach added that Noah Beito looked like he would win the job but his chances took a hit when he suffered a groin injury.
Dykes believes his secondary can gain much from the opener against Grambling State. “I look for our secondary to take a big step, hopefully build some confidence,” Dykes said, adding that the confidence will hopefully carry over into the Pac-12 schedule. “We're good enough to be good back there. We just need to play with confidence and belief.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Since last year's bowl preparation, USC has been using the Catapult technology to monitor players' bodies as they go through games and workouts. It's been especially useful for players who might be overused, such as defensive back and return man Adoree' Jackson. Catapult has also helped the Trojans determined how much wear specific practice drills put on players. “I think the Catapult system has been tremendous for us,” Sarkisian said. “The information we're getting from it is really valuable.”
Sarkisian said that his off-field incident last week has not gotten in the way of preparation for the season-opener against Arkansas State. “I jokingly say we're used to it around here. We know how to keep the course,” he said.
Sarkisian, on if he's excited to get the season started: “This is why we work so hard all year long. You see these guys grow as players, as individuals. I'm as excited as anybody to come out of that tunnel Saturday night and watch them perform.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
UCLA graduate transfer Devin Lucien grabbed onto a starting receiver role so quickly because of his explosiveness in and out of routes. The fact Lucien got Graham to pursue him as a transfer had a bit more luck to it. “(It was) because of [senior quarterback] Mike Bercovici's kind of a relationship that we even entertained it,” Graham said. “He's adapted to the Sun Devil way and how we do things, and busted his tail and been nothing but impressive.”
Graham, on why he scheduled ASU to play a neutral game in Texas against Texas A&M: “I took it because we want to be the best. Obviously, they have one of the best home crowds in the country. In that setting, it's a big-time atmosphere. I think for the fans -- I'm a fan as well -- I'm excited to see it.”
According to Graham, Bercovici has taken the baton from last year's starter, Taylor Kelly, and developed into a leader seamlessly. “Berc's just taken everything to the next level from the intangible standpoint, built on the foundation Taylor laid,” Graham said.
Stanford's David Shaw
Like the other coaches, Shaw understands that every quarterback battle is different. As such, announcing a starter can happen at various times, but “if you're going to play with one guy, especially game week, it'd be good to let people know who he is,” Shaw said.
Fifth-year senior Rollins Stallworth has earned the start against Northwestern over senior Michael Rector, but Shaw expects the latter to receive plenty of snaps. “Rollins had a really good camp,” the head coach said. “Michael Rector is going to play and going to play really good for us.”
Shaw talked explained why former Stanford coach and first-year Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has risen up the coaching ranks despite being just 33 years old. "He understands staff dynamics," Shaw said. "He's a very good recruiter, he's very personable. He knows how to build relationships with high school coaches but also with high school guys and their family. You trust him."
Washington's Chris Petersen
Petersen isn't giving any hints as to who might be the starting quarterback this year -- freshman Jake Browning, redshirt junior Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels are in the mix. He won't even reveal whether the Huskies could give multiple quarterbacks snaps in the opener against his former team, the Boise State Broncos. “We have a plan and we'll just kind of see how it goes,” Petersen said. “I don't think any coach ever said, 'This is our plan and this is what we're going to do and not deviate from it whatsoever.' We got three good guys, four good guys, and we've kind of got a plan with those guys, and we'll kind of take it one play, one quarter at a time.”
The former Boise State coach will be on the opposite sideline than the one he patrolled for eight years. But Petersen said he will find little time to think about his old gig -- he'll be concerned about Washington winning the game.
Asked which position group he feels comfortable about, Petersen had to think a little bit. “I think our tight ends are a little bit experienced,” he said. “You're always worried. I don't think there's anywhere where you're saying, 'We feel good about this.'”