Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: USC, Stanford clash with vets at quarterback
Multiple coaches in this week's conference call fielded questions about whether a team could score 100 points and why college teams rely so much on freshmen and sophomores.
Touching on more specific stories, USC coach Steve Sarkisian discusses how the Trojans are treating blind long snapper Jake Olson like any other team member, Stanford's David Shaw refuses to compare anyone to Andrew Luck and Kyle Whittingham addresses the health of two Utah players who were the victims of a shooting this weekend.
Stanford's David Shaw
With Stanford visiting USC this week, Shaw was asked if there were any similarities between former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC's Cody Kessler. Shaw made this wisecrack before complimenting Kessler for what he is – which, with respect, is not Luck. “I feel like (the question is) one of those cartoons where it's a big hole in the ground and you put some flimsy sticks over it and you're supposed to walk over it,” Shaw said. “I won't, don't, ever compare anybody to Andrew.”
On USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster: “As good as he was last year, you can just tell now he's got even more savvy. He's one of those guys, he's just fun to watch as a football fan. It's crazy to look at him and say he's a sophomore.”
Shaw said Stanford's offense, which puts much responsibility on the quarterback, is tough for a freshmen signal-caller to pick up. But of course, senior quarterback Kevin Hogan found himself in that position a few years ago. “We did it with Kevin and we pared it down a lot so he could operate it and I thought he did a really good job,” Shaw said. “It's hard to come in as a true freshman, I believe. Some systems are quicker to pick up because they're not asked to do as much.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Tuesday was the first day long snapper Jake Olson, who is blind, participated in practice after being academically cleared. “Honestly, we treated it like a normal Tuesday,” Sarkisian said. “Oddly enough, I don't think (Olson's teammates) treat him differently, which is what Jake wants. They take care of him like they would take care of anyone on our team.”
Redshirt sophomore safety Chris Hawkins, a former cornerback, has been a pleasant surprise for USC. “He's able to diagnose things quickly on the field. He trusts his preparation,” Sarkisian said. “It allows him to play pretty fast.”
Sarkisian has said he recruits with the expectation that players will leave for the NFL in three seasons, not four. He also coaches to that philosophy. “We have to do a great job preparing them for that,” Sarkisian said. “We have to make sure we're putting them in position to earning their degree (in less than four years). In the meantime, hopefully, we've won a lot of games and championships and things of that nature.”
Sark doesn't believe a team will ever score 100 points on another because of that whole sportsmanship thing. "There is some respect we all owe to this game we're a part of," the coach said.
UCLA's Jim Mora
A number of coaches were asked about why the Pac-12 sack numbers have been down this season, and Mora seemed to agree with the rest of the coaches. It's not that the pass rushes have been much worse but rather that opponents are getting the balls out of their quarterbacks' hands more quickly. “We have been getting to the quarterback, we just haven't been sacking him,” Mora said.
Through two games, Mora likes the preparation and emotional consistency he's seen from freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. “He's a junky – a football junky. I better say football junky,” Mora said.
UCLA hosts a ranked BYU team that's won its first two games thanks to Hail Mary completions by freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum. “He's got a gun, and he can throw it a long ways,” Mora said, adding he likes the quarterback's maturity as a 22-year-old.
Mora had a fair argument to his belief that a college football team could score 100 points. Anything is possible. “I'm sure it will happen. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game,” Mora said.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Discovering a team's identity is difficult to do, and no year is the same, Helfrich said. The key is keeping players engaged throughout a season. “Every team, I think it changes hour by hour,” he said. “Whatever they may be, they're battling fatigue, injury, media ... keep them focused as you possibly can, and manage overreaction to one win or one loss, whatever occurs.”
In a 31-28 loss at Michigan State on Saturday, Helfrich thought Oregon's run defense was solid. A few big plays early and late hurt the Ducks when players were filling the wrong gaps. “Those are the things: when you talk about little things that are frustrating, hard to explain,” Helfrich said. “You also have to confront them, fix them and move on.”
Georgia State visits Oregon this week, and Helfrich, per usual, was not addressing an injury question about starting quarterback Vernon Adams. ESPN reported Tuesday that Adams has a broken right index finger. “The best guy for us is going to be out there playing,” Helfrich said said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Colorado rebounded from a painful Week 1 loss to Hawai'i with a 48-14 win against Massachusetts. The victory was an important step to show the Buffaloes what they're capable of, MacIntyre said. “It kind of validates it to the players,” he said. “I know what I've been seeing, I know the culture change … they need to show themselves. They believe more and more. You can tell them all you want. Until they truly do it, believe it and reinforce it does it take root.”
What went right against UMass that went wrong the week prior? The Buffs got into a rhythm and never looked back. “Anytime we got some momentum going, offensive type things, we shot ourselves in the foot,” MacIntyre said of the Hawai'i game.
This Saturday, Colorado and Colorado State play at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The game will feature a battle of two talented receivers, the Buffs' Nelson Spruce and the Rams' Rashard Higgins. Higgins is probable to play after missing last week's game with a sprained ankle. “I think they're two excellent receivers that have played against each other in a rivalry game. It'll be fun to watch both of them,” MacIntyre said.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Two Utah players who were the victims of a shooting, freshman Marcel Brooks-Brown and sophomore Lo Falemaka, are expected to be fine. Brooks-Brown was released from the hospital Monday night while Falemaka should be out in the next 3-4 days, Whittingham said. The timetable for their returns to the football field is unknown.
Utah faces its former assistant coach, Dave Schramm, who is now the offensive coordinator at Fresno State. Whittingham doesn't believe that Schramm, who was on the Utes staff from 2005-11, will have any insider knowledge about the Utes considering he left the team so long ago. “We've changed enough on both sides of the ball since Dave's departure,” Whittingham said. “It's a little bit different if there's a guy who just left your staff the year prior. That could be a concern.”
Whittingham likes the future of freshman wide receiver Tyrone Smith, who caught two passes in each of his first two games. “He's every bit of 6'4", with a long wingspan,” the head coach said. “He hasn't filled out yet, that frame is still pretty skinny. He's got the potential to put on 15, 20 pounds, easy.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
The Cougars, in a thrilling 37-34 win at Rutgers last weekend, allowed return man Janarion Grant to score fourth-quarter touchdowns on a 100-yard kickoff return and a 55-yard punt return. “I think he's a really good returner, no question,” Leach said, adding the punt was supposed to go out of bounds. “We lost our lines, had three guys lose leverage on their lines. We just got to get better at finishing games with regards to those two things, because we'd done pretty good earlier.”
A week prior, Leach admitted he needed to clarify play-calls with WSU quarterback Luke Falk. The results helped Falk go 47-of-66 for 478 yards, four touchdowns and no picks against Rutgers. “We didn't really take away control, we just clarified … particular plays,” Leach said. “I think we left too many things open-ended and we needed, per play, to have better focus. I thought that worked out.”
Leach surmised that it's possible a team could score 100 points in a game, but added that it'd be a pretty lop-sided affair with one team scoring on every possession and the other turning the ball over quickly. “Both sides would have to have very quick drives,” he said.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Rodriguez said football teams are using freshman and sophomores for two reasons – young players are more ready to contribute and teams need more depth considering the speeding up of the game over the past decade. “I think as much criticism as there's been for 7-on-7 leagues and year-round football, that's helped,” he said of high school players developing more quickly.
Arizona's injury list, especially at middle linebacker, reads too long for Rodriguez's liking. That's left him with few options. “We ain't got no bodies to tinker,” Rodriguez said. “I almost hate our morning staff meetings when our trainer goes over the injury list. We're not tinkering, we're just trying to get guys healthy. We were, at times in the last game (a 44-20 win against Nevada), where we had one backer and six DBs.”
Rodriguez, on whether a college football team could score 100 points: “Your twos and threes have to be better than those guys' ones, and that doesn't happen very often.”
California's Sonny Dykes
California's defense has taken a major step forward so far this season, and Dykes says it's due to good health and buy-in from the players. “We're healthier than we've ever been. We've got much more depth than we've had in the past as well. You look at last year, we were playing walk-on wide receivers, defensive backs,” he said.
Receiver Erik Brown, one of Dykes' top recruits from the 2014 class, has elected to leave the team after falling behind on the depth chart. The head coach said he doesn't expect Brown back with the Golden Bears, but does think he will finish out the semester at Cal. “Felt like it was in his best interests to look around a little bit,” Dykes said. “I don't know if he's going to transfer or stay in school here. He'll be in school through December at least, I'd imagine.”
A big matchup against Texas looms, and California fans are remembering 2004, when the Longhorns jumped the Golden Bears in the final week of the regular season to make a BCS game, leaving Cal with a disappointing Holiday Bowl bid. “I've heard a little more about it,” said Dykes, who was an assistant on the Texas Tech team that California faced in that bowl game. “I didn't really know the history and know the feelings of Cal fans. The thing about it is, a lot of our players were 10 years old when that happened.”
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
While Andersen said he worries about the Beavers more than the opponent, he knows this week's challenge, San Jose State, will test Oregon State's physicality. “We're going to have to do a lot of things as a football team cleaner than we did a week ago,” he said. “They want to be a power team and be physical with you. We struggled with that last week as a team.”
Andersen believes game reps are the only way to give a quarterback experience. Freshman Seth Collins, who passed for 79 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Michigan last Saturday, has been learning on the fly. “I would say this, two games in now, Seth has got enough reps underneath his belt to expect more and more out of him,” Andersen said.
Washington's Chris Petersen
Is this the youngest team Petersen has coached? “By far. I think we have like 78 freshmen and sophomores on our roster,” Petersen said. “I think we have to have more patience as coaches because there's just a lot of trial and error. They've been a good group to coach. We don't back off in terms of the standards we have and want to meet, we just have to be realistic as coaches not to get frustrated.”
Shutting out Sacramento State, 49-0, over the weekend was an opportunity to play many of those young Huskies. “We played everybody,” Petersen said. “A lot of those young guys got some good snaps. It's good to see themselves in Huskies(sic) Stadium.”
Utah State visits Seattle this week, and quarterback Chuckie Keeton is a touchdown pass away from setting a school record. The fifth-year senior will also be trouble on the ground. “I've watched him a long time, have a lot of respect for him,” Petersen said. “He's a football player, is what I think about him. He's do whatever it takes to win.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham said defensive lineman Viliami Latu has a good chance to be ready to go Friday as ASU takes on New Mexico. The offensive line expects to be healthy as well, the coach added.
Safety Armand Perry is “doubtful” to play this week with a sprained ankle, Graham said. Chad Adams and James Johnson could replace him, but freshman Kareem Orr, a cornerback, is also a possibility.
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