Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: UCLA, USC add to their rivalry
Jim Mora and Clay Helton discuss the UCLA-USC rivalry as their teams ready to square off for the Pac-12 South crown, while Stanford coach David Shaw won't look ahead toward the College Football Playoff picture. Plus, Washington State's Mike Leach talks WWE belts, and the rest of the coaches discuss what makes a rivalry.
Stanford's David Shaw
USC, UCLA, Cal, and Oregon could be considered Stanford's rivals -- for various reasons. So what makes a rivalry? "Familiarity breeds contempt," Shaw said.
Speaking of familiar opponents, this week Stanford faces a Notre Dame team fighting for a playoff spot. And maybe the Cardinal are fighting for theirs too, though Shaw won't begin to argue for his team's case to make the College Football Playoff. "I'm a big fan of not putting the cart before the horse," he said. "We have to play Notre Dame, a top-4, top-3 team, and we got a Pac-12 Championship game. I'm going to focus on those. I don't believe in talking before doing."
Shaw reminisced about former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart's game against the Fighting Irish in 2009, when he rushed for 205 yards in a Cardinal victory. The Stanford coach has seen a lot of similar things from current back Christian McCaffrey. "Nothing he's done has surprised us," Shaw said of McCaffrey. "I thought he might be a year away from being a dominant football player. I figured this year he'd be great. I didn't know he was going to dominant four or five games a year. I'm not making the Reggie Bush comparison, but it seems like everybody else around me is."
USC's Clay Helton
Helton's experience at USC makes him familiar with the UCLA-USC rivalry. "This one is near and dear to our heart because it's right across town. I really enjoy this game. I really enjoy just the passion and emotion that goes into it," Helton said. "Our goal from the start of the season is we wanted to be Pac-12 South Champion. Now, here's the opportunity laying at our feet."
USC finds itself with such an opportunity despite a 48-28 loss to Oregon last week. Helton said first-half coverage busts and lack of a pass rush hurt the Trojans.
On the job UCLA coach Jim Mora has done: "I can't speak enough about the guy. He's done a good job over the years. He's produced a really quality football team. We've recruited these kids, we know them. I think they've done a good job of evaluating talent."
UCLA's Jim Mora
Following UCLA's 17-9 victory against Utah last week, the winner between the Bruins and the Trojans will earn a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game. So yeah, here's another asterisk on a rivalry already rich in history. Mora has seen no difference in the Trojans since interim coach Clay Helton replaced Steve Sarkisian. "I think they're a tremendously talented team. They seem to be playing well together," Mora said.
Mora has not spoken to Sarkisian, a friend of his, but has exchanged a few text messages since Sarkisian was fired at USC. "It's really hard. He's a friend, and I think he's a good man," Mora said. "You just don't like to see people struggle. He's in my thoughts a lot."
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Five wins in a row for Oregon have been linked to the good health and production from starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., who battled injuries earlier in the season. In Adam's last two games -- against USC and Stanford -- he's has completed 30-of-37 passes for 612 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. "Quarterback play, you know, catalyzes everybody," Helfrich said. "The quarterback, you have to have that guy add some juice to every situation. We're growing up defensively, still making mistakes but playing harder, playing more soundly. All of those things are adding up."
Hosting the Civil War against Oregon State this week, Helfrich said he's never thought much about how to approach senior day from a coaching perspective. He only knows how to react. "I was crying my face off last year at Senior Day for a bunch of guys," he said.
Washington coach Chris Petersen, a friend of Helfrich, could give the Oregon coach a few tips on Oregon State, a team the Huskies beat last week. But Helfrich said he rarely asks other coaches about inside tips on upcoming opponents. "I think it varies. Very rarely is it schematically related," Helfrich said.
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
Andersen probably won't bother asking former coworker and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham about upcoming opponent Oregon. Too much has changed since the Utes and Ducks battled, so there's little insight the Utes' coach could give to Andersen. "Kyle and I haven't really discussed that. Vernon (Adams) got hurt in that game, so it was way different," Andersen said.
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach spent the majority of his time on the conference call discussing a team quarterback competition centered around assistant Graham Harrell's WWE belt. "He's got this belt that's like a World Wrestling Federation type of belt," Leach said. "These guys will have this competition, and whoever wins this competition carries around the belt."
Washington's Chris Petersen
Perhaps the best story for a young Washington offense has come in the form of freshman running back Myles Gaskin. "Myles might've been the biggest surprise in terms of just how he's continued to progress all season," Petersen said. "Right from the start, he always seemed to find the right crease, right hole. It was apparent early he has really good vision."
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Not only did the beginning of ASU's season require it to play Texas A&M, Graham's team faced tough odds against two unique triple-option teams in Cal Poly and New Mexico -- neither of which helped prepare the Sun Devils for zone-read teams like Oregon or Arizona. "It's just so different. It's a lot of three-back offense. Those two teams are very similar to the Navy academy, what they do," he said.
Graham admitted that he and former co-worker Rich Rodriguez of Arizona haven't been able to have a relationship while coaching rival schools. "When you get to be a head coach and you're going against each other, it's hard. You don't spend any time visiting and developing any type of relationship you had," Graham said.
Evaluating ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici has been difficult this season. Through good and bad, Graham believes his senior improved. "I think he's progressed, gotten better each week. I think a lot of people don't realize he only started three games in his career (prior to this season)," Graham said, adding that the team playing with new offensive tackles hasn't helped. "We didn't protect him, has been the biggest thing."
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
After a 52-37 loss to ASU, Arizona can finally breathe after playing 12 straight games. Technically, the final week of the Pac-12 regular season acts as a bye leading into a dormant season of bowl preparation. Rodriguez doesn't mind the long break or when Arizona plays next. "Next week, we still probably won't know who we're playing," he said. "I'm not really worried about it. It's whatever works out best for our team, for our fans. We'll just be fortunate to get a bowl bid and make the most of it."
Redshirt freshman Brandon Dawkins saw his first significant playing time in the Territorial Cup, where he completed 16-of-30 passes for 305 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. "I thought he was pretty composed. After he got in there a little bit, he did some nice things," Rodriguez said. "There's obviously a lot of things he'd like to have back. He competed well, he had pretty good composure ... and gave us a chance at the end."
On his relationship with his former assistant coach, Todd Graham, now the Arizona State head coach: "Certainly, now when you coach against a rival school, you don't communicate as much as you normally would. You don't really kind of converse, and we're not going to spend offseason vacation time together."
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham agreed with Colorado's Mike MacIntyre: There's room for a lot of growth before this CU-Utah matchup can be considered a rivalry. "I think there's got to be, I don't want to use the word hatred because that's too strong ... something that adds a little flavor to it," Whittingham said. "I just don't feel it with Colorado. I don't think a rivalry can be manufactured. I think it has to evolve and grow...there has to be an event that sparks it."
The consistency from Utes receiver Kenneth Scott has helped him become the second-leading receiver with 417 yards on 35 catches so far in 2015. "He's the same guy every day," Whittingham said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
The 4-8 Buffaloes visit Utah hoping to come out with the upset victory. MacIntyre thinks any notion of the two Pac-12 mountain schools being a rivalry at present is premature. "Our games have been close but we haven't beat 'em but one time in four times," he said. "The more we win, it could be a game that could create some rivalry."
Sixth-year Colorado defensive back Jered Bell will play his final game against a high school teammate, Utes receiver Kenneth Scott. "Players call him 'Pops' and everything," MacIntyre said of Bell, who returned to play after two knee injuries during his career. "He pushed himself hard. I think that was a great example of the younger guys."
In a 27-3 loss against Washington State, MacIntyre got a look at Cougs backup quarterback Peyton Bender when starter Luke Falk left with a head injury. Bender could start if Falk isn't healthy for the Apple Cup, and MacIntyre said the Cougars offense didn't look much different. "I didn't see enough of it to tell," MacIntyre said. "They didn't do anything drastically different to make you think there was a different skill set. In that game, I think they were running the exact same stuff."