In this week's Pac-12 coaches conference call, Stanford's David Shaw admits that he has six or seven favorite presidents, Lane Kiffin remains positive after a loss because of a strong defensive effort from his Trojans, and Oregon's Mark Helfrich finds validation for the Ducks thanks to Chip Kelly's early NFL success.
Stanford's David Shaw
Stanford visits Army this weekend and faces an offense most well known for its triple-option attack. Shaw isn't prepping any differently, of course. “In some respects, you have to approach Oregon as the same way, as a triple-option team,” he said. “It's about understanding option responsibility. It's not just about one player or another player. It's about execution. It's a true test of our philosophy, which is to play great team defense.”
Shaw isn't a historian, but he's probably closer to one than he'll admit. Shaw said the Cardinal would do a little bit of sightseeing at West Point. “I'm looking forward to going where George Washington stood. I wouldn't call myself a historian ... I have my favorite six or seven presidents.”
On All-American safety Ed Reynolds: “If I had to pick one guy to be president of the United States, I'd pick Ed Reynolds.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
What could lead us to believe the culture in Boulder has changed from last season? MacIntyre has behavioral proof from his team that says the 2013 version of the Buffs is new and improved. Through the first six or seven practices this past spring, MacIntyre said he was concerned that none of his football players were having fun, and “it was like pulling teeth.” A week later, MacIntyre noticed something had changed. A scrimmage went down to the wire and a winning field goal saw the benches clear. Apparently, the enthusiasm has been the same ever since.
Colorado might have a new head coach, but even he knows the returning players won't forget last season's meeting with the Fresno State Bulldogs, who romped on the Buffs to the tune of 69-14 last September. “It has to be in the back of their mind,” MacIntyre said. CU hosts Fresno State on Saturday.
Oregon State's Mike Riley
After a rocky start to the year, Riley is using words like “stability” while saying OSU was going “full speed ahead” and that “nobody blinks.” The Beavers opened the year with a loss to Eastern Washington, but Riley isn't fretting over the mental state of his team following a week 2 win against Hawai'i. “I really check the pulse of it in the enthusiasm for practice and it's been awesome,” he said. “We've got that same excitement about that upcoming game as I think we normally would.”
There are two ways Riley sees the Beavers overcoming a number of early injuries. Putting coaches in a spot to bring stability to their respective units is one key point. Additionally, Riley says the Beavers will stress not thinking about the future – that could get daunting. “Try not to think of the whole season as being ahead of you and think about the next week," Riley said. "Things always change. Like the offensive line, in two weeks we might get the original line together.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham isn't overlooking how the Utes' schedule is formatted this season. Utah plays five home games in its first half of the season but only returns home twice in the final six games of 2013. That means the Utes have to take advantage early. So far, so good. Not one to complain about schedule one way or the other, Whittingham said “it all balances out. It's a real odd schedule. As they say, it is what it is.”
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was thrown into the fire last season as a freshman. Whittingham has seen a “steady incline” in terms of comfort over the last several months, and the 6'6” quarterback showed off surprising mobility by rushing for 93 yards last week against Weber State. “I don't think he's more mobile," Whittingham said. "He's the same kid. He's more confident, has more control of the offense. He's been a great leader for us.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Long known as an offensive guru, Leach struggled to remember a time where he won a game defined by defense. That said, he was plenty happy with the 10-7 victory against USC last weekend and especially was impressed with the defensive line. “I was really excited about how our defense played,” he said.
To nobody's surprise, Leach said that he'd expect a recruiting boost from the big win against USC.
Leach has coached across the country and dismissed the belief that different geographies lend themselves to different types of football philosophies. He said that thought is a fan creation rather than a reality. “I think the differences between conferences are more exaggerated than accurate,” Leach said.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
The Arizona defense has been a pleasant surprise for Rich Rodriguez so far. It has returned three touchdowns for scores in the first two games, leading Rodriguez to believe that what he saw in preseason practices wasn't a fluke. “I didn't know whether to be mad at them or mad at the offense,” he said.
Arizona plays the University of Texas at San Antonio this weekend, but after the Roadrunners dropped 35 points on a ranked Oklahoma State squad last week, the Wildcats won't be caught off guard. “I think for our guys, they're pretty sharp in seeing the film and knowing what they're going against,” Rodriguez said.
On Rodriguez's relationship with former Miami head coach and current UTSA coach Larry Coker: “He and his wife and my wife, we've been on some Nike trips together. I just think the world of him. I've always enjoyed spending time with him and getting to know him very well.”
Cal's Sonny Dykes
For the most part, the Golden Bears played toe-to-toe against a ranked Northwestern squad in a week 1 loss but then struggled to put away Portland State this past weekend. Dykes is guessing that has to do with youth. “We're a little bit all over the place,” he said. “We're a young football team. We're a little bit inconsistent.”
Dykes' spread offense is about getting first downs. That's why screen passes and short-yardage plays are such a big part of it. And because of that, there won't be a lot of big-play attempts, especially with a freshman starting quarterback running the offense. “We're not there yet. We haven't really strung together a lot of long drives,” Dykes said. “Right now, we're getting a false start or we're dropping the ball or we're getting beat up. We want to be a football team that can grind it out.”
Running back Brendan Bigelow hasn't been able to break any big runs thus far this year, and Dykes knows that giving him better opportunities is a big priority moving forward. Poor blocking, bad luck and Bigelow's mental recovery from a torn meniscus last year is all part of the issue at this point. “I think we've all expected him to make big plays that haven't really materialized yet,” Dykes said.
UCLA's Jim Mora
Playing in front of a hostile Nebraska crowd will prove a tough test for UCLA. Dealing with mobile Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is another challenge for the Bruins. Mora said the Cornhuskers quarterback is tough simply because he never gives up. “What happens is you get frustrated and you do something you don't normally do,” Mora said.
One thing Mora took from Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Walsh: “Find a redeeming quality in every player and try to develop it and utilize it.”
On helping the Bruins after they lost teammate Nick Pasquale, who died after being struck by a car this past week: “First and foremost it's important you're available to them,” Mora said. “I think when you do that, it helps them come to grips with their emotions.”
USC's Lane Kiffin
Kiffin said that the Trojans ramped up the physicality of their defensive practices this summer under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. That's benefitted them greatly so far this season, even though USC fell to Washington State this past weekend. At the same time, it hasn't helped the injury situation on a depth-depleted team.
Asked if he regrets not throwing the ball downfield more – or involving the tight ends – Kiffin said there was no reason to do so. With the quarterback situation unsettled there was no reason to risk turnovers. And with a defense holding the Cougars to 10 points, USC was in position to win without a big-play type of attack.
Washington's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian likes scheduling an early bye week. After Washington upset Boise State to open the season, it took a break this last week before heading to Illinois to play at Soldier Field this Saturday. The bye gave the Huskies time to nitpick a huge victory and more time to prepare for a Big Ten opponent. Sarkisian used to do the same scheduling technique while an assistant coach at USC. “I think there's a lot of value in doing it this way,” he said.
On whether a Pac-12 agreement to play against Big Ten teams in the non-conference schedule would be beneficial, Sarkisian said he is fine not being pigeonholed into playing against one other conference. “Sometimes you might want to play a team from the SEC or the ACC or the Big 12 for that matter,” Sarkisian said.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Is Graham expecting Saturday's blackout against Wisconsin to be a coming-out party for the Sun Devils? “I don't know about coming-out party,” he said, “but I think we'll find exactly where we're at.”
Wisconsin's running back stable and bruising style will be tough on any opponent and even with the Sun Devils running out an experienced defensive line led by Will Sutton, they will be facing an uphill battle. On paper, the Sun Devils look the same as last year, but take a closer look and there's a big difference – big being the operative word. There's more depth and the returning players have also added some meat. “We've gotten bigger, we've gotten stronger. Will is 310 pounds opposed to 275 last year,” Graham said.
On Wisconsin's offense: “Big, physical. The main thing about them, they're so big, they're going to put a body on you. Load the box, they're going to hit you over the top.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Of course, all Oregon fans enjoy winning. But Helfrich said the older Oregon fans have different expectations than the younger group. The older ones remember the lack of amenities and a gravel parking lot. The younger Ducks fans often fall into the “championship or bust” category. “There's definitely the polar opposites of national championship or bust and people who are excited about what we're doing. We want to keep both of those poles happy,” Helfrich said.
On watching former Oregon coach Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles debut his spread offense in the NFL, Helfrich said he wasn't surprised by the success. He also added that the Oregon offense is sometimes used as a negative recruiting tactic, and that idea was proved incorrect by the Eagles' explosive Monday night win against the Washington Redskins. “We think there's a lot of validation in everything we do,” Helfrich said.