Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Jim Mora knows what Jerry Neuheisel went through
UCLA coach Jim Mora opened up about how sensitive he's been with Bruins quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, the son of the Bruins' former coach Rick Neuheisel, and how that helped the two work well together. Also in the Week 4 coaches teleconference, Todd Graham expressed his confidence in backup quarterback Mike Bercovici, who is the next man up with Taylor Kelly sidelined.
UCLA's Jim Mora
Many outside the program might have perceived Jim Mora coaching up backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel as an awkward situation. Mora, after all, replaced Jerry's father Rick, who was fired at UCLA three years ago. But Mora on Tuesday said it wasn't really an uncomfortable situation at all. “I don't think there's anyone who could understand his situation more than me,” Mora said. “My dad's been fired. I was on his staff in New Orleans [when the Saints fired Jim Mora Sr. in 1996]. I understood what it was like for Jerry. I needed to be very empathetic towards him. I know it's been very difficult for him.
“I made a pledge to him that I would never ever say anything disparaging to the prior regime,” Mora added. “I say a lot of things I regret. I have that tendency, as you all know. I think I said I wanted to change the culture, and that's always bothered me. I think when I said the word 'change' I said, 'darn it.'”
UCLA has this week off to prepare for an Arizona State team that reportedly will be without quarterback Taylor Kelly. Brett Hundley, UCLA's quarterback, also left his game this week with an injury, but according to outside reports is more likely to play. Mora did not address his quarterback's health during the call. Instead he said the Bruins will use this bye week to “self scout.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Arizona State will probably be leaning on backup quarterback Mike Bercovici to lead the Sun Devils against UCLA after a bye week, according to the Arizona Republic's Doug Haller. Graham knows the stakes will be high, and his focus isn't centered on the quarterback position. “The winner has won the Pac-12 South both years (of the coach's time at ASU),” Graham said. “This one: you know what it's going to be like.”
Graham didn't touch on Kelly's health during the call, but he seemed ready to move on and place his full support on Bercovici. “We got a lot of confidence in Mike. Mike's got a tremendous throwing arm, tremendously smart guy,” the coach said. “He's the same mold as Taylor.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Quarterback Marcus Mariota's highlight reel from a win against Wyoming on Saturday included a flip into the end zone for a touchdown. Helfrich obviously doesn't want his star hurt, but he is careful in the message he sends to Mariota. “The part I had a little conversation with him about – make sure we're taking care of the football,” Helfrich said, noting Mariota put the ball out in a somewhat vulnerable position on the play. “Other than that, Marcus has to be Marcus. He's really good. The part that makes him great is when he improvises.”
In discussing offensive line depth, Helfrich said the priority is to put the sixth-best lineman on the team in place of any injured player rather than relying on a two-deep depth chart. “Everybody who's not a center, we cross-train at every other spot,” he said.
The Ducks have work to do with Washington State up next, and an improved run defense is still a topic of conversation despite the Cougs' pass-heavy offense. “There's a lot of variance that goes into [WSU's offense], whether it's the screen game, quick game – screen game to the wideouts, screen game to the backs,” Helfrich said. “That's kind of how they generate their run game.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
USC's offense couldn't get churning against Boston College in a Saturday loss, and about the only success it had was in hitting running back Buck Allen with passes. “Nine catches for 120 yards is not ideal,” Sarkisian said. “But he is a weapon for us and we would like to utilize his strengths.”
Sarkisian, on whether the Trojans defense got tired: “I don't know if physically tired is what they were. I think you can get mentally fatigued when you give up big plays. They only converted two third downs. They were getting yards in chunks. It wasn't like they were extending drives. We were just giving up big plays.”
Having a bye week will give Sarkisian a few more practices to tidy his team up, but there's a downside to it. “That's always a little more difficult to come off a loss like that and then you have a bye, because then you have to sit with the loss longer than you would if you played the next Saturday,” the coach said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Losing to Arizona State this past week was encouraging in that the Buffs showed they could move the ball, but MacIntyre says there were a lot of issues, starting with missed opportunities. “I thought we did some good things,” he said. “We're still very discouraged we didn't get in the end zone [on every red zone trip]. When you're playing a team of their caliber, you've got to make sure we hit on all cylinders. “
Colorado becomes the third Pac-12 team in the non-conference season to play Hawai'i – both Oregon State and Washington had a tough time dispatching the Warriors. MacIntyre said Hawai'i's success comes from how physical its line play is on both sides of the ball.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Utah played its first two games at home against Idaho State and Fresno State. Now it's headed to the Big House to face the Michigan Wolverines. Not getting caught up in the atmosphere will be big for the Utes. “The crowd obviously is going to be enormous, 110 [thousand] or whatever they put in there. You're playing the 11 guys across from you, you're not playing the tradition or the helmets,” Whittingham said.
Playing against a Big Ten caliber team will help Whittingham find out just how good the Utes' up-tempo passing attack is operating. It's put up numbers in the first two games, but perhaps it's fool's gold. “Still got to find out if we're throwing the ball well enough,” he said. “I think that question is probably unanswered.”
On why Michigan lost 31-0 to Notre Dame two weeks ago: “Notre Dame's very good. The bottom line in the game statistically is turnover margin. You can't turn the ball over four times … unless you're creating four to five turnovers of your own.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
The Beavers host San Diego State this week, and Riley says the Aztecs' defense is unique. “They blitz, like I say, from the bleachers," Riley said.
Oregon State has split its carries between Terron Ward and Storm Woods this year, and will continue doing so. “I think they're a good duo together,” Riley said.
Cornerback Larry Scott can improve his open field tackling, but has made strides to become an integral part of the defensive unit. “He stayed healthy during camp, got a lot of work and in a lot of ways has grown as a player over the last year," Riley said.
Stanford's David Shaw
On a day where the discussion was about backup quarterbacks, Shaw said he wished that his, senior Evan Crower, would have the opportunity to play more. “Quick release, strong arm,” Shaw said of Kevin Hogan's backup. “We've had so many close games over the last three years, he hasn't really gotten a chance to play."
Shaw said the running game is still progressing, but it's unwise to disassociate the success on the ground with an offensive line that is working in some new faces. “I think it's still a work in progress. There have been some really bright spots in some games, and there are some things that haven't been too clean,” he said.
When prompted to do so, Shaw wouldn't single out any of his defensive studs. “It's not just about being over the top, it's about doing your jobs and trusting one another,” he said. “Guys have been able to change with the game plan and play really well.”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Leach said that receiver Isiah Myers' emergence has to do with a little bit of added weight combined with what he's always had – explosiveness. “I think in the past he was a little streaky. He hasn't been streaky at all this year. I think it's really paid off for him. He's become a more reliable guy,” Leach said.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Rodriguez said quarterback Anu Solomon not only makes good decisions, but is physically able to make the throws necessary in Arizona's offense. He phrased him as being able to make throws from “different launch points” and said all of the Wildcat quarterbacks work on those skills.
Why has freshman running back Nick Wilson been so impressive for the Wildcats? “We knew a couple weeks in camp how quickly he was picking up the system – not only in the run game but the pass game. He's way advanced mentally,” Rodriguez said.
Arizona's defense has struggled to put pressure on UTSA and Nevada in the past two weeks. That'll be an issue against Jared goff and Cal. “Got to be able to create pressure without having to blitz all the time,” Rodriguez said. “That's an issue for us.”
California's Sonny Dykes
The Golden Bears are carrying themselves differently these days, especially considering last year's struggles, but Dykes won't say it's because of their 2-0 record. “I think it's different not because we won some games. I think we won some games because it's different,” Dykes said.
Cal will have to deal with redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon this week, and the Bears' head coach knows his defense will have to be on. “I've been impressed with him,” Dykes said. “It seems to me that when the game gets tight he plays better. I think that's a real sign of maturity.”
Dykes spent a good deal of the conference call talking about Cal linebacker coach Garret Chachere, who was on Dykes' staff when the latter was offensive coordinator at Arizona. Chachere was then the UA running backs coach. “The great thing about him, he's very versatile. He really knows football and knows it from both sides,” Dykes said.
Washington's Chris Petersen
Washington's wins over Eastern Washington and Hawai'i came on wobbly legs, but there was a little more reason for optimism after a 44-19 victory against Illinois in Week 3. “We're far from being there,” Petersen said. “We've not arrived by any stretch. But it was nice to see progress. We have two objectives around here as coaches: Are we improving, and are we playing as close to our potential? The first several weeks, we were not playing close to our potential.”
Shaq Thompson scored two defensive touchdowns for the Huskies against the Illini, so Petersen of course is impressed with his defensive leader. “If you had a whole team of Shaqs, you'd be feeling good.”