Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Oregon learns lessons from Arizona's 2013 blowout
Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich opens up about how his team is learning from last year's painful loss at Arizona in preparation for a big Thursday night showdown. Also, in a recap of this week's teleconference, several teams talk about their passing game issues, and the Utah-UCLA matchup features two of the Pac-12's best return men.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
The Ducks hope a 42-16 loss at Arizona last year will teach this year's team a lesson. “(It was good) for our young guys particularly to know it just doesn't happen. Winning is really hard. You have to earn every single bit of it,” Helfrich said.
More on the Arizona game from last year: “If that (Arizona game film) contributes to our guys lifting more weights this spring, great.”
Marcus Mariota doesn't focus on the Heisman talk that many people might assume distracts him. The Ducks have, however, been sure to remind him of – and give him grief for – his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It's been one of few opportunities to rag on Mariota. “When there's any sort of door open, you have to take advantage of it,” Helfrich cracked.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Like most head coaches whose teams are about to face Mariota, Rodriguez was very complimentary of the Ducks' leader. “There are no negatives. None,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's three keys for beating Oregon this Thursday, based on how the Wildcats ran all over the Ducks late last season in Tucson: avoiding turnovers, tackling in space and playing a clean game offensively.
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon will get his first taste of Autzen Stadium this week and Rodriguez is banking on his young quarterback's poise to give the Wildcats a chance. “This will be a test for him. He's shown a lot of maturity … I think he's got the kind of mentality if he does make a mistake or two to shake it off,” Rodriguez said.
Stanford's David Shaw
The Cardinal red zone offense got just enough juice last week as Stanford slipped past Washington. Shaw believes there's no excuse for his team to be talking about red zone issues. “We have all of the elements for being a good red zone team,” he said, before listing off the necessities of having a mobile quarterback, a solid run game, and finally, a receiving group with athleticism and size.
On running back Remound Wright: “He's a tough kid. He's a very good pass protector. He reminds a lot of people of Stepfan Taylor, to a certain degree, and is working to get to that level.”
Shaw said Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Peter Kalambayi is on his way to becoming the next great Stanford linebacker. “Here's a kid in high school 230 pounds who's competing in the 100,” Shaw said. “He's that next guy. He's still growing into his position.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Jumping ahead of Washington State by three touchdowns wasn't enough for Utah to hang on last week, and Whittingham said the disappointment had little to do with any X's and O's from a general standpoint. The Cougs just played better. “We ran the ball efficiently, we didn't throw the ball efficiently, had some key drops on potential big plays,” the Utes coach said. “As far as schematics there was really nothing out of the ordinary.”
Utah's offense struggled last week, and fixing things this week doesn't become easy considering the talent on UCLA's defensive unit, especially the linebacking group led by Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks. “It's pick your poison. You run away from Eric, you run right into Myles. We've got to try to figure out to move the ball better than last week,” Whittingham said.
This week's matchup also features two of the Pac-12's best return men, Utah's Kaelin Clay and UCLA's Ishmael Adams. Whittingham was open about how his special teams unit will handle the speedy Adams. “You'd be crazy to kick right to him,” the coach said.
UCLA's Jim Mora
The Utes may not be kicking the ball Ishmael Adams' way, but UCLA is expected to operate as usual, which means Clay will be getting opportunities to return the ball. “We kick off to whoever. We have not given up a single yard, yet, in four games on a punt return,” Mora said. “Now, this kid's special. I don't know if we'll be able to say that after the game.”
On Utah's defense: “I think they're simple, but difficult because they play with so much certainty and so much speed.”
Mora has needed to change his expectations when reading the box score since arriving at UCLA from the NFL. “If you give up 350 yards total in the NFL, you feel sick to your stomach,” Mora said. “To me, it takes an adjustment. There's going to be yards and there's going to be points. That doesn't mean you accept it and just go, 'oh well.' ”
Washington State's Mike Leach
Coming from behind to beat the Utes despite being down 21-0 seemed to have everything to do with Leach gathering his entire team on the sideline for a speech caught on cameras last week. “We just needed to reset and make sure we were focused on the rest of the game,” Leach said. “We had some unfortunate stuff happen to us. We didn't want to overreact to things. We had to make routine plays. We were playing hard, we weren't playing as smart as we like.”
Leach faces former pupil Sonny Dykes and the Cal Golden Bears this week. It'll be different than the teams' first meeting last year, a 44-22 win for the Cougers. “I think they're a more inspired unit,” Leach said of Cal. “I think their receivers and their quarterback are playing together really well. They got a good, flashy running back.”
WSU is getting a lot out of linebacker Jeremiah Allison, who last week was part of a defensive effort that held Utah to 18 first downs and only one offensive touchdown on a 73-yard run. “He started doing some things on special teams,” Leach said. “I just thought he play elevated as time went on. I actually think we probably could have gotten more snaps out of him last year, too. He's on a tear right now."
California's Sonny Dykes
Fun fact: California's Bear Raid offense isn't so much of an Air Raid. The Golden Bears have run the ball more than they've passed it so far in 2014. “We've always tried to run the ball, honestly, more than we throw it,” Dykes said. “We weren't able to do it last year – got behind early in so many football games last year. I've just always felt like … (running) just takes a lot of heat off your quarterback.”
Dykes was asked whether he and current West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen lobbied for Leach to run the ball more when the two were offensive coordinators with the current WSU coach at Texas Tech. “I don't think so,” Dykes said. “Our offenses, Dana has shaken some things up (since leaving Texas Tech) and gone in a different direction and so have I. We all have our roots in the Air Raid.”
On the Golden Bears' turnaround this season: “I think the biggest thing is our attitude and team. It's a different personality. It's a team that's much tougher, much more invested, that cares about each other much more – unselfish.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian liked – no, loved – how physically his Trojans played the Oregon State receivers and then pressured Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion in a 35-10 win this past week. “I loved our aggressiveness up front,” he said. “The numbers don't say we got a bunch of sacks and all those things, but we were aggressive up front. At the end of the day, our guys played pretty good. They hit two fades on us but outside of that, I think we made it difficult.”
Sarkisian is careful not to read the final 62-27 score from the ASU game last week as an indictment on the Sun Devils, who visit Los Angeles on Saturday. “There's a handful of plays that could have gone either way,” he said.
Arizona State's Todd Graham
What did Graham tell backup quarterback Mike Bercovici, who played well against the Bruins aside from two turnovers? “You threw for 488 yards. You look at how well you played, it's all for nothing if you turn the football over,” Graham said.
Graham hasn't had an offensive lineman earn as many votes for team captain as Jamil Douglas did this season. “He's probably grown more than any guy in our program,” Graham said. “Freak in the weight room. Just from day one, I've been nothing but impressed with Jamil Douglas.”
Graham called ASU's defensive effort in last week's blowout loss against UCLA overzealous. "Our tackling was really bad. We played probably our worst half, the second half, as far as tackling," he said.
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre didn't field questions on Tuesday, but Graham did well in pumping up Buffs receiver Nelson Spruce, who had a record-setting 19-reception, 176-yard game. Graham couldn't take his eyes off Spruce. “I'm in my office, we're getting ready to play USC, I just want to check the score because I know both the coaches at Cal and Colorado … I can't turn the channel," Graham said.
Washington's Chris Petersen
Washington mustered 179 yards of total offense in a loss to Stanford this week. Was there a message Petersen gave quarterback Cyler Miles? “I think we got to hang in the pocket a little bit more,” he said. "You know how it is with those scrambling quarterbacks. There's a fine line staying with your read progression and getting out of there.”
Petersen, on how he communicates with NFL scouts who ask about his players: “Tell them exactly what's up. I'm not going to stake my reputation and sugarcoat something. I'm going to tell them exactly what they're getting.”
Oregon State's Mike Riley
Oddly enough, Oregon State is searching for more answers in the passing game than the run game after a loss to the Trojans. “It doesn't look like it in the stats, but we actually had some runs – they weren't big runs. It was pretty steady, productive runs. We're usually looking to balance our game from the pass aspect to the run,” Riley said.
Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce and Beavs wideout Richard Mullaney were rivals growing up in California, and they also have similar games. “They have similar ball skills down the field, just have been steady,” Riley said.
Riley said receiver Victor Bolden's injured hand is getting better. There's a slight change he plays against Colorado this week, but if not, he should be back in two more weeks when the Beavs play Utah.