Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Mark Helfrich, Rich Rodriguez prep for Pac-12 Championship
Oregon's Mark Helfrich and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez hopped on the phone on Monday to speak with the media in preparation for the 2014 Pac-12 Football Championship game in Santa Clara. They discussed their high-powered offenses, two similar quarterbacks and what the title game means for their respective programs.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
The Ducks have lost their last two games against Arizona, and Helfrich knows there's a danger in his players using one word: “revenge.” He wants his players to channel any feeling – anger, disappointment, regret or the need for vengeance – toward preparation. None of those feelings “mean you can go out there and do something crazy,” Helfrich said.
Arizona redshirt freshman Anu Solomon might appear similar to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Both hail from Hawaii, and both of them run a zone-read offense with a calmness about them. “Certainly their production is similar [as freshmen],” Helfrich said. “I obviously don't know Anu as well as Marcus. They have a tremendous supporting cast around them.”
As Arizona Daily Star reporter Daniel Berk points out, the Wildcats have forced 26 percent of Mariota's career turnovers on three picks and three fumbles. “There's a bunch of factors that went into that,” Helfrich said, referencing the more recent game. “The overarching factor is they're good.”
Center Hroniss Grasu “did a little something” Monday in practice, Helfrich said, but still no word if Oregon's star center will be ready for the Pac-12 Championship game.
Helfrich said the contributions from the Phil Knight family, coaching continuity and the Oregon philosophy has helped the Ducks remain successful even through coaching changes. “The bedrock foundation of our program has remained the same. Part of that remaining the same is the philosophy to get better, to constantly evolve,” he said.
The size of Arizona's offensive line helps hide the ball, making handoff fakes even harder for opponents to see, according to Helfrich. “Huge on the edges, huge tackles," Helfrich said. "I don't know what those guys are listed as, but they're ginormous. And they can move. They do a great job with the run-pass stuff.”
On the similarities – call them cousins – between the Oregon and Arizona zone-read offenses: “Definitely cousins is a good relationship. I don't know what kind of cousin. There's a lot of base concepts that are very similar. Their route structures are a little bit different off of it, how they use their quarterback is a little bit different.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
When he arrived in Tucson, Rodriguez was asked why he thought the Arizona football program would have the potential to win football championships despite being a basketball school. On Monday, he said that the school also had success in other sports such as softball, swimming and volleyball. If they could succeed, he didn't see why football couldn't. “My reaction is really like, at least we're known for something,” Rodriguez said. “The truth is we're good at a lot of sports. It's almost like, hey, if we're good at that … I felt confident it could happen (in football), I just didn't know when.”
On freshman running back Nick Wilson: “He is healthy and it's been a big plus for us, especially Terris Jones-Grigsby being banged up. He plays like a veteran, the things that he's seeing and the ways he's running in our offense.”
Rodriguez would give his Heisman vote to Oregon's Marcus Mariota, but he does see similar traits in Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon. “Anu's not quite as big or as fast, but I think from a competitive standpoint, from a quiet leadership standpoint, the feel for the game, he's got some of Marcus' traits,” Rodriguez said.
Since Arizona has played Oregon well the last two seasons, it's important Rodriguez doesn't make things too complicated in game-planning for the Ducks this week. The Wildcats have to be careful about self-scouting – they know Oregon will prepare from past games, but too many tweaks could mean bad things. “You don't want to trick yourself, so-to-speak, you don't want to do things you can't execute,” Rodriguez said. “You got to be careful, especially with a championship game, that you don't confuse your players too much. We've got to find that balance during the week.”
Wide receiver Austin Hill sat out last season with a torn ACL but has returned in 2014 with a new understanding of the game. Rodriguez said he could see Hill becoming a superstar of a coach if he ever decided to take that route. “He kind of almost took a step back and looked at the game from a different standpoint, a holistic standpoint [during his injury],” Rodriguez said of Hill.