Pac-12 coaches call: Utah RB Devontae Booker flexes his throwing arm
On this week's Pac-12 football coaches teleconference call, the head coaches discussed keeping their players focused after an unpredictable weekend of conference play. Also, Stanford's David Shaw explains the conflicts Arizona's offense cause for a defense – no matter the quarterback – Utah's Kyle Whittingham explains why his running back threw a touchdown pass and more.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
One of many Utah highlights in its upset at Oregon came in the third quarter, when the Utes called for running back Devontae Booker to sell a run to the left, then launch a pass for a 25-yard touchdown. Whittingham had the Utes practice the play over the last 3-4 weeks and decided to call it based on the situation. “(Booker) had been bragging all season, fall camp, how good his arm is. So we said, OK, we're going to put this in and see what you can do with it,” Whittingham said.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, compiled 227 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the Utes' 63-20 victory over Oregon. “In a word, it's confidence,” Whittingham said of his quarterback. “You could see it starting at the end of last season. He's the No. 1 rated QB in the country in terms of the QBR rating ESPN puts out.”
Whittingham likes the timing of this week's bye. It will help them refocus after a big win and it fits exactly in the middle of the season, if we're counting fall camp as part of it. “In that respect it's positive,” Whittingham said, before adding, “there's a lot of argument if you're playing well, you want to keep playing.”
Stanford's David Shaw
No matter which Arizona quarterback plays against Stanford this week – starter Anu Solomon suffered a concussion Saturday and backup Jerrard Randall will fill in if needed – Shaw isn't conflicted about the biggest problem his defense will face. “The biggest issue is Rich Rodriguez,” Shaw said. “They put you in so many conflicts, run-pass conflicts.”
The Cardinal haven't faced the Wildcats since 2013, Rodriguez's first year as Arizona's head coach. The Wildcats won that game, 54-48, in overtime behind a coming out party for receiver Johnny Jackson, who caught 10 passes for 75 yards in the game. “I kept remembering hearing his name,” Shaw said. “It was like he was all over the place. He had a heck of a day.”
Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez, who played for Canyon Del Oro High School in Tucson, has developed into quite the hidden gem. How did Stanford recruit him out of Arizona's backyard? “Recruiting is such an eye of the beholder (process),” Shaw said. “The thing with Blake, that was … you have to see him live. We didn't offer Blake until he came to our camp. After watching five minutes live, we knew. I never fault anybody for not seeing somebody.”
On watching former Stanford product Ty Montgomery, now with the Green Bay Packers, make the "Lambeau Leap" after scoring a touchdown on Monday Night Football. “It was almost like he almost forgot,” Shaw joked.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Arizona's ugly loss to UCLA was followed by Sunday film sessions to abide by Rodriguez's 24-hour rule. The Wildcats took in the game, made corrections and, after the 24 hours, have moved on to planning for the Stanford game. “Kids are usually more resilient than coaches. They bounce back better than we do,” Rodriguez said.
Knowing they would need a deep team with no bye week in the schedule this season, the Arizona coaching staff emphasized getting as many players comfortable to play during fall camp. Injuries have hit hard already, most notably to linebacker Scooby Wright, who missed two games to a knee injury and in his return this weekend sprained his foot. “We got to get a lot of guys ready in worst case scenario," Rodriguez said of the preseason thought process. "Here it is already."
On Wright's foot injury: “More than anything you feel for him. He worked particularly hard in the offseason to be a better player this season. Knowing Scooby, he'll attack his rehab just like he did with his knee.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham's Sun Devils suffered a 42-14 loss to USC, but the head coach believes his team will show resiliency at UCLA this week. History backs that assessment. In 2013, ASU fell to Stanford in Week 3 before dropping 62 points on USC in a Week 4 win. Last year, Arizona State was coming off a 62-27 loss to UCLA but stole a game from the Trojans with a 38-34 win via the Jael Mary. “That fourth week has been interesting here,” Graham said.
Turnovers have haunted Arizona State this year. It has lost seven of 13 total fumbles – the Sun Devils lost a total of four last season. “Our big deal is correcting that, and not turning the football over. This is a veteran team,” Graham said. “We're disappointed in how we've played.”
What does Graham tell his team after a difficult loss? “For our guys, it's not a speech that you give or a word after a loss,” the coach said. “It's a body of work.”
UCLA's Jim Mora
Mora praised California and Colorado as two Pac-12 teams tha have improved over the last few seasons, making the conference more challenging in terms of its depth. “You look at what they're doing this year and it's very, very impressive,” he said. “It's through and through. This is an amazing conference. There's not a weak team in this conference. It's very impressive, it's also very scary. We don't want to eat each other.”
Does winning or losing affect recruiting more? Mora believes winning is more important but added that relationships ultimately drive recruiting. “I have to believe that it's winning. But I also believe young men and high school players … like to make an impact,” he said, noting that some players will join less-successful teams that have an immediate need for their services.
Mora doesn't believe that there are more injuries in football today compared to past decades. “We're just more conscious of who's hurt. I don't feel it's any different,” he said.
California's Sonny Dykes
This week, the Golden Bears host the Washington State Cougars, who are led by Mike Leach – Dykes' former boss from when he was an assistant at Texas Tech. That, of course, led to questions about the two teams' Air Raid offenses. “I think a lot of guys that run it have the same base plays,” Dykes said. “We do all kind of the same concepts. We've taken it, added to it. We run the ball a little more. Because of that we're a little bit more play-action heavy.”
Cal defensive end Kyle Kragen won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award for his 2.5 sacks, forced fumble, and pass breakup in the Golden Bears' win against Washington. “His tenacity is the reason he played so well on Saturday,” Dykes said.
Dykes recruited Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon when Dykes was the team's head coach and believes the Strong, Ark., native would have been a top-100 recruit if he'd played high school football in a metro area.
Washington State's Mike Leach
Defensive back Shalom Luani recorded 11 tackles and a pass deflection in the Cougars' last game, a 31-14 win against Wyoming. “He's just getting into a rhythm,” Leach said. “He's a very physical guy. He's a quick guy, physical guy. Each game he plays a little better.”
Leach faces his former offensive coordinator in Sonny Dykes and the California Golden Bears this week, but two of Leach's former assistants, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, also square off in Big 12 action. “He's done really well for himself,” Leach said of Riley. “Him and Dana both had a similar role for me.”
Leach would like somebody to find out why Pac-12 home teams were winless this past week. “That's a strange deal. I don't know,” Leach said. “If you figure it out, I'd be curious to know what you find out.”
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Helfrich went with a rowing analogy to discuss how his Ducks are moving forward from their loss to Utah. “Re-grip that oar and row. Put guys in different seats, realize where my seat is, and row,” he said.
Is this Pac-12 crop of running backs the best since Helfrich has been in the conference? It's hard to say. “I'm not good at those things. Every week is the game of the century and every player is the best ever,” Helfrich said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
The Oregon Ducks will clash with the Buffs this week, and their feathers are likely ruffled after getting blown out by Utah last weekend. That left MacIntyre to state the very obvious. “Oregon is really fast, really athletic still,” he said. “Utah had some dramatic plays on special teams that turned the tide. I think Oregon's still really, really good.”
Sixth-year senior defensive back Jered Bell intercepted two passes in Colorado's 48-0 victory against Nicholls State. He's played for three head coaches at Colorado, and his maturity is an asset to the Buffs. “He's been just a great, great role model,” MacIntyre said. “When you see Jered Bell walk up, you just start smiling."
MacIntyre believes Colorado's depth showed this past week. “We played Nicholls with seven starters out. We couldn't have done that our first year here,” he said.
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian has faced his fair share of adversity in one-plus seasons at USC but believes he's kept his teams resilient through it all. “I think it starts with us. At the end of the day, what we bring in the hard times is kind of what we're going to get out of our players,” Sarkisian said. “The reality of it is, I think players are always looking to be coached. When the chips are down, I think at the end of the day, the leader of the group -- which I think is the head coach -- you got to stand tall.”
USC takes a bye week before facing Sarkisian's old team, the Washington Huskies, on Oct. 8. Sarkisian said facing players he recruited to Seattle “doesn't make me want to win more.”
That said, Sarkisian said he's proud to have turned a struggling program around in five seasons as Washington's coach. “We had some really cool moments when I was up there. We had some great wins, memorable wins at Husky Stadium,” he said.
Washington's Chris Petersen
Washington also takes this week off before hosting USC. That gives the Huskies two weeks to create a gameplan for Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler. “I think there's a reason he's a Heisman Trophy candidate. He knows their system inside and out,” Petersen said.
Petersen also downplayed the storyline of Sarkisian facing his former team. “I don't play the game, Coach Sark doesn't play the game. The players play the game,” Petersen said.
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
This is a bye week for the Beavers, and Andersen will surely use it to continue building his team up after falling to Stanford last week. “I think we are definitely improving in areas. We're gaining ground,” he said. “We're in a great conference, we understand that. These kids are working hard. We're a work in progress.”