Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Cal offense faces Utah's deep D-line
In preparation of Week 6 of the college football season, Pac-12 coaches answered a number of questions about how to groom quarterbacks into starters, while California and Utah ready for a ESPN College GameDay showdown in Salt Lake City.
California's Sonny Dykes
Against Utah’s big, physical front seven this week, Dykes knows Cal will be challenged producing on the ground. “They’re a tough defense to run it against,” Dykes said. “Our offensive line is going to have to play better than they did against Washington State.”
Senior Stefan McClure has overcome a number of injuries in his Cal career but has been very productive this season. Dykes said his safety has found comfort after playing at both cornerback and nickelback in the past. “More than anything it’s just perseverance,” Dykes said. “He had kind of an odd injury that he suffered during spring as well that kept him out of summer. We had to bring him back slowly in fall camp. I think he’s really developed into a good safety. He sees a lot of things, he gets us in the right checks, good communicator.”
California held off Washington State 34-28 last week, partially thanks to a successful 3rd-and-26 draw play to Vic Enwere as Cal was backed up on its own 4-yard line. “That was just one of those plays where you don’t want to throw it (and risk an interception or safety),” Dykes said. “We handed it off and blocked it so well and, they ran sort of a prevent defense. It was one of those calls that probably looked better than it really was.”
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Travis Wilson has taken full control of the Utah offense this year after he and backup Kendal Thompson struggled to outright win the starting gig in 2014. Whittingham said last year’s experience didn’t teach him anything about finding the right quarterback. “No, not really -- was just anxious for somebody to step forward,” the Utes coach said. “We were waiting for one of them to step up and take charge. It just didn’t happen. This year has been completely different where Travis has been outstanding.”
Hunter Dimick, who last season recorded 10 sacks, returns after missing the last two games due to a knee injury suffered against Utah State. Whittingham likes that Kylie Fitts and Filipo Mokofisi stepped in and performed well in Dimick’s absence, showing the Utes’ depth along the line. “What we missed was his sheer production,” Whittingham said of Dimick. “In spite of saying that … we didn’t miss much of a beat.”
Utah running back Devonate Booker’s yards per carry average is down a whole yard from a year ago, but it’s still a very good 4.2 yards per carry. “In the first couple games, the offensive line was not as efficient as it needed to be. Devontae is still the focal point of the offense,” Whittingham said.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich
Helfrich complimented this week's opponent, the Washington State Cougars, because of their defense, specifically in how they played in a loss to California last week. He said they’re dangerous in how they disguise things, using different coverage’s mostly out of the same look. “The first thing that jumped out was just how hard they played,” the Oregon coach said, adding that Wazzu gets pressure by rushing few. “Two guys (pass rushing) create some issue for the quarterback. That’s not good as an offensive coach.”
Oregon moved defensive coordinator Don Pellum back onto the field for a win against Colorado. Pellum began the season calling plays from the press box. “We just had some different discussions about different aspects of the defense … A couple things in terms of calling the game,” Helfrich said. “He can get a feel for guys, look them in the eye, all those things. He can have one voice on the sideline, he can get everyone on the same page.”
The Ducks’ up-and-down season so far hasn’t changed Helfrich’s approach. He wants his team to learn from its two losses so far. “You have to flush a win or flush a loss similarly,” he said. The Ducks want to “develop and instill that type of mentality in a bunch of our guys that haven’t been in that situation before," Helfrich added.
Washington State's Mike Leach
Some coaches may consider the many situational factors when determining whether to go for it on fourth down. Mike Leach is here to simplify that thought-process. “The simple answer is if you think you can make it, (go for it),” he said. “I think we’ve had a lot lately, around midfield there, where you’re too far to kick a field goal and where it’s not necessarily practical to punt it. That’s about it, really. We’re a little bit more aggressive about it than some teams.”
Leach’s decision to put quarterback Luke Falk on scholarship was sort of in the plans before the former walk-on earned his starting job. “I thought that Luke got overlooked, I thought he was a Division I player from the beginning,” Leach said.
Washington State fell at home to Oregon 38-31 last season, but Leach doesn’t believe that’ll lend his team more confidence (“None of those plays really help us this year”). A key matchup is the Cougs’ passing attack against an inconsistent Ducks secondary. “Occasionally, they’ll give up a big play because they’re an aggressive unit with new faces,” Leach said, complimenting the past Oregon secondaries. “I guess now they know how everybody else feels.”
Stanford's David Shaw
Stanford’s complex pro-style offense has caused its coaching staff to be extra cautious when integrating new quarterbacks. “Sometimes the worst thing you can do for a young guy is put him in before he’s ready, no matter how talented he is,” Shaw said. “I’m a big fan of spoon-feeding guys early on and giving them a little bit of a time.”
So is it difficult for Stanford to recruit and then develop quarterbacks to be patient? “Not when you take the right guy,” the Cardinal coach said. “We’re very upfront and very honest. Andrew Luck couldn’t come in as a true freshman and play much. We have a pro-style offense and the quarterback runs the show.”
On the Pac-12 officiating this year communicating more under the new leadership of David Coleman, who was hired to lead conference referee crews this offseason: “I think David Coleman has been phenomenal. I think having a full-time dedicated head of official staffs … just helps us in the long run. To me it has been noticeable.”
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
Colorado’s 41-24 loss to Oregon again showed the Buffs are heading in the right direction. Aside from early turnovers and struggles to stop the Ducks from scoring late, MacIntyre liked how his team played. “This is our fifth year in the Pac-12. Oregon, I think they’ve outscored us 41-5 at halftime (in games prior),” he said. “For us to be tied 17-17 (at halftime) is a big step.”
MacIntyre addressed his blow-up on Colorado assistant coach Joe Tumpkin, who earned Colorado a flag by being on the field in the loss to Oregon. “Joe and I have talked about that. It was a thing that if I had to do it again, I’d do it better,” MacIntyre said. “That’s something we have to be able to handle and I have to handle better in the moment.”
MacIntyre likes how his defense has improved but knows a matchup against ASU this week will be another test. “We’re playing more physical, we’re not giving up as many big plays,” the CU coach said. “We’re going to have a great test against ASU. They have great weapons. Their quarterback is playing really well right now.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Arizona State put together its best performance of the year in a win against UCLA, but beyond that Graham seemed pleased that his team was even with the Bruins on the turnover front. “We made vast improvements, not just that but ball security, not putting the ball in jeopardy,” Graham said.
Graham on UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, who despite a season-ending injury announced Tuesday he would be entering the NFL draft: “I got the privilege of recruiting him. Got to meet his mom, his family, nothing but tremendous respect for him as a person and as a player. You know, just impressed. Any person who can go and play linebacker like he played linebacker and then go over and play tailback … you could tell a guy that loves this game and plays it with a great passion.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
Arizona’s injury issues hit hard at middle linebacker, where both Scooby Wright and Derrick Turituri have been out of action. Rodriguez said that losing multiple players at one position is in some ways worse than losing multiple starters at different positions. The injuries have hurt Arizona’s ability to play with multiple looks as well. “It’s like losing four guys instead of two guys,” Rodriguez said.
Injuries aside, Rodriguez believes Arizona’s defensive issues -- bad tackling and failure to get off blocks among them -- are correctable after allowing 56 points to UCLA two weeks ago and 55 more to Stanford this past game. This weekend, the Wildcats face Oregon State. “Everything that’s fixable from a scheme standpoint, I think. From a health standpoint, the guys who are in there have to step their play up,” the Arizona coach said.
Rodriguez said he actually thinks it’s easier to be an offensive play-caller from the press box rather than on the field. It’s been difficult for him to do so considering he’s been a head coach most of his career. “I think it’s easier from the box. Sometimes you can remove the emotion,” he said before adding, “I think you get a better feel for the game (on the field), especially the tempo, when you’re on the field.”
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
Oregon State comes off a bye week and faces Arizona in Tucson this week. “It was a positive week. We went back to some very basics, fundamental wise. I believe it was mission accomplished,” Andersen said.
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon didn’t play last week after suffering a concussion the week prior. If he’s out, the more run-happy Jerrard Randall gets his second start for the Wildcats, but Oregon State sees preparation for either as being one and the same. “We haven’t really sat back and said, this quarterback’s in the game during practice or this quarterback’s in the game during practice,” Andersen said. “If you don’t stop the run -- you better put a priority on that. Number two, you’re going to have to tackle well in space.”
Andersen, a former Utah assistant, explained why the Utes’ defensive line has been so successful in the past decade. “Anytime you have good players, you have to look back at recruiting,” he said. “That defensive line has always had a vision of not being good (but) being great, and they’ve been able to recruit those kids. Kyle [Whittingham] has a plan. He’s stuck to those plans come good days, come bad days.”
USC's Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian also fielded a question about quarterback development considering USC’s decade-long history of throwing out production signal-callers. “I think for us, the way we kind of groom the quarterback is, when it’s time for our quarterbacks to play, we want them to play great. The last thing we want to do is force somebody on the field who’s not ready,” USC’s coach said.
As a first-year Washington Huskies head coach in 2009, Sarkisian’s team upset his former team, a then No. 3-ranked USC squad in Week 3. “I think it was big for recruiting that we could recruit kids and they got a glimpse of what the future might old,” Sarkisian said. “When we beat them, they had just gone into Columbus, Ohio, and beat (No. 8) Ohio State the previous week.”
On UCLA’s Myles Jack and his decision to enter the NFL Draft: “Myles has a very high football IQ. He’s kind of a jack of all trades, and he’s physically gifted. But it’s his football IQ that allows him to play fast and be really physical at the point of attack.”
Washington's Chris Petersen
In the past, Petersen led Boise State teams that, like Stanford and USC in the Pac-12 of late, consistently rolled out teams led by battle-ready quarterbacks. The Huskies coach said it’s becoming harder to find quarterbacks willing to wait in the wings for several years before taking over an offense. “You would just hope that guys would hang in there and be patient,” he said. “In all my time over at Boise, I think we had one quarterback leave, and there were a lot of quarterbacks who stayed, whether it was filling in when a guy got injured or taking over when a guy left.”
A lot of thought goes into deciding whether position players from the offense or defense should be utilized in special teams roles. “We debate it all the time over here,” Petersen said. “I think when there’s a guy who’s really special with the ball in his hands, you want to put him back there. If a guy’s back there, then you probably have to minimize him on other (positions).”
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