Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: USC interim Clay Helton assumes leadership role
USC Trojans interim coach Clay Helton discussed how his team will move forward from Steve Sarkisian's dismissal, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham takes on the growing expectations, and Sonny Dykes makes a good point about his Golden Bears' schedule.
USC interim coach Clay Helton
With the dismissal of USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, interim coach Clay Helton began the teleconference call with a statement. Most notably, he put his full support behind Sarkisian as he faces his health issues. “As a football staff and a team, our best wishes go out to Coach Sark. We dearly love him. He is a good man. He is a good coach, and we can’t wait for the day he’s back on the field doing what he does, and that’s coaching football,” Helton said, adding, “I’m very confident in my ability to lead a football team and the opportunity ahead. Our kids are extremely excited about it … the opportunity to compete for the Pac-12 South championship is another goal for us, and that will not change.”
Helton announced that tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo has been promoted to quarterbacks coach and, in his place, former offensive administrative assistant Lenny Vandermade will take over.
The person who has most prepared Helton to take over as USC’s interim for the second time -- he coached USC's bowl game in 2013 when interim Ed Orgeron left once Sarkisian was hired -- is his father. Kim Helton was an NFL assistant for many years and also notably was a college head coach at Houston. “He’s my best friend and my mentor, and has taught me not only the ins and outs of the business but also to lead young men,” Helton said.
Helton didn’t hide this: He’d love to become the permanent USC head coach but will focus on helping his team prepare for a game at Notre Dame this week. “Obviously you want to be the head coach at USC,” Helton said. "I understand you have to prove yourself at this level.”
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham
This week, No. 4 Utah hosts Arizona State and the challenge as the winless Utes move forward comes in keeping the outside noise to a minimum. “It boils down to preparing the right way. What we have is a really strong group of leaders right now. When you have that going on, that’s always a good thing,” Whittingham said. “In the building, it’s business as usual. There’s certainly a lot of buzz in the community.”
The Sun Devils’ defense has bothered Utah the past few seasons. That’ll need to change Saturday in Salt Lake City if the Utes want to remain perfect. “They’ve given us a high dose of pressure and we haven’t handled it very well. That’s what it boils down to. That’s going to have to change if we have a chance,” Whittingham said.
As Whittingham’s name gets mentioned with several prominent college football coaching vacancies opening up, it’s important to note he’s quite comfortable where he is. “First of all, it’s home. I grew up a big portion of my life in this state,” said the Utes coach, who’s coached at BYU, Eastern Utah, Idaho State, and Utah since 1985. “For the most part, this has been home. My entire family is here. I love to ski, I love to be in the outdoors. It just fits me. It certainly is not the norm for a college football coach (to be at Utah since 1994). It’s more an anomaly.”
Arizona State’s Todd Graham
Arizona State and Utah have met for some surprisingly low scoring outings in the past few years. The Sun Devils won 19-16 last year in overtime and the year before edged the Utes 20-19. “We’ve played very well against them. But they’ve played well, too,” Graham said. “We’ve had some good fortune to not give up big plays, is the key for us.”
ASU’s defense will need to stop Utah running back Devonate Booker but also watch out for the Utes’ screen game. “Power, man. Power, explosiveness, a great inside-outside zone runner,” Graham said of Booker. “He’s their leading receiver as well. How the quarterback holds you accountable (on zone-read plays) makes it difficult.”
Graham’s blitz-heavy defensive scheme faces a Utah offensive line that the coach said is “night-and-day” compared to last year’s line. “The team I’ve seen on film this year is not like the team last year … and that was a good team,” Graham said.
California’s Sonny Dykes
A 30-24 loss to the Utes wasn’t discouraging to Dykes, who pointed out the schedule to this point has been difficult. Cal’s victories against Washington, Washington State, and Texas look more impressive after UW dropped No. 17 USC, Wazzu upset Oregon, and Texas surprised No. 10 Oklahoma. “I was disappointed,” Dykes said of the Utah game. “We didn’t play well offensively and turned the ball over six times. The good news is we still had an opportunity to win the game.”
California hits a bye this week, but next up is another tough matchup against UCLA and head coach Jim Mora. “When you sit around and think what’s the most important attribute of a football coach, it’s … stability,” Dykes said. “He’s brought stability and consistency.”
On USC’s dismissal of Steve Sarkisian: “You just hate it for Steve and his family and staff. The most important thing is, you want to see Steve get well. It’s a hard thing to go through. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to do that, especially having to go through it publicly.”
Dykes guesses that USC, now under interim coach Clay Helton, will play well in a visit to Notre Dame this week. “Off-the-field events sometimes galvanize football teams,” Dykes said. “I would expect them to play well Saturday against Notre Dame. I think those guys will go and compete hard.”
Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre
A 48-23 loss at Arizona State isn’t getting the Buffaloes down. MacIntyre liked what he saw during practice Monday as Colorado readies to host Arizona this week. “It was a beautiful day and they were flying around at practice,” MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre said the Wildcats’ offense begins with the run game and running back Nick Wilson, but he is also impressed by how dynamic Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon is in being illusive, causing defenders to guess what he’s doing. Solomon stretches plays along the line of scrimmage before deciding whether to pass or run, and those “look like extended plays, extended broken plays,” MacIntyre said. “When he gets in the open field sometimes -- it’s kind of funny. He’s faster than he looks so to speak, when he gets going. He gets on you pretty quick and then you have to make the decision.”
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez
A week after recovering from two blowout losses with a 44-7 win against Oregon State, Arizona hosts a Colorado team that has taken several steps forward under coach Mike MacIntyre. “They’re very close. I think they’ve won some games, of course, but they’ve also been in some tight ballgames at home against good teams.”
On Arizona football’s director of on-campus recruiting, Matt Dudek: “He’s got a great personality. I think the players really connect to him, especially in the recruiting process.
Oregon State’s Gary Andersen
This week, the Beavers visit a Washington State team coming off a high -- a win against Oregon. Leading the Cougs is quarterback Luke Falk who, as a student at Logan High School in Logan, Utah, found himself hanging out at Andersen’s house. Andersen, then a coach at Utah State, had sons that played with Falk on the high school football team. “We were always the hangout house,” Andersen said. “Proud of that young man and where he’s come. His ability to make plays when there’s pressure on him, three-man rush … He has a complete understanding of where that ball is going.”
Andersen said Oregon State struggled against Arizona in terms of “execution in key moments and key scenarios, being able to make the plays we need to make.”
On Wazzu coach Mike Leach: “From a scheme standpoint, they’re going to do what they do. He’s a pro at it. He’s one of the best out there.”
Washington State’s Mike Leach
After a win against Oregon, Leach said he’s seen improvement from a number of offensive units. “The offensive line is playing better. I think the receivers are getting into the rhythm, and so is the quarterback,” Leach said. “The runningbacks, they had a good game last week, too."
Receiver Gabe Marks leads WSU with 43 receptions for 525 yards and five receiving touchdowns. He recorded eight grabs for 111 yards and two scores in the 45-38 overtime victory against the Ducks last weekend. “Gabe’s always been a real competitive guy and he wants the ball, those kinds of things. Gabe’s done a tremendous job in terms of working and developing into a complete football player,” Leach said.
Leach, getting philosophical on whether the Cougs’ confidence is high following the victories: “That’s kind of a chicken and the egg argument. You’re not going to win if you don’t have confidence, and you’re not going to have confidence if you don’t win.
Washington’s Chris Petersen
One word to describe Washington’s opponent this week: scary. “I think on offense they’re as scary as anybody out there,” Petersen said of Oregon. “On defense, it’s basically that same front seven that played in that national championship game. I know the type of guys they have there. I know the coaches, I know how competitive they are. It’s a normal, scary, Oregon team.”
Petersen said Washington is thinking of Steve Sarkisian, the Huskies’ former coach who was fired at USC this week. The current UW coach believes social media, and media in general, have unfairly piled on Sarkisian. “I think everybody feels for Steve,” Petersen said. “Nobody likes everybody piling on. Nobody in this program likes that. He’s going through some tough times. That has been a little bit of a downer.”
On his experience as Oregon’s wide receivers coach from 1995-2000: “Just really enjoyed the staff, liked the kids there. Liked everything about it. Coaching with some really good coaches, a lot of them are still there. I think one reason they’ve had so much success is they’ve kept those coaches there.”
UCLA’s Jim Mora
Mora said UCLA’s next opponent, Stanford, is “just playing with a high level of efficiency and consistency. Very efficient on offense, disciplined on defense.”
The Bruins haven’t beat the Cardinals since 2008. Mora’s teams have accounted for the last four losses to Stanford. In 2012, UCLA fell in the regular season finale and then in the Pac-12 title game. The last two seasons, the Bruins have scored just 10 points in each game. There’s no trend to the losses other than UCLA not playing well in some of the outings, according to Mora. “Every game’s been different,” he said.
Stanford's David Shaw
Both Stanford and UCLA come off bye weeks but are going in different directions. The Cardinal blew out Arizona two weeks ago, while the Bruins dropped out of the top-10 in the major polls with a loss to ASU. Stanford hosts UCLA this week in a top-20 showdown. “It’s been a really, really competitive series,” Shaw said.
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