Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: Devante Downs and Justin Wilcox discuss Cal's improved defense
The Pac-12's best rushing defense faces the best rushing offense. Cal's surging defense will get a welcome challenge in facing a probable Heisman candidate. The Oregon State Beavers are playing for their fallen quarterback and more from the Pac-12 coaches as Week 4 approaches.
California's Justin Wilcox and Devante Downs
Cal is 3-0. How did this happen?
Defense, said Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Devante Downs and his coach Justin Wilcox.
The Golden Bears are allowing an average of 20 points less per game this year than they did in 2016, indicating Wilcox's defensive mindset has translated quickly to the team.
"They brought a really great scheme," Downs said following his 14-tackle, three-sack, one-interception game against Ole Miss. "With new schemes, it puts players in position to make plays that they didn't before. Players are playing with confidence."
For Wilcox, of course, there's room to improve.
"They're competing really hard and playing tough. We have to play more consistent and execute more consistently but they're competing hard and playing for each other," he said. "We always set pretty high standards in our own building so we feel like we can play a lot better, and we're going to need to play a lot better to continue to have success, so that's what we're focused on and not necessarily opinions of others."
The Bears will get the ultimate challenge in Week 4 against a strong USC team with three weeks of film on Cal.
Oregon State's Gary Andersen
Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton fractured his spine after getting tackled in the fourth quarter against Washington State.
He's week to week, and coach Gary Andersen said he's doing better physically and mentally as he prepares for classes.
"He's Jake, has a sense of humor and knows we're there for him for anything."
Andersen said the team has been kept up to date on Luton's well-being, and the news is firing them up.
"They're excited to go out and compete and get better, but it pulls at their hearts a little," he said. "It gives them an edge to play for Jake, to play harder. It's a positive in a horribly negative thing."
USC's Clay Helton
Coach Clay Helton would like to give Sam Darnold's arm a little break.
The hope for the Trojans in their upcoming game against Cal is to up the run game, he said.
"I'd love to be able to see a little more balance, we had 52 throws compared to 37 runs and we've been really good when we've been able to be a balanced offense. So I'm hoping to see a more effective run game this week."
Ronald Jones is the star, but don't forget about freshman Stephen Carr.
"I've been extremely impressed with Stephen, his catching ability out of the backfield. Ronald was one that had to develop those skills and now has them," Helton said. "Two very similar backs. Ronald is stronger in pass protection because he's been here for three years and Stephen just three weeks."
Washington's Chris Petersen
The Huskies will go a mile high for a 2016 Pac-12 Championship game rematch. Does the altitude change affect the players? "Affects kickoffs, doesn't affect players," said head coach Chris Petersen.
Oregon's Willie Taggart
The Ducks kick off conference play against Arizona State.
Willie Taggart said the mentality doesn't change much.
"Just continue to get better, it's conference play and we understand that every game is going to be tough and every one of those games are winnable," he said. " We still haven't played our best ballgame. We understand the importance of conference play but we aren't going to change what we do because it's conference play."
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
The Utah-Arizona matchup will pit the Pac-12's best rush defense against the Pac-12's best rush offense.
The Utes have allowed just one rushing touchdown on 148 yards – opponents are averaging just 1.7 yards per carry. The 'Cats are averaging 6.5 yards per carry with 13 rushing touchdowns.
Kyle Whittingham said they've been successful in containing the run game in the matchups they've managed to win against Arizona.
"Run game is the biggest key to the game," he said.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
The Buffs and Huskies will get a 2016 Pac-12 FCG rematch.
Colorado will have Dante Pettis to worry about on punt returns, too, but don't expect the Buffs not to kick it his way.
"He's phenomenal, he's a great player so we have to kick good and cover good," said coach Mike MacIntyre. "We'll do what we've always done and hopefully we can cover it."
MacIntyre went on to say that the Huskies look to have a more efficient offense and scary defense with the return of Azeem Victor at linebacker. "Washington is better than when we saw them in the Pac-12 Championship game."
Stanford's David Shaw
Stanford is 1-2, losing two in a row to a ranked conference rival in USC and then to unranked San Diego State (who's since moved into the top 25).
Coach David Shaw says his team's morale is still high.
"What we do on the practice field has to show up on game day," he said. "There has to be a sense of urgency, which I think there is. We're much better than that, how we've played the last couple weeks."
The Cardinal will face UCLA, who's start sort of inversely mirrors that of Stanford's with two big wins and one disappointing loss. Still, the Bruins show flashes of dominance.
"In spurts they can be dominant offensively and in spurts they can be dominant defensively," Shaw said. "Josh Rosen has proven he is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation."
UCLA's Jim Mora
Jim Mora discussed how he's mixed up his defensive schemes game to game, noting his players' versatility as the main reason he can do this.
"The rub is not doing so much that they can't execute, but doing enough that we don't become target practice."
Washington St Mike Leach
The Cougs are off to a fun 3-0 start – a shutout, a triple-OT comeback and dominant conference win to comprise their unblemished record thus far.
Coach Mike Leach likes the drive he sees from his team so far. All he hopes is that they maintain their focus. Luke Falk struggled against Boise State, but "kept it simple" in the win against Oregon State.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
The Wildcats play Utah this week, and coach Rich Rodriguez sees that the big, physical Utes have become more athletic on both sides of the ball. "They play at a fast tempo, they're big and physical but there's a lot of athleticism."
Arizona State's Todd Graham
The Sun Devils will open up Pac-12 play against a high-powered offense in Oregon.
Todd Graham noted how difficult it is to contain the Ducks' offense year in and year out. His team has seen Justin Herbert at his best, too.
"He's had one of his best games last year against us. He's very poised in the pocket, big, really tall, great at avoiding the sack," Graham said. "He does a great job running that offense and that's the key is making sure he doesn't get into rhythm."