Pac-12 coaches teleconference: David Shaw, Clay Helton speak before title game

Before Stanford and USC meet for the second time this season and second time in three years in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game Friday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara (5 p.m. PT, ESPN), Cardinal head coach David Shaw and Trojans head coach Clay Helton spoke with the media Monday morning about the Friday night showdown.

Stanford

Stanford, Head Coach David Shaw

We’ll start with the injury news – defensive end Eric Cotton is out, while linebacker Joey Alfieri is questionable. Shaw said he’d probably need another day to know whether or not Alfieri would be able to take the field against the Trojans.

Shaw was asked about the development of quarterback K.J. Costello – “Every day, every rep he takes is another experience. He’s learned a lot and he has a lot left to learn,” Shaw said. “Bottom line for him is he’s got fire, he’s got passion, he’s got a strong arm and he’s an accurate passer.” Costello was 14-of-22 passing for 176 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Cardinal’s 38-20 win over Notre Dame.

Stanford gave up 623 yards of total offense to USC the first time these teams met in September, a 42-24 USC triumph in the Coliseum. One of Shaw’s biggest concerns is USC’s big-play ability, and he was complimentary of quarterback Sam Darnold, receiver Deontay Burnett and running back Ronald Jones in particular. “We have to limit the explosive plays,” Shaw said. “Make the 4-yard plays 4-yard plays, don’t let them go for 20… We missed a lot of tackles in that first USC game.”

What has changed the most about Stanford since that first USC game? “I think we have a better sense of who we are, what we should do and what we probably shouldn’t do,” Shaw said.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren and defensive coordinator Lance Anderson have both been on Shaw’s staff since he was named head coach back in 2011 (Anderson came to Stanford at the same time as Shaw in 2007 to work for Jim Harbaugh), and Shaw thinks both are well-prepared to take the next step in their careers and become head coaches. “I think both of them are prepared and ready to lead people, because that’s what you’re talking about when becoming a head coach. It’s not just the X’s and O’s,” Shaw said. “You have to have great people skills and be a leader of people, and I think both of them are ready for the challenge.”

Shaw was also asked about Chip Kelly coming back to the Pac-12 as UCLA’s new head coach. “First of all, I’m excited to have him back… I missed him. I love his personality, I love competing against him,” Shaw said. “He shook this conference up. He made everybody go back and look at what we were doing… I think what he did [at Oregon] really changed the course of this conference and made everybody better.”

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of David Shaw's full session]

USC

USC, Head Coach Clay Helton

One of the first questions directed Helton’s way was regarding his new head coaching rival Chip Kelly at UCLA. “Welcome, coach Kelly. I think it’s great for college football that coach Kelly is back in the game, and I think it’s great for our conference,” Helton said. “I think it brings a great amount of respect to our league.”

Helton discussed the development of linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who is third on the team with 6.5 sacks and is tied for fourth on the team with 68 tackles. “[Uchenna] really improved his pass rush. I think he’s a nightmare for offensive tackles with his speed and explosion,” said Helton, who also noted how well Nwosu is at diagnosing plays and knowing when he can get to the quarterback and when he can’t and try to bat down passes instead (Nwosu leads the team with 13 pass break-ups).

Since the Stanford game, Helton has been most pleased with the development of his offensive skill position players, pointing out the development of wide receivers Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman in particular. Getting back wide receiver Steven Mitchell for the month of November after missing three games combined in September and October has also helped, Helton noted.

On Stanford defensive lineman Harrison Phillips – “physically mature person that is incredibly strong,” Helton said. “Very football savvy kid; has great football instincts. He diagnoses plays extremely quickly. He is a handful… Going to be a challenge for our center Nico Falah.”

On Stanford quarterback KJ Costello – “Lately, KJ has done a really nice job stepping in,” Helton said, noting that he likes Costello’s ability to hit the big play while protecting the football.

What would Helton say to other athletic departments looking to hire USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin as head coach? “I would say that Tee is going to be an exceptional head coach. It’s an opportunity he deserves and is ready for when the time comes,” Helton said. “I’ve been thankful for every day that I’ve had Tee here. He is the most complete coach I’ve ever been around. Whoever decides to make him their head coach is getting a valuable commodity.”

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Clay Helton's full session]

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