Assorted takes and out-takes from today’s Pac-12 coaches conference call:
Wonder how many teams have ever lost a game when piling up 38 first downs? That’s what Arizona did in the 54-48 OT loss at Stanford. “We’re getting first downs, but we’d like to have more explosive plays,” says Rich Rodriguez. As for what seems to be a good transition to his fast-paced offense, he says, “There’s still more we’ve gotta do. We’re not running the ball nearly well enough.” Rodriguez is a tough critic; the ‘Cats are third in the Pac-12 in rushing at 183 yards a game.
ASU’s obvious challenge for its Thursday-night game at Colorado is not to be peeking ahead to Oregon in the game a week later. “It’s something we better not do, I’ll tell you that,” said Todd Graham. “It has everything to do with the mental maturity of your football team. These guys have shown me maturity (in practice) and focused on the task at hand. We talk about our first road game to Missouri. We weren’t mentally prepared to play on the road. We made stupid penalties and turnovers. We think we’ve done a great job preparing them; we’ll see.” As for running back Cameron Marshall – only ASU’s third-leading rusher at 164 yards, and a 3.3-yard average – Graham points to troublesome ankle injuries that limited Marshall in spring and fall camp.
The return of tight end Richard Rodgers (7 catches, 129 yards) against UCLA gave Bear fans a glimpse of how Cal’s offense has been crimped with injuries at the position. “To have him back in the game and be able to contribute, definitely gives you another phase of your offense,” says Jeff Tedford, who points out that backups Spencer Hagan (season-ending knee injury) and Jacob Wark (foot) also have been out.
The Buffs and Arizona State play in another in a series of Pac-12 Thursday-night games, this one in Boulder. Those have the effect of mini-byes sandwiched around a game, since it’s a 12-day gap back to the previous game and nine days until the next one unless a team plays two Thursday nights in a row (like Arizona State). “I like it,” says Jon Embree. “We didn’t have a bye last year. I like the Thursday-night game. It’s special to be able to be on it, an opportunity to play before a captive audience. There’s a lot of good things about playing Thursday night.”
“Heck of a way to break in,” Mike Riley says of junior quarterback Cody Vaz, whose starting debut is at Brigham Young and its No. 3-ranked scoring defense. Riley has always talked up Vaz as being part of competitions at OSU, including in 2011 in the spring, when Ryan Katz and Sean Mannion were dueling. “There was definite competition,” Riley says. “I’ve always thought he was a good quarterback. He’s not much of a different style from Sean, he’s just shorter.”
The Cardinal travels to Notre Dame, which is No. 7 and probably will be focused, having lost three in a row to Stanford. David Shaw says of Irish uber-linebacker Manti Te’o: “His acceleration from Point A to Point B has to be the best in college football.”
Stock in the Bruins, so bullish not long ago, has fallen after league losses to Oregon State and Cal. Jim Mora says QB Brett Hundley’s stat line – 31 of 47 with four interceptions – isn’t as bad as it looks, given that Hundley “hucked some up there” during desperation moments against the Bears. “The thing that’s impressive about him is whether things are going well or not going well, he keeps an even keel,” said Mora. The Bruins host a struggling Utah team Saturday in a game that puts the loser in some trouble.
Kyle Whittingham says RB John White “was back to his old self” against USC, carrying 13 times for 68 yards, and Whittingham second-guessed himself for not getting White the ball more, saying, “in hindsight, we probably should have given him 17 or 18” carries. The Utes are now 2-3, and with a loss at UCLA Saturday, would trim their bowl chances. “It’s not time to panic,” Whittingham says. “We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing, better.”