Tuesday marked the first day of Pac-12 football teleconferences. Some snippets from each coach (with apologies to UCLA, because an operator malfunction prevented me from getting in to hear the leadoff hitter, Jim Mora):
‘Zona coach Rich Rodriguez says likely quarterback starter B.J. Denker is “a pretty athletic guy. He got a little bit of experience last year. Good arm, runs well, he’s a smart guy. He wasn’t in spring practice (in 2012), so his August camp was his first exposure to the system. I think he has a pretty good grasp of what we’re doing now.”
Rodriguez addressed the defensive issues that plagued Arizona a year ago, saying that “seven or eight” freshmen would possibly add to the depth, admitting that’s “a little scary.”
ASU, oddly, has a bye this week, not opening until next Thursday night against Sacramento State.
Todd Graham says the troublesome “Spur” linebacker position – manned last year by Auburn product Chris Young – has settled down some. Young was moved in the spring to weakside linebacker, and will play there when the Sun Devils go with three down linemen, and when they’re going with four down, will return to the Spur. Fifth-year senior Anthony Jones takes the Spur in three-down situations.
Sonny Dykes was asked if it helps that his defensive coordinator, Andy Buh, was at Wisconsin last year, and thus ran across Northwestern, Saturday night’s Cal opponent.
“He certainly saw them on film a lot, being in the (same) league,” Dykes said. “He’s familiar with their style of play. They’re so diverse in what they do offensively, in what (quarterback Kain) Colter does, making plays. They just execute incredibly well.”
Last week, Dykes named freshman Jared Goff the starter at quarterback, and “he’s gotten better and better. So has Zach Kline.”
A year ago, Mike MacIntyre plugged in JC transfer David Fales to his San Jose State offense, and by the end of the season, he “was breaking every school record there was.” Whether Connor Wood can do the same thing for the Buffs in his first extended action, MacIntyre said, “We’ve got to see him play the season.”
Of Wood, MacIntyre said, “He’s big, athletic and can run. He can flick it 60 yards, just flicking it.”
Backing Wood is Bellarmine High freshman Sefo Liufau, whom MacIntyre said “is our best guy behind Connor. We’re expecting a lot of Sefo in the future.”
The tailback spot vacated by Kenjon Barner appears to be the domain of sophomore Byron Marshall, whom Mark Helfrich says “has been outstanding, exactly what we’d kind of hoped for. He’s playing fast, almost reckless as far as he hits it downhill.”
Oregon opens with Nicholls State, which, given that rival Oregon State walloped the Louisiana team a year ago, 77-3, almost bends the imagination of what the Ducks might do. At least that’s outside perception.
“We don’t really talk about that,” said Helfrich, “whether we’re playing a team thought to be inferior, or superior, we approach it the same. One thing we said (to our players) at the beginning of the week, ‘We’re playing to our standards. We’re not going to coach with any kind of different effort, and we’ll prove it to you.’ Our guys have had a good week.”
Defensive line was a concern entering fall camp, but Mike Riley said he’s feeling better about it today. Starters are likely to be Mana Rosa and John Braun, and Riley says it’s likely OSU can rotate as many as five players.
Offensive line has some concerns, because right tackle Gavin Andrews has come down with mono, which Riley said “could be kind of a medium-to-long-range deal.” OSU is listing true freshman Sean Harlow at that spot (he came in for spring ball), but it may move O’Dea product Grant Enger from right guard to tackle, and insert Roman Sapolu and Mount Si grad Josh Mitchell into the center and guard spots. Primo sophomore center Isaac Seumalo has missed practice time with a sore knee, necessitating the possible switch.
OSU hosts Eastern Washington Saturday. The Eagles threw a mighty scare into OSU in the Fiesta Bowl-winning season of 2000 when they lost 21-19 in a season-opening game with Dennis Erickson as Beaver coach.
Josh Garnett, the offensive guard from Puyallup, has a couple of big hurdles standing in his way of a starting spot – All-American David Yankey and veteran Kevin Danser. But David Shaw says, “He’s going to work himself into a role for us. Josh’s ability has shown through. We’re not going to leave him on the bench.”
Starting wide receiver Devon Cajuste (6-4, 228) could give the Cardinal a bit of what it might be missing with the departure of two standout tight ends. Says Shaw, “He knows how to work. For a guy 230 pounds, he does a great job getting in and out of breaks. He can run some of those routes only smaller guys can run, and he’s a big, physical blocker for our weak-side running game.”
Lane Kiffin says both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will play against Hawaii Thursday night, though he won’t say how much. He says the knot there has more to do with how well they’ve done, rather than how poorly.
“I see it as, they’ve both performed so well,” he said. “I see it as positive. I think it’s the fact they’ve really worked on their weaknesses. We don’t have to call the game any differently.”
Standout back Silas Redd won’t make the trip because he is still slowed in his recovery from a spring knee injury.
The Utes open Thursday night at home against Utah State, and the Aggies put an upset loss on Utah a year ago in Logan, which Kyle Whittingham admits stayed with him a long time.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “Me personally, I didn’t take it very well. I think there was a little bit of a hangover effect. That’s squarely on my shoulders.”
Whittingham’s team faces a veteran quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, and USU’s new coach is Matt Wells, the team’s offensive coordinator last year when it went 11-2.
“My guess is, there’s going to be very little change,” said Whittingham. “I equate it to when I took over for Urban (Meyer). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Steve Sarkisian says he feels much more comfortable with his defense, largely because of the maturity many players have gained with a year in the Justin Wilcox system.
Sarkisian had special words for Hau’oli Kikaha (formerly Jamora), who has been sidelined by knee injuries in 2011-12.
“He’s been better than ever,” Sarkisian said. “He’s flying around all over the field, his intensity is as high as it’s ever been. The guy practices like crazy. He was voted one of our three defensive captains, and for a guy that hasn’t played in two years, that speaks volumes to the type of leadership he brings.”
A question from an Alabama writer elicited a fairly priceless response from Mike Leach. It had to do with what Leach might know of Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, since Johnson was at Alabama in 1997, when Leach was an assistant to Hal Mumme at Kentucky and the Wildcats beat ‘Bama, 40-34, in overtime.
“I don’t remember a darned thing,” Leach said. “I didn’t know we’d gone against Ellis Johnson. Son of a gun, I didn’t know that. That’s good to know. I had no idea. What’s the question again?”
Leach did, however, recall the game, which was a doozy if for no other reason than the fact Kentucky beat Alabama for the first time in 75 years. It’s the only time in history Kentucky fans tore down their goal-posts, and ESPN’s College Football Encyclopedia called it the biggest win in school history.
“Seventy-five years, can you imagine that?” Leach asked. “George Blanda (ex-Wildcat and later longtime NFL quarterback) was in the locker room. There was a fella that was a quarterback on the 1920-something team (in the locker room) in his wheelchair. He died not too long after that. He was well into his ‘90s. I’m not sure he didn’t stay around until Kentucky finally did beat Alabama.”