Snippets from Tuesday’s weekly teleconference with Pac-12 football coaches:
‘Cats host Texas-San Antonio, a recent addition to Conference USA and a team that beat New Mexico 21-13 and lost to Oklahoma State, 56-35. They’re coached by Larry Coker, who won a national championship at Miami.
“One of the first things I told the team is, they’ve got some very, very good players,” said ‘Zona coach Rich Rodriguez. “They’ve got skill players that can run. I’ve been very impressed with them on film.”
There’s not a lot of science to ASU’s game with Wisconsin Saturday night: Can the Sun Devils, 10th in the league in run defense a year ago at 183 yards a game, stop the run?
“They’re going to be exactly what they’ve been in the past,” said Todd Graham, referring to the coaching handoff from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen. “Their tailbacks are going to run through arm tackles. Their big plays need to be 12, 14, 15 yards, not 60. That’s gonna be the key for us, tackling and being disciplined in our run fits.”
Graham said there’s “no question we’re a better run defense than we were a year ago.”
Wisconsin has clubbed two outmanned opponents, 93-0.
Brendan Bigelow has modest numbers — 33 carries for 136 yards in two games, but you have to know Ohio State will be wary. Bigelow gashed the Buckeyes for 160 yards on four carries and two long touchdowns last year in Columbus as Cal scared OSU.
“I think we’ve all been expecting him to make a couple of big plays, which haven’t really materialized yet,” said Sonny Dykes, mentioning several factors, including Bigelow having come off minor knee surgery in the spring.
As for defensive tackle Deandre Coleman of Garfield, who has five tackles, including half a tackle for loss, Dykes said, “Deandre’s been pretty steady. We’re waiting to see him make some big plays. He hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to make tackles for losses or sacks.” Dykes, in Bay Area news reports after the Portland State win, had referred to Coleman as a “non-factor” after two weeks.
Fresno State, in Boulder, marks sort of a benchmark game for the Buffs, who were flattened 69-14 last year in what was the most ghoulish game of the two-year Jon Embree regime. Colorado fell behind 35-0 in the first quarter and trailed 55-7 at halftime.
Mike MacIntyre wasn’t there a year ago, but asked if the game will impact his players, he responded, “With any competitor it does. For them to say it doesn’t, I think they’d be lying.”
MacIntyre said he saw a marked change in attitude with the 2-0 Buffs after he chided them for their spirit following the first “six or seven spring practices. It was like pulling teeth. We had a scrimmage, made some plays and nobody got excited. Nobody congratulated anybody. I said, ‘You’re not enjoying what you’re doing. You’ve got to find passion.’ ’’
Linebacker attrition was a concern around Oregon in the off-season, but Derrick Malone has stepped up with 23 tackles in two games, more than twice anybody else on the Duck roster. He and high school teammate Rodney Hardrick (Colton, Calif.) “have done a good job of playing older than they are,” says Mark Helfrich, and getting the defense organized.
As for the debut of heralded freshman tailback Thomas Tyner, who scored twice for Oregon at Virginia, Helfrich said, “He was OK. He needs to play, needs to get hit, he needs to make some mistakes. You’d like to have those happen in practice rather than games.”
The Beavers are a mess on the offensive line, which was thought to be a deep, strong area as recently as a few weeks ago. OSU is now down three starters – one of them O’Dea product Grant Enger (sprained knee) – and is moving standout center Isaac Seumalo to right tackle temporarily.
“You try not to think of the whole season as being ahead of you, and just look at the week,” says Mike Riley. “On the offensive line, if we can stay healthy, in two weeks, we might-could get the original starting line back together.”
The Cardinal visits Army, and David Shaw is properly respectful of the occasion, saying, “I mentioned to the team yesterday, we’re playing against young men that are willing to do things we’re not willing to do down the road. Our freedom is in their hands. We love them and appreciate them . . . I wouldn’t call myself a historian, but I have my top six or seven presidents. It’s an iconic place in our nation’s history and I’m looking forward to the trip.”
With Nebraska ahead, Jim Mora says, “I don’t know that we could go into a more difficult situation.” He was talking about the aftermath of the death of freshman receiver Nick Pasquale and the challenge of playing in Lincoln.
“They (Nebraska) have a ton of class, their administration, the way they’ve been empathetic about what’s happened here. (But) when the game starts, it’s a hostile environment. We have to be able to handle our emotions, we have to be able to remain poised. It’s a tremendous test.”
As for Pasquale’s impact on his players, Mora said, “Football pales in comparison to what they’re going through. But it’s also an outlet for their emotions and their grief.
Lane Kiffin’s remarks all came in response to questions I had regarding the offensive approach and mistakes against Washington State. Check out Wednesday’s Times for more on the Trojans and those woes.
Utes have a situation I can’t recall in Pac-12/Pac-10/Pac-8 history: They’re at home for their first three league games, starting with Oregon State.
“We’re going to try to take advantage of that,” says Kyle Whittingham, who indicated that he didn’t discuss the odd scheduling with the league when it was brought forth.
The schedule means the Utes don’t leave their state until game seven, at Arizona Oct. 19.
“I haven’t experienced that as well (the three straight league games at home),” Whittingham said. “But it is what it is. You just play ‘em as they unfold.”
Steve Sarkisian said he thought the odd timing of a bye week – one week into the season – was beneficial for the Huskies, as they come off a resounding win over Boise State. He noted that such a scenario was common at USC under Pete Carroll, saying, “I really think we’re gonna go out and play great Saturday (in Chicago against Illinois). It’s not about where we’re going, or what the field is, or what the weather is.”
Mike Leach said he couldn’t recall specifically whether one of his teams had ever won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown, as it did against USC Saturday night (last time WSU did it was the 1994 opener with the Palouse Posse, beating Illinois 10-9).
“I was really excited about how our defense played, our D-line in particular,” he said. “Our secondary was real aggressive, too. It was really a game where both teams struggled with each other’s defensive line and the offenses never really got into a rhythm.”