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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 2, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Notes and nuggets from the Pac-12 coaches teleconference . . .

Tuesday brought the second Pac-12 coaches teleconference. Some of the highlights, alphabetically:


Coach Rich Rodriguez said his team ought to have “a great deal of respect” for Texas-San Antonio, Thursday night’s opponent on the road, for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that UTSA went to Houston in its opener last week and clubbed the Cougars, 27-7.

“It wasn’t just a big win, it was a win on the road in a tough environment,” Rodriguez said.

Last year, in the first of a two-for-one arrangement with UTSA, Arizona won, 38-13, but Rodriguez said he remembers the Roadrunners for “how hard they played and how well-coached they were.”

Arizona State

The opponent, Weber State, was overmatched, but Todd Graham said of his defense, “I thought we did a good job. We took our starters out at halftime, it was 31-0, and a lot of our coaches didn’t want to do that. I thought it’d be foolish to get someone hurt.”

Asked about defensive standouts, Graham singled out freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun, saying he was impressed with his “spirit and attitude.” He also threw bouquets in the direction of two other true freshmen — corner Armand Perry, freshman defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood, plus veterans Damarious Randall (defensive back), Marcus Hardison (defensive tackle) and Salamo Fiso (linebacker).

ASU travels to New Mexico for its next test.


Sonny Dykes said “everything was different” about his team’s 31-24 victory at Northwestern, compared to the 1-11 morass that engulfed his Bears a year ago. And he said he thinks they’ll keep their feet on the ground with Sacramento State ahead Saturday.

“We’re two weeks out from being labeled the worst power-five-conference team in the country,” Dykes said. “I pointed that out to our guys. One of the national reporters said that about our team. It was a good reality check for our guys.”


Mike MacIntyre chalked up Colorado’s inability to stop the Colorado State run in a 31-17 loss as “more about run fits and not playing third downs correctly. We had two totally messed-up (third down situations), stuff that we worked on. We make a couple of those and it’s a different ball game.”

Colorado makes an odd trip to UMass this week in the first meeting of the two.


Mark Helfrich profusely praises the Michigan State team the Ducks host Saturday afternoon and says the Spartans, who beat Stanford in the last Rose Bowl, run a defense “much different than anybody in this conference.”

Helfrich says it’s a 4-3 defense with primarily “quarters” coverage (in which the secondary members are responsible for a vertical quarter of the field), “and they self-adjust to every formation and have a pressure out of it.”

Says Helfrich: “They don’t give you an inch.”

Oregon State

“The two biggest issues with our team right now are the receivers and offensive line,” said Mike Riley. “What we have to is bring (those groups) along hard so Sean (Mannion) can be at his best. That’s going to be an ongoing process for us and really important to the success of this team.”

OSU is at Hawaii, its second appearance in Honolulu in less than nine months, after it thumped Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl last December.


Much will be written about the revised, brisk pace of the offense of USC, this week’s opponent. Then there was the chirping that Stanford coach David Shaw and Steve Sarkisian did last year about allegedly faked injuries after Washington and Stanford played.

USC ran a league-record 105 plays last week against Fresno State, but Shaw figures its defense is just as big a part in that as the offense.

“It’s not just a function of tempo, it’s a function of them playing great defense and getting Fresno State off the field,” Shaw said. “I used to always remind people about Oregon, that what they did on defense was just as vital to what they do on offense.” Mentioning USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Shaw said, “They’re going to give that offense a lot of opportunities.”


Jim Mora was in tight-lipped mode, providing short answers to just about everything asked on the call. Asked if he has concerns about an offensive line that Virginia devoured Saturday, allowing the Bruins just one offensive touchdown, Mora said, “I’m concerned about everything, concerned about every position on our team. We’ve got to get better every single day and that’s our focus.”

UCLA has a chance to get well this week in its home opener against Memphis.


One of the juicy matchups in the Stanford-USC game, if it materializes at all, would be USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams against Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, each of them a possible top-five NFL draft pick.

“I don’t exactly how all that’s going to play out,” says Steve Sarkisian, who, of course, does, “but if and when they do, it’s a great matchup.”

Sarkisian praised quarterback Cody Kessler for a “really tough, gritty game” against Fresno State. “He possessed a tremendous amount of leadership.”


Kyle Whittingham said QB Travis Wilson played an “outstanding” game, but “we’d like to see him get a little more judicious” in hard-charging runs with the ball.

Whittingham said he and his staff knew Wilson wouldn’t be gunshy, even as he was sidelined last year by a pre-existing brain injury that threatened his career. Whittingham said they made quarterbacks “live” in preseason scrimmage situations and Wilson showed no timidity.


The 17-16 win at Hawaii, close as it was, came with the positive of finding out how his team would react in a tight one, said Chris Petersen.

“No question,” he said. “Our team did a nice job of staying positive and kind of hanging together. It was not an easy game for us in a lot of ways. One is outside expectations, which have nothing to do with anything, because if somebody says you should be favored or whatever and you start believing those headlines, bad things are going to happen.”


Mike Leach has two assistants with ties to Friday night’s opponent, Nevada. Running backs coach Jim Mastro was an assistant there under Chris Ault, and linebackers coach Ken Wilson has a son on the team, deep-snapper Tyler Wilson. Ken Wilson came to WSU after more than two decades’ association with Nevada, 19 as an assistant coach.

Asked if the game has more meaning to those two, Leach said, “I haven’t gotten a sense of that, really.”



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