Tuesday morning marked the weekly Pac-12 football coaches media teleconference. Some of what was discussed:
After its madcap win over Cal, Arizona gets five extra days to get that win out of its system, not taking the field until nine days from now in a Thursday game against Oregon in Eugene.
“We normally give the guys 24 hours, win or lose,” said coach Rich Rodriguez, talking about the rehash time for any game. “We said we’d go ahead and extend that to 48 hours.”
Rodriguez says the Wildcats practice Hail Mary plays for a repetition or two each Thursday, on both sides of the ball. When they do it on offense, it’s uncontested, and “We always complete it, and we always have a mini-celebration after it.”
Saturday night, it was a maxi-celebration.
The buildup to the UCLA matchup Thursday night has been all about the quarterbacks, as Brett Hundley and Taylor Kelly were injured Sept. 13. As for what he expects from UCLA and Hundley, Todd Graham said, “He’s going to play. I’m being honest with you. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to play. And I can tell you this: Taylor Kelly’s going to play a lot faster than people think he’s going to play.”
Media reports in Los Angeles indicate that Hundley has lately been able to practice.
Media speculation in Arizona is that Kelly might return Oct. 18 against Stanford. But Graham’s statement might indicate otherwise.
Kelly is almost assuredly out Thursday night, and Graham says backup Mike Bercovici needs to play within himself.
“You can’t get all emotional,” he said. “You’re not a linebacker. You can’t be banging your head against the wall. Our personnel is incredible. We have a great offensive line, as good as I think there is in the Pac-12. Use the talent around you, distribute the ball, don’t try to do too much. That’s the key. Don’t get out there and get too amped up.”
Ironically, Cal coach Sonny Dykes followed Arizona’s Rodriguez on the call. Asked what was done wrong on the Arizona Hail Mary, Dykes said, “We could have done some different things with our alignment, the safeties could have been a little deeper, we could have had a little bit better body position. The biggest thing is, we lost contain. There are a million things you’d like to do better, but you learn from it, you correct it and move on.”
The Buffs are at Cal Saturday, and Mike MacIntyre probably recognizes some of the Bears’ tendencies on defense.
“Art Kaufman (Cal’s first-year defensive coordinator) and I coached together at Ole Miss (1999-2000),” MacIntyre said. “We lived across the street from each other.”
As for what he saw of Arizona’s explosion for 36 fourth-quarter points Saturday night against Cal, MacIntyre said, “I think Arizona just got hot. Sometimes that happens, and you’re always hoping a miscue happens. The quarterback (Anu Solomon) seemed to grow up right before your eyes. All of a sudden, it seemed like every throw was right on the money, and he was making good decisions.”
On the Ducks’ patchwork offensive line, Mark Helfrich said the woes (seven sacks at Washington State on Marcus Mariota) were sometimes the result of older players trying to do too much.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “A lot of it was the quote-unquote veteran guys leading to some breakdowns. It wasn’t all the new guys. It’s a little bit of human nature. Guys try to overcompensate and do too much, and that’s the worst thing. Now you’ve weakened two positions, not just one. But our guys battled through.”
OSU flanker Victor Bolden is out with a broken finger for USC, and Mike Riley says, “It does cramp us for sure. The other factor is Rahmel Dockery (hip pointer) hasn’t practiced yet. We’re thinking Rahmel has a chance to play. The crew is going to have to do it together.”
The Beavers haven’t won at USC since 1960, when Dwight Eisenhower was president. Riley was seven years old then. When I asked him what he was doing at seven, he laughed and replied, “As a matter of fact, we weren’t even living here (Corvallis) yet. My dad (Bud Riley) was head coach of the Lewiston (High School) Bengals. I must have been in first or second grade. But I told our team, you don’t have to bear the burden of all that history.”
Referring to the high level of play in the league, David Shaw pointed to the Cal-Arizona game and said, “Every game is scary. No one had a lot of expectations for Cal, and moderate expectations for Arizona because they lost a big-time running back. You turn on their games, and go, ‘Wow!’ They’re explosive, fast and productive. You have to constantly remind your guys that every team has a chance to beat you.”
The Bruins’ maligned offensive line must acquit itself at Arizona State, but Jim Mora stepped to its defense, saying, “They took a step forward in the Memphis game, and another step forward in the Texas game. A lot of that has to do with Jake Brendel (veteran center) coming back, and a lot of it has to do with the left tackle being new. People see the sack totals (a league-worst 12), and a lot of people think that belongs to the offensive line. Some sacks belong to receivers, some to the quarterback, some to running backs, some to the defense. I’m happy with where they’re at, and even more happy with where they’re headed.”
The Trojans, who host Oregon State, spent the off-week working on some fundamental issues, including defensive breakdowns at Boston College and problems related to a young offensive line.
“We have quite a bit of youth up front, and this’ll be the fourth really veteran defense we’ve faced,” said Steve Sarkisian. “People are challenging those guys, giving those guys a variety of stunts and pressures, putting a tall task on those guys.”
Many of the defensive problems at BC – zone-read misplays causing USC to allow 452 yards rushing – won’t come into play this week with Sean Mannion “but we’re going to see it in weeks to come,” Sarkisian said.
The Utes, hosting WSU Saturday, got a big lift at Michigan in the debut of linebacker Gionni Paul, a transfer from Miami. Paul, who had 14 tackles and an interception, found his way to Salt Lake City largely because veteran assistant Dennis Erickson recruited him when he was head coach at Arizona State.
“His outing was exceptional, not only in and of itself, but because he had to sit out last year because of the transfer rule,” said Kyle Whittingham. “We had him a week or two in the spring before the injury, and we were getting him back for the first time. To have that type of impact on the game . . . we felt he was going to play well, but I don’t know if anybody believed he was going to play that well.”
Whittingham says quarterback Travis Wilson has been even more focused and driven, having had the experience of a pre-existing brain condition that almost ended his career.
“I do think it changed his mindset,” Whittingham says. “He went up a couple of levels in every facet, from the weight room to film study. That’s a product of having something taken away from you. Not to say that he was lacking in any focus or work ethic.”
Chris Petersen, on the No. 1-ranked Stanford defense: “They’re physical, there’s a lot in their system there. They keep you off-balance. They’re very aggressive, from their D-line to their linebackers blitzing. They’re just really, really sound. You’re not going to get anything where a guy’s wide open. You’ve got to earn everything you get against those guys.”
Mike Leach isn’t giving a lot of ear to the notion that the Cougars might let down this week because of the emotion spent in the 38-31 loss to Oregon: “Anytime you go out there on the field, you need to play the best you can. That’s what we need to focus on.”