Tuesday morning marked the weekly Pac-12 football coaches teleconference. Some snippets:
‘Zona goes to Eugene for a Thursday-night game against Oregon, and much will be made of last year’s confrontation, when the Wildcats undressed the Ducks, 42-16, in a late-season game in Tucson.
“We played a clean game; we didn’t have any turnovers,” said coach Rich Rodriguez. Indeed, the Wildcats had none, Oregon had three, and the Ducks committed eight penalties and the UA had only two.
“We gave up a couple of semi-big plays, but not a lot of big, big plays,” Rodriguez. “The key is, we’ve got to tackle in space and limit those explosive plays on defense.”
As for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, RichRod said, “There are no negatives. There are none. And every positive is a high positive.”
ASU coach Todd Graham says the emphasis for backup quarterback Mike Bercovici is simply taking care of the ball.
“You can’t turn the football over,” he said. “If you take away the interception (for a 95-yard touchdown against UCLA) he threw before the half and the fumble that resulted in a touchdown, he had a great game. (But) we only had one goal going into the game: Take care of the football. Those were errors made outside the system, where you’re trying to make a play.”
As for USC, the Sun Devils’ opponent Saturday afternoon, Graham said, “Talent-wise, they’re the best we’ve seen on film at this point. We won’t play a better tailback combination or a better group of receivers all year.”
Sonny Dykes’ team is 3-1 going to Washington State, two more wins than in 2013. Why?
“The biggest thing is just our attitude and team camaraderie, work ethic and buy-in,” he said. “It has a different personality. It’s a much tougher team and more invested. It cares about each other, it’s much more unselfish. When you have that kind of team, it’s fun to coach, and you can overcome some weaknesses.”
Nary a question was asked of Mike MacIntyre, so we’ll include a couple of observations from other coaches on CU receiver Nelson Spruce, who had an amazing 19 catches at Cal.
“He’s just incredibly competitive,” said Sonny Dykes. “To me, all the great receivers I’ve been around, that’s where it started. He just plays with a chip on his shoulder. He wants the ball all the time.”
Said Oregon State’s Mike Riley, whose team plays at Boulder this week: “He kind of reminds me of Mike Hass (the former OSU Biletnikoff Award winner), the strength he has, and the suddenness. He’s a good player. I think we need three guys to cover him.”
Mark Helfrich characterized his defense as having been “up and down. At times, we’ve been really good against the run or the pass. We need to tackle better, we need to understand where we are in the scheme and just let it loose and play hard. You can make up for a lot of things with just sheer, relentless effort.”
Helfrich said Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, whom Washington State victimized a few times Sept. 20, has responded with “accountability. Washington State is a very talented team. They’re going to hit some fades, they don’t care who they’re throwing against, and they took some shots against Ifo.”
Riley said receiver Victor Bolden could possibly play this week at Colorado after missing the USC loss with a finger injury. “I still give him an outside chance in this game,” Riley said.
Of the offensive woes at USC, Riley said the matter of balance was a problem – unusually so in that it was the run game that led the way while the passing game lagged. Riley made it plain that receivers not “winning on a route” was a big part of it.
The Cardinal got a breakout performance from linebacker Peter Kalambayi against Washington. He had three sacks, most at the school since Shayne Skov in 2011, and totaled 35 yards in losses against Washington. That won him Pac-12 defensive player of the week.
“Pep Hamilton (former Stanford offensive coordinator) went to go watch him (in high school in Mathews, N.C.),” said David Shaw. “Here’s a kid who’s 230 pounds and he’s competing in the 100. He was a phenomenal student in high school, a tough kid. He’s in that next evolution (after) Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. He’s still growing into the position, but we’ve told him, ‘If you’re not a starter, come in the game and make an impact.’ ’’
The Bruins’ game against Utah Saturday features two of the nation’s most explosive return men, the Utes’ Kaelin Clay and UCLA’s Ishmael Adams, each of whom took one to the house last week.
Jim Mora assures his team wouldn’t kick away from Clay, saying, “We have one of the best kickoff-coverage units in college football, and we’ve not given up a single yard yet on a punt return. Now, this kid’s special. I don’t know that we’ll be able to say that after this game. But we really don’t change what we do. We don’t want to go too far away from our core principles.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t taking the same tack with Adams, saying, “You’d be crazy to kick it right to him. It doesn’t make sense.”
Steve Sarkisian, asked how USC held OSU’s Sean Mannion to 123 passing yards, said, “I loved our aggressiveness up front. We tried to give him some different looks in the secondary, and I thought we were aggressive with the receivers.”
Saturday night’s matchup with Arizona State is a rematch of Lane Kiffin’s last game at USC, when ASU ran the Trojans out of Sun Devil Stadium in a 62-41 romp.
Whittingham said of the aftermath of the come-from-ahead WSU loss: “It was devastating in the locker room. It was tough, one of the toughest losses since I’ve been here, and that’s a long time.”
Whittingham credited the Cougar defense, saying, “I thought going in it was Coach Leach’s best defense since he arrived there, and that definitely was the case. We ran the ball efficiently and didn’t throw the ball very efficiently and had some key drops.”
Asked what he’s telling quarterback Cyler Miles this week, Chris Petersen said, “I think we’ve got to hang in the pocket a little more. You know how it is with those scrambling quarterbacks: They can make things happen with their legs, so it’s a fine line between bailing out or staying with your read progressions. But it’s always the same: You’re ready to blame it on one guy and it’s never like that.”
Suddenly, the Cougars have a playmaker in junior linebacker Jeremiah Allison, who, over the last two games, has 23 tackles, including two for loss against Utah.
Allison began the season as Darryl Monroe’s backup at the middle linebacker spot, but has since supplanted Tana Pritchard at weak linebacker.
“He’s an explosive, aggressive guy,” said Mike Leach. “Just fearless and explosive. He started doing some things on special teams and we thought his play just kind of elevated as time went on. I actually think we probably could have got more snaps out of him last year, too. He’s on a tear.”
As for his linebacker crew, Leach said, “Jeremiah’s probably the hottest one. Cyrus (Coen) is playing real well and then Darryl’s steady.”