Tuesday marked the weekly Pac-12 coaches football teleconference. Some highlights:
Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said he told his team that there were “probably 20 plays throughout the game” that could have made an impact, not just the 36-yard missed field goal at the wire against USC by Casey Skowron.
Arizona was mostly a dink-and-dunk offense against the Trojans, and RichRod said, “We didn’t throw it as much downfield, probably. That (USC’s zone defense) has something to do with it, and a lot of it was, they’re pretty good up front. I didn’t know how long we could block ‘em to get it downfield.”
Stanford, the opponent Saturday in Tempe, won two one-sided matchups last year against the Sun Devils. Is ASU better-equipped this time?
“I think we’re a lot better; I know we’re a lot better on the offensive line,” says Todd Graham. “We’re a lot better offensively than we were last year. (But) they’ve been very impressive defensively even though they lost a lot of guys. The key for us is stopping the run and owning the football. And special teams will be a big factor.”
The Bears should get safeties Michael Lowe and Stefan McClure back this week from injuries, but could be without defensive end Brennan Scarlett (knee), whom Sonny Dykes says “has been our most consistent defensive player all year. He was really starting to come into his own and play hard and really kind of get things figured out. We haven’t been great generating a pass rush and he was the one who gave us that.”
Mike MacIntyre says that of the 22 defenders “that play,” 17 are true or redshirt freshmen or sophomores.
“Those young men are starting to play better,” he says. “You can see they’re more athletic, gaining weight and strength. We need them to grow up a little faster.”
Overall, entering a game at USC, he says, “I think everybody sees it. We’ve really improved. We just haven’t gotten over the hump.”
Referring to the return of tackle Jake Fisher on offense against UCLA, Mark Helfrich said, “He was good, ( but) he didn’t win the Outland Trophy last week. You could definitely see that he had some rust. Obviously, getting a guy in there with more experience, you can kind of solidify another spot.”
Helfrich said a “huge play” against the Bruins came when Fisher was unavailable and freshman Tyrell Crosby had lost his helmet so he had to sit a play, and the Ducks inserted little-used converted defensive tackle Stetzon Bair. They ran behind him and scored a short touchdown.
The Beavers have had some offensive struggles and Mike Riley hopes a bye week helped receivers push through the doldrums: “That’s going to be a big factor for us, continuing to try to grow that group. It’s very important we get some production so we can stretch the field a little bit. We’ve gotten other parts of our game (improving), now we’ve got to get that other part going.”
Riley says resolution with the ongoing foot issue of offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo “is not around the corner. I don’t know what that means yet.” Presumably, a redshirt season is a big possibility, with Thursday’s game against Utah marking the halfway point for OSU.
The Cardinal must contend this week with ASU receiver Jaelen Strong. Coach David Shaw mentioned his size and strength, and added: “The other thing about him is his uncanny ability to make difficult, acrobatic catches with guys draped on his back. They do a phenomenal job on the back-shoulder fade. It’s almost unstoppable. He’s a matchup issue for us.”
Jim Mora’s team has dropped two straight, and Mora said, in advance of a trip to Cal this week, “I think there’s a lot of mayhem left in college football in general. But I think our primary focus just needs to be on us, on improving every day and playing good football without expanding our focus too wide.”
A fundamental problem for the Bruins: They’re worst in sacks allowed in the Pac-12 (25) and have recorded the fewest (seven).
Trojan publicists keep tabs on the oft-cited USC manpower, result of the now-ended scholarship sanctions. USC suited up 57 scholarship players for the opener against Fresno State and 47 played, but the numbers had dropped to 50 and 42 for Arizona, respectively, and, at least on the scoreboard, Arizona was closing in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not naïve to the fact of what our numbers are, but I won’t let it be an excuse,” says Steve Sarkisian. “I felt we could have and should have put the pressure on Arizona. Offensively, we could have helped them (the defense) more. If I could do it all over again, I think I would have remained aggressive (on offense).”
The Utes lead the nation in sacks with 28, and Kyle Whittingham says the front compares “very favorably” to his best at the school in his tenure. “These guys are on their way to being one of the best fronts we’ve had, and that’s saying something, because we’ve got a number of guys in the pros.”
Whittingham is playing his cards close to the vest on whether Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson starts at quarterback at Oregon State Thursday night.
One of the matchups to watch Saturday is Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton against Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, a two-time All-Pac-12 selection.
“We’ve got challenges across the board,” says Chris Petersen. “(Grasu’s) a really good player and I think Danny’s a good player. You can just down the line and go, ‘That’s a tough matchup, that’s a tough matchup.’ That’s why they’re good.’’
The Cougars have a bye this week, and Mike Leach says the buzzword isn’t anything splashy. “We just need to steadily improve and play more mature as a unit,” he says. “We’ve played everybody close; we’ve played some of the best teams in the country close. We just have to continue to be more consistent.” And the key to that consistency? “I think in our case it’s an experience thing.”