Tuesday marked the usual Pac-12 football coaches teleconference. Some highlights:
Linebacker Scooby Wright continues to impress. He’s now leading in the nation in tackles for loss on a per-game basis (2.3), despite being under-recruited out of Windsor, Calif., a Sonoma County town of 26,000.
Explaining how Arizona got him, coach Rich Rodriguez said, “We watched him on film and he was physical, played offense and defense. There really wasn’t anybody recruiting him at our level. We said, ‘OK, let’s find out what the back story was.’ There were no negatives. We offered him and thought, ‘All we’re going to do is bring attention to him.’ (But) he stayed true to his commitment.”
Asked about ASU’s turnaround from its ghoulish 62-27 loss in late September against UCLA, Todd Graham said, “It seems like it’s hard to avoid one of those a year (blowouts). We run a complex scheme, and we were just making a lot of errors. At one time, we talked about scaling back, and I’m glad we didn’t. Now we’re executing really well.
“We just stayed true to what we were doing. Just like anything in life: Sometimes you get your head kicked in.”
The Sun Devils venture to Oregon State Saturday night.
On Thursday night’s date at USC, Sonny Dykes said, “We can’t give up a bunch of big plays defensively or on special teams. They’ve been dynamic on kickoff and punt returns. That’s where it’s going to start for us. Offensively, we’ve got to move the ball and get off to a good start. They can be pretty difficult to move the ball against.”
Sefo Liufau, the quarterback from Bellarmine High, has a concussion and Mike MacIntyre says he’s still going through protocols this week and “we’ll see how he is next week,” with Oregon on tap following a bye.
MacIntyre says with his team not going to a bowl game, much of the bye-week time will be spent working with the younger players and redshirts – “the guys you’re going to be playing a lot next year when you’re in bowl practices.”
The Ducks had a mistake early in the year similar to the Kaelin Clay/Utah gaffe, but when Byron Marshall did it, it came in a blowout victory and Oregon could use it as a teaching moment – not only for players on offense, but on defense.
“Finish everything,” said Mark Helfrich, citing a play in the Utah-USC game recently in which a backward pass was picked up and run for a touchdown by the Utes’ Davion Orphey. “Everybody stopped except for one DB. It was almost a carbon-copy situation.”
Helfrich says when he notices something like that play by Orphey on video, he tries to use it to reinforce points to his team.
On WSU quarterback Luke Falk, Mike Riley said, “We rarely could get to him, and when we did, it didn’t seem to rattle him. Besides going to the right spot, his location of the football was outstanding. We tried to counter it with either pressure or coverage.”
Asked if he would bring more pressure if he had it do over again, Riley said, “We brought our share, actually. We didn’t really ever get home (consistently with pressure). We kind of went through the gamut of trying to call up some different stuff.”
It’s a different assignment at Stanford these days, which is out of the big-bowl picture after four straight seasons of BCS bowls.
“The feeling is, of course, different because of what bowl game we have a chance to go to is murky, and we don’t know what the possibilities are,” said David Shaw. “But as far as the day-to-day, that’s not different. Our practices have been as energetic and lively as ever. We have a chance to finish the season on a high note.”
In answer to my question about whether he really did get with friends on his team’s return to Seattle last week, something he downplayed a week ago, Jim Mora went on a long spiel about that occasion.
“The one thing that bothered me about last week, I think some of my answers got misconstrued as to how I felt about Seattle and the University of Washington,” he said. “I love Seattle and I obviously love my alma mater. But I’m a UCLA Bruin and I’m the football coach here. I think people in Seattle maybe misconstrued (his responses) as being insensitive to my history there.
“The other thing is, I’m old . . . I don’t have a lot of affiliation with the University of Washington anymore. I don’t really know anyone on that staff . . . the uniforms are totally unfamiliar to me – white pants and white helmets, Don James and Jim Owens, they’d be rolling over in their grave if they knew about that. And the stadium is so new – what a gorgeous place, it’s unbelievable. I felt a little disconnected, and I say all those things with great respect. I think coach (Chris) Petersen is going to build a powerhouse there. And even though I talk about the uniforms, that’s what you’ve got to do nowadays. They’re doing really neat stuff; it just wasn’t things that are familiar to me.”
Quarterback Cody Kessler is having what’s being billed as the most efficient USC passing season ever, with 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
“If you look at the second half of last season, I thought Cody really came on with his game,” says Steve Sarkisian, who mentions Kessler’s “confidence and the belief in his guys around him.
“We were implementing a new system that complements him really well, and he’s made really good decisions to throw the ball away and keep the interception number down. But probably the overall thing is just his confidence.”
Kaelin Clay’s dropped-ball celebration may have had a major impact on the college-playoff landscape.
“As I said after the (Oregon) game, it starts with the coaches, with me not doing a good enough job instilling in our players what needs to happen in that situation,” said Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got to do a better job of teaching it and demanding it. He feels bad about it. It’s a mistake, but he did a lot of things (well) in that game. He’s a standup guy, he didn’t hide from it. He’s a high-character kid. It’s just one of those unfortunate things that happened.”
When I asked Whittingham if he sensed an emotional letdown after the fateful play, the pained laugh was audible. “It was like the air went out of the entire stadium,” he said.
Still, he pointed out, the Utes battled back to within 30-27 early in the fourth quarter before Oregon pulled away.
Chris Petersen says he isn’t surprised at the bumpy first season he’s had with the Huskies.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” he says. “From the second I took this job, I said, ‘Life just got a lot harder, without question.’ This league is as good as it’s ever been, and I’ve always felt it’s been a good league with parity. But it’s as good as it’s ever been, and probably with more parity.”
Luke Falk is all the rage these days, as Washington State even set up a Tuesday teleconference with him, out of the norm for their player availability.
Asked about Falk’s makeup and mental grasp of things at this stage in comparison to other quarterbacks he’s coached, Mike Leach said, “I’d say as far as being calm and mentally being able to take the reins of things, he might be ahead of all of them.”
Asked if Falk has cemented the starting job for future years, Leach said, “Nobody’s ever cemented, (but) I think there’s a strong possibility. But nobody’s ever cemented, because we’ve got some very good guys behind him.”
Backing Falk is true freshman Peyton Bender, and a promising recruit, Tyler Hilinski, has signed a financial-aid agreement and is due in school in January.
Daquawn Brown, the cornerback who has to sit out the first half of the Arizona State game Nov. 22 because of a targeting penalty against Oregon State, is “explosive and competitive,” Leach said, “but he needs to be more disciplined.”