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NCF Nation: Chidera Uzo-Diribe

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 1

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
12:00
PM ET
Taking stock of Week 1 in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: Washington opened fancy, renovated Husky Stadium with a dominant 38-6 win over No. 19 Boise State. Quarterback Keith Price was outstanding, and the defense kept the Broncos from scoring a touchdown. It was Boise State's worst loss since 2005.

Best game: While Oregon State's 49-46 loss to FCS school Eastern Washington was the biggest nail-biter, the Pac-12 blog isn't in the habit of celebrating a conference loss to an FCS team. So we're going with Utah's 30-26 comeback win over Utah State. The Utes trailed 23-14 early in the second half but stormed back after following up a 45-yard field goal with a successful onside kick. It was a gutsy call that led to the Utes' go-ahead points.

Biggest play: Colorado had taken a 26-24 lead over Colorado State early in the fourth quarter, but the Rams had driven to midfield and looked poised to counter on their next possession. On second-and-8, a Garrett Grayson pass to Kapri Bibbs looked like it was going to earn a first down, but Buffs defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe came from behind Bibbs and slapped the ball out. Greg Henderson got a nice bounce and scooped and scooted lickety-split down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown that changed the game.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenKeith Price was stellar in Washington's win over No. 19 Boise State.
Offensive standout: Price completed 23 of 31 passes for 324 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and rushed for 25 yards in the win over Boise State. Moreover, he did all that after throwing a pick on his first pass, showing mental toughness by not letting an early mistake in a high-pressure environment get him down. His efficiency rating for the game -- 176.8 -- would have led the nation in 2012. Price also now has 56 career TD passes, a school record.

Defensive standout: Colorado's Addison Gillam was just the second true freshman to start a season opener at inside linebacker in school history, but that's not why he's noted here. He's here because he recorded 14 tackles, with two coming for a loss, and a sack. He also had a pass breakup and a key tackle on fourth down. The Buffaloes' defense, which was just awful last year, held Colorado State to 295 total yards.

Defensive standout II: Yes, Washington's Justin Wilcox knows what he's doing as he continues to climb the short list of nation's best defensive coordinators. The Huskies were bend-but-don't-break early against Boise State, and then they took over. Six points was the Broncos' lowest point total since 1997 (a 58-0 loss to Washington State). While Boise State gained some yards -- both teams were running up-tempo schemes, so there were 173 total plays in the game -- the Broncos averaged only 3.9 yards per play. For the sake of comparison, Alabama gave up 4.2 yards per play last year. Boise State's longest running play was 18 yards, and its longest passing play was 16 yards. When you don't give up big plays, you have a chance to win.

Special-teams standout: Utah kicker Andy Phillips, a former U.S. alpine skier who had never played competitive football -- at any level -- before his kickoff against Utah State, kicked field goals of 45, 19 and 38 yards and was perfect on three extra points in the Utes' 30-26 victory. The final two kicks came after the Utes had fallen behind 26-24 in the fourth quarter. Oh, and he perfectly executed an onside kick that might have been the biggest play of the game. His three kickoffs all went for touchbacks. See this video.

Smiley face: The most important thing is to be 1-0 after the opening week, and seven of 10 Pac-12 teams that played can now say that. Two of the teams that lost, California to No. 22 Northwestern and Washington State at Auburn, showed fairly well as underdogs and probably felt they should have won. Washington, Colorado, UCLA, Arizona and Oregon probably feel like they got exactly what they wanted out of the week. USC and Utah are, again, happy to be 1-0.

Frowny face: Oh, man, Oregon State. That defense.

Oregon State was the week's big loser. More like BIG LOSER. A four-touchdown favorite against Eastern Washington -- an FCS power but an FCS team nonetheless -- the No. 25 Beavers went down 49-46 because they simply couldn't stop Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams, who passed for 411 yards and rushed for 107. The Beavers welcomed back seven starters from one of the nation's best defenses, but that unit turned in a miserable performance. What the heck happened to All-Pac-12 defensive end Scott Crichton, who had just two tackles?

It was only the third time that an FCS school defeated a ranked FBS team.

Thought of the week: You can never -- ever! -- take any team lightly. In a week when every Pac-12 team will be favored in nonconference play, that's something to remember.

Questions for the week: USC and Washington State open Pac-12 play this week in the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday, and this game could be revealing. The Cougars showed they are an improved team at Auburn, while the Trojans are hard to pin down. Will Washington State get the upset? If that happens, the Mike Leach era gains momentum while the Lane Kiffin era takes a notable downturn. A secondary question is whether one or the other USC quarterbacks takes control of the starting job.

Pac-12 media day primer

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
10:05
AM ET
Two weeks and counting. Ted and I are gearing up for media day. Are you? Here's what you should know.

When: July 26

Where: Sony Studios, Los Angeles

Who will be there (all times PT):
UPDATE: Arizona State informed me Friday morning that it has decided to bring Will Sutton instead of safety Alden Darby. This is a good thing because Sutton was the league's defensive player of the year last season, and his presence helps bolster his name -- and the program -- in the eyes of the national media.

Who won’t be there: The biggest name missing is Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last season. Coaches tend to bring veterans and guys with experience. Yankey is a great spokesman for Stanford and a good candidate, but I know others wouldn't mind hearing some thoughts from Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan.

Five storylines:
  1. Hitting? Scott is expected to announce the league's health and safety initiative, which will limit how much hitting can be done in practice. This isn't a new concept, but the league jumped in front of it by being the first to make a conference-wide mandate.
  2. Bowl updates? We know the status of the Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Kraft Fight Hunger and Sun bowls. Not sure if the rest of the lineup for beyond this season will be announced at media day. But one of us will ask.
  3. New coaches: This is the meet-the-world opportunity for the new head coaches in the league: Dykes, MacIntyre and Helfrich. Expect the requisite questions on the difficulty of changing cultures and rebuilding programs.
  4. Preseason poll: Is there any fodder better than preseason polls? Oregon or Stanford? Stanford or Oregon? ASU, UCLA or USC? Your Pac-12 bloggers will be submitting their ballots this weekend after a visit to the Oracle of Delphi, a seance channeling Nostradamus and a dartboard.
  5. Quirky questions: With the access of media day comes the spectacle of media day. Granted, it's not as bad as some of the quirks at Super Bowl media day. But there's bound to be a couple of left-field questions -- and they'll probably be directed at Leach, who is great and usually has fun with them. Last year he was asked which Pac-12 coach he'd go hunting with and which Civil War generals he'd compare some of his players to.

Ted and I will be trying something new this year (we think). Instead of the on-the-stage posts, we'll be doing a live chat during the entire stage session and bringing you info real time. So take note of the times (in Pacific, to save you the math) and be ready to interact.
We've looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- elite combinations of quarterback, running back and receiver -- so now let's look at the defensive version.

That would be elite combinations of top tacklers, top sack men and top interceptors, as tackles, sacks and interceptions make defensive coordinators happy.

The combinations here might be stronger even than the offensive troikas. Stanford, for example, welcomes back an elite, All-America sort of player for each category. It seems to us all 12 teams have at least one player to be excited about heading into the fall.

Just two teams -- Arizona State and Utah -- only hit on one category. Arizona, Colorado and Washington join Stanford hitting all three, though Colorado's interception numbers from 2012 are so meager -- 3! -- that it's not terribly relevant. And USC's just missing was a matter of 0.4 tackles per game.

So here's how we see things stacking up.

And, again, you should feel free to be outraged by our lunkheaded bias against your team, which obviously should be ranked much higher.

1. Stanford
LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds

The skinny: Three potential All-Americans. There is no finer troika in the nation. Not sure if anyone else is even close.

2. USC
LB Hayes Pullard, OLB Morgan Breslin, S Dion Bailey

The skinny: Pullard was seventh in the conference with 8.2 tackles per game, just behind safety T.J. McDonald. Breslin is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, which actually seems like a better fit. And Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions, is moving back to safety from linebacker.

3. UCLA
LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, S Randall Goforth

The skinny: UCLA gets here on the power of the first two, an elite combination, with Barr a likely top-10 NFL draft pick next spring. That balances out the questions in the secondary. Goforth, a promising player, just seemed like as good a choice as any.

4. Oregon State
LB Michael Doctor, DE Scott Cricthon, CB Rashaad Reynolds

The skinny: Doctor took a big step forward last year, even if D.J. Alexander is a flashier player. Crichton, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, is trying to lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive year. Reynolds had three picks last year and now becomes the Beavers' lead cornerback with Jordan Poyer off to the NFL.

5. Oregon
LB Derrick Malone, DE Taylor Hart, S Erick Dargan

The skinny: Malone was just thrown in there because the Ducks' linebacker situation is cloudy. Hart is a budding all-conference guy who should get his due this fall. Dargan led the Ducks with five picks, but there's an acknowledgement here also of cornerback Ekpre-Olomu, a preseason All-American, who had four.

6. Arizona State
LB Chris Young, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby

The skinny: Sutton is the big fish here, obviously. Linebacker is a question for the Sun Devils, who lost their top two tacklers. Young and Darby are returning starters, though, with Young ranking third in tackles and Darby second in interceptions in 2012.

7. Washington
LB John Timu, OLB Josh Shirley, CB Marcus Peters

The skinny: This is a solid but unspectacular trio, as none of the three were all-conference. But the Huskies defense, which was greatly improved in 2012, has a lot of production back. It's worth noting that defensive end Andrew Hudson tied Shirely for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaq Thompson also had three picks, like Peters.

8. Arizona
LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, CB Jonathan McKnight

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but they get marked down for the overall defensive numbers in 2012. Flowers, an underrated player, had 5.5 sacks and was tied with McKnight with three interceptions.

9. California
LB Nick Forbes, DE Chris McCain, S Michael Lowe

The skinny: Forbes averaged 7.1 tackles per game last year. McCain tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, but don't be surprised if Todd Barr or Brennan Scarlett lead the pass rush. Lowe had three picks last year to tie for the team lead, but he's listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart.

10. Washington State
S Deone Bucannon, OLB Logan Mayes, LB Cyrus Coen

The skinny: Bucannon is an A-list guy, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. He led the Cougars in tackles and interceptions, so we included Coen, who was second with three picks. The gigantic void is the pass rush, which lost four-year sack leader Travis Long.

11. Utah
LB/S Brian Blechen, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: These are three solid players, but there's a lot of uncertainty on the Utes defense. The Utes lost their top two sack men and their top three cornerbacks. Blechen has bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety, and neither Reilly nor Rowe were able to top the depth chart at his position this spring without an "Or" beside him.

12. Colorado
LB Derrick Webb, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but we're listing the promising Crawley instead of the two guys who had a single pick last year. Uzo-Diribe is legit. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including seven last year. Big issue here, however, is how terrible the Buffs defense was last year.
Colorado defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe doesn't want to be like Felix Hernandez or Brandon Jennings. Or Barry Sanders or Dick Butkus. He doesn't want to be a good player on a bad team. He doesn't want folks to feel sorry for him. He'd just like to win a few games before his career in Boulder is over.

Uzo-Diribe, cousin of former New York Giants star and new Atlanta Falcon Osi Umenyiora, probably has an NFL future, but you may know little about him because he played on the nation's worst defense in 2012. That defense was attached to probably the worst AQ conference program.

He labored in anonymity, recording seven of his team's 19 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss, for a defense that yielded 5.9 yards per rush, the worst run defense in program history. He will be a three-year starter for a team that won nine games during that span, including just one last year.

[+] EnlargeChidera Uzo-Diribe
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsColorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe has used his athleticism effectively to make up for a lack of overall football experience.
A good player getting lost in that miserable shuffle, which included the firing of coach Jon Embree after just two seasons? Yep. But a competitor can't think that way.

"I definitely felt that, but I've never had it affect my game," the 6-foot-3, 254 pounder said. "I always came out and did my best regardless of what the outcome was. My film is my résumé and I want to put my best things on film."

Of course, there's new hope in town for Uzo-Diribe's final season. Coach Mike MacIntyre came to town bubbling with enthusiasm with a message that he can transform a flagging program that not too long ago was in the national championship mix, at least if you don't consider "Home Alone," "Dances with Wolves" and Madonna ancient cultural artifacts.

"These guys bring a whole lot more energy than the last staff," Uzo-Diribe said. "That's been the big difference this spring."

The Buffaloes are now eyeballing the offseason after the spring game on Saturday and a final practice Tuesday. Without question, they have a long way to go, but after 15 practices there were whiffs of hope that the program could trend up this fall.

Uzo-Diribe is a rare bird on one of the nation's youngest teams: He's a respected and productive veteran. While looking back over the rotten entrails of the previous three seasons isn't very pleasant, it also might help because whatever the Buffaloes did during that slog, they should be advised that the opposite course is likely better.

"I can't pinpoint one thing that did it," Uzo-Diribe said. "I feel like the biggest thing with a new coaching staff is getting everyone to buy in. I think we didn't have a buy-in with the last staff. That's a big thing we have to do with Coach MacIntyre. We have to buy in with what they need us to do."

Talking about enthusiasm and "buying in" are canned responses that every team tends to give when there's a new coach. The Buffs did it when Embree was hired. But there is one specific attribute MacIntyre's staff can point to that distinguishes it from Embree and his staff, or even Embree's predecessor, Dan Hawkins.

MacIntyre knows how to lead a program out of the muck.

"Seeing what they did at San Jose State, we feel like they can do the same thing here," Uzo-Diribe said. "That right there helps me get ready to play next season."

Uzo-Diribe, a son of Nigerian immigrants, is new to football. He didn't start playing until his junior year of high school. He's still learning the nuances of the game, and that still shows up on film, most often against the run. But he's an outstanding athlete with great quickness and ability to change direction for a 250-pounder. That alone will get him drafted in 2014.

It should help him this fall that his position coach, Jim Jeffcoat, knows more about getting to the quarterback than probably any college coach. The 15-year NFL veteran recorded 102.5 sacks in his career, which ranks 26th in NFL history.

Uzo-Diribe knows NFL teams will judge him, not his teammates. But a great defensive player makes guys around him better. If the Buffaloes defense improves dramatically next fall, that would put a check mark in another box for him. And if the defense improves dramatically, the Buffs have a shot to win a few more games and surprise some folks.

That no one expects that to happen is something that Uzo-Diribe and his teammates are well aware of.

"We have to use that as fuel," he said. "We know where we were last year and we definitely want to improve. We need that to help fuel us, to motivate us, to better ourselves each and every practice."
Want to see many of the names that will be featured on Colorado's defensive depth chart next fall?

Go here.

The Buffaloes are going to be young next fall on both sides of the ball, but particularly on defense. Lots of freshmen will play -- guaranteed. And that is by design. Defensive coordinator Greg Brown and head coach Jon Embree made something clear during spring practices to the returning players: "Impress us now, or get replaced by incoming freshmen."

[+] EnlargeGreg Brown
Chris Williams/Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Greg Brown will be working with a lot of freshmen this fall, including eight on the defensive line.
There's a reason for the likely youth movement: The Buffs were lousy on defense in 2011, ranking last in the Pac-12 in scoring (36.5 points per game) and 10th in total defense (439.3 yards per game). Further, Pac-12 quarterbacks feasted on the secondary, which yielded not only the most touchdown passes (34) -- six more than anyone else -- but also grabbed the fewest interceptions (seven) in the conference.

If Colorado is going to move up in the South Division pecking order during the program's second year in the conference, those numbers need to improve.

Colorado finished spring drills last weekend, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Brown to look back and look ahead to the fall.

First off, last year your official depth chart was a 3-4 scheme. This spring, you guys started out with a 4-3. Can you give me a Cliffs Notes version of your base scheme?

Greg Brown: It's really still the same. We're like last year but like most teams can play either, kind of multiple up front.

When you went over film from last year, what stood out to you as issues with the defense?

GB: Too many big plays were given up. Too many points were scored. We had a laundry list of a lot of things. Too many injuries. The roster was thin. It was one of those years we'd like to see not repeated.

The Big 12 is hardly an offense-poor conference. You've coached there and the Pac-12. Were there any adjustments for your players moving from the Big 12 to Pac-12?

GB: Absolutely. Not to take anything away from the Big 12. That's a terrific league that stands on its own merits, that's for sure. But you just have some unique offensive minds in the Pac-12, different styles of attack that we had not seen in the Big 12. There's nobody in the Big 12 that plays the same style as Oregon. Nobody plays the same style as Stanford or Washington. They are all unique and were tough styles to contend with. We've got a lot of offensive-minded head coaches and very innovated offensive coordinators.

You guys were heavy on D-linemen in the recruiting class. How many first-year players do you anticipate playing next fall?

GB: We brought eight (defensive linemen) in. We're thinking at least half that amount, probably higher. Between the defensive line, which is eight-slash-nine because we've got a guy who could go either way, and we've got five cornerbacks, and the great majority of those guys are going to play. They won't redshirt. We're not counting on anybody redshirting. We'll see if they can't do it yet, then they'll have to. But other than that, we have no numbers. Spring ball was a feat to get accomplished. Because of our lack of numbers, we ended up doing so much seven-on-seven because we didn't have the D-line to do it [full scrimmage]. We really didn't have the secondary to do much seven-on-seven,either. It was largely a battle of walk-ons this spring at Colorado. We're welcoming with open arms all the incoming troops because they are going to play.

Give me a couple of names of standouts this spring? Who impressed you?

[+] EnlargeChidera Uzo-Diribe
Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI Defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe has made an impression on coaches this spring.
GB: [Defensive end] Chidera Uzo-Diribe, he had a very good spring. He's got skill. He's got speed. He's got size. And he's tenacious. He's a good player. He played last year for us and was fine but he stepped up this spring and filled a void -- we had two defensive ends graduate. He stepped up and really became a guy. He would be the top dog in the D-line. If there is one other defensive lineman who can play, it's Will Pericak. He's a good player -- steady, consistent. He's been around the block. Has size. He's played for a long time here. Good player. You've got those two up front. After that, there's really nobody to write about [on the defensive line]. We're just waiting on the young kids to get here.

How about linebacker?

GB: Linebacker-wise, our best player is Doug Rippy. He's our captain, a team leader. He ended up missing, from the Washington game on last year, missing the season. He tore his ACL in that game and he was held out of spring ball and can't do anything yet. But we're looking to get him back. Jon Major is another 'backer who is back, has a lot of experience. He's a jack of all trades for us, can do a lot of things. Smart, can rush the passer, cover. He makes plays. He's good. Linebacker is where the most numbers are back. After that, you've got some guys who have played. Derrick Webb has played. He can run and hit. Then there's a smattering of younger kids who have some ability. They just haven't proven anything yet. They're up and coming.

And then the secondary?

GB: We've got one returning guy. That's Ray Polk; he's a safety. Good player. Big kid who can run and hit. Been starting here a long time. Good future in front of him. Ray's issue was he could only do non-contact stuff during spring. He had surgery on a torn ligament in his wrist. So he did seven-on-seven and that was probably it. The next one to talk about back there would be [cornerback] Greg Henderson. He came in as a true freshman and won a starting job. He took advantage of the opportunity and won a job and he kept it all year. He continually progressed every week. This spring, he got better as you'd expect. They come in as freshmen and just look to survive, which he did more than ably. But we're looking for improvement this year and looking for him to be a guy. He's athletic. He can run, he's smart. And he's tough. And as much as anything, he stayed healthy. After him, a guy who is a good player for us, is Parker Orms. He plays nickel, safety and corner. He plays all three. Good athlete, tough kid. He missed quite a bit of the year. He only played five games for us. And he got hurt this spring, which is unfortunate. He tore his hamstring. He played three days of spring then tore that thing. In the five games he played for us last year, we either won or had a chance to win because he allowed us to do things on defense we could not do when he was not in there.

So the freshmen will be in the mix pretty quickly in the secondary, too?

GB: Oh, no question. We told all the kids on defense this spring, particularly on the D-line and in the secondary, "OK, all you guys, here is your chance. This is your chance. We don't want to hear anything in the fall about, 'Hey, I'm not getting any reps.' Here is your chance now! Because believe it or not, in the fall with those kids coming in, they are going to get all those reps. We'll see what you guys can do now.' And here come the new kids. We know who has helped us in the past. For the rest of the spots? Hey, we're plugging in brand new kids and let's go.

How much can this defense improve in 2012?

GB: You can. All these 15 defensive players who are coming in that we're looking to help us, you wish you could snap your fingers and be two years in the future, matured and bigger, strong, faster, eating on the training table, learning how to play. That would be nice. But the reality of it is there are going to be growing pains. These guys have some talent, but they also are going to be true freshmen and will make their share of mistakes. But, sure, we can improve. We have to manage what we're doing. We have an outstanding coaching staff on that side of the ball with Kanavis McGhee and Mike Tuiasosopo. They are great tacticians. As is linebackers coach Brian Cabral. We're looking for improvement.

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