NCF Nation: Terrence Miller

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
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A look at what we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 1.

Keith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenWashington's Keith Price dazzled in his 2013 debut, throwing for 324 yards and two TDs.
Washington looks to be legit: Per my co-blogger, Washington quarterback Keith Price was “lights out” in his performance against Boise State. Bishop Sankey picked up where he left off last season, and the defense kept the Broncos out of the end zone. For those nervous about letting their expectations get raised, go ahead and raise them. Oh yeah, and you get the best tight end in the country back next week.

Andy Phillips is now a household name: In his first career game, the redshirt freshman kicker from Utah went 3-for-3, including a 45-yarder on his first career kick -- and executed a perfect onside kick to swing the momentum in the Utes’ victory over in-state rival Utah State.

USC QB TBD: Is it going to be Cody Kessler or Max Wittek at USC? What we learned is we didn’t learn much. Neither looked particularly sharp as USC struggled offensively against Hawaii. Kessler was 10-of-19 for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wittek was 5-of-10 for 77 yards. Both seemed constrained by a conservative gameplan of short throws and swing passes.

Oregon likes to run (well, duh): Three different Ducks eclipsed the 100-yard mark: De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall. In all, the Ducks rushed for 500 yards and a robust 11.1 yards per carry against Nicholls State. It marked the first time in school history three players went for 100 yards in the same game. Yes, it was Nicholls State, but you have to figure rushing records are getting harder and harder to break at Oregon.

DAT the featured back? New Oregon coach Mark Helfrich had been fairly noncommittal when talking about how Thomas would be used. He looked the part of an every-down back Saturday night, carrying 18 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns. The 18 carries were a career high.

Utah’s depth will be tested: For the second season in a row, the Utes lost a big-name player for the year at the hands of Utah State. Wide receiver Kenneth Scott will miss the rest of the season after suffering a leg injury in the first quarter. Others will have to step up. Sean Fitzgerald looked pretty good in relief, catching five balls for 79 yards.

They’re serious about this ejection thing: The NCAA’s new targeting rule, which went into effect this season, can lead to an ejection on the spot if the official deems it a head-to-head hit. The first big-name casualty was Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who makes up half of Oregon’s outstanding cornerback tandem with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Miller was ejected late in the first quarter of Oregon’s win over Nicholls State.

Really, Beavers? Maybe more of the offseason focus should have been on the defense, and less about the quarterback competition. Sean Mannion played brilliantly. The defense, not so much, allowing Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams to throw for 411 yards and run for 107. Not that it bears repeating, but this is the second time in three seasons the Beavers have opened the season with a loss to an FCS team.

We’re not done yet: One more game on the Week 1 docket with Colorado and Colorado State squaring off Sunday in Denver.

The Cougs looked better: A gutty effort in SEC country from Washington State, which went toe-to-toe with Auburn before falling 31-24. Turnovers continue to be a curse and three interceptions from Connor Halliday, including one in the red zone in the fourth quarter, contributed to WSU’s downfall.

Speaking of turnovers: In its nine games (Colorado pending), the Pac-12 won the turnover battle, 15-11. When the Pac-12 tied in turnovers (Utah, Cal, Oregon State, Washington), it was 2-2. When it won the turnover battle (Arizona, Oregon, USC), it was 3-0, and when it lost the turnover battle (UCLA, Washington State), it was 1-1.

Special teams had special plays: See Vincenzo D’Amato’s pass to Jackson Bouza on the fake field goal (one of the more creative give-and-gos I’ve seen). See UCLA’s punt block for a touchdown against Nevada. See Phillips’ performance.

Speaking of special: After posting the worst field-goal percentage in college football last year (67.9 percent) the Pac-12 kickers came out swinging in Week 1, converting on 14 of 17 attempts (82 percent).

Pac-12 media day primer

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
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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 been talking a lot about running backs this week. There was the feature on Washington running back Bishop Sankey. Some chatter about Arizona and looking ahead to Ka'Deem Carey in 2013 and the ESPN conference-call video segment featuring a dapper Pac-12 blogger talking about the running back race at UCLA.

But with some of the league's top backs from 2012 moving on, who is going to be the rushing king of 2013?

Ted Miller: Why do I think Washington's Sankey will lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2013? First of all, because I think Huskies quarterback Keith Price will play more like Arizona's Matt Scott in 2012 than Keith Price in 2012.

No, I don't think Price will put up spinning slot machine numbers, as Scott did. But I think the Huskies' improved passing game and more experienced offensive line will mean a more efficient Price. That will mean bigger holes for Sankey, who averaged 154.6 yards per game over the last five games of 2012, a per-game total that would have led the nation if extended over the entire season.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireArizona's Ka'Deem Carey will be trying to put up big rushing numbers with a new QB under center.
Don't buy it? Well, consider what Sankey did last year with Price in the dumps and the Huskies' offensive line shuffling injured players in and out. He rushed for 1,436 yards and 16 touchdowns, and his 110.7 yards per game ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation.

The three backs in front of Sankey -- Arizona's Carey, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin -- each played for an offense that ranked in the nation's top 25. The Huskies' offense ranked 97th in the nation.

Further, Carey, the only other returning Pac-12 back with more than 1,000 yards in 2012, won't have Scott. We don't know who he will have playing quarterback, but there's been little to suggest this spring that the Wildcats will approach Scott's production at the position in the fall.

So I expect Sankey's numbers to go up and Carey's to go down. When the smoke clears, they both likely will be first-team All-Pac-12. But this go-around, Sankey will be 1A and Carey 1B.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted stole my choice! But only because as the guy going first this week, I just assumed he'd go with Carey and I'd slide right in and make all the same arguments in favor of Sankey that he just made. Sneaky, Ted. Very sneaky.

Oh well, I guess that leaves me talking about the guy who actually led all of FBS football last season -- the aforementioned Carey, who totaled 1,929 yards on the ground and a robust 6.4 yards per carry.

I don't think the offensive drop-off at Arizona is going to be as significant as Ted does. Carey certainly benefited from Scott -- but Scott also benefited from Carey. It works both ways.

Whoever wins the quarterback job at Arizona has a deep and talented wide receiver corps to throw to -- including Biletnikoff semifinalist Austin Hill and returners Johnny Jackson, Terrence Miller and Tyler Slavin, among others. This isn't an offense that is suddenly going to flatline because Scott is gone. In fact, by the very nature of the offense Arizona runs, it's likely that Sankey is going to see far more eight-man boxes than Carey. You don't sell out against the run with Hill running sluggos all day.

It's also worth noting that Sankey has to face Stanford, which had the nation's No. 5 rush defense last season, in Palo Alto. The Wildcats miss the Cardinal this season. Sankey had a big game against Stanford last season -- but when we're talking about rushing titles, one game could be the difference, and that's certainly worth considering.

Plus, Washington is hoping to have Jesse Callier back from the knee injury that initially thrust Sankey into the starting role. I'm not saying they'll be by-committee -- but a healthy Callier will certainly cut into Sankey's carries. Great for Washington. But when you're talking rushing titles, that could have a big impact.

I think the Arizona offense takes a natural step back with a new quarterback at the helm. But it's not going to be a giant leap. Carey will get his 300-plus carries again, and the Wildcats should continue to move up and down the field. And if you've got your calendars handy, the two square off Sept. 28 in Seattle. You might want to tune in for that one.

How's that for an opener to the bowl season? Twice the Arizona Wildcats overcame three-score deficits -- also recovering an onside kick in the final minute -- to shock Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Here's how it all went down in Albuquerque, N.M.

It was over when: Not until the clock read zeros, seriously. After cutting the score to 48-42 with 42 seconds left, the Wildcats recovered the onside kick at their own 49. They needed only three plays to move 51 yards. With 19 seconds left, Matt Scott connected with Tyler Slavin on a 2-yard pass to tie the score at 48-48, and the PAT from John Bonano was the deciding margin. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo was intercepted in the closing seconds to complete Arizona's comeback.

Gutsy call: With 3:20 left in the game and Nevada leading 45-35, Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 11-yard line. Nevada converted and forced Arizona to use all of its timeouts. Allen Hardison then hit a 25-yard field goal to put Nevada up 48-35, and that appeared to be the clincher. "Appeared" being the operative word.

Second guessing: As good as Ault's call was there, you question burning a timeout to ice Bonano on the go-ahead PAT. It turned out to be meaningless because of the interception, but with 19 seconds left, timeouts could have been very valuable.

Game ball goes to: No questions here. Although much of the attention was on the running backs, Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, it was Fajardo who turned in a gritty performance. He ran for 139 yards and a touchdown and threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Tip of the cap goes to his Arizona counterpart, Scott, who tossed for 369 yards and three TDs and showed a lot of poise on the go-ahead drive.

Unsung hero: Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers recovered the onside kick that allowed the Wildcats to go ahead -- and came up with the interception with 13 seconds left.

Stat(s) of the game: As expected, plenty of offense. The teams combined for 1,234 yards and 70 first downs (39 from Nevada).

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
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Helmet stickers are back! And there are some very worthy winners this week. If you forgot the criteria, Ted explains it quite well in this mailbag from a year ago.

On to the stickers:

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: The Bruins running back rushed for 214 yards (2 yards shy of his career high) and three touchdowns in helping UCLA to a 49-24 win at Rice. Franklin scored on runs of 74, 78 and 22 yards.

Usua Amanam, Stanford: While the Cardinal defense as a whole looked average at best in a 20-17 win over San Jose State, Amanam was head and shoulders above all defensive players, notching six tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

Marqise Lee, USC: The wide receiver took USC's first offensive play 75 yards for a touchdown and never looked back. He finished with 10 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown, but also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score in a 49-10 win over Hawaii.

De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: Can you imagine what this guy could have done if he actually played for more than a quarter and a half? He caught four balls for 55 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 64 yards and a score on three carries -- including a 33-yard touchdown run during Oregon's 57-34 win over Arkansas State.

Matt Scott, Arizona: The Wildcats' quarterback came up big in overtime, connecting with Terrence Miller on a 10-yard pass to give Rich Rodriguez a 24-17 victory in his Arizona debut. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 384 yards and two scores and also rushed 14 times for 74 yards.

Hat trick for Pac-12 in night games

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
3:08
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After a rough start to the day for the Pac-12, USC pounded Hawaii and the conference swept the night games. Here's the breakdown of the three 7:30 p.m. kickoffs:

Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.

Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.

Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.

Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.

Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.

The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.

Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.

The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.

But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.

Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.

Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.

Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.

Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.

Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.
While there is no on-the-record clarity on the situation, it's fair to say that Arizona's All-Pac-10 receiver Juron Criner's season is at-risk due to an "undisclosed personal issue," which a source told the Pac-12 blog was a "non-injury, medical issue."

[+] EnlargeJuron Criner
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJuron Criner is the best player among a deep group of receivers at Arizona.
Arizona is not commenting because of student privacy guidelines. A source inside the football office texted the Pac-12 blog that his hope was Criner "will be ready for the season."

Criner, a second-team All-American, led the Wildcats with 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Arizona starts fall camp Aug. 3.

What does this mean for the Wildcats? Well, nothing yet. This is obviously a serious situation, but the endgame won't reveal itself until Criner's status is made official.

But it does force us to speculate what the Wildcats offense might be without Criner. The short answer is "probably OK."

While no team wants to lose an All-American, the Wildcats have one of the deepest and experienced crews of receivers in the conference and the nation. Sure, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Criner was the headliner, a guy who could tax a defense in a variety of ways and who always seemed to be the go-to guy when the screws tightened.

But, as we noted with our review of Pac-12 receiving corps, the Wildcats should be better than OK, even without Criner. To quote ourselves:

"David Douglas, David Roberts, Terrence Miller and Richard Morrison -- each caught between 19 and 52 passes a season ago. Oh, and there's also Texas transfer Dan Buckner, Austin Hill, Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin. There's size, speed, depth and experience."

What this does mean is that Buckner needs to live up to the high expectations we've been hearing for months, and at least one of the speedy youngsters needs to step up as a deep threat.

Still, the Wildcats and quarterback Nick Foles will be able to line up in a four- and even five-receiver set without resorting to a scrub as the last option.

Criner made the Wildcats receivers looking like a great unit. But even -- potentially -- without him, they should be very good.

More on the Criner situation here. And here.

Of course, Wildcats fans already might be thinking about "what-might-have-been" before the 2011 season begins. Criner is potentially the third projected starter lost since the end of last season. Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer suffered knee injuries this spring, as did backup running back Greg Nwoko and backup defensive tackle Willie Mobley.
Arizona starts spring practice today, which means it can stop licking the wounds of a five-game losing streak to end 2010 and start looking forward to 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireArizona enters the upcoming season with lofty expectations, thanks in part to returning quarterback Nick Foles.
But if taking a step forward toward 2011 is the carrot, a lingering backwards glance to 2010 is the stick. The Wildcats should be plenty motivated.

"The kids know we are close, but we need to do some things better to take that next step," coach Mike Stoops said. "We've gotten to this point. We need to go further."

On the one hand, the losing streak happened against a brutal schedule: Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma State combined for a 49-15 record. But the Wildcats aspire to being a team that wins those sorts of games.

"We just need to be stronger in some ways, stronger against stronger teams," Stoops said.

The Wildcats have intriguing talent coming back -- with quarterback Nick Foles and perhaps the Pac-12's best group of receivers leading the way -- but they also have two glaring holes: offensive line and defensive end. All the 2010 starters at those positions are gone.

Here are some notes:

Out of spring: Just two starters will not participate in full-contact work: defensive tackle Justin Washington and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Both had shoulder surgery. Receiver Bug Wright was given the boot for repeated team rules violations.

Offensive line questions? All five starters are gone on the offensive line. Sophomore Mickey Baucus and redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbelle are the front-runners at the tackles. Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl for Colin Baxter, is the leader at center, though mid-year transfer Addison Bachman could make a challenge. Sophomores Chris Putton, Trace Biskin and Eric Bender-Ramsay are in the mix at the guards. Redshirt freshmen Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees and junior Shane Zink also are in the mix. With a new offensive line coach -- Robert Anae -- there could be plenty of mixing and matching.

End of the line? Senior Muhammed Usman and redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato will be with the first unit to start spring, but defensive end might be an even bigger question than offensive line. The Wildcats are deep at tackle -- Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka, Willie Mobley, Chris Merrill, Dominique Austin, Jowyn Ward, Aiulua Fanene, etc. -- so it's possible things might be fluid on the defensive line. One of the more athletic tackles might move outside to become a big, strongside end. And junior college transfer Lamar de Rego arrives in the fall.

Good to receive: The Wildcats welcome back potential preseason All-American receiver Juron Criner, but the big news is the overflow of enthusiasm for Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who will give the Wildcats a second speedy, 6-foot-4 target on the outside. Said Stoops, "I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Buckner] and Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people." When you toss in Dave Roberts, David Douglas and Richard Morrison on the inside, you have a deep crew that Stoops called "the best receiving group we've ever had, without question." Oh, and don't forget: Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. Lots of competition for touches here.

Backed by seven: The Wildcats welcome back all three starting linebackers and a talented secondary. Sophomore Marquis Flowers and junior Adam Hall figure to offer an upgrade in the secondary -- both saw plenty of action in 2010. Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight provide talent and experience at cornerback. And Stoops thinks Wade, who suffered through a notable slump last fall, is going to bounce back: "Trevin has had a much better out-of-season already. I think he learned a great deal from some of his mistakes a year ago as well as his preparation. I look for him to come back strong." He added, "This is the most athletic back-seven we've had. Best group of corners we've had."

Not special: The Wildcats didn't get much from their kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier last season. Zendejas is back, but he needs to step up. Said Stoops: "Zendejas needs to become a much better player... we need more out of him." Junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer punter Kyle Dugandzic was signed to start, so he needs to come through.

Redshirt or backup for Scott: Stoops wants to redshirt backup quarterback Matt Scott, which means he could return for a redshirt senior season in 2012. But that might not be doable. Said Stoops, "In a perfect world, we'd love to redshirt him. But we've got to keep him ready to play if things slide or something happens to Nick." Junior Bryson Beirne would make things easier on his coaches with an inspired effort this spring.

This is Foles' team: Foles has been a good quarterback for two years. If he becomes an All-Conference or even All-American quarterback as a senior, the Wildcats could climb to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Stoops expects a lot out of Foles. "Nick has to have total control of this team and this offense," he said. "He's a premier starter who will become, hopefully, a first-round NFL draft pick. He needs to assert himself in every way possible as a leader."

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