Mailbag: WSU's defensive woes

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, where all questions are answered except the meaning of life. I’m keeping that one to myself.

Cougar Brian in Scappoose, Oregon, writes: With the probable loss to Oregon this week, we're staring at 1-3 in Pullman, and once we're past the two most winnable games on our schedule following that in Cal and Utah, it's hard to see a W again this season. Given how things are going, at what point do you see the seat under Mike Leach and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Mike Breske, heating up?

Kevin Gemmell: For Leach, there might be a slight, warm tingling sensation, but that’s about it. He’s already received an extension and he’s locked in. And I know WSU fans tend to take the pint-glass-half-empty approach to their team. But let’s not forget: It’s only his third season and he’s taken you to a bowl game. Things are better, relatively speaking.

What makes this start to the season so frustrating is that there was momentum coming out of 2013. Despite the bowl loss, the Cougars were moving in a good direction. Heck, you won at the Coliseum … with defense!

I like Breske. I like his schemes. The Pac-12 blog isn’t in the business of speculating about hot seats – because for as much as we know, we don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes.

The defense didn’t play great against Rutgers, but it played well enough to win. And had it not been for a special-teams gaffe, Washington State probably would have. Against Nevada, a Connor Halliday interception gave Nevada a short field on its first score and the offense only produced one touchdown. It was a team loss.

Keep in mind when Breske & Co. came in, they were installing an entirely new defensive scheme. It takes time to recruit the genetics to fit that system. This coaching staff hasn’t even been through a full recruiting cycle.

I’m inclined to give this group another full season after this one – assuming things don’t get markedly worse on either side of the ball. But I don’t have fans or boosters to answer to.

 




James in Alameda, California, writes: (Question edited for length) Multiple outlets are reporting different recovery times for Taylor Kelly’s injury. Any chance we'll know the truth about the injury or do you think ASU will just continue to say Kelly's status is "uncertain" until he actually returns?

Kevin Gemmell: Having talked with sources at ASU, I can only relay what I know. And what I know is that he will miss the UCLA game (barring an amazing recovery), and anything beyond that is up in the air. It depends how quickly his body heals. How much physical therapy is required? Did he drink a lot of milk as a kid? Some guys are more resilient than others. There is no blanket statement that can be made about an individual’s broken bone. Only generalities.

The UCLA game is the first of three straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20, followed by No. 17 USC and No. 16 Stanford. There’s a chance Washington will also be ranked by their Oct. 25 meeting. There's never a good time for an injured quarterback. But some stretches are worse than others. This is a bad one.

But remember, a lot of the Arizona State faithful were banking on Mike Bercovici to win the starting job when Todd Graham came in. And the Sun Devils do have the league’s leading rusher in D.J. Foster. All is not lost if Kelly can’t play for several games. But his accuracy and running ability certainly gave the ASU offense a little something extra.

 




JJ in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Lady and gentlemen, in your respective opinion, do the Ducks have a chance to make it to the playoff with the injuries at tackle? Asking a LOT for a true freshman at right tackle and a walk-on at left tackle to hold up for the entire season. At this rate, Puddles might have to line up at tackle. Thanks for the great blog.

Kevin Gemmell: This is one of those crystal-ball questions to which the best answer is time will tell.

For all we know, Tyrell Crosby and Matt Pierson might be the next coming of Jonathan Ogden and Dan Dierdorf. Or they could simply be placeholders until others return from injury. I don’t know. Of course it’s a lot to ask. But I’m guessing they wouldn’t be wearing one of 783,360 possible uniform combinations for Oregon if they didn’t have the talent.

You obviously look ahead to some of the games against A-list defensive lines, such as UCLA and Stanford, and wonder. But those guys also have a couple of games to get acclimated.

A lot needs to happen for a team to win a conference. You have to stay healthy. But no one ever really does, so you need to have depth. And you need a little luck. A lot of that is unpredictable. But, for what it’s worth, I think Oregon is still in the best position of any Pac-12 team to reach the playoffs.

#4Pac: Most impressive defensive player?

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
7:15
PM ET
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the best defensive player through the first three weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Larry Placido/Icon SMIWashington nose tackle Danny Shelton is clearing up doubts over his production and consistency.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: In the preseason, there was plenty of chatter about Washington NT Danny Shelton, mostly centered around if and when he'd be taken in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. The question with Shelton has never been talent or potential. It's been consistency and production. Was he just a big guy who gobbled up blockers, which is important for any interior lineman? Or was he something more, such as a guy who gobbled up blockers but also was a disruptive force -- as in unblockable? There's also the question of whether he'd take a few plays off here and there. Based on the early returns, let's just say the 339 pounder has NFL scouts and defensive coordinators salivating. Shelton not only leads the Pac-12 in sacks with six and tackles for a loss with 7.5, he also leads the Huskies' defense in tackles, period, with 27. Has a 3-4 NT ever led his team in tackles? We're going to say no without even fact-checking that assertion, at least not at the FBS level. It probably won't hold, but the mere fact that's where the numbers are after three games bodes well not only for the Huskies defense, it also figures to make Shelton a lot of money this spring when everyone wants to hand his name to Roger Goodell.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Is there a defensive player in the conference that can do more than Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson? Over his first two seasons, he proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers, but some still believe he would make for an even better safety. Against Illinois last week, Thompson scored on a 36-yard interception return and a 52-yard fumble return to become the first player in college football with multiple defensive touchdowns this year. The performance earned him Walter Camp national defensive player of the week honors and came after a 15-tackle game against Eastern Washington the week prior in which he recorded a sack a forced fumble. Thompson is the Huskies' only player to have recorded a sack, interception, pass breakup, and both forced and received a fumble. We're talking defense here, but it seems appropriate to point out he also has six carries for 82 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, which stands as the Huskies' longest run of the year.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No defensive player in the Pac-12 has been more productive over the last three seasons than UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. And he's picked up where he left off last year and the year before that. Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 37 tackles through three games, including a league-high 21 solo stops. He's averaging 12.3 stops per game -- a full tackle more than Arizona's Scooby Wright (11 per game) -- and more than two tackles per game over every other Pac-12 defender. If the name of the game is production, then Kendricks absolutely qualifies as the most impressive. And it's not just about making tackles, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown and he forced a fumble that led to a defensive score. Both of those happened on the road at Virginia, and as a result he was named the national defensive player of the week for Week 1. On a team loaded with talented playmakers -- some of whom get more buzz than Kendricks -- he's not only been the most complete and impressive player on the Bruins, but also the Pac-12. Excited to see what he does Sept. 25 with the trip to Arizona State against the Sun Devils and D.J. Foster, who leads the league with 170 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't putting up big numbers because opposing QBs aren't throwing his way. His one interception this season tells all you need to know about his play-making skills.
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is going to have a pretty short highlight reel this season -- because he's that good. Opposing quarterbacks would rather learn what it feels like to be sacked by four members of Oregon's pass rush than to throw at Ekpre-Olomu. And so, through three games, the senior has only tallied 11 tackles and one interception. But my goodness, the one interception displayed everything you need to know about Ekpre-Olomu and his play-making abilities. He showed his awareness, change of direction, speed, jumping abilities, body control and athleticism in that one play. I can't think of another play in the Pac-12 this season in which all of those abilities were displayed so well. I'm expecting a handful more plays similar to this, maybe even something more impressive. But the most impressive part of his play -- and the part that speaks to why he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12 -- is the fact that we're not seeing a ton of him. Because QBs want nothing to do with No. 14.
On the surface, Arizona's schedule over the first third of the season is notably weak. The Wildcats whipped overmatched UNLV, just as they did last year, outlasted UTSA, another team that prefers to go by its initials, and survived a fourth-quarter challenge from Nevada. Up next is a visit from California, which went 1-11 last year.

If your audience were patient, you could attempt to explain how that schedule was reasonably solid. UNLV was a bowl team last year, UTSA is the nation's most experienced team and Nevada was coming off a win over Washington State. Cal? It's already won at Northwestern and has looked nothing like the easy out it was in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsThe Arizona defense will have to pressure Cal's Jared Goff -- who has 510 passing yards and 7 touchdowns in two games this season.
You could also make an esoteric argument that Arizona deserves some respect for negotiating a schedule of teams that is good enough to beat you but not good enough in terms of pedigree to naturally captivate the focus of a crew of 18 to 23-year-old players.

But who has time to listen to that?

In other words, Arizona is aiming to become the least glamorous 4-0 team in the nation this weekend. There's only a remote shot the Wildcats will earn a top-25 ranking with a victory. A loss? They'd immediately be voted off Relevancy Island by the unforgiving college football cognoscenti.

A year ago, Arizona also started 3-0 against an ostensibly -- OK, an actually -- weak nonconference schedule. It then got bricked at Washington and lost at USC. Thereafter they never really became a major factor in the South Division race.

Most observers, Pac-12 or otherwise, are taking a wait-and-see approach with the Wildcats. We'll see when they visit Oregon on Oct. 5, a week that will feature the Ducks denying any revenge angle for the shocking whipping they took in Tucson a year ago. We'll see when USC comes to town on Oct. 11 and during back-to-back road games at Washington State and UCLA.

So it probably won't be until the end of October that we will have an idea if Rich Rodriguez is going to produce something special in his third season in Tucson. Yet it's also worth nothing the Wildcats are seemingly in a better spot, at least offensively, than they were a year ago.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson has so far produced Ka'Deem Carey-like numbers (149.7 yards per game; 6.8 ypc). Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency with a rating that is more than 45 points higher than B.J. Denker's number after three 2013 starts. While the points are slightly down after three games -- 39.7 ppg versus 43.7 -- the total yards and yards per play are way up.

Rodriguez can be pretty stingy with compliments, but he's tipped his cap to Wilson and Solomon, noting that Wilson is “way advanced mentally” and Solomon is “harder on himself than we would be." If you know Rich Rod, that is the highest of praise. For one, it's difficult to imagine any QB being harder on himself than Rodriguez, who is perennially the bad cop for offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

The jury, however, is out on the Wildcats defense. They dominated the early schedule a year ago -- 8.7 ppg through three games -- and ended up as the Pac-12's most improved unit last year. That included turning in a Stanford-like performance against the Ducks offense.

The defense, with some notable losses from the 2013 unit, has struggled against the pass so far this year -- yielding a 64.6 completion rate -- and in the redzone, where foes have scored touchdowns on seven of 11 drives inside the 25-yard line. Nevada quarterbackCody Fajardo completed 29 of 39 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Arizona's 35-28 win last weekend.

"Defensively, we didn’t do a good job getting off blocks, and we blew a couple coverages which was uncharacteristic of us," Rodriguez said. "That allowed them to control the ball and limit our possessions. We have to get better defensively."

He then added, “No question we’ve got to shore things up in a hurry because we’ve got some great throwing teams [in Pac-12], including one coming in this weekend.”

Cal has a passing attack that can give any defense some trouble, particularly if quarterback Jared Goff gets time to throw. Seeing that the Wildcats don't have a dominant pass-rusher, it's likely they will have to use a variety of blitzes to disrupt Goff, whose so far been on point as a true sophomore. That is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that the Bears likely are anticipating.

Cal will land in Tucson with a lot of confidence. The Bears view last year as an unfortunate alignment of the football planets, one that created an injury-plagued disastrous anomaly. Even then, they played Arizona tough a year ago, using a late touchdown to only lose at home by five points, their closest conference game.

We don't yet know a lot about Arizona. Cal's visit might prove to be a more revealing matchup that it appeared to be in the preseason.
With any story of any length, there are always going to be anecdotes or asides that just don’t make the final cut. When that story is one about Mike Leach, typically, you could write a novel -- or six -- with all the things that didn’t really fit into the arc of the story.

So, here’s one of those tales that just didn’t make the final draft of the narrative of the Mike Leach story that's on the site on Wednesday.

Leach’s staff meetings feel more like Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a come-as-you-are function with people showing up in socks or sweats or with half of their dinners (literally, inside receivers coach Dave Yost came with a mixing bowl full of salad), which isn’t surprising considering Leach is running the show.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jose Mandojana for ESPNOf course this is the look of a guy you'd want to coach with.
Because so many of his staff members are guys who’ve played for him or coached with him at previous stops the conversation wavers and at times goes completely off topic. Apparently, they once debated the best college town eateries (this included Leach drawing a map of the United States on the white board and different guys going state by state as they discussed the best BBQ in one town and the best beer in another), and they also debated food chains that have the greatest discrepancy among their food. If you’re wondering, Leach believes it’s Pizza Hut, and don’t get him started on it.

However, the man who spends the most amount of time one on one with Leach is one who actually didn’t play for or coach with Leach at any of his previous stops.

During the season that Leach was out of coaching, Eric Mele, Washington State's offensive quality control assistant, was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Wingate University.

Out of the blue one day, he starting trying to find Leach’s Key West address on Google and somehow he stumbled across it.

“It was just, ‘Hey man, sucks you’re out of coaching. When you get back into it, I’d love to get a chance to talk to you,’” Mele remembered.

He had included his phone number but didn’t really think he’d hear from Leach.

A few weeks later Mele attended a coaches clinic at Oregon and during one of the sessions his phone rang. It was an unknown number but it read: “Lubbock, Texas.” He ran out of the session and to the hallway, waiting and hoping for a voicemail. Leach’s voicemail was brief, “Eric? Mike Leach.”

Mele called him back and Leach said that if Mele were ever in Key West, he should let Leach know and they could meet up.

“I literally just booked a trip for two weeks later and told him I’d be in Florida, that kind of thing,” Mele said.

He flew down and met up with Leach, who invited him back in a couple weeks when other coaches -- including Hal Mumme -- would be in town fishing. Again, Mele visited Key West.

When Leach was announced as Washington State’s coach in November 2011, Mele realized this was his chance to get on the staff. Without an invitation, he booked a flight to Pullman for Leach’s introductory news conference and figured he’d pull a, “Hey, I’m in Pullman too, imagine that, want to grab a beer?” Unfortunately, when Mele texted Leach the morning after the news conference, Leach informed him that he had already returned to Key West but that if Mele were going to be in Key West again, he should let Leach know.

Again, Mele said he would just happen to be there in a few days.

“My wife is at home with our three kids and I’m scraping up pennies to pay for the flight to get out here,” Mele said.

He rerouted his trip and flew to Key West.

“At that point he kind of understood I wasn’t going away,” Mele said.

A few weeks later, Leach flew Mele to Pullman and offered him the job. Mele called his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth daughter at the time. It would be a quick move and a lot of transition for their young family, not to mention he’d be taking a pay cut for the job. But, he and his wife, Melissa, knew it was the right time and the right move for their young family and his career.

“The chance to work for him,” Mele said. “You’ve gotta do it.”
BERKELEY, Calif. -- When it came time to pick a senior quote in high school, Cal quarterback Jared Goff settled on a famous one from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Ben Margot/AP PhotoJared Goff and the California Bears take on the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday in a game of unbeatens.
How's that for foreshadowing?

Barely into the second season of his college career, Goff has already lived both sides.

"Last year was terrible, there was people saying everything about us,” Goff said. "You try not to read it, but it comes across your [Facebook] news feed every once in awhile, and then this year it's almost the opposite."

With wins against Northwestern and Sacramento State, the Bears' 2-0 start has brought about a renewed sense of enthusiasm to a fan base that grew apathetic during a disastrous 2013 season. Goff said he's already noticed more students wearing Cal gear and he can't stray too far from his apartment near Memorial Stadium before noticing the changes winning has bred.

"Every single day there's a traffic sign near my place and it says 'Go Bears,'" Goff said. "That wouldn't have happened last year."

Goff admits he "loves seeing all that," but as Wooden taught him and coach Sonny Dykes has reinforced, there's an important caveat that comes with the positive vibes.

“[They] literally mean nothing," Goff said.

To better avoid the outside noise, Goff took a page out of former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers' book when he pledged to stay away from Twitter during the season.

It's an approach Dykes can appreciate because as immeasurably frustrating as the Bears' 1-11 record was in his debut season, he never lost faith in the process. And the ability to block out any unnecessary distractions plays a big role in that.

"[Last year] everybody on campus, media stuff, everything was remarkably negative -- and justifiably so -- but [the players] didn't need to listen to that," Dykes said. "When we get the thing rolling, they don't need to listen to everybody telling them how great they are, either, because nothing has changed.

"People's ability to ignore stuff that doesn't matter and focus on what does matter, I think, makes a huge difference with how successful somebody is. It's nice for people to tell you you're not stupid and you're not a bad player, all that stuff, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter."

It's also important to keep things in perspective. Wins against Northwestern, which lost to Northern Illinois the following week, and FCS Sacramento State, which prepared for Cal with a win against Incarnate Word, don't exactly combine to form an enviable resume. The important byproducts of those wins are a small sense of validation and improved confidence, but beyond that Cal still has a long way to go.

And until the Bears prove they can consistently compete with Pac-12 teams -- beginning Saturday at Arizona -- a healthy level of skepticism is appropriate.

"We're not by any means hanging on to the Northwestern win or the Sac State win, but it's good to see us working hard in the offseason, doing everything right, going to class, and then seeing it pay off with the wins," said Goff, who ranks ninth in the country with a QBR rating of 90.1. "I think it makes the whole team's morale go higher, just seeing everything work the way it's supposed to work."

Offense was never going to be a major issue. When Dykes left Louisiana Tech for Berkeley, he and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin had just engineered the highest scoring offense in the country. Given time, there was no reason to believe it wouldn't pick up steam at Cal.

Defense was a different story. It was a question mark when Dykes was hired, but reality (45.9 points allowed per game) redefined any worst-cast scenarios floating about. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh had to go, and Dykes was led to Art Kaufman, whose history of quickly turning around porous defenses presented at least some reason for optimism.

For linebacker Jalen Jefferson, it was apparent early on in spring practice that things could be better when he noticed something strange.

"We were actually stopping the offense," he said. "And that's hard to do with the style they have and what they do."

Jefferson credits Kaufman's basic approach for allowing the defense to play faster.

"We still run a 4-3, but there aren't many adjustments," said Jefferson, who leads the Bears with 17 tackles. "We line up, play our gap and fly to the ball. That's what we needed. [Kaufman's] a great guy ... mellow. He gets on us when needs to and he trusts us, so we trust him."

Again, the competition level and small sample size need to be taken into account, but the early defensive returns are positive. Cal ranks third in the Pac-12 in total defense (328 yards per game), third in scoring defense (19.0 ppg) and is tied for the best turnover margin (plus-5).

Arizona (3-0) will provide an otherworldly kind of challenge. The Wildcats have averaged a conference-best 582.7 yards per game over their first three games, including a school-record 787 yards of offense in Week 1 against UNLV. True freshman running back Nick Wilson is fourth in the country with 449 yards rushing and quarterback Anu Solomon has thrown for 934 yards over his first three career starts.

"We're pretty anxious to see what we're capable of," Jefferson said.

He's not the only one.
When Oregon wide receivers coach and passing coordinator Matt Lubick said earlier this fall that he could see the Ducks using six to eight receivers, people might've thought he was crazy.

With Bralon Addison going down and just one true veteran wide receiver returning -- Keanon Lowe -- the Ducks' wide receivers were anything but experienced. And to expect six to eight guys to step up would be crazy, right?

No. It would've been an underestimation.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Chris Bernacchi/AP ImagesByron Marshall has rushed 19 times for 179 yards and a touchdown this season. He's also caught 12 passes for 190 yards and two scores.
Through three games 13 different players have caught passes for Oregon. Wide receivers Lowe, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford have stepped up in big ways, but even past that group, there's clearly serious depth for Lubick to look to in the pass game.

Against South Dakota, the Ducks came out blazing with 11 different players catching passes. But the big surprise was that running back Byron Marshall acted as more of a slot guy as he hauled in a game-high eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Michigan State, seven players tallied receptions. Redshirt freshman Devon Allen recorded two touchdowns and 110 yards on three catches, though two other players caught three passes as well (Lowe and Marshall).

And against Wyoming, again, 11 players caught passes. This time it was tight end Pharaoh Brown who led the way with four catches for 46 yards.

It's not completely absurd to have that many guys catch passes in these early-season games, especially considering how many of them are blowouts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, already this season, there have been 38 games in which a Power 5 team had at least 10 players catch a pass.

But, it should give Mariota and the team faith that the Ducks are building to the conference season on a very strong foundation of capable receivers.

“We don't have a favorite [receiver],” Lubick said. “We have six or seven favorites.”

Carrington, Allen, Lowe and Stanford have all amassed at least 100 receiving yards already this season. But the wild card that is going to make the Duck offense very hard to plan for this season is Marshall.

The Ducks are using Marshall in a different way than they did last season and his numbers are sky rocketing. After three games, his two receiving touchdowns and 190 yards on 12 receptions is already more impressive than his full season of pass catching from last year (13 catches, 155 yards, 0 touchdowns). His rushing numbers are a bit lower, but with the emergence of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, that's to be expected. In 2014 he has carried the ball 19 times for 179 yards and one score. At this point last season he had carried the ball 29 times for 196 yards and two scores.

But Marshall's presence on the field forces defensive coordinators to be a bit more on their toes.

“As a defensive coordinator, he'll keep you guessing,” Lubick said. “He gives us flexibility. It messes with [opponents'] personnel groupings. He could play the whole game at wide out. He could also play the whole game at tailback.”

Moving forward the Ducks' pass game is likely to get more exciting. With how young Marshall, Allen, Carrington and Stanford are, their learning curves are going to pick up with each game.

Lubick saw how much progress these young players made this spring and summer with Marcus Mariota, but he also knows “there's nothing better than game reps and experience.”

The next chance to show off their passing game is Saturday against Washington State, a team that has an impressive passing game of their own. But the Cougars struggles come on defense. Already this season they've allowed 11 passes of 20 yards or more and they've given up 11.2 yards per completion.

It should be a good opportunity for Lubick's six or seven favorites to step up.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
Come son of Jor-El. Kneel before Zod. Snootchie boochies!

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! There are four teams on bye this week -- Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and USC -- so we won't update them until next week. Here are the updated depth charts for the other eight.
Some observations: Mark your calendars

The Pac-12 released the 2015 schedule on Tuesday and Kyle Bonagura broke it down last night. You can just scroll down, because it's the post right below this one. Or if you're really lazy, just click here.

Some of the key matches that jump out are Michigan's trip to Utah in a rematch of this weekend's game, Arizona State vs. Texas A&M at Reliant Stadium and a rematch of Oregon-Michigan State, with the Ducks traveling to B1G country this time around.

There's the usual matchups of Notre Dame vs. USC and Stanford, plus Oregon State travels to Michigan and Cal heads to Texas. And don't think the Cougars won't have vengeance on their mind when they go to Rutgers.

P-A-C vs. S-E-C

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the nonconference performances thus far of the Pac-12 and the SEC to find the answer to the question: Who is better?

He crunches the results, makes a couple of predictions, and leaves us with this result:
The Pac-12 hasn’t outperformed the SEC thus far in Power 5 results and has no discernible advantage going forward in the quantity or quality of its Power 5 games.
News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

Ever wonder what Mike Leach or Steve Sarkisian would look like if they were the subject of the Mona Lisa? We haven't either, thank goodness someone has.

Three times the jinx? We're kidding.

2015 Pac-12 football schedule

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
PM ET
We're three weeks into 2014 ... so let's talk about 2015.

The Pac-12 released the full 2015 football schedule Tuesday, which begins the third cycle of scheduling among conference teams since the 2011 expansion.

We've known about most of these games for awhile, but it's still fun to scan them all in one place. Chris Petersen's return to Boise State, Arizona State's trip to Houston to play Texas A&M and the state of Oregon against the state of Michigan (on the same day) immediately stand out.

10 notable nonconference games
  • Michigan at Utah
  • Arizona State vs Texas A&M
  • Washington at Boise State
  • Oregon at Michigan State
  • Oregon State at Michigan
  • Washington State at Rutgers
  • BYU at UCLA
  • California at Texas
  • USC at Notre Dame
  • Notre Dame at Stanford

Here is the full schedule:

Week 1

Thursday, Sept. 3
  • UTSA at Arizona
  • Michigan at Utah
Saturday, Sept. 5
  • Arizona State vs Texas A&M, NRG Stadium, Houston
  • Arkansas State at USC
  • Virginia at UCLA
  • Colorado at Hawaii
  • Eastern Washington at Oregon
  • Weber State at Oregon State
  • Washington at Boise State
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • Grambling State at California
  • Stanford at Northwestern
Week 2

Saturday, Sept. 12
  • Arizona at Nevada
  • Cal Poly at Arizona State
  • Idaho at USC
  • UCLA at UNLV
  • UMass at Colorado
  • Utah State at Utah
  • Oregon at Michigan State
  • Oregon State at Michigan
  • Sacramento State at Washington
  • Washington State at Rutgers
  • San Diego State at California
  • Central Florida at Stanford
Week 3

Saturday, Sept. 19
  • Northern Arizona at Arizona
  • New Mexico at Arizona State
  • Stanford at USC
  • BYU at UCLA
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
  • Utah at Fresno State
  • Georgia State at Oregon
  • San Jose State at Oregon State
  • Utah State at Washington
  • Wyoming at Washington State
  • California at Texas
Week 4

Friday, Sept. 25
  • Stanford at Oregon State
Saturday, Sept. 26
  • UCLA at Arizona
  • USC at Arizona State
  • Nicholls State at Colorado
  • Utah at Oregon
  • California at Washington
Week 5

Saturday, Oct. 3
  • Arizona at Stanford
  • Arizona State at UCLA
  • Oregon at Colorado
  • Washington State at California
Week 6

Thursday, Oct. 8
  • Washington at USC
Saturday, Oct. 10
  • Oregon State at Arizona
  • Colorado at Arizona State
  • California at Utah
  • Washington State at Oregon
Week 7

Thursday, Oct. 15
  • UCLA at Stanford
Saturday, Oct. 17
  • Arizona at Colorado
  • Arizona State at Utah
  • USC at Notre Dame
  • Oregon at Washington
  • Oregon State at Washington State
Week 8

Thursday, Oct. 22
  • California at UCLA
Saturday, Oct. 24
  • Washington State at Arizona
  • Utah at USC
  • Colorado at Oregon State
  • Washington at Stanford
Week 9

Thursday, Oct. 29
  • Oregon at Arizona State
Saturday, Oct. 31
  • Arizona at Washington
  • USC at California
  • Colorado at UCLA
  • Oregon State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington State
Week 10

Saturday, Nov. 7
  • Arizona at USC
  • Arizona State at Washington State
  • UCLA at Oregon State
  • Stanford at Colorado
  • Utah at Washington
  • California at Oregon
Week 11

Friday, Nov. 13
  • USC at Colorado
Saturday, Nov. 14
  • Utah at Arizona
  • Washington at Arizona State
  • Washington State at UCLA
  • Oregon at Stanford
  • Oregon State at California
Week 12

Saturday, Nov. 21
  • Arizona at Arizona State
  • USC at Oregon
  • UCLA at Utah
  • Colorado at Washington State
  • California at Stanford
  • Washington at Oregon State
Week 13

Friday, Nov. 27
  • Oregon State at Oregon
  • Washington State at Washington
Saturday, Nov. 28
  • Arizona State at California
  • UCLA at USC
  • Colorado at Utah
  • Notre Dame at Stanford
Friday, Dec. 4
  • Pac-12 Championship Game, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

ASU QB Taylor Kelly (foot) ruled out

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:20
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State senior quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss the 15th-ranked Sun Devils' next game with a right foot injury, though his status beyond that is uncertain.

Kelly was injured during Saturday's game at Colorado and left on crutches and wearing a protective boot.

Senior Mike Bercovici will replace Kelly for Arizona State's game against No. 12 UCLA on Sept. 25, but coach Todd Graham has said he will not update his quarterback's status until after that game.

Kelly is a three-year starter at Arizona State and is the school's all-time leader in completion percentage. He has thrown for 625 yards and six touchdowns in the Sun Devils' first three games, all wins.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 4

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
7:00
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Hawaii at Colorado
  • WR Nelson Spruce has accounted for 39.7 percent of Colorado's receiving yards, the second-highest percentage in the conference.
  • The Buffaloes have picked up 43 first downs from pass plays, second most in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado is the only team in the Pac-12 that has been outscored this year (minus-25).
Utah at Michigan
  • Nine of Utah's 14 touchdown drives have taken two minutes or less.
  • Utah scores on 70 percent of drives where it gets the initial first down.
  • QB Travis Wilson is one of 10 players in the country with at least six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Georgia State at Washington
  • Georgia State, a second-year FBS program, has never beaten a FBS team.
  • WR John Ross is averaging 37.3 yards per reception on six catches -- half of which have gone for touchdowns.
  • In two games with Cyler Miles at quarterback, Washington has averaged 51.5 points and 500.5 yards per game.
California at Arizona
  • Cal has lost 14 consecutive Pac-12 games, the second-longest conference losing streak in the country.
  • According to VegasInsider.com, Arizona opened as a 17-point favorite, but dropped to as low as nine points Tuesday morning.
  • Cal ranks third in the Pac-12, converting on 51.5 percent of its third-down chances.
  • Arizona ranks No. 8 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 on offense, averaging 582.7 yards per game.
  • Cal ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in rush defense (113 yards per game) and Arizona is No. 3 (116.0)
San Diego State at Oregon State
  • Oregon State has allowed one more rushing first down (11) than via penalty (10).
  • San Diego State quarterback Quinn Kaehler and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion played against each other in the same high school league.
  • Mannion ranks No. 2 among active FBS quarterbacks with 11,064 career passing yards.
Oregon at Washington State
  • Oregon has scored at least 14 points in a national-best 68 straight games.
  • Both teams rank in the top 15 nationally in total offense: 10. Oregon (573.3); 15. WSU (557.0)
  • Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks third nationally averaging 11.35 yards per pass attempt.
  • Oregon safety Erick Dargan, who chose the Ducks over WSU, leads the nation with three interceptions -- tied with four others.
  • WSU teammates Isiah Myers and Vince Mayle are the only teammates that both rank in the top 15 in receptions -- Myers is No. 5 with 26; Mayle is No. 7 with 25.
National individual leaders

Passing touchdowns
t1. Connor Halliday, WSU — 12
t13. Sefo Liufau, Colorado — 8
t13. Marcus Mariota, Oregon — 8
t13. Cody Kessler, USC — 8
t13. Anu Solomon, Arizona — 8

RawQBR
4. Mariota, Oregon — 93.3
6. Taylor Kelly, ASU — 92.1
9. Jared Goff, Cal — 90.1
11. Travis Wilson, Utah — 87.5
14. Cyler Miles, Washington — 85.2

Rushing yards
3. D.J. Foster, Arizona State — 510
4. Nick Wilson, Arizona — 449

Rushing touchdowns
t8. Royce Freeman, Oregon — 5
t8. Foster, ASU — 5

Receiving yards
4. Isiah Myers, WSU — 423
10. Nelson Spruce, Colorado — 346

Receiving touchdowns
1. Spruce, Colorado — 6
t2. Myers, WSU — 5

Yards from scrimmage
1. Foster, ASU — 649
9. Wilson, Arizona — 470

Sacks
1. Danny Shelton, Washington — 6
t3. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington — 5

Defensive touchdowns
1. Shaq Thompson, Washington — 2

Field goals
3. Casey Skowron, Arizona — 7

Pac-12 team stats

Offensive touchdown drive percentage
1. Oregon — 56.8
2. Utah — 50
3. Arizona State — 45.2
4. Cal — 40.7
5. Arizona — 36.8
6. Washington State — 35
7. Washington — 34.2
8. Stanford — 33.3
9. USC — 30
10. Colorado — 25
11. Oregon State — 23.3
12. UCLA — 23.1

Defensive touchdown drive percentage
1. Stanford — 2.8
2. Oregon — 15.8
3. Arizona — 17.9
4. Arizona State — 18.6
5. Cal — 19.2
6. Utah — 19.4
7. UCLA — 20
8. USC — 20.5
9. Oregon State — 20.7
10. Washington State — 24.4
11. Washington — 26.3
12. Colorado — 35

Offensive 3-and-out percentage
1. Arizona — 5.3
2. Stanford — 6.1
3. Colorado — 10
3. Washington State — 10
5. Cal — 14.8
6. UCLA — 15.4
7. Oregon — 16.2
8. Washington — 18.4
t9. Oregon State — 20
t9. USC — 20
t11. Arizona State — 21.4
t11. Utah — 21.4

Defensive 3-and-out percentage
1. Utah — 45.2
2. Stanford — 38.9
3. Arizona — 35.9
4. Washington State — 31.7
5. Oregon State — 27.6
6. Washington — 26.3
7. UCLA — 25
t8. USC — 23.1
t8. Cal — 23.1
10. Arizona State — 20.9
11. Colorado — 20
12. Oregon — 15.8

Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
EUGENE, Ore. -- When Marcus Mariota went airborne last Saturday, diving into the end zone for a second-quarter score against Wyoming, it was as if everyone at Autzen Stadium held their breath.

That includes every Oregon player and coach, every Ducks fan, every bettor, every single person who has found himself/herself rooting for this quiet Heisman contender. For a few seconds, until Mariota got to his feet with his teammates, stomachs were churning.

As exciting as the play was and as happy as fans were to see another six points added to the scoreboard, all of it seemed minuscule when compared to one detail: Is Marcus OK?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota doesn't play it safe, and that's a good thing for Oregon.
“You can’t really think about those types of things,” Mariota said of playing it safe. “Because that’s when you get hurt. My dad always told me that if you play with your mind worrying or cautious, then you play at half-speed and end up getting yourself hurt.”

It’s no secret: Oregon’s playoff hopes rest on Mariota’s shoulders ... even when they’re closer to the ground than his feet. And though the Ducks preach the mantra of every school, everywhere -- “backups need to come in and play like a starter” -- Oregon’s postseason dreams will be nonexistent if Mariota is sidelined due to injury. And fans need to look no further than last season to know that is a fact.

Many would like to enclose Mariota in bubble wrap, keeping him safe until they “need” him to make those kinds of plays later on down the road. They want his helmet to wear a helmet and for his Nike jersey to somehow deploy airbags when it senses possible injury within five yards.

But that’s not going to happen, though Phil Knight might be phoning in an idea to Nike manufacturers now.

But Mariota knows one fact: You don’t tiptoe the line toward a national title. It’s not exactly a game that welcomes those who bring fruit baskets and tap politely on the door asking to enter. No, it’s a game for the risk takers and those willing to lay it all on the line, which Mariota, if it wasn't evident before that dive, is certainly willing to do.

Especially this season, with no prior knowledge as to how exactly the committee will choose the four teams or which factors they will give the most weight, teams and players can’t leave anything to chance.

So, would Mariota make that flip again?

Yes. He would. Because he’s not playing it safe and no one should want that. If Oregon wins the title, no one will say it’s because Mariota played it safe until it “really mattered.” Because with this new playoff, no one knows exactly which detail matters. Thus, everything matters.

And so, Mariota throws caution to the wind and his body toward the end zone. And as nervous as it might make fans, coaches and teammates -- wide receiver Keanon Lowe said, “I hope he never does that again. Ever.” -- it’s how the Ducks need to play this season if they want to be in that group of four at the end of the season.

Mariota knows how to get there. Now, everyone needs to just trust his lead.

He has an innate playmaking ability that you just can’t coach. So coach Mark Helfrich certainly isn’t going to un-coach it.

“You can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do this,’” Helfrich said. “The way that he plays, the dynamic nature of his play, how he likes to improvise -- that’s one of our biggest strengths.”

 “I’ll just let my instincts take over,” Mariota added. “It’s tough as a football player to kind of stop yourself from doing something.”

And so, one of Oregon’s biggest strengths will also be one of its fans’ biggest fears moving forward. Every time Mariota leaves the pocket or throws his body in harm’s way, every time he dives or hurdles, fans everywhere are going to hold their breath until they see their Flyin’ Hawaiian get back on his feet.

It’s the way Mariota wants to win the national title this season. And as much as a national title might mean to Fan X or Fan Y, it means more to Mariota.

He’s a smart player. Any risk he takes is one that’s going to be calculated. And, if he does get injured, then it will happen because it was a risk that he believed was worth it.

Isn’t that the kind of player you’d want to lead your team? Those are usually the kinds of players who are standing on the top of the podium or in the winner’s circle.

“You can’t squelch somebody’s gifts and the stuff that he does,” Helfrich said. “We can’t, we won’t ever approach offense with any kind of handcuffed mentality.”

What does that mean? Well, it means a lot more stomach-churning moments as Oregon fans wait for Mariota to climb from the bottom of the pile or stand and walk without a limp. It means some hesitance as folks let Mariota fly free. It means letting the player make the plays that he believes in.

Because at the end of the day, he’s driving this machine. And no one buys a Maserati to go 30 mph.

Certainly not Oregon.

Pac-12 QB Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
11:00
AM ET
The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With a few All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to whom’s secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love.

 

Honorable mention: Jerry Neuheisel, UCLA; Taylor Kelly, ASU: Neuheisel was a great story this week -- in fact, the story this week -- after stepping in for an injured Brett Hundley and leading UCLA to a win against Texas. His game-winning touchdown pass with three minutes to go won’t soon be forgotten, and the Pac-12 Player of the Week honor was justified. If he’s forced back into action again, he’ll be considered in future weeks. Kelly was his usual self against Colorado -- completing 13 of 21 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns -- before exiting with an injury.

Inactive Week 2: Jared Goff, Cal; Sean Mannion, Oregon State; Travis Wilson, Utah

To see last week’s rankings, click here.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
AM ET
video
The early weeks of the high school and college football seasons slow things down a bit when it comes to Pac-12 recruiting. Only a handful of official visitors made their way to Pac-12 campuses, while a junior college commitment to Arizona was the first addition to the conference in nearly two weeks. But there were still interesting developments at a number of conference schools as Stanford hosted a huge visitor, UCLA made an important statement, and Colorado looked ahead to the 2016 class.

Whittingham, Hoke reunite in Ann Arbor

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
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During his two-year stint as San Diego State's football coach, Brady Hoke would often make not-so-subtle overtures about his desire to be the head coach at Michigan. On more than one occasion, Hoke said he envisioned his career arc ending in Ann Arbor, where he'd spent eight seasons as an assistant before head coaching stops at Ball State and SDSU. And he made no secret to his employers that if the maize and blue ever called, he'd be gone.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke has been unable to build upon an impressive first year at his dream job.
Following the 2010 season, Michigan called. Hoke answered with vigor.

Around that time, Kyle Whittingham and the Utah Utes were wrapping up their final season as a Mountain West team. Utah, just two years removed from a 13-0 season and No. 2 BCS ranking, was regarded as one of the top non-AQ teams in the country and was headed to the newly-branded Pac-12.

Since leaving their old league in their wake, things haven't exactly gone according to script for these former A-list Mountain West coaches. And when their teams meet Saturday at The Big House, it's possible the outcome could alter the trajectories of their respective careers.

Hoke enjoyed an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory in his first year with the Wolverines but has seen declining returns after an 8-5 record in 2012 and a 7-6 mark last year. He sits on one of the hottest coaching seats in America.

Meanwhile, Whittingham and the Utes have struggled to adapt to Pac-12 football. The Utes are just 9-18 in conference play since joining the league (a vicious strain of yearly quarterback injuries doesn't go unnoticed) and have failed to reach a bowl game in consecutive seasons. Whittingham's seat isn't as hot as Hoke's, but if the Utes fail to make the postseason for a third straight year, it will be.

"No coach I know of pays any attention to external chatter," Whittingham said. "We're so focused on what we're doing. That's how you have to be. That's how you have to operate. You can't be distracted."

A victory Saturday puts the Utes at 3-0 heading into conference play and gives them a quality road win over a nationally-relevant opponent. A loss sends a signal that the Utes still aren't ready for Power 5 football.

A Michigan win won't make or break Hoke's career. But a loss could re-ignite an already agitated fan base still smarting from a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in Week 2.

"They all count as one win," Whittingham said. "If the Michigan game counted as two wins, it would be a lot more important. It's not a conference game, so it obviously doesn't impact what happens in our league. But every game is critical and we're not going to approach this one any differently."

Exactly what you'd expect Whittingham to say. However, after beating up on FCS teams, BYU and Mountain West teams the last three years in nonconference play, this is Utah's biggest non-league test since joining the Pac-12. And it's outside the state of Utah, where the Utes have only won once in the last two seasons.

There really isn't a common denominator for why both coaches have struggled in their new surroundings. Hoke went to an already established Power 5 team, rich in success and tradition. Whittingham was shepherding an entire program into a significantly tougher conference.

Still, Hoke inherited a Rich Rodriguez team that was built for the spread and an odd-front defense. His first three years have been spent trying to install a pro-style attack and an even-front defense.

[+] Enlarge Kyle Whittingham
George Frey/Getty ImagesKyle Whittingham's Utes have struggled adjusting to life in the Pac-12
"When you're changing from a philosophic/schematic standpoint to a four-down front, recruiting those guys you want to play in there, you have to recruit the genetics," Hoke said. "Recruiting is always going to be part of it. The overall philosophy you have as a coach, how you want to develop your program, that's all part of it."

Both coaches concede the obvious -- that the weekly grind in the Power 5 is significantly harder. In the Mountain West, Utah's season usually came down to one big game against TCU. This year they face a four-game stretch of USC, at ASU, Oregon and at Stanford -- four teams currently ranked in the AP top 20.

"Everyone in the Pac-12 has to deal with that, so it's not unique to us," Whittingham said. "It's a big difference from what we experienced at the non-Power 5 level ... The recruiting is better. It's all about players. Coaches are way overrated. It's all about players and personnel. The personnel in the Pac-12 is markedly better than the personnel in the Mountain West across the board."

In their two Mountain West meetings, Whittingham's Utes beat Hoke's Aztecs both times. But given the coaching and personnel changes, those game films are moot. And while Whittingham is trying to bring his team to the next level, Hoke is scrambling to hold on to the position he called his "dream job" a year before he even had it.

"You have to be comfortable with who you are and who you are representing and I think we've got great leadership on this team," Hoke said of the outside noise calling for his ouster. "... We understand how we need to compete every Saturday and go about our business."

For both coaches, Saturday might be just as much about staying in business.

Planning for success: Oregon State

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
9:00
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As Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion inches closer to the league’s all-time passing record, it’s important to remember that the Beavers are looking to make as much of an impact on the ground as in the air.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Terron Ward
AP Photo/Eugene TannerOregon State running back Terron Ward has rushed for 162 yards on 25 carries this season.
And so far, they have. Through two games, the Beavers are averaging 170 rushing yards per game. That’s up significantly from the 94.4 they averaged last year and 124.5 the year before that. Obviously, we only have a small data sample to work with. But for perspective, OSU averaged 81 yards on the ground through its first two games last season and 100 yards through the first two games of 2012.

Portland State and Hawaii aren’t exactly the ’85 Bears. But it’s progress. And the Beavers have thus far done it with the split role of Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- which by the way is a great name for a law firm: Ward, Woods & Associates.

Ward has carried 25 times for 162 yards (6.5 average) and two scores. Woods has carried 26 times for 160 yards (6.2 average) with a long of 50, but no touchdowns. He does, however, have one through the air.

As the Beavers face stiffer competition, the emphasis on the ground game will continue to be a vital part of what they want to do on offense. That said, injuries on the offensive line still have to be taken into account. The Beavers were hopeful in the preseason that they might get Isaac Seumalo back this week against San Diego State, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. And Roman Sapolu started in place of Garrett Weinreich at left guard against Hawaii. Weinreich hasn’t practiced during the bye week, so his status for SDSU is questionable.

In two games, San Diego State has only allowed two rushing touchdowns and they rank in the top 50 nationally in rush defense. They gave up a 21-7 second-half lead on the road against North Carolina, before falling 31-27, and cruised in their opener against Northern Arizona.

Keep in mind, too, that the Beavers needed three scores and a pick-six in the fourth quarter to erase a 27-14 deficit last year against the Aztecs in San Diego.

The Aztecs, who are also coming off a bye week, have matured into a pretty good Mountain West team. Should be a good test for the Beavers before conference play ramps up with a trip to USC on Sept. 27.

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