Monday, May 14, 2012
Best of Pac-12 spring
By Ted Miller
Spring practice 2012 is over. Here are some superlatives -- good and bad -- we collected along the way.
Best grounds for quarterback hope: UCLA has struggled at QB since Drew Olson threw 34 TD passes for a 10-2 in 2005. But all three Bruins QBs played well -- really well, in fact -- in the spring game. Richard Brehaut completed 12 of 16 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns. Brett Hundley was 12-of-20 for 185 yards, a score and an interception (he also ran for an 18-yard touchdown) and Kevin Prince was 8-of-11 for 101 yards and two scores.
Worst timing: By closing spring practices completely, Oregon coach Chip Kelly ensured that everyone would make a big deal out of the spring game, and that's just what happened in the QB competition when redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota dramatically outplayed Bryan Bennett, who was widely viewed as the decided frontrunner to win the job. Mariota completed 18 of 26 (69.2 percent) for 202 yards and one touchdown with an interception. He also scored TDs on runs of 14 and 82 yards. Bennett completed 19 of 32 (59.4 percent) for 209 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed for 27 yards on 18 carries and was sacked three times.
Best position move: Washington State DE Travis Long to the "buck" linebacker is going to play huge dividends for Mike Breske. He was on the verge of being an A-list defensive end last season in the 4-3 defense. But with a switch to the 3-4, this hybrid DE/OLB position will allow the full range of his athleticism to come out.
Best position move II: Utah's Thretton Palamo, a former rugby star who moved to defensive end from running back this spring, and had two sacks and four tackles for losses in three spring scrimmages. He'll help the Utes on the edge rushing the passer.
Best spring performance: Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel lit it up -- opening the game by completing his first 15 passes before finishing the day 19 of 21 for 285 yards and two touchdowns. One of those was an 84-yarder to Marquess Wilson, who had four catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Worst news: Too many arrests this off season. Too many guys driving fast, driving under the influence, taking swings at bouncers and going back to parties to get into another fight. It hurts the credibility of their teams and the conference. Stupid is as stupid does.
Best hint of a good QB future: California's touted true freshman QB Zach Kline found Spencer Hagan on a 40-yard touchdown pass and then connected on a 2-point conversion pass to give the Gold squad its winning margin in the Bears' spring game.
Best/worst moment of a coach getting angry: We saw some screamers this spring. Heard a couple of naughty words. But it's not often we see Oregon State coach Mike Riley let loose a verbal tirade like he did when he dropped a "J.C." bomb on tight end Colby Prince, declaring: "Jiminy Christmas, do you need me to spell it out!?" It's about time OSU starts posting PG warnings outside the practice field so fans know what they are walking into.
Worst injury: Colorado losing wide receiver Paul Richardson for the season is an absolute back-breaker. There might be other guys who step up -- but Richardson was a proven playmaker on a team desperate for them. He would have made life a lot easier for whoever wins the starting job. Whatever football god shuffles the deck, he keeps dealing out 2-7 to Jon Embree & Co.
Worst injury II: Tre Madden was a revelation most of spring after converting from linebacker to running back. The 220-pounder not only looked like a good No. 3 back and a power option, he was pushing to be Curtis McNeal's backup. But then he blew out his knee and was lost for the season.
Best new marriage: Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez tried to be mostly grumpy about his team this spring -- not without justification -- but he clearly knows he's got a potentially great fit for his offense with QB Matt Scott. In one scrimmage, Scott, a good runner, completed 22 of 35 passes for 315 yards with four TDs. Said Rodriguez afterwards: “I shouldn’t expect too much with the first year in the system, but with Matt Scott I’m going to expect a lot. And I think Matt can deliver.”
Best backfield no one is talking about: When senior James Morrison rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown in Arizona State's spring game, it showed how deep the Sun Devils' backfield is, particularly if Deantre Lewis comes back 100 percent after missing last season with a gun shot wound. Start with starter Cameron Marshall, an NFL prospect. Then, besides Morrison and Lewis, there's Kyle Middlebrooks and hybrid WR/RB Jamal Miles. Then there are the touted incoming guys: JC transfer Marion Grice and true freshman D.J. Foster. Now will the offensive line be able to open holes for those guys?
Best harrumph of the spring: Stanford coach David Shaw on his QB competition after the spring game: "I don't care what the numbers say, (the quarterbacks) didn't play well enough for us to win."
Best chance for dramatic improvement: Washington's 2011 defense, which yielded 67 points in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor, might have been the worst unit in school history. Exit Nick Holt and enter new coordinator Justin Wilcox, an expensive pickup from Tennessee. The early returns this spring were promising both in terms of scheme -- more 3-4 looks -- and personnel. In fact, the defense seemed to win more battles versus QB Keith Price and the offense than it lost. Said coach Steve Sarkisian, "It's been pretty cool [to watch]. And by no means do I think it was manufactured. The defense is winning these plays."