Pac-12: Ishmael Adams

“Catastrophic” is the word Arizona State coach Todd Graham used to describe when his team gives up a non-offensive touchdown -- be it defensive or special teams. After last week’s catastrophe against UCLA, he seems qualified to weigh in on the subject. His Sun Devils gave up a 95-yard interception return and a 100-yard kickoff return against the Bruins in last week’s 62-27 loss.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Adams
AP Photo/Matt YorkIshmael Adams scored two of his three return touchdowns last week against Arizona State.
That brings up one of the more interesting sidebars to this week’s South Division showdown between the Bruins and the Utah Utes. Both teams have benefited greatly from getting non-offensive points. The Utes are headlined by return man Kaelin Clay, who leads the conference in punt return average (26.1 yards per return) and has scored four special teams touchdowns -- three punts and one kickoff.

The Bruins aren’t too shabby themselves in the special teams department. Ishmael Adams leads the conference in kickoff return average (28.2 yards per return) and has returned one for a touchdown. He also has a pair of interceptions returned for a touchdown. He provided both non-offensive touchdowns for the Bruins last week.

“You look at our league, it’s scary each week,” Graham said. “You look at the punt returners and kick returners, every week you’ve got dynamic guys. It’s a challenge. Those are momentum shifts that are catastrophic. When you have them, they are great momentum changes. They are immeasurable.”

The Bruins have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season. Three have come by way of interception, one was a fumble return and the last was the Adams kick return. Utah also has five -- four on special teams and one defensive.

So the chore facing UCLA coach Jim Mora and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham this week is to find ways to neutralize Clay and Adams in the kicking game. Whether that’s directional kicking, kicking away from them all together or simply putting faith in their coverage units, both coaches recognize the explosive potential of the other’s return man.

“We kickoff to whoever,” Mora said. “We have one of the best kickoff coverage units in college football. We have not given up a single yard yet in four games in punt return.

“Now, [Clay] is special. I don’t know if we’ll be able to say that after this game. We don’t really change what we do. We have tremendous respect for him. But we don’t want to go too far away from what our core principles and foundation are.”

The odds of winning go up dramatically when scoring a non-offensive touchdown. But that doesn’t always mean victory is assured. Like the Bruins last week, the Utes also scored a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown. Yet despite the 58-yard punt return from Clay and an 11-yard pick-six from Eric Rowe, they still fell 28-27 at home to Washington State, which erased a 21-0 first-quarter deficit.

“It’s a major impact in the momentum and flow of a game,” Whittingham said. “For whatever reason, it’s a bigger boost and a bigger lift when you score a non-offensive touchdown. It has more of an impact on your team. It seems like more of a momentum type play than a touchdown from your offense. It can really turn a game and help you out. But we obviously came up short last week.”

Turnovers should be on both coaches’ minds this week. Recall last year the Bruins narrowly escaped Rice-Eccles with a 34-27 victory after Travis Wilson threw six interceptions. Granted, not all of them were his fault. There were drops and tips and missed routes. But “interceptions” aren’t a receiving category.

And whether it’s on special teams or defense, Whittingham is well-aware of what Adams is capable of.

“You try to not to get the ball in his hands,” Whittingham said. “We have a directional punter in Tom Hackett; he’s able to put the ball in various locations on the field. We hope to keep it out of his hands. We don’t know if we can do that all the time, but we hope to minimize it. He’s a dangerous player. He’s very explosive. You’d be crazy to just kick right to him. That doesn’t make sense.”

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 1

August, 31, 2014
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Football is back. That means helmet stickers are back! Here’s who gets one of college football's most coveted honors for Week 1.

Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah: The Pac-12 blog is always hesitant to dole out too much praise for victories in FCS games. But Clay went above and beyond in Utah’s 56-14 win over Idaho State. He returned a punt 46 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: Not a bad night for the new guy. He threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start (also adding 50 yards on the ground) as the Wildcats totaled a school record 787 total yards in their 58-13 win over UNLV.

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: This is getting to be a troubling trend. Halliday has a monster game, but the Cougs lose in the fourth quarter. Sort of how we ended last year. Still, he threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns against a Big Ten team, a 41-38 loss to Rutgers. That has to count for something.

UCLA’s defense: While the offense significantly underwhelmed, the defense kept the Bruins alive with three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter, which was ultimately the difference in their 28-20 win at Virginia. Interception returns by Ishmael Adams and Eric Kendricks, with a Randall Goforth fumble return in between, gave the Bruins a big enough lead.

Jalen Jefferson, LB, Cal: Been a while since we tapped a Cal defensive player for a helmet sticker. Feels weird. Feels good. Jefferson led all players with 16 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and a critical 11-yard sack on Northwestern’s penultimate offensive play of the game. On the final play, it was Jefferson who snagged an interception, sealing a 31-24 win. He was Eh-vre-where.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: I know, I know. We could do three or four quarterbacks every week. And just an FYI, we probably will, because they’re that good this year. Kessler picked up where he left off against Fresno State last year and posted a career high 394 yards on 25-of-37 passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the 52-13 win over the Bulldogs.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year’s rankings here.

Up next: Cornerbacks. Considering the talent pool of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, each team’s secondary is going to be tested more and more this season. Teams are really (read: really, really, really) going to want to be good here in 2014.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is back, and considering how much opponents want to throw (though, who knows how much they will actually throw at him), he’s looking at what could be a really, really impressive final season. Through the spring, fellow senior Dior Mathis emerged as the other starter, though Troy Hill could make this an intriguing position battle to watch. Backing up these guys will be Chris Seisay, junior college transfer Dominique Harrison and Stephen Amoako. Elite talent and excellent depth make this one of the best position groups for the Ducks.

Stanford: The Cardinal have a new defensive backs coach in Duane Akina. In his 13 years with Texas he developed two Thorpe Award winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs, and he inherits a stocked pantry at Stanford. Alex Carter -- who sat out this spring -- and Wayne Lyons are both very, very good players who will anchor the secondary. Ronnie Harris will play the outside when Lyons shifts over to cover the slot.

UCLA: Last year at this time, UCLA’s cornerbacks were in the “we’ll see” category. Well, we saw. We liked. The Bruins return Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson -- they combined for 201 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2013. With an offseason to gel as a unit, mature and condition, expect those numbers to grow. If need be, Randall Goforth could play some cornerback, and early enrollee Adarius Pickett and 2014 signee Jaleel Wadood (younger brother of Arizona State cornerback Rashad Wadood) could also contribute.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Steven Nelson has one of the cornerback spots locked down. He recorded 62 tackles, six interceptions and eight pass breakups last season. Opposite him, Larry Scott and Dashon Hunt are vying for the starting spot. Scott has more game experience but spent half of the spring on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury, giving Hunt more and more reps as the spring season went on. And considering these guys go up against quarterback Sean Mannion every day in practice, their learning curves are going to be expedited.

Washington: In Marcus Peters (55 tackles, five interceptions, 14 PBR in 2013) the Huskies have a very, very good cornerback on their hands. Opposing quarterbacks probably aren’t going to throw at him a ton, which brings the second starter into question. The starter opposite Peters will be the one put in bigger situations (at least until he proves himself as a lockdown cornerback. If he doesn’t, the passes will keep coming). Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly and former Alabama transfer Travell Dixon had the first shot at the job in spring ball, and the Huskies will get four freshman cornerbacks in the fall to add to that group. It is a young group, but expect Peters -- who we think could be one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12 this season -- to pull along whoever plays the opposite spot.

Colorado: Senior Greg Henderson is the most experienced defensive player returning to the Buffs this season, and his history of steadily improving through his Colorado career is a good sign that this season will be his best. On the other side, Colorado is still going through a position battle with junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon (who had an interception three pass breakups in the spring game) and Kenneth Crawley (who played in 11 of 12 games last season for the Buffs). Chidobe Awuzie also returns, making cornerback one of Colorado's deepest positions.

WE’LL SEE

USC: A coaching change and a lot of questions about players made this a hard decision between Good Shape and We'll See. With the pure talent the Trojans have, it will be surprising if this is not a productive group, but that potential doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Kevon Seymour has one starting spot. He ended last season on a high note and played well in the spring, but has had a very up-and-down career. Can he sustain this recent production? We’ll see. Opposite Seymour, there is a battle brewing between Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins and possibly Adoree' Jackson. This might be the group with the most upside and the most downside (basically, the most unknowns) of any cornerback corps in the conference.

Arizona: Earlier this spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wasn’t as excited about his secondary’s depth as he wanted to be. Considering the Wildcats play with a five defensive back system, that is not great. But, they have Jonathan McKnight to anchor one side. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season and led the team with eight pass breakups. The other side is still a question mark as the team tries to replace Shaquille Richardson.

Utah: Expect to see a lot of nickel from the Utes as they prepare for life-after-Trevor-Reilly. Eric Rowe -- the team’s third-leading tackler in 2013 -- is back and has secured one of the starting spots. He is the fastest defensive back on the team (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but the other starter remains a question. Utah likes sophomore Reginald Porter (10 tackles in 2013) and senior Davion Orphey (eight starts, 33 tackles in 2013) but they could see competition from incoming players like Travonne Hobbs and Casey Hughes.

Arizona State: ASU lost both cornerback starters in Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson following the 2013 season. Nelson accounted for 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups, and Irabor tallied 54 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. Their backups -- Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood -- finished the spring atop the depth chart. Those two combined for just 32 tackles in 2013. There is always the argument that these two will step right into their mentors’ shoes as they have had time to learn, but the verdict is still out on how effective these two will be.

Washington State: The Cougars have taken major steps forward under head coach Mike Leach. At some point the cornerbacks need to follow suit (especially considering what they face in practice every single day). The Washington State secondary is in a major rebuilding period after losing cornerbacks Nolan Washington and Damante Horton. The only player with any kind of experience is Daquawn Brown, but beyond him it could be a lot of youth in the secondary.

Cal: The Bears have new defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who helped USC win national titles in 2003 and 2004 (in those two seasons the Trojans gave up just 239 passing yards per game) so there is certainly not a lack of talent and experience on the coaching end. But on the field, it’s a different matter. Cameron Walker -- who had to play safety last season because of injuries -- will return to cornerback and start alongside Stefan McClure. Both have experience at safety, which should help the defense be more dynamic, but again, that alone doesn’t necessarily propel the group into good or great shape this season.

Other position reviews:

UCLA spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
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Three things we learned this spring
  1. Raising the (next) Barr: All indications are that Kenny Orjioke probably has the inside track at outside linebacker to replace the departed Anthony Barr. Aaron Wallace (dealing with grade issues) and Deon Hollins are still very much in the mix. Several members of the staff said they were pleased with what they saw from Orjioke -- though it’s worth noting he didn’t play in the spring game for reasons not revealed.
  2. Welcome back, Owa: After missing last season with a hip injury, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa (aka the scourge of spellcheck), returned with a very strong spring session that included a pair of sacks in the spring game. His return bolsters a pass rush that has to replace Barr and Cassius Marsh.
  3. Back depth: The staff has been very pleased with the progress of running back Jordon James. But they feel equally solid about Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and redshirt freshman Craig Lee. Combined with the scrambling ability of quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins should build upon last year’s average of 196.6 yards per game.
Three questions for the fall
  1. Line-up: While the coaching staff feels pretty good about its offensive line, finding the right replacement for Xavier Su'a-Filo is still paramount. They think they might have it in graduate transfer Malcolm Bunche from Miami. But a couple of starting spots should still be up for grabs when the Bruins return for fall camp.
  2. Backup plan: A lot rests on the legs and arm of Hundley – a Heisman trophy candidate and presumptive top 10 pick in 2015. Whether it’s Jerry Neuheisel or Asiantii Woulard backing him up remains to be seen. Neither were particularly sharp in the spring game, with Neuheisel throwing two interceptions and Woulard completing just 4 of 13 passes.
  3. More D-to-O coming? We know about Myles Jack and the impact he made on offense for the Bruins last season. He didn’t get any carries in the spring, though Jim Mora said they’ll likely have some packages for him. Will we see others? Eddie Vanderdoes? Ishmael Adams? Not that they’ll give it away in the spring, but it will be fun to watch this fall to see how many defensive players see offensive time.
Way-too-early prediction: The Bruins will win the Pac-12 South for the third time in four years. With Hundley at the helm and an experienced defense, the Bruins not only have the fewest question marks among their Southern brethren, but they have plenty of talent to match on both sides of the ball. Staying healthy will be key, as will gaining some early momentum with critical conference games against ASU, Utah and Oregon in the first half of the season.

Spring games roundup

April, 28, 2014
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Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights of the three spring games in the Pac-12 this past weekend.

California

Quarterback Jared Goff completed 14 of 23 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown as the Bears wrapped their spring session in front of approximately 2,500 fans at Memorial Stadium.

Daniel Lasco and Jeffrey Coprich each made 1-yard touchdown runs and Goff connected with Kenny Lawler on an 8-yard touchdown strike. Lawler finished with four catches for 30 yards and the score. Bryce Treggs had two catches for 47 yards.

Goff said the Bears are looking to move beyond last season’s horrific 1-11 showing, in which they failed to beat an FBS team.

“We’re done with last year,” Goff said. “We’re done with everything that had to do with last year. We’re a brand new team now and we’re ready to go. …

“We’re two or three deep at every [wide receiver] position that I think honestly have NFL potential. I’m just so fortunate to have that receiving corps out there willing to make plays. They all want the ball and they all want to make plays. It’s really, really lucky for me.”

Austin Hinder, who is competing with Kyle Boehm to be Goff’s backup, was 6-of-12 for 46 yards and interception. Boehm was 1-of-2 for three yards.

You can see the full stats here.

UCLA

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone guided his Blue team to a 28-0 victory over defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s White team behind two rushing touchdowns from Jordon James at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro also scored rushing touchdowns.

Quarterback Brett Hundley only played in one offensive series and was 4-of-5 for 30 yards. Jerry Neuheisel completed 14 of 22 passes for 180 yards, but threw interceptions to Ishmael Adams and Adarius Pickett. Asiantii Woulard was 4-of-13 for 42 yards and Mike Fafaul was 7-of-16 for 116 yards.

“I like the way they competed,” head coach Jim Mora told the Pac-12 Network. “I like the fact that nobody got seriously injured. I’m sure there’s some nicks. I thought they came out and competed well. I thought we protected the ball fairly well. It’s good to be in a game environment. It will help us going down the road.”

Three defensive players each recorded two sacks -- linemen Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Zach Vinci and linebacker Deon Hollins.

You can see the full stats here.

Washington State

Quarterback Connor Halliday completed 25 of 41 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns and the Crimson team topped the Gray squad 23-19 in front of 6,233 fans at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash.

Vince Mayle caught six balls for 92 yards and a touchdown to lead the Crimson group, while freshman Calvin Green led all players with eight catches for 101 yards.

“Spring went well,” Halliday told the Pac-12 Network. “Spring games are always a little frustrating. We’ve got the team split in half and we have some O-linemen that haven’t played together and the receivers are split in half. We had a real good spring before today. Today was a little sloppy here and there. But it went well.”

DaQuawn Brown hauled in two of the five interceptions. Redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow rushed for 44 yards on five carries and Gerard Wicks added two scores on the ground. Drew Loftus had a pair of touchdown receptions.

You can see the full stats here.

LOS ANGELES – UCLA’s much-ballyhooed dual-threat threat Myles Jack -- the first player in league history to win the Pac-12’s defensive and offensive freshman of the year -- has zero carries this spring.

None. Nada. A 230-pound donut of spring offensive production. And the reason is obvious to the man pulling the strings in Westwood.

“He is a defensive player -- period -- who maybe will have some offensive packages,” stressed UCLA coach Jim Mora. “He hasn’t taken a single offensive snap this spring, nor will he. In training camp, either. He plays defense for us. The important thing is to help us maximize his abilities at linebacker. He’s phenomenal on either side of the ball. But in his mind and the reason he came here is to play linebacker. I’m not going to take that away from him. It would hurt our football team.”

In a whirlwind 2013, Jack went from heralded recruit to starting linebacker to overnight social media/SportsCenter sensation. Six carries, 120 yards and one rushing touchdown later against Arizona, the “Jack of all trades” puns were as viral as the common cold.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUCLA's Myles Jack is focusing on defense this spring, but he could have some offensive packages during the fall.
“It was definitely crazy,” Jack said. “My life pretty much changed after that Arizona game. People really knew who I was after that. It was definitely pandemonium in terms of my phone. Guys I hadn’t talked to in a long time were hitting me up. It was wild.”

This spring the UCLA coaching staff has reminded Jack that he is, above all else, a linebacker. They’ve kept him strictly on one side of the ball, but haven’t ruled out that we might see him get some carries when the leaves start to turn. For now, the emphasis is on making him the best linebacker he can be.

And he was pretty good last season, posting the second highest number of tackles in school history for a true freshman with 75. That was enough to earn him second-team All-Pac-12 honors and placement on several freshman All-America teams. He was good, but not great. And he knows it.

Too often last season, Jack would rely on his athleticism rather than trusting in his still-developing technique. He’d guess. When he guessed right, the result would be a tackle for a loss or a highlight play. When he guessed wrong, what could have been a sack turned into a 3-yard gain. He was athletic enough to compensate. But the coaching staff is confident that when he reaches that sweet spot between athleticism and technique, well, look out.

“I’m not even close to where I need to be yet,” Jack said. “In high school I carried the ball and played defensive end. I was in a four-point stance and I’d just run around the other guys. But in the Pac-12, these offensive linemen are big and fast. I need to do a better job with my hands and shedding blocks and reading my keys.”

His collegiate offensive exploits speak for themselves. His 66-yard touchdown run against the Wildcats thrust him into the national spotlight and he ended the season with 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He set a UCLA true freshman record with four rushing touchdowns against Washington, and on the other side of the ball, he led the Bruins with 11 passes defended and added a two interceptions with a pick-six in the bowl win over Virginia Tech.

Mora was quick to note that Jack isn’t the only dual-threat the Bruins have on their roster. Last season defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes rushed for a touchdown and had an 18-yard reception. Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt had a 12-yard catch and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh had a 2-yard touchdown reception.

“If they can help us on either side of the ball, we’re going to continue to use them,” Mora said. “We’re going to continue to use Myles on offense and in packages. We’re going to continue to use Eddie Vanderdoes. We’re going to continue to use Kenny Clark. We’re going to find a guy that can replace Cassius. We’ve got guys like Ishmael Adams that we can play on both sides of the ball. But we have to make sure they are full entrenched at one position before we ask them to branch out. Otherwise you hurt their ability to grow.”
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions.

Next up: South Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. USC

LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams, S Su'a Cravens

The skinny: Pullard was second-team All-Pac-12 after leading the Trojans with 94 tackles. While DE Devon Kennard led the Trojans with nine sacks last year, Williams was a force inside with six. It's also possible, of course, that attention to Williams, a certain preseason All-American, will open things up for a DE/OLB, such as J.R. Tavai. Cravens is likely to become as a true sophomore an all-conference performer. He had four interceptions last year, second on the team.

2. UCLA

LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Kenny Orjioke, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: Kendricks ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game last year. Does he finally break through on the all-conference team after two years as an honorable mention? Orjioke is the frontrunner to replace Anthony Barr. He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and has tons of potential. He, however, had just 12 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore. Adams led the Bruins with four interceptions last year.

3. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, DE Reggie Gilbert, "spur" LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant

The skinny: Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a true freshman, finishing with 83 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. With both MLB Jake Fischer and weakside LB Marquis Flowers gone, he seems like a favorite to lead the team in tackles, even if he stays at strongside backer. Gilbert ranked second on the team with four sacks, though it's possible the Wildcats defense will do some juggling to increase anemic sack numbers this fall. Or a new guy, such as LB Antonio Smothers or DL Jeff Worthy, will break through. Bondurant, a hybrid LB/safety, led the Wildcats with four interceptions in 2013.

4. Arizona State

LB Salamo Fiso, DE/OLB Viliami Latu, S Damarious Randall

The skinny: The Sun Devils are replacing nine starters on defense, but Randall and Fiso are two of the three returning starters. It is notable that coach Todd Graham has been moving guys around on defense this spring, so ultimate positions are a matter of conjecture at this point. Fiso ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles. Sophomore Latu might have a lead in the battle to replace Carl Bradford at the highly productive "devil" LB position. Randall had three interceptions last year.

5. Utah

LB Gionni Paul, OLB Jacoby Hale, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: Paul, a Miami transfer, is drawing raves this spring. He was a terror on the scout team a year ago. Hale is likely to replace Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes in tackles and sacks last year, at the "stud" linebacker. He was second on the Utes with 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago. As for the Utes’ leader for interceptions, well, funny you should ask about a team that had just three picks all of last year, tied for fewest in the nation. We're going with Rowe, even though he didn't have a pick in 2013 and had just one in 2012.

6. Colorado

LB Addison Gillam, TBA, CB Greg Henderson

The skinny: Along with Wright and UCLA's Myles Jack, Gillam was a true freshman LB revelation last year. He led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles. He might be a good bet to lead the team in sacks, too. The Buffs are replacing leading sacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4), and it's unclear who will fill that void. D-lineman Samson Kafovalu is a possibility, but he's sitting out spring focusing on academics. Derek McCartney -- yeah, that McCartney -- has been playing well this spring. Henderson led the Buffaloes with four picks a year ago.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Pac-12 names players of the week

November, 25, 2013
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Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with Arizona State linebacker Chris Young, who was named defensive player of the week and UCLA returner Ishmael Adams, who was named special teams player of the week.

Here’s some more on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:

Carey, a junior from Tucson, Ariz., racked up 206 yards on a school-record 48 carries to become the Wildcats’ all-time leading rusher with 3,913 career yards as Arizona upset No. 5 Oregon 42-16 on Saturday afternoon in Tucson. His four touchdowns on the day established a new program mark for career touchdowns with 49 while his 45 career rushing touchdowns are also a school record. The 48 carries were the most by an FBS player in a game this season and his string of 14 straight 100-yard rushing games is tied for the longest streak by an FBS player over the past ten seasons. The nation’s second-leading rusher (155.9 ypg) earns the conference offensive player of the week honor for the second time this year.

Young, a senior from Seattle, Wash., led an Arizona State defense that limited a potent UCLA offense and squashed a fourth-quarter comeback bid in a 38-33 win over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night as the Sun Devils clinched the Pac-12 South Division title with the victory. He collected a game-leading 13 tackles, including 12 solo, and three sacks for a loss of 27 yards. His two fourth-quarter sacks and game-ending tackle on the Bruins’ final two drives secured the win for the Sun Devils, who earned a spot in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Dec. 7.

Adams, a sophomore from Woodland Hills, Calif., collected 234 return yards in his first game serving as the return man in the Bruins’ 38-33 loss to Arizona State. His efforts in the return game led to three UCLA scores, including a 58-yard return on the Sun Devils’ first kickoff of the game to set up a 42-yard scoring pass on the next play and a 49-yard punt return that set up a 48-yard field goal that put the Bruins ahead late in the first quarter.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Connor Halliday of Washington State; running backs Javorius Allen of USC and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and wide receivers Ty Montgomery of Stanford and Shaq Evans of UCLA. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Anthony Barr of UCLA and Justin Sagote of Washington State; cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson of Arizona and Marcus Peters of Washington; and defensive end Leonard Williams of USC and free safety Jered Bell of Colorado. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was Washington State kicker Andrew Furney and USC fullback/special teams member Soma Vainuku.

Q&A: UCLA's Ishmael Adams

November, 1, 2013
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After dropping back-to-back games to Stanford and Oregon, UCLA is looking to get back in the win column when it hosts Colorado this weekend. Sophomore cornerback Ishmael Adams took a few minutes this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about how the Bruins can bounce back, the play of the secondary and what he sees in next week’s Stanford-Oregon showdown.

What’s the feeling around the team after these last couple of weeks?

Ishmael Adams: We just have to challenge each other more. Compete harder in practice and the rest will come to us in the game. We can only make our team as good as our team wants to be, and competing with each other on both sides of the ball, we need to take it to another level in practice.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Adams
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesBruins sophomore CB Ishmael Adams had one of his three interceptions this season in UCLA's loss to Stanford on Oct. 19.
Are the guys pretty down? Have they bounced back? What’s the mood in the locker room right now?

IA: Nah. We can never be down about the past. We have to keep moving forward. We have a lot of games left. We have time to keep working and competing and getting to where we want to be.

What was the team’s reaction to Jim Mora’s comments after the Oregon game about “close" not being good enough and you guys not being satisfied?

IA: He was telling the truth. We can’t be satisfied with being close and not meeting our goals. We can’t be satisfied with taking losses. We have to rise to the occasion. We can’t be down about it. We have to keep on working.

Aside from the mental aspects, is there anything different you guys need to do schematically to get back on track?

IA: That’s for the coaches to decide. Our job is to get out there and play. We don’t chose the plays or where we line up. We trust the coaches to put us in a good position and it’s up to us to go out there and execute it.

You guys have been through so much this year emotionally. How have you seen this team come together from where you were in August to where you are now?

IA: Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve got great leaders through Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and Brett Hundley. They’ve led by example and showed what it means to be a leader. We need to keep following their lead and keep on working.

There were a lot of questions about the secondary coming into the season, specifically youth and not a lot of game experience. Do you feel like you guys have met the challenge?

IA: I feel like we’ve risen to the challenge, but we have a long way to go. We have a great group of receivers coming up in the next few weeks. We’re looking forward to this next challenge with [Paul] Richardson and his supporting cast, and then we’ll move on to the next one. We’re taking it one week at a time and trying to be more consistent.

You mentioned Richardson, what else do you see from Colorado on film?

IA: Not only him, he’s got a great supporting cast, and they all play their roles really well. [D.D. Goodson] is a nice, shifty receiver who can get in and out of his breaks and put guys behind him. [Nelson Spruce] is a good possession receiver. He can get guys off of him and get the ball and get upfield. They have as good a group of receivers as any other team, so we’re looking forward to competing with them.

How tough was last year for you? You played in the first couple of games and then sat out the rest of the year with an injury. Was it frustrating to get that little taste of college football and then have to sit?

We can never be down about the past. We have to keep moving forward. We have a lot of games left. We have time to keep working and competing and getting to where we want to be.

-- UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams on getting past back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon
IA: Yeah, it was pretty frustrating. I really wanted to come out my freshman year and play to my ability. But it wasn’t meant to be. But it allowed me to sit back and get the gist of what it takes to play in college football and be elite in college football.

Next week most college football fans are going to be tuning in to Stanford and Oregon. You’ve played both of those teams the last two weeks. Give us your opinion of how you think things will play out?

IA: It’s definitely going to be a great game because of how Stanford slows the game down and Oregon tries to speed it up. They both have great defenses. Stanford will try to get it going with the running game. They did a really good job, after losing to Utah, getting back to Stanford football, slowing the game down and running hard. [Marcus] Mariota is always going to do a good job not making mistakes. It’s going to be up to the Stanford defense to be where they need to be.

Any predictions?

IA: Nah, I’m going to be a student. I’m going to watch it and try to take some of the things I see to get better.

UCLA Bruins spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
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UCLA Bruins

2012 record: 9-5
2012 conference record: 6-3 (First in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Brett Hundley, OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, LB Anthony Barr, WR Shaq Evans, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt.

Key losses: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, TE Joseph Fauira, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnathan Fraklin (1,734)
Passing: Brett Hundley* (3,745)
Receiving: Shaq Evans* (877)
Tackles: Eric Kendricks* (149)
Sacks: Anthony Barr* (13.5)
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott, Sheldon Price (4)

Spring answers
  1. When in doubt, form a committee: There is no replacing Johnathan Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher and a finalist for the Doak Walker award last season. But the hope is that a group of backs can combine to replicate his production. Jordon James looks like he might have a leg up as the leader of the committee, though Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones had solid springs. Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen shouldn't be counted out, either, heading into fall since the coaches have said they are fine with using five backs in a game.
  2. The corps stepping up: The coaches were extremely pleased with the production of the wide receiver corps this spring. Devin Fuller might have had the strongest spring of the group -- though returning leader Shaq Evans (60 catches, 877 yards, three touchdowns) still figures to be the primary target. Jordan Payton, Kenneth Walker, Eldridge Massington and Devin Lucien round out what should be a solid group.
  3. LB depth: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt make up a fantastic linebacking unit. Barr and Kendricks were among the national leaders in production last year. But this spring the Bruins saw the emergence of players like Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orijoke and Taylor Lagace and Aaron Porter. Defensive depth was a big concern for the Bruins last year. And for now, at least, it looks like they have solidified the two-deep at all the linebacking spots.
Fall questions
  1. Speaking of depth: The Bruins return the bulk of their offensive line -- but as we learned in the Baylor game when two linemen went down -- you can never have enough depth on the line. Finding backups will be key. And while players like Ben Wysocki stepped up this spring -- showing he can fill in at tackle or guard -- there will be plenty of competition with some good offensive linemen joining the team this fall. The starting five might be close to set -- but nothing is solidified.
  2. Secondary issues: As in issues in the secondary, not secondary concerns. Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson looked solid at cornerback and Brandon Sermons and Randall Goforth stepped up at safety. Though it’s likely that several, if not all four spots, will still be up for grabs come August. A highly-rated group of recruits join the secondary in the fall and playing time in the secondary is expected to be highly contested.
  3. Looking for leaders: Franklin, gone. Jeff Baca, gone. Datone Jones, gone. Damien Holmes, gone. These were leaders who rallied the troops when times were tough and, in their own ways, pulled their respective units together. Head coach Jim Mora talked about the importance of leadership and said it can’t be forced. Rather, it has to happen organically. He said he started to see some guys develop this spring, but the next few months before they meet for fall camp will be very telling in regards to who takes this team on their shoulders.
Say you're leavin' on a 7:30 train and that you're headin' out to Hollywood;
Girl, you been givin' me that line so many times it kinda gets like feelin' bad looks good.

Video: UCLA's Ishmael Adams

August, 16, 2012
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video
Kevin Gemmell talks with UCLA's true freshman defensive back about what role he and some of the other freshmen might play for the Bruins in 2012.

UCLA spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 record: 6-8
2011 conference record: 5-4 (first in South)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter 1

Top returners
RB Johnathan Franklin, TE Joseph Fauria, DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, LB Damien Holmes, S Tevin McDonald.

Key losses
WR Nelson Rosario, OT Mike Harris, C Kai Maiava

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin* (976 yards)
Passing: Kevin Prince* (1,828 yards)
Receiving: Nelson Rosario (1,161 yards)
Tackles: Patrick Larimore* (81)
Sacks: Datone Jones* (3)
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott* (4)

Spring answers
1. Nice to meet you: Step one for a new coaching staff is to acclimate their players to not only their systems, but how they go about running their program. UCLA's players learned quickly that Jim Mora and Co. don't waste time. Players were introduced to a high-tempo practice session that took some getting used to, but ultimately they figured it out by the end of spring.

2. New look-offense: Players seemed to pick up new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's pass-happy scheme rather quickly -- and by the spring game, the quarterbacks were tossing multiple touchdowns. Each quarterback has said the new offense is less complex, but allows him to make quicker decisions. Because it's so pass-oriented, it caters to the talents of the quarterbacks. Which one starts, however, is still up for grabs (see below).

3. Defensive depth: The move of Holmes from defensive end to outside linebacker has opened up another spot on a fairly deep defensive line. Jones should flourish as a pass-rusher in the 3-4 scheme. Cassius Marsh, Brandon Willis and Owamagbe Odighizuwa bring depth and talent to a position group that should be the strength of UCLA's defense.

Fall questions
1. To be continued ...: Mora said he was hoping to name a quarterback by the end of spring. No dice. He wants a longer look at Brett Hundley, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut before deciding. Each brings his own skill set and talents. Brehaut put up impressive numbers in the spring game and Hundley is oozing potential. This is the most important decision of Mora's young career as a college coach. No need to rush it.

2. Depth needed: The Bruins can fill out most spots, but there are still depth questions on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Xavier Su'a-Filo returns -- which helps at tackle -- and linebacker Eric Kendricks had a good spring. But there are competitions other than quarterback to keep an eye on as they spill over into the fall. Which leads us to ...

Incoming help? It's possible that some of the players coming in could make an immediate impact. Which ones, however, remains a question. Defensive end Ellis McCarthy is likely to contribute right away; Ishmael Adams could pitch in in the secondary. Offensive linemen Simon Goines and Carl Hulick could also be in the mix.

Jim Mora makes some recruiting inroads

December, 27, 2011
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Know how a new coach wins over a skeptical fan base? He does this — flip an A-list recruit his way.

That's what new UCLA coach Jim Mora did with Ishmael Adams (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian). The four-star, 5-foot-10, 180-pound cornerback picked the Bruins over longtime leader California, as well as Arizona State and Notre Dame.

Adams told ESPN Recruiting's Greg Biggins, "After the coaching change, I didn’t think much about UCLA, but I really like Coach Mora a lot and I like Demetrice Martin a lot as well. He’s a good coach, and I know he’ll make me better.”

Before Christmas, the Bruins also signed JC offensive lineman Alexandru Ceachir (Santa Monica JC, Calif.). He had been committed to Utah. Ceachir seemed taken by new Bruins line coach Adrian Klemm.

In fact, if you read through Biggins' West Coast recruiting blog, it seems Mora's hires are making progress with a number of recruits, including ones committed elsewhere.

If Mora's first class includes a number of recruiting coups, that should alleviate some of the concerns Bruins fans had about hiring a coach with an almost exclusively NFL background.

The Bruins have 22 commitments, and Adams is the second with a four-star rating.

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