Pac-12: Semisi Tokolahi

Pac-12 media day notebook

July, 28, 2011
ArizonaArizona: There has been a lot of speculation about receiver Juron Criner's absence this summer and the potential of him even playing this season. Coach Mike Stoops said the all-conference player was back participating with the team after having "some personal and family issues with his mother that he had to attend to."

ASUArizona State: If Arizona State were to finish second behind USC in the South Division, they would still advance to the championship game because of the NCAA sanctions levied upon USC. If that were to happen, coach Dennis Erickson and quarterback Brock Osweiler agreed that they wouldn't care. "If you get in the game and you win it, you're going to the Rose Bowl," Osweiler said. "So whatever it takes to get there."

CalCalifornia: Oregon isn't the only Pac-12 team tied to scout/street agent Willie Lyles. California also did business with Lyles. "I have no concern whatsoever about it," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We have the videos, we have the prospect list, and so I have absolutely no concern about it." What Tedford is concerned about is his first losing season, and he said he understood that Bears fans are unhappy with the recent trajectory of the program. "We have created a standard and expectation at Cal over the last nine years," he said. "Last season we fell short of that, and we're not hiding from that."

ColoradoColorado: The Buffaloes have not won on the road since 2007, a span of 18 games. That second number was provided by new coach Jon Embree when asked about the first. He said it's a "sticking point" with him and one that he's noted -- probably more than once -- to the team. "I believe there is no one on our team that's played in a road win," he said. "Good teams win on the road. Obviously we haven't been a good team or I wouldn't be here. The thing I'm excited about is our first game's on the road [at Hawaii] because we need to address that issue immediately. I'll leave it at that. We need to address that issue immediately. It does not sit well with me." Sounds like Hawaii is circled in red ink on the schedule.

OregonOregon: Ducks coach Chip Kelly had high praise for quarterback Darron Thomas. "I don't know if there's a ceiling with Darron," he said. "To come in as a first-time starter and go undefeated in the regular season, and undefeated in this conference and lead his team to a berth in the national championship game. And threw for the second most yards ever in a national championship game, I think the one thing that I remarked and I said it a lot last year is that it almost seemed like every week he just got better and better." Oh, and Kelly also said Thomas was "the toughest quarterback I've been around."

Oregon StateOregon State: Beavers coach Mike Riley provided a cautiously optimistic update on receiver James Rodgers, who blew out his knee last season at Arizona. "The one thing that you can never do with James is count him out," Riley said. "He had two major knee surgeries. He is running. He has always been deemed ahead of schedule. But I'm going to really play this conservatively. I'm going to see where he is. He's got a major doctor's appointment, kind of a last check up before camp coming up. We'll see what they say when he comes home from that. Then we'll go into fall camp and see where he is." Riley also said that he expects tight end Joe Halahuni (shoulder) to "be practicing the last couple of weeks of fall camp, then we'll see about game ready after that."

StanfordStanford: The Cardinal has plenty of questions at receiver, but a healthy return of Chris Owusu would answer many of those questions, including giving Stanford one of the conference's best deep threats. Said coach David Shaw, "Since Chris' last surgery I haven't said anything to him besides play every game. That's all I said to Chris. I said nothing else. I said, 'Chris, … we'll practice accordingly.' We will make sure we take the pounding off him in training camp. We need Chris to play in every single game." As for young receivers stepping up, Shaw didn't provide any names, though he did say if none did, he'd just throw more to the Cardinal's deep collection of tight ends.

UCLAUCLA: Coach Rick Neuheisel hopes to take to the air this year, no matter who he has under center. Juniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut will compete for the starting gig during fall camp, with each looking to bolster an anemic passing attack that ranked 116th out of 120 teams nationally last season. "Somewhere along the line, we lost our ability to throw the ball," Neuheisel said. "I don't think you can point to one factor."

USCUSC: If USC's new-look offensive line ends up being any good this season, a lot of the credit will go to Khaled Holmes, a converted guard who moved to center this offseason because of his cerebral nature. "This is an important move for us," coach Lane Kiffin said. "We do a lot of stuff on our offensive system. Khaled's a very smart football player, so he'll help us up front, because he's going to have two new guards next to him."

UtahUtah: Utes coach Kyle Whittingham didn't mince words when talking about the importance of QB Jordan Wynn, who is coming back from shoulder surgery. "Job 1, in fact, is keeping Jordan Wynn healthy throughout the course of the season," Whittingham said. Whittingham said Wynn's shoulder is "100 percent from a medical standpoint," but that doesn't mean the coaches won't be cautious with him. "[Offensive coordinator Norm] Chow has a plan in place to limit his throws early in camp and progress from there," Whittingham said. "What that number is, we're looking at is it 100 throws a day? Is it 80 throws a day? But we'll have a plan in place to make sure we don't wear him out early on in camp."

WashingtonWashington: The Pac-12 blog recently rated Washington in "great shape" at defensive tackle. That probably is no longer accurate, particularly with some injury issues at the position. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi will be limited early in camp, coach Steve Sarkisian said. Potoa'e has a sprained knee that needs to be watched, while Sarkisian previously said Tokolahi (ankle) likely won't be back before conference play begins on Sept. 24 against California. Toss in the retirement of Chris Robinson due to knee issues, and the Huskies have some issue at the position, at least beyond 330-pound Alameda Ta'amu. The depth, at least, figures to be young, with redshirt freshman Lawrence Lagafuaina and incoming freshman Danny Shelton.

Washington StateWashington State: While the return of QB Jeff Tuel and a top-flight receiving corps is good, the Cougars struggled on the offensive line in 2010, both pass blocking and run blocking. But coach Paul Wulff believes that might change this fall due to continuity, with four starters back as well as some other experienced backups. "I think a lot of things are solved," Wulff said. "Our running game, we're a lot more physical on the offensive line. We're athletic. We have experience. Our running backs are better. Our quarterbacks and then the continuity with some of our young receivers and Jeff are better. So all of those ingredients are going to equate to higher productivity."

Pac-12 lunch links: Missing Utes, hurt Huskies

July, 14, 2011
Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and it is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its Western summit is called the Masai "NgÓje NgÓi," the House of God. Close to the Western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

Stepping up in the bowls: Washington

December, 28, 2010
Few give the Washington Huskies much of a chance in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl -- in large part because they have already played the Nebraska Cornhuskers this year and the result didn't leave much intrigue: a 56-21 beatdown in Husky Stadium.

While the Huskies used a three-game winning streak at season's end to earn bowl eligibility, it's hardly certain they are a better team today than they were on Sept. 18, particularly with a decimated defensive line that will be missing three key players: Cameron Elisara, Talia Crichton and Semisi Tokolahi.

Obviously, the Huskies defense will have to play much better after giving up 533 yards in the first meeting. But can it? Or will the Huskies just have to outscore the Cornhuskers, which brings along the nation's No. 8 scoring defense?

So let's ask this question: Who might dramatically change this game if he stepped up with a marquee performance?

Quarterback Jake Locker: Too obvious? Well, it's the only answer. For the Huskies to have any chance, Locker needs to turn in his best work this season -- both with his arm and with his feet. And he should be plenty motivated to do so. Recall that the first meeting was widely seen -- here and other places -- as a showdown between Locker, the touted NFL prospect, and perhaps the best secondary in the nation. Well, if that was the case, the Cornhuskers won by knockout. Locker completed just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. He also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown, but the performance was a public failure in a disappointing season for Locker. His NFL draft status started to apparently slide precipitously from sure-No. 1 overall to potentially the second-round. Locker, however, could redeem himself with a big evening, and that could send him into the NFL draft evaluation process with game film that might reignite flagging interest. The horrible result in the first game was hardly only Locker's fault. The Huskies played poorly in all phases. This Seattle Times article does a good job of explaining one area where Locker got little help: his receivers. But the only way the Huskies are going to produce a different result -- even if we're just talking about a competitive game -- is if Locker comes up big.

Q&A: Washington's Nick Holt

December, 20, 2010
Washington expected to be better on defense in defensive coordinator Nick Holt's second year. At times it was. But for the most part, it wasn't.

The Huskies ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (31.2 points per game) and seventh in total defense (401.2 yards per game). Both totals are worse than 2009. The Huskies did play better down the stretch, but that that might have been a function of less competition: UCLA, California and Washington State.

[+] EnlargeWashington defensive coordinator and assistant coach Nick Holt
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonWashington and defensive coordinator Nick Holt have an opportunity to make a statement in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
Still, winning those final three games earned the Huskies their first bowl berth since 2002 and a shot at redemption for perhaps the lowest moment of the season: The 56-21 humbling delivered in Husky Stadium by Nebraska. That game unmasked the Huskies as a team not yet ready to take a step forward back into the national picture.

Will a Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl rematch provide an opportunity to make an opposite statement? We checked in with Holt to get his take.

What's your overall feeling on how the defense played this season?

Nick Holt: We got better as the season went on, more confident in what we were trying to do. Our problems started when we got some guys hurt upfront, losing two starters on the defensive line [DT Cameron Elisara and DE Talia Crichton]. We didn't have a lot of depth going into the season. That was one of our worries going into the season -- hey, we've got to stay healthy for us to be a solid defense, not a great defense. We couldn't lose anybody. Sure enough, we lose two defensive starters by mid-October. But anyway, we got better as we went back and re-focused on some of the simple calls we have. We just started doing some of the ordinary stuff a lot better. Getting off blocks. Tackling. Stuff that we thought we were good at, or better than we have been. It really started quite honestly with Nebraska. We just didn't do the fundamentals very well [in that game]. We got distracted. Maybe guys were trying too hard. Throughout the course of the year, we just went back to teaching and coaching, the ordinary things. And we just got better. Nothing flashy. We're really not that flashy. We just played solid tough defense, at times.

The defense played better over the final three games: Who were some guys who took a step forward over those final three games?

NH: Well, the last four or five games of the season, I think our corners, our two starting corners [Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson], played really solid football. Tackling and playing the ball, those two guys come to mind. I think a couple of in the defensive line in played better as the season went on. Everrette Thompson was more consistent and more physical. And I think our true freshman, [defensive end] Hau'oli Jamora, we always thought he would be a good player, and he's not huge, but he was very effective. And then [defensive tackle] Semisi Tokolahi, he played the last four or five games and gave us some added girth inside. He was really solid for us. Unfortunately, he got hurt in Washington State, broke his leg, so he won't be able to play in the bowl game. Those guys come to mind. [Linebacker] Mason Foster, week-in and week out, played well. The same with [strong safety] Nate Williams.

The Nebraska game on Sept. 18: What went wrong?

NH: Number one, we didn't play very well up front, especially our front four. We just weren't aggressive. We got knocked off the ball. We played soft, quite honestly. When that happens, it doesn't matter what you do with the linebackers and defensive backs. They can't cover up that stuff. When you are letting a team basically run an inside zone play for eight, nine or 10 yards a pop, and you are not stopping it with your base defenses, something is up, something is wrong. That game opened our eyes. We've got to get back to being physical. We just got distracted with maybe all the option stuff, trying to do too much. We lost the emphasis of good fundamentals. Number two, we didn't tackle very well. At all. We let some runs get out on us with some arm tackles. We gave away a lot of explosion plays where we had guys there on the line of scrimmage, and we just didn't make the tackle. We lost our leverage, or missed a tackle. Number three, we didn't play very well on third down. We had a couple of third and longs, and they ran some rudimentary things, and we missed tackles. Some slants and some other things. We had guys out there. But that's just the way it is right now in our program. We didn't do some of the fundamental football stuff in that game very well. We really had to go back and teach some stuff, get back to the fundamentals.

You guys bounced back pretty well, though, after a bye, winning at USC.

NH: We didn't lose patience with our kids. We just coached them up and coached them up, and they got better. And in the future we will be a lot better if we keep recruiting well.

What's your feeling on your guys' mindset for a rematch with Nebraska?

NH: I think they're motivated to play well. I think they are excited about the opportunity to just be in a bowl game and finishing the season strong. I think they would be motivated regardless of who they're playing. But we are playing Nebraska, and I think their focus is, hey, we didn't play very well the first time. They got after our butts a little bit. We need to play better. We need to make this a better football game than in was in September. I think that's the mindset.

What's the first priority for slowing down the Cornhuskers this time around?

NH: You've got to stop their running backs first, really. They have all these trick plays and stuff, but looking back on it, I think their running backs -- No. 10 and No. 22 [Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead] -- are really good football players. Their offensive line is good. So you got to stop the two running backs first and then you've got to contain the quarterback. You can't let him get 80 yards on a run or run 60 yards for a touchdown. He might get a couple of yards here and there, but you've got contain him, contain plays with him scrambling, or busting the line with a quarterback run. And then no gimmick-type plays. They do have some nice gimmicks. They get in the wildcat formation and the running back throws long balls for touchdowns and things like that. They are a run team, but because they are so effective running the ball, their play-action is really good. Guys get open.

What's the No. 1 off-season priority to get better in 2011?

NH: Recruiting. But that being said, our linemen in our program -- defensive linemen and offensive lineman -- need to get bigger and stronger and faster. Our front seven on defense -- linebackers and defensive line -- we need to get bigger and stronger and faster. We're getting there. But that's why we are where we are right now. Our interior guys, whether it's on offense or defense, we need to get more physical, we need to get bigger. We're getting there, but we're playing some young guys. Those young guys should be redshirting, but we don't have that luxury. The weight room is huge for us this year.

How close are you guys talent-wise -- one recruiting class, two more recruiting classes -- to being where you want to be?

NH: I think we have some talented guys, especially on offense. Our running backs and our receivers are as good as there are. But we're a ways away at the non-glamor positions. But those non-glamor positions are where you win championships: up front. Our guys are battling. But we're not there. Our guys are making progress. How long? Hopefully, it's not long, but quite honestly it's a process -- it's another two or three years before you're really good up front.

Washington spring wrap

May, 7, 2010

2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 4-5 (seventh)

Returning starters

Offense: 9, Defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Polk, OT Senio Kelemete, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Devin Aguilar, LB Mason Foster, CB Desmond Trufant

Key losses: FB Paul Homer, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, LB Donald Butler

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Chris Polk* (1,189)
Passing: Jake Locker* (2,800)
Receiving: Jermaine Kearse* (866)
Tackles: Donald Butler (94)
Sacks: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (11)
Interceptions: Mason Foster* (3)

Spring Answers

1. There's depth at tailback: While sophomore Chris Polk, who rushed for 1,113 yards last year, sat out because he's still recovering from shoulder surgery, backups shined, starting with a pair of true freshmen who enrolled early: Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier. Toss in impressive efforts in the spring game from Johri Fogerson and Demitrius Bronson, and there are five tailbacks competing for touches.

2. The interior D-line should be tough: Senior Cameron Elisara saw time at end and tackle, which allowed Alameda Ta'amu, Tyrone Duncan and Semisi Tokolahi to show what they can do. Senior De'Shon Matthews and touted incoming freshman Sione Potoa'e also could be in the mix. Being able to rotate four or five reliable tackles is a luxury the Huskies defense hasn't had in recent years.

3. Uncertainty in the secondary is a good thing: Nate Williams will start at strong safety, and Desmond Trufant, who missed spring with a sports hernia, is almost certainly going to be one cornerback. After that, though, things are uncertain. The good news is that's about competition, not a lack of capable players. Redshirt freshman free safety Will Shamburger was one of the spring stars, while Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell, Adam Long and Anthony Boyles are in the mix at corner.

Fall questions

1. Will the injured ends mend? The Huskies defense needs ends Everrette Thompson (torn Achilles) and Kalani Aldrich (knee) to be healthy in 2010. Both sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries. Both are expected back but it remains to be seen whether they will be 100 percent (or even close to it). Even though Elisara showed that he could play end, if needed, and Talia Crichton had a good spring, there's just not enough depth at the spot to be a top-level defense without them. It's possible a true freshman will see action here.

2. SAM I am? Mason Foster is an all-conference candidate on the weakside and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who's the SAM -- strongside -- linebacker? Two former safeties, Alvin Logan and Victor Aiyewa, are candidates, though Aiyewa saw little action this spring due to a shoulder injury, as well as Matt Houston.

3. Who backs up Locker? After junior Ronnie Fouch opted to transfer, there are only two scholarship quarterbacks after Locker: true freshman Nick Montana and redshirt freshman Keith Price. Coach Steve Sarkisian has repeatedly said he's in no rush -- and not worried -- about his backup spot. Of course, the screws tighten a bit if Locker gets hurt.