Pac-12: Tim Kish

Under the radar: Arizona

May, 11, 2012
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We conclude our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name, but who might be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a crucial role in 2012.

We've gone in reverse alphabetical order.

Arizona: CB Jonathan McKnight

2011 production: McKnight missed the season with a knee injury.

Making the case for McKnight: Back during 2011 spring practice, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops told me that McKnight was the Wildcats' best cover guy. He was stoked about McKnight's upside. Stoops, now back as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, knows defensive backs, too. He played the position at Iowa and in the NFL and he's always coached it. Tim Kish, then Arizona defensive coordinator, said the same about McKnight. And when McKnight blew out his knee during fall camp, I imagined Stoops doing one of the angry dances that TV cameramen so loved to capture during games. I don't really know how good McKnight is because he mostly saw spot action as a true freshman in 2010. But I'm going to trust Stoops and Kish. The 5-foot-11, 175 pounder out of River Ridge, La., and younger brother of former USC running back Joe McKnight, could become an emerging star this fall if he stays healthy and lives up to the words of his former coaches. He was 80 percent this spring but should be 100 percent this summer, with plenty of time to get his conditioning -- and confidence in his knee -- back to where it needs to be. If McKnight is healthy, don't be surprised if, at season's end, he ends up on the All-Pac-12 team.

Top performances 2011: Juron Criner

February, 16, 2012
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We're looking at the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2011.

Up next: Criner's hat trick.

Who & against whom: Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner broke loose (and all of Arizona's offense for that matter) in a wild 48-12 win at home over UCLA.

The numbers: Criner caught 10 balls for 101 yards to go with three receiving touchdowns of 4, 7 and 25 yards.

A closer look: This Thursday night game will be most remembered for the brawl. Ugly. It might also be remembered as the straw that broke Rick Neuheisel's back. But what shouldn't go unmarked is the way Arizona rallied around interim coach Tim Kish and the offensive shellacking they put on the Bruins. Criner and quarterback Nick Foles were clicking from the start. They marched the opening kickoff 80 yards before Foles found a wide-open Criner for a 4-yard score. They connected again to start the second quarter -- capping another 80-yard drive. This 7-yard score might have been Criner's best catch of the year, reaching around UCLA's Aaron Hester (who had really good coverage) to haul in the lofting ball. Then he added a 25-yard strike near the end of the first half that gave Arizona a 35-7 lead.

Lunch links: Mora, Graham recruiting praise

February, 8, 2012
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Writing is hard — it's a form of punishment in schools, and rightly so — and so I stood paralyzed before all the different ways this simple message might be put.
NORMAN, Okla. — Last week, Oklahoma lost an assistant reputed for being a top-notch recruiter. The Sooners, however, are replacing him with a coach with the same reputation.

Former Arizona defensive coordinator Tim Kish is expected to be named OU’s next linebackers coach, sources have confirmed to SoonerNation. Kish, 57, will take over for ex-OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who last week accepted a job to be defensive coordinator at Clemson.

Kish worked with Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops all eight years that Stoops was head coach in Arizona, first as a linebackers coach, then taking over as the primary defensive coordinator before the 2011 season. When Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start, Kish was named interim head coach and guided the Wildcats to a 3-3 finish.

Kish has been in coaching for more than 30 years, with stints in the Big Ten, MAC and Ohio high school ranks. He has been one of Arizona’s top recruiters, focusing primarily on the California area, where the Sooners have made inroads in recent years. In this upcoming class, OU has secured verbal commitments from wide receiver Derrick Woods (Inglewood, Calif.) and tight end Taylor McNamara (San Diego).

Arizona becomes WVU Southwest

January, 12, 2012
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The first thing someone needs to buy Rich Rodriguez's staff at Arizona? A road map. And maybe some green plants to ease their acclimation to desert life.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Chris Morrison/US PresswireWith his hiring done, new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, left, and his coaching staff can focus on adjusting to life in the Pac-12.
Rodriguez completed his staff hires Wednesday, finally announcing that he'd lured Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as well as two other Mountaineers defensive coaches: David Lockwood (defensive backs) and Bill Kirelawich (defensive line). He also hired Spencer Leftwich (tight ends), who was at Pittsburgh this past season.

This is a good -- and proven -- staff. Casteel's 3-3-5 defense seems a perfect fit for the Pac-12, and Rodriguez seems to have gotten all the guys he wanted. If you know the backstory, that didn't happen at Michigan, and more than a few folks will tell you that's a major reason why things didn't work out.

My single critique: It's too bad Rodriguez couldn't find a way to retain Tim Kish, a respected defensive coach who did a good job holding the Wildcats together as interim coach after Mike Stoops was fired.

If Rodriguez had retained Kish, then he would have taken pressure off offensive line coach Robert Anae, Rodriguez's only assistant with any substantial West Coast experience. None of the new coaches even visited Tucson during the interview process, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Going forward, when these new coaches need to know, say, where San Diego is or whether Portland is north or south of Seattle, the only guy who will know the answers without taking out a map is Anae.

We kid, of course. But Rodriguez did take a specific route when hiring his staff: He hired his guys and didn't worry about their regional experience or about preserving much continuity with the previous staff.

Wait that's not completely fair. Casteel did graduate and get a master's degree from California University. That it was in Pennsylvania and not Berkeley, we will overlook.

You can read the staff bios here. You will see a lot of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Michigan as well as some Louisiana, Indiana and Florida. Oh, there's a smattering of UNLV, UTEP and New Mexico State, but the Pac-12 experience is about zero.

That will, at least in the short term, lead to challenges. Recruiting is about relationships, and those will need to be built up, particularly with West Coast high school coaches. Further, there will be a lack of familiarity in conference play. Stoops told me before his second season that the quality of quarterback play and the top-to-bottom sophistication of conference offenses was a shock to his Big 12 sensibilities. It all felt like rumors and hype, then he started to watch film and game plan.

No offense to the Big East, but Casteel didn't see many Carson Palmers, Aaron Rodgerses, Andrew Lucks or Matt Barkleys during his 11 years at West Virginia. Quarterbacks who can put the ball wherever they want to create myriad challenges for a defense.

Further, there's the culture shock. Kirelawich (pronounced Kerr-LAV-itch) has been at West Virginia since 1979. Bill, let me be the first to say this: It's a dry heat. I've been to Morgantown just once -- a college road trip, one that went quite well I might add -- and from my vague memory it is nothing like Tucson. Nothing.

For example: Morgantown is called "Tree City USA." Tucson is not. Cactus? Tucson has plenty of those. Trees, not so much.

Good Mexican food, though. Gents, I recommend getting these guys to cater one of those long staff meetings.

Still, my guess is Rodriguez and his staff feel a sense of adventure and newness. The unfamiliarity might turn out to be invigorating. And the Pac-12 blog is firmly on record that a head coach needs to have complete faith in the members of his staff.

A significant part Rodriguez's backstory at Michigan -- an unquestioned failure -- was of constant undermining by a variety of forces. That won't be part of the story here.

Rodriguez got his men. Now all they have to do is lead Arizona to its first Rose Bowl.

Season recap: Arizona

December, 7, 2011
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ARIZONA
4-8, 2-7

A 10-game losing streak to FBS foes -- starting with the final five games of 2010 -- did in coach Mike Stoops. It's worth noting that 10-game losing streak included Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and USC in eight of those games, with a back-ended schedule in 2010 and a front-loaded one in 2011 doing in Stoops. No other team in the nation even approached that degree of difficulty during a 10-game stretch.

It was the Oct. 8 loss at Oregon State, however, that was the end, a bad loss to a bad team. The problem for the Wildcats was obvious: They could throw the ball with QB Nick Foles, but that was it. With four new offensive linemen, they couldn't run the ball. And the defense was pretty rotten.

Interim coach Tim Kish did a good job keeping the team together after Stoops was fired. First, he led the Wildcats to a surprising win over UCLA on ESPN. And, after three consecutive losses, the Wildcats won their final two games, including a 31-27 win at Arizona State.

Offensive MVP: QB Nick Foles rewrote the school's passing record book in his career. He threw for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns this fall with 14 interceptions. He led the conference with 361 yards passing per game.

Defensive MVP: Trevin Wade, a second-team All-Pac-12 cornerback, had 52 tackles, two interceptions and 13 pass breakups. After a down junior year, he came back strong as a senior.

Turning point: There were two for Arizona. One: The loss against Oregon State, which was the end of Stoops. Two: The win over Arizona State, which created positive momentum in advance of the hiring of Rich Rodriguez.

What's next: There is enough talent in Tucson for a return to a bowl game in 2012, starting with QB Matt Scott, who was able to redshirt this season and is the sort of dual threat who should do well in Rodriguez's spread option. There's also five offensive line starters returning, basically the opposite of 2011, as well as a number of injured defensive starters, including safety Adam Hall, CB Jonathan McKnight and LB Jake Fischer.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

November, 28, 2011
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Taking stock of the 12th week of games in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeToney Clemons
Russ Isabella/US PresswireToney Clemons and the Buffaloes end their regular season on a high note, beating Utah 17-14.
Team of the week: Colorado didn't quit on its season, and it was rewarded -- finally -- with a 17-14 win at Utah, a victory that ended a 24-game losing streak outside the state of Colorado. It was a nice way for 26 seniors to go out -- with a smile after a long, difficult season -- and an even better way for the players who will be back to hit the offseason with some positive momentum. And, by winning, Colorado pushed UCLA into the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon. Wait. Is that good?

Best game: The Buffaloes' win over Utah wasn't decided until Utes kicker Coleman Petersen missed a 48-yard field goal try with two seconds remaining.

Biggest play: Can there be a "big play" in a 50-0 game? We think so. After USC took a quick 7-0 lead on UCLA, the Bruins efficiently drove 79 yards to the Trojans' 1-yard line, where they faced a fourth-down decision. Coach Rick Neuheisel did the only thing he could do: He went for it. After a timeout, the ball went to Derrick Coleman, but he was stopped for no gain by Dion Bailey and Jawanza Starling. You sort of knew right then this wasn't going to be Neuheisel's night.

Offensive standout: USC QB Matt Barkley completed 35 of 42 passes for 423 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the win against UCLA. He set a conference record with 39 TD passes this season. And there's a decent shot he'll get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Chase Thomas had five tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and two QB hurries in Stanford's 28-14 win over Notre Dame.

Special-teams standout: California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio was 4-of-4 on field goals and 5-of-5 on PATs in the Bears' 47-38 win at Arizona State.

Smiley face: Tim Kish went 3-3 as Arizona's interim head coach, beating rival Arizona State along the way. Kish is a hard guy not to like, but this isn't about that. It's about a guy being a good soldier for his school and his players. Kish excelled in a thankless job, stepping in after Mike Stoops was fired. Kish is a highly respected assistant. New Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez should give him a long look for his new staff.

Frowny face: 50-0? Really? Does that accurately represent the gap between UCLA and USC? Perhaps in pride even more so than athletic ability. It's clear Neuheisel is going to pay for that result as well as his inability to get the Bruins to play consistently good football. But there are a lot of players who should be ashamed of their performance and effort, which was bad and lacking. Let's put it like this: 50-0 will be the single biggest memory of the 2011 season for every Bruin and Trojan. That should sting for the folks in Westwood.

Thought of the week: It appears the Pac-12 will again get two teams in BCS bowl games. That's good news even if you're not a Stanford or Oregon fan. Why? Well, last year a second BCS bowl team meant an extra $6 million distributed to the conference on top of the $21.2 million the conference got for one berth. All the bowl money is divided evenly among the conference teams, so we're talking an extra $500,000 per team, which is nice.

Questions for the week: Does UCLA have any chance at all against Oregon? Will the Bruins even show up? Or are we talking another 50-point blowout? Vegas has set a 31-point spread. So the expectations is ugly for Friday night.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

November, 21, 2011
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Taking stock of the 12th week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak as well as the Ducks' 19-game conference winning streak with a 38-35 victory, giving coach Lane Kiffin and QB Matt Barkley a signature victory.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMatt Barkley threw four touchdown passes in USC's win over Oregon.
Best game: Unlike most weeks this season, four Pac-12 games came down to the waning moments, but the Trojans' win in Autzen Stadium was thrilling and meaningful, featuring a pair of ranked teams. The Trojans jumped ahead 38-14 but the Ducks stormed back with 21 unanswered points. The game would have gone to overtime if Ducks kicker Alejandro Maldonado hadn't missed from 37 yards on the game's final play.

Biggest play: Hey, Cougs, did Marquess Wilson score?

Washington State was inches short from beating Utah in regulation, and more than a few folks in Pullman -- including coach Paul Wulff -- believe the 6-yard pass Wilson caught in the waning moments from QB Connor Halliday was actually a 7-yard TD pass. As it was, Mo Lee's tackle stopped Wilson from getting the go-ahead TD and, after two incompletions, the Cougars settled for a tying field goal that sent the game into overtime. Utah prevailed 30-27.

This from Howie Stalwick explains the situation:
The Cougars were out of time-outs, so Wulff could not call for a review. The upstairs review official had the option to review the play. A touchdown would have given WSU the win, but Wulff wound up going for a field goal.

NCAA rules permit the reversal of on-field rulings only if evidence is abundantly clear that an error was made. Television replays were inconclusive regarding whether Wilson broke the plane of the goal line. Snow on the field complicated matters.

Wulff said a photo he observed, combined with video he watched, convinced him that Wilson scored.
Offensive standout: Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the Trojans' 38-35 win at Oregon.

Defensive standout: Oregon State defensive end -- and Washington native -- Scott Crichton had two sacks, three total tackles for a loss and forced a key fourth-quarter fumble in the Beavers' 38-21 win over Washington.

Special-teams standout: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against USC. He also caught a 29-yard TD pass.

Smiley face: Little has gone right for Arizona this year. Heck, it fired its head coach, Mike Stoops, before the season was over. But things are a little brighter in Tucson after a 31-27 upset win at Arizona State. QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner -- the Wildcats' two biggest stars -- turned in strong performances and the defense did just enough to win. In a tough situation, interim head coach Tim Kish has done a good job keeping things together and giving his seniors a great memory.

Frowny face: Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost four of five, and their three-game losing streak came against teams that have less talent and less reason to play hard. Not much to say, but I'm guessing Sun Devils fans can think of plenty.

Thought of the week: Utah plays Colorado on Friday. The Utes should beat the woeful Buffaloes and finish the regular season with a five-game winning streak and an 8-4 record. Then the Utes will watch Arizona State play host to California that night and UCLA visit USC on Saturday. If the Sun Devils and Bruins both lose, the Utes will win the South Division in their first year in the conference. And they'd deserve it more than UCLA or Arizona State, which have meandered through a year that might get both head coaches fired.

Questions for the week: Are there any upsets left? Will Stanford beat Notre Dame and earn an at-large BCS bowl berth? Or will Oregon fall to Oregon State at home and allow the Cardinal to slip into the Rose Bowl -- win or lose versus the Fighting Irish? Will UCLA whip suddenly hot USC and save Rick Neuheisel's job? What about the Apple Cup: If Washington State beats rival Washington, will that be enough to save Wulff's job? Or might Colorado rise up and end its 24-game losing streak outside its home state at Utah? Lots of intrigue for the final weekend of the regular season.

Halliday's big night provides hope to Cougs

November, 16, 2011
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The plan was to get the redshirt freshman quarterback some action. Get him some seasoning. See how he responds to meaningful playing time. Enter the game on the third series, and dip his toe into the waters of Pac-12 play against Arizona State, a team with speed to spare on defense.

That was the plan. Then Washington State's Connor Halliday threw an 85-yard touchdown pass on his first play from scrimmage. Plans change.

"Obviously," Cougars coach Paul Wulff said. "He needed to go in the next series."

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
James Snook/US PresswireFreshman quarterback Connor Halliday earned himself his first start after throwing for almost 500 yards against Arizona State.
And the next and the next, etc. And when the game ended at Martin Stadium, the Cougs were 37-27 upset winners and Halliday had completed 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. In a conference of quarterbacking brilliance, it was the most prolific passing performance in the Pac-12 this season, the 10th-highest total in league history and the most ever by a freshman.

The performance, in relief of senior Marshall Lobbestael, who had replaced injured starter Jeff Tuel in Game 1, also kept the Cougs' bowl hopes alive, which means he gave a big boost to the embattled Wulff's chances of remaining atop the program.

So it was a fairly good evening for Halliday, who prepped at nearby Ferris High in Spokane. Entering the game, he'd completed just 11 of 19 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns, mostly in mop-up duty.

It was enough for Wulff to tap him as the starter against Utah on Saturday. The Cougars must beat the Utes and then win in Seattle against rival Washington to arrive at a 6-6 record, which would earn them bowl eligibility.

A month ago, it seemed to Wulff that Halliday was content with being the guy holding the clipboard this season. Even when Tuel went down with a fractured collarbone during the first series of the season, Halliday didn't seem to view the injury as an opportunity to fight for the starting job. Though Halliday has yet to reach physical maturity -- he's a skinny 179 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame -- he has more passing skills than the game-but-limited Lobbestael. His shot was there, but he didn't seem to recognize it.

A few weeks ago, Wulff decided to have a chat with Halliday about being mature, learning the offense, practicing with more intensity and focus, and competing for the starting job.

"He's got to step up more and show more in practice so we can put him in the game," Wulff said.

Halliday took the bait, earned his coaches' trust and then responded with one of the best passing performances in the nation this season. It was so good that Arizona interim coach Tim Kish, whose Wildcats play Saturday against those same Sun Devils that Halliday sliced and diced, praised the freshman effusively without having any idea of who he is.

Said Kish: "The quarterback, the freshman, I don't know if that was a first-time, not having any jitters, throwing everything on the money type of situation for him, but he was spot-on the whole game." Kish added that Halliday was "magnificent."

Kish doesn't have to deal with Halliday, though -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham does. And the Utes will challenge Halliday with the Pac-12's No. 1 scoring defense, which is ranked second in passing efficiency defense and leads the conference with 14 interceptions.

"He appears to be in the same mold as all the other very good quarterbacks in this league," Whittingham said.

Utah, winners of three straight games and perfectly comfortable with the chill of Pullman, figures to offer a stiffer challenge. Further, it's a different experience being a starter than coming off the bench. The pressure is different, not to mention that Cougars fans are expecting an encore.

But Halliday projected poise in the pocket against the Sun Devils and he showed no lack of confidence during postgame interviews or since Wulff announced he'd start.

"If you're going to be playing football at the Pac-12 level, you've got to have confidence in yourself and believe if you get thrown out there that you are going to make things happen," Halliday said. "If you don't have that confidence, I don't think you're going to be successful."

If Halliday maintains a high level of play and, particularly, leads the Cougars to a couple of victories and bowl eligibility, it's hard to imagine he won't set himself up for a legitimate competition for the starting job this spring with Tuel, a true junior who started the season as one of the top quarterbacks on the West Coast.

"Who knows?" Wulff said when asked about a potential quarterback competition. "Sure, it could [happen]. If Connor plays himself into that role."

Such speculation is notably rooted in a positive. It posits Halliday being good enough over the final two games to earn the right to challenge Tuel for the starting job, and for Wulff to be there this spring to preside over the competition.

Nick Foles isn't looking back or forward

November, 4, 2011
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Don't cry for Nick Foles. For one, the Arizona quarterback isn't doing it for himself.

"There are a lot worse things I could be doing than playing football," he said. "It's a dream I'm living. I'm playing college football. I'm not going to take it for granted. No matter what, I'm going to enjoy it."

Sure, it's been a disappointing year. No team wants to be 2-6, especially one that's coming off three consecutive winning seasons. No team wants to see its coach fired.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireDespite his team's 2-6 record, Nick Foles is having a strong season, completing 70 percent of his passes.
Well, we can't say that for sure, but Foles will say it about the termination of Mike Stoops on Oct. 10.

"It was shock. He put his heart and soul into this program," Foles said. "It is a business, but when something like that happens, it took me couple of days to let it sink in. It was tough. You lose your head coach and you're part of the reason you lose your head coach. I'm a player. I'm the quarterback. I didn't play well enough. Part of it goes on me. We have to take ownership of that, too."

Of course, Foles has played pretty darn well under tough circumstances. The Wildcats, who play host to Utah on Saturday, are bad on defense. They can't run the ball. The special teams have been awful. Foles, however, ranks third in the nation with 366.75 yards passing per game, which is on pace to set a new conference record. He also ranks 21st in the nation in passing efficiency, even though everybody knows he's the Wildcats' only weapon.

"He's had an outstanding season," interim coach Tim Kish said. "He's just a tremendous competitor. He's been a great leader for us. He's remained cool under a lot of pressure here."

It's been far from easy on anyone. On Nov. 6, 2010, the Wildcats headed to Stanford ranked 15th in the BCS standings with a 7-1 record. A 42-17 thumping, however, became the first of 10 consecutive defeats to FBS teams, a streak that didn't end until a 48-12 win over UCLA on Oct. 20. And that was too late for Stoops. And probably for the season.

"It definitely hasn't gone the way we wanted to," Foles said. "It's probably been the toughest year since I've played this game, since my first year of Pop Warner. But the team's really stuck together."

Foles has nothing bad to say about Stoops or anyone else at Arizona. It's fair to say he has been a good soldier during trying times. He said he uses a 24-hour rule: He has 24 hours to get over a defeat, then it's time to move on.

Speaking of moving on, Foles is certainly going to get drafted after rewriting the Arizona passing record book. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, NFL scouts are going to love his size and production. The way he has handled a bad situation this year also will speak to his makeup and leadership. If he has good workouts and a good combine, he could be a first-day pick.

But Foles has no interest in talking about his NFL future.

"I'm still playing," he said. "I've got four games left in the season and I expect to win these things. My future in this game is this Saturday, our next practice. That's how I've always approached it."

He then added: "After the season, when it's done, we'll see where my future is, and if I'm fortunate enough to keep going, that's what I'll do."

It's been a disappointing season. The NFL awaits. But Foles isn't looking back at what went wrong or forward to a big payday. Utah has his complete attention.
Sometimes things are so obvious, they practically smack you in the face.

So we have ... ouch ... Utah.

Toss aside the Utes' win over FCS Montana State and a highly competitive loss at USC. In Utah's' three other Pac-12 defeats, it lost the turnover battle 14-1. In its wins over BYU and Pittsburgh, it won the turnover battle 11-3.

And in Utah's first-ever Pac-12 victory -- 27-8 over Oregon State last weekend -- it won the turnover battle 3-0.

[+] EnlargeUtah's Joe Kruger
Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIREIn its wins over BYU and Pittsburgh, Utah won the turnover battle 11-3.
Ouch! Stop that! We get it.

The Utes do a lot better when they protect the football. It helps, too, when their opponents do not.

"You don't have a chance against quality football teams if you're minus-three, minus-four or minus-five in the turnover ratio," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "You can't compete when you do that."

What beating the Beavers did do is show that the Utes can compete in the Pac-12 when they're not going all Pig-Pen. And an underrated benefit of getting rid of the bagel in the "conference record" column ends a distracting line of questioning.

"I think it was a big lift," Whittingham said. "We needed it. It took far longer to get our first Pac-12 win than we had hoped it would. But we finally got it."

The Utes visit Arizona on Saturday. The Wildcats had a different experience with Oregon State. Their 37-27 loss to the Beavers dropped them to 0-4 in conference play and was followed two days later by the firing of coach Mike Stoops. Since then, however, Arizona has played better football, blowing out UCLA and losing a back-and-forth struggle at Washington.

"Even with the loss last Saturday, they have been 60-minute, gutty performances," interim coach Tim Kish said. "If we do that the remainder of the season, we'll be happy at the end of the day."

Both programs would like to string together a handful of pleasant weekends, but the Utes have a lot more to play for. A win in Tucson would put presently 4-4 Utah just one win away from bowl-eligibility with three to play, including a home-finale against ARCH-Pac-12-RIVAL Colorado, which remains winless in conference play.

Good news for the Utes: The Wildcats have forced only 10 turnovers this year, which ranks 10th in the conference.

Further good news, the Wildcats have struggled to stop the run, also ranking 10th in the conference in run defense (174 yards per game).

And protecting the football, running the ball, solid special teams and relying on its defense is how Utah wins. The only way, in fact, it can win because its passing offense ranks last in the Pac-12 and 100th in the nation.

"I don't know if that's how we'd like to play, but that's the blue print for what we think is best right now," Whittingham said.

The matchup of note is Wildcats QB Nick Foles versus a rugged Utes defense that's No. 1 or 2 in the conference in most major statistical categories, most notably for this matchup in pass efficiency defense and sacks (23). While the Wildcats rushed for 254 yards against the befuddled Bruins, they reverted back to their run game anemia at Washington, gaining just 36 yards on the ground. The Utes run defense ranks 11th in the nation (91 yards per game).

So this one feels ... ouch! Pretty obvious, too.

The team that gets a second conference W is going to be the winner of the Foles vs. the Utes pass defense showdown.

Oh, and the turnover battle will figure in there as well.

Kish is doing things his way for Arizona

October, 26, 2011
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Tim Kish's responsibilities at Arizona are: "Interim Head Coach, Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers."

That's a lot of coaching hats. And work. And it's hard not to belabor the pyrrhic reward of "interim." But let's bracket off for a moment the circumstances and the uncertain future for a 57-year-old coaching lifer.

Here Kish is: A head coach for the first time. And he and Stanford's David Shaw give the Pac-12 two undefeated head coaches, something no other conference can boast.

Kish, easygoing and mellow, is almost an exact opposite of the man he replaced, the hyper-intense Mike Stoops. His first goal after taking over, he said, was to make football fun again for the Wildcats, who were mired in a 10-game losing streak against FBS foes when Stoops was fired. The second was accountability. The remainder of the season would only be what Arizona -- players and coaches -- made of it.

[+] EnlargeTim Kish
Chris Morrison/US PresswireIn his debut as head coach at Arizona, Tim Kish's wildcats set a record by scoring 42 points in the first half.
"The pride thing I thought was a given. It really wasn't addressed," he said. "We tried to block out all the noise and the distractions and asked the seniors to take ownership of this team. In the big picture, all we had was each other. That was the message. That's been the mantra going forward."

That mantra worked in Game 1: an impressive and dominant 48-12 whipping of UCLA.

Further, Kish was willing to improvise on the fly.

He gave the offensive coaches complete control of their unit, and they handed over some play-calling responsibility to quarterback Nick Foles. All that did was produce 42 points in the first half, a program record against a conference foe. He handed over the kicking duties -- a position that had been horrible for two years -- to walk-on John Bonano, who didn't miss a kick. And he changed the Wildcats' defensive scheme, adopting the old double-eagle flex the program used during the glory days of the Desert Swarm in the 1990s. UCLA, which entered the game averaging 194.5 yards rushing per game, produced 37 and just 1.5 yards per carry.

Kish said he and assistant Jeff Hammerschmidt, a former Wildcats defensive back and assistant coach during the Desert Swarm era under Dick Tomey, liked the idea of using a defense that was more aggressive and required less thinking.

"It doesn't have all the rules and regulations a lot of standard defenses have," he said. "It gave our guys a little boost."

Of course, a season isn't one game. The Wildcats know that as well as anybody. Further, they head to Washington on Saturday with major personnel issues they didn't have last week: Four players are suspended for their role in a brawl with UCLA just before halftime. All four are from a secondary that already lost two starters to injury. Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and nickelback Jourdon Grandon are suspended for the entire game; cornerback Lyle Brown and strong safety Mark Watley are suspended for the first half.

While Richardson is the only starter, things are still going to be tough against a Huskies passing offense led by quarterback Keith Price and a deep crew of receivers. Price leads the Pac-12 with 22 touchdown passes and ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency.

Kish called the suspensions "justified," but they are a major blow to a unit that ranks last in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

"We're not sure how it's all going to fit together on Saturday," he said.

But what if it does fit together? What if Kish leads the Wildcats to a major turnaround after a 1-5 start and, perhaps, a bowl game? Does that put him in position to have the "interim" removed from his title?

Probably not. Kish doesn't have any illusions of where he likely stands in athletic director Greg Byrne's coaching search.

"I knew what my place was when I was hired to take over this position," Kish said. "My patented answer to everybody who asks that question is I am not auditioning for the head coaching job."

If that's the case, then he and the rest of the staff face an uncertain future in December. While a couple of assistants might be retained, if Byrne hires a veteran or "name" head coach, he'll likely have a pretty good idea how he'll fill out his nine-man staff.

In other words: Merry Christmas! You're fired.

And this is undoubtedly a distraction. Kish and his assistants are coaching and recruiting -- work that demands long hours -- but they've also got to prepare their résumés and renew old coaching contacts in anticipation of shortly needing a new job.

"That's always tough. This situation pulls at a lot of heartstrings," Kish said. "That somewhere down the road will need to be addressed. But I've asked them to keep engaged with our players and keep the focus on the game plan."

This isn't Kish's first square dance. He's been a coach 36 years -- 34 in college, two in high school -- and worked at eight different programs before landing at Arizona in 2004 when Stoops hired him as linebackers coach. He's worked for, among others, Jim Young, Gary Barnett and Gerry DiNardo, each of whom had success and failure as head coaches. He's been a good soldier, a players' coach. And he's shown a lot of grace by repeatedly paying tribute to the positive things Stoops accomplished -- which is plenty, by the way -- instead of tweaking him.

But the "grieving" period -- his term -- has ended. Kish has too much to do to spend time looking back.

"It's a scar that lasts, but we needed to put it to rest," he said. "We needed to put that first half of the season to rest as well."

Quick look at Week 9 games

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
12:30
PM ET
Here's a quick look at Week 9 in the Pac-12.

No team is off. All times are ET. All games are Saturday.

Washington State (3-4, 1-3) at No. 7 Oregon (6-1, 4-0) 3 p.m. FSN: Washington State has lost three games in a row, and quarterback Jeff Tuel is questionable after re-injuring his shoulder. If he can't go, Marshall Lobbestael returns as the starter. Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas (knee) and running back LaMichael James (elbow), neither of whom played at Colorado, also are questionable. The Ducks have won four in a row in the series, averaging 52.3 points during the streak. The Ducks lead the series 43-38-7.

Colorado (1-7, 0-4) at No. 21 Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) 6:30 p.m. FSAZ: Arizona State leads the series 2-0. The teams last played in 2007, a 33-14 Sun Devils win. The Buffaloes have surrendered 500 or more yards in three consecutive games for the first time since 1983. The Buffs have played 15 true freshmen this season. The Sun Devils have forced 20 turnovers, sixth most in the nation. ASU is 5-6 after bye weeks since 2000. It is 60-18-3 (.759) all-time in homecoming games.

California (4-3, 1-3) at UCLA (3-4, 2-2) 7 p.m. Comcast SportsNet Bay Area: California leads the series 50-29-1, including a 35-7 win last year. UCLA ranks 10th or below in the Pac-12 in: scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, total defense, rushing defense, passing offense and turnover margin. The Bruins have just six sacks in seven games. Cal has 20. The Bruins are 16-of-20 on PATs this season. Cal is 21 of 25 on PATs. Seven Pac-12 teams have missed one or fewer this seaspm.

Oregon State (2-5, 2-2) at Utah (3-4, 0-4) 7 p.m. KJZZ, RSNW: Oregon State leads the series 9-5-1 but the Utes won the past meeting, 31-28 in 2008. After averaging just 16.8 points through the first four games, the Beavers have averaged 36.3 points over the past three. In those three games, redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has completed 72 percent of his throws for 949 yards. Utah's run defense ranks third in the conference, yielding just 99. 4 yards per game. It has allowed a conference-low four rushing touchdowns. This will be the Utes fourth-annual "Blackout" game, in which the Utes wear black uniforms. They are 2-1 in previous blackout games, losing to TCU last season. Utah ranks last in the conference in both passing and pass efficiency.

No. 6 Stanford (7-0, 5-0) at No. 20 USC (6-1, 3-1) 8 p.m. ABC: ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in town. Stanford has won 15 in a row, the nation's longest winning streak. It's also won its last 10 by 25 or more points. It also owns a two-game winning streak in the series. The Cardinal is a perfect 38 of 38 in the redzone this year, with 30 touchdowns. USC leads the series 58-27-3. The Trojans defense has allowed 17 or fewer points in five of seven games, including its last two. This is the lowest ranking for a 6-1 USC team since the AP poll began.

Arizona (2-5, 1-4) at Washington (5-2, 3-1) 10:30 p.m. FSN: Washington leads the series 17-9-1, but the Wildcats won 44-14 in Tucson last year. The Wildcats snapped an eight-game conference losing streak -- and 10-game losing streak to FBS foes -- last Thursday against UCLA. It was interim coach Tim Kish's first game since replacing Mike Stoops. The Wildcats scored 42 points in the first half, which is the most they've ever scored in the first half of a conference game (263 games). Huskies running back Chris Polk needs 128 yards to eclipse 1,000 for a third consecutive season. The only other UW running back to do that is Napoleon Kaufman. After giving up 446 rushing yards to Stanford, the Huskies run defense dropped from third to seventh in the Pac-12. Last week, they gave up 97 yards rushing per game. This week, 146.9. The Wildcats are last in the conference with five sacks.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
1:15
PM ET
Taking stock of the eighth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Arizona. The Wildcats ended a 10-game losing streak to FBS foes with a bang, thumping UCLA 48-12 on ESPN last Thursday. Little has gone right for the Wildcats this season, including the termination of coach Mike Stoops, but an outstanding performance on both sides of the ball in interim coach Tim Kish's debut merits a tip of the cap.

Best game: No game was closer than two touchdowns, but USC's 31-17 whipping of Notre Dame speaks well for the conference. The Trojans dominated the action on both sides of the ball, and perhaps sent a message to Stanford and Oregon that both have more than a one-game season ahead.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Matt Cashore/US PresswireReceiver Robert Woods and USC had much to celebrate after beating Notre Dame.
Biggest play: No question here. Trailing just 17-10, Notre Dame faced a third-and-goal on the USC 1-yard line, with the home fans certain a tie game was at hand. But Irish quarterback Dayne Crist -- who was in because starter Tommy Rees hurt his knee -- fumbled the snap. Trojans safety Jawanza Starling scooped up the rolling ball and went 80 yards for a touchdown the other way. That, my friends, is a game-changing moment.

Offensive standout: Forget the skill guys this week -- Stanford's offensive line takes this one. The Cardinal dominated the line of scrimmage against Washington, opening holes for a school-record 446 yards rushing and yielding no sacks. The Cardinal have surrendered just two sacks this season -- fewest in the nation -- and rank 17th in rushing offense with 219 yards per game.

Defensive standout: Oregon linebacker Josh Kaddu had 10 tackles -- all solo -- three for a loss, and two sacks in the 45-2 win at Colorado. He was the best player on a defense that pitched a shutout.

Special-teams standout: Darragh O’Neill. Colorado's punter was the lone bright spot for the Buffaloes in the loss to Oregon. He punted 12 times for a 43.2 average, with a net of 40.3. He set school records with six punts downed inside the 20 and four inside the 10 (two of those inside the 5), as Oregon’s average starting field position after his kicks was its own 23. Four of the kicks traveled 50-plus yards.

Smiley face: USC's and Stanford's impressive wins against quality foes sets up a marquee national game on Saturday in the Coliseum with ESPN's "College GameDay" on hand. After a slow start to the season, the Pac-12 is now on the national map, with the Cardinal solidly in the national championship hunt and the conference potentially in position to land two BCS bowl berths.

Frowny face: Utah and Colorado are now 0-8 in Pac-12 play. They combined for 409 yards and 12 points in blowout losses Saturday. Recall how, in the past, the Pac-10 had to defend its defensive performances by pointing out its defenses had to play Pac-10 offenses? Well, here you go. The old Pac-10 can play defense. It just needed some new blood -- teams lacking offensive playmakers -- to prove it.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12's bottom and muddled middle need to rally -- big -- if the conference is going to fill its bowl slots, particularly if the conference produces two BCS bowl teams. USC is ineligible and Colorado already is guaranteed a losing season. That leaves 10 teams. The conference has bowl contracts with seven games, which would increase to eight spots with two BCS bowl teams. While four teams -- Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Arizona State -- are already bowl-eligible or are nearly certain to get there, six teams have between two and four wins. How many teams get off the carpet? Or does the conference have five to seven losing teams?

Questions for the week: Will there be a monumental upset this season? While it's possible to reduce the season to a small handful of games centered around Oregon's visit to Stanford on Nov. 12, most years one of the conference's topflight teams falls to a mediocre one -- recall how USC used to do that. It didn't happen last season, as Oregon and Stanford rolled, with just the Ducks' win against the Cardinal in Autzen Stadium between them. Will that be the case again? Or will the Cardinal or Ducks -- or Sun Devils -- get clipped by a team they don't see coming?

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
2:34
AM ET
Who gets a helmet sticker for a job well done in week eight?

Tim Kish, Arizona: In his head-coaching debut after replacing Mike Stoops, Kish produced a dominant performance on both sides of the ball in a 48-12 victory over UCLA. It was the Wildcats' first victory over an FBS team in 11 games.

Josh Kaddu, Oregon: The Ducks linebacker had 10 tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks in the blowout win at Colorado.

Zach Maynard, California: The Cal quarterback reversed a recent downturn and completed 19 of 29 passes for 255 yards with a touchdown in the Bears' 34-10 victory over Utah. He also rushed for 36 yards and a score.

USC's defense: The maligned unit held Notre Dame's high-powered offense to 267 total yards in the Trojans' 31-17 upset win.

Stanford's offensive line: The Cardinal dominated the line of scrimmage against Washington. They opened holes for a school-record 446 yards rushing and yielded no sacks.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: The Beavers' redshirt freshman QB threw for a career-high 376 yards and four touchdowns in the 44-21 win over Washington State.

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