Pac-12 Media Days: Day 2
The Pac-12 Media Days on day number two had some juice to it. There has been some honest talk from coaches and players on their respective teams chances, but it is a reset for the conference teams. Nobody has lost, no coach has been fired, and nobody is under investigation.
On day two, we watched Oregon, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington State, USC, and Utah come to stage and talk about themselves.
After a season where the head coach (Mark Helfrich) was fired, lost the Civil War game, allowed 70 points at home against Washington, and basically lost that swagger that the Ducks have been known for, things had to change.
Insert Willie Taggart.
Coach Taggart has brought a level of excitement to Eugene this season that was missing last season. Oregon fans can be a fickle bunch and don’t put up with a lot losing and with the losses piling up last year, the Ducks according to some people, had to make a change.
“We are trying to change the culture in the program. When you try and change that, bad habits can be even harder to change.” Taggart explained.
Coach Taggart knows that the change will be slow, but seems happy with the way that the players have adapted.
“The players are learning that we mean what we say and that there are consequences for their actions.” Taggart said.
Justin Herbert made the trip to Hollywood and looked like a different guy. Last year, he showed up all baby faced and had a deer in headlights kind of look to him. Now, he’s about 15 pounds heavier, weighing about 225 pounds, and looking forward to leading the team this year.
“Overall, the off season went really well. The guys are getting stronger and working hard.” Herbert said.
Coach Taggart said Herbert is walking around without his shirt on in the weight room and showing all sorts of confidence.
“It’s almost like Justin went to sleep one night as a young player and woke up the next morning and said ‘let’s go'”. Coach Taggart explained.
We shall see, time will tell, but don’t expect the Ducks to stay down long.
Could the Sun Devils go through a worse down fall in 2016? I don’t think so.
The Sun Devils season could be summed up in one word. Injuries.
Football coaches plan on injuries, but there is no way you can plan for the amount of injuries that Arizona State suffered last season. ASU had a combined missed game list of over 110 games last season. People may say, “next man up”, but not with the amount of injuries 110 games brings. No way, no how.
Coach Graham has a new motto every season and this year it is “Sun Devil tough”. Teams are tough, but they are not Sun Devil tough.
“We are going to be able to power through like no other team this season, the way the practices have gone, we have a great idea of how tough we need to be for the season.” Kalen Ballage.
When asked about the quarterback competition between Manny Wilkins and transfer Blake Barnett from Alabama, Kalen Ballage was quick to answer.
“The competition is making them a lot better, together. They look good.” Ballage said.
As the quarterbacks go, the team goes in Tempe this year.
Coach David is one my favorite coaches to listen to when it comes to football or anything else. He speaks quietly, but all of his answers are thought out. He doesn’t get to riled up at a bad question or with something that irritates him. He’s calm, cool, and collected.
“Last season, was ok, a little disappointing.” Shaw said.
When you can call a 10-3 record disappointing, you have something positive going with your program. Most any team would take a 10-3 record. Coach Shaw has built this program into a powerhouse and he wants to continue what he sees as a program that is consistently mentioned with the College Football Playoff.
Harrison Phillips, one of the defensive ends for Stanford was brought along to talk about the program.
“Losing Christian is a loss, but we have guys that will step up and take his place. It’s the way we want things at Stanford.” Phillips explained.
Stanford was picked to finish behind Washington in the Pac-12 North, but the team isn’t paying attention to that.
“We know Washington is good, but so are we, and so are the rest of the division. We have to come to play every game, every down.” Harrison Phillips said.
Stanford is new on the football scene in terms of being mentioned nationally every week, but with what head coach David Shaw is doing, the school isn’t planning on fading away anytime soon.
The Pirate of Pullman made his yearly appearance at the Media Days and as always, looked like he wasn’t interested in being there. Mike Leach being Mike Leach. It’s why he is one of the favorite coaches to hear talk. He pointed out the two players he brought, Jamal Morrow (RB) and Peyton Pelluer (MLB), then went Mike Leach.
“Two quality players getting their degrees, and basically everything that my parents wish I was.” Coach Leach said.
He just wanted to get right to the questions.
With Luke Falk under center for him he expects the team to do well.
Question: How can Luke Falk grow as a player this year?
“Really doing the same thing that he has been doing. I would say that’s one of his strongest qualities. He’s always been a focused guy. Always been a guy that’s constantly worked to improve. I do think his best football is best football is ahead of him. I think he needs to just keep doing what he’s doing.” Coach Leach explained.
If Luke Falk does that, good things are ahead of the Cougars.
When asked if his team had one area that they he knew for certain that the team would be better in this year.
“Well, we’ve got so many– we’ve got a number back. I think we’ll be better in the secondary. I think we’ll be better everywhere. You know, heck, by Thursday of game week, I think we can beat the New England Patriots.” Leach said.
The team that most people came to ask questions to. Let’s face it, when USC is great in football, it’s good for college football in general. This year the expectations are through the roof. There is a ton of talent, young talent, a possible Heisman Trophy Winner, conferences title aspirations, even a college football playoff berth and then a national title shot.
“When you come to USC, you welcome those expectations. We’ve created a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence with what we did last season. And you look and you have guys like Sam Darnold and Cam Smith and Ronald Jones and Deontay Burnett, you have some pieces of the puzzle that are already in place, it makes you very excited for the season coming up.” Helton mentioned.
Question: What did you learn from the 1-3 start last year?
“I understood how important relationships are. I had a huge advantage being with myself. I had been at USC for six years. Part of being a head coach is having the trust and relationship with your players that when you are in adverse times, that they trust the process. It’s not all about the Xs and Os, it about the relationships with 18-to-21 year-olds and how important that is.” Helton said.
I was talking with a USC writer and he told me “the kids will run through the wall for Clay Helton. They love him.”
With that kind of understanding from the head coach, success will follow the Trojans.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham is always ready to talk football. He’s a tough minded guy and coaches his players to have that same type of mindset.
“Excited about this season. Had three pretty good seasons the last three years, but fallen just short in each of those years. Got to find a way to get over the hump and try to win a Pac-12 South Championship. We’ll see what happens this year.” Whittingham explained.
With former Oregon Duck receiver Darren Carrington transferring into the program and with Carrington’s missteps in the past, Coach Whittingham talked about the somewhat controversial move.
“It’s always a tough decision when you’re talking about a player that you’re going to add to your program that potentially has a checkered past. You have to make a decision based on all the information you can gather. Based on the athlete’s attitude. You know, is he remorseful? Does he understand that he’s done some stupid things and ready to put it behind him and move on? Now, he is not cleared to practice or even compete. There are still hurdles to go through.” Coach Whittingham stated.
Question: Talk a little bit about Troy Williams.
“He is progressing very well. He had an outstanding spring, as did the other two behind him. He was productive, and the players are excited about the direction we’re going with the offense and the attitude.” Whittingham said.
Question: You’re the last team that beat USC. What challenges does Sam Darnold present to you this year?
Yeah, tons of challenges. The guy is incredible as far as his skill set to play the position. He’s got everything. The size, the arm strength, the mobility, the pocket presence. He seems to be a great decision maker. He is one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the country, in my opinion.” Whittingham said.
At the end of the day, Utah is always the team nobody wants to play at any time. Whittingham always has his team ready to play and the players play hard for their coach. Watch out for the Utes.
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Wilson