Five questions: Seattle Times’ Adam Jude talks Washington

After beating then-No. 14 Arizona at home, No. 18 UCLA is slowly crawling back up the national rankings. But to stay alive in a tight Pac-12 South race, the Bruins can’t afford to lose any of their last three regular-season games. They visit Washington on Saturday for their last road trip, and are currently listed as a 6.5-point favorite over a team that doesn’t have any victories over ranked opponents. Adam Jude of the Seattle Times answered five questions about the Huskies.

1. Since moving to running back, how valuable has Shaq Thompson become to Washington’s offense? What does the Husky defense miss most when he’s not in?

Shaq has quickly become the Huskies best offensive weapon, with 272 yards on 36 carries in two games as the Huskies’ featured running back. Before that, you could make a strong case that he was UW’s best defensive player. His four defensive touchdowns this season are the most in college football over the past decade, according to ESPN research, and he was drawing some national pub at midseason as a national defensive player of the year candidate. There’s no doubt, though, that he is more valuable to the team as a running back right now. It’s likely that he will play some at linebacker against UCLA, but the Huskies are fairly comfortable with the depth they have on defense behind him.

2. UW also has a pair of Bednarik semifinalists in Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. How much does the defense rely on their performance? And given how much UCLA struggled against a similarly aggressive Utah front, do you see any soft spots the Bruins could try and find?

Two of the best (and nicest) guys I’ve covered. Kikaha is as good as any player at this level at getting to the quarterback; he leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. And Shelton leads the team in tackles — as a 340-pound nose tackle. Not sure I’ve ever seen that. When the Huskies can pressure the quarterback with four linemen, it makes life much better for the back end of the UW defense. That’s true for every team, but especially so for a UW secondary that will start three true freshmen against UCLA in the wake of Marcus Peters’ dismissal late Wednesday. Continue reading

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Five questions: Arizona Daily Star’s Daniel Berk talks Wildcats

Sitting near the top of the Pac-12 South, Arizona has quickly become the conference’s biggest surprise. On the other side of the Rose Bowl this Saturday is UCLA, arguably the conference’s biggest disappointment. Both have six wins, but the former has earned its record in far more convincing fashion than the latter. Daniel Berk from the Arizona Daily Star answered five questions about the No. 14 Wildcats.

Nearly three years in now, how has Rich Rodriguez measured up to what most Arizona fans initially expected? How much did the upset of Oregon earlier this month feel like a turning point for the program?

I think two-plus years in, he’s ahead of where most people thought he’d be. The cupboard was pretty bare when he got here other than Ka’Deem Carey, and he managed to win 16 games in two seasons and win back-to-back bowl games. I think fans were willing to be patient and let him build something, but the expectations changed and were raised going into this season after having some success the first two seasons. I think the win over Oregon was significant, but I’m not sure if it was viewed as a turning point, because Arizona has gotten some big wins like that before, but hasn’t backed them up the following weeks. So I think some fans have been waiting for a letdown game. I think a win Saturday would be more of a turning point with some of the recent struggles UA has had with UCLA. A win Saturday would also set Arizona up pretty nicely with the remainder of its schedule.

How has Rodriguez kept the Wildcats’ offense firing despite cycling through a different quarterback each year?

He’s a quarterback guru and knows how to get more out of guys at that position than most coaches in the country. Few, if any, thought B.J. Denker was a Pac-12 quarterback and he turned him into one in less than two seasons. Anu Solomon certainly had some talent coming out of Bishop Gorman High School and had other options, but the fact that he’s playing as well as he is so early in his career is both a surprise and a credit to Rodriguez and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith. Continue reading

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Five questions: Daily Camera’s Kyle Ringo talks Colorado

Colorado is still searching for its second conference win under head coach Mike MacIntyre, while UCLA is still searching for its first complete performance since a blowout win at Arizona State last month. The Buffs and the Bruins don’t have the most storied history, although quarterback Sefo Liufau did try to fight linebacker Anthony Barr after taking a late hit last year. Kyle Ringo from the Boulder Daily Camera answered five questions about the Buffaloes.

1. What were the biggest challenges facing Mike MacIntyre when he first took the Colorado job? Has this season been a bit of a step back after his four-win debut?

The biggest challenge is one shared by all programs that have struggled through multiple losing seasons — it’s tough to recruit to that. He’s approaching the two-year anniversary of his hiring and still struggling to get serious interest from many top-flight recruits. The four-and five-star players want to play for a winner. Most generally don’t want to be a part of building a program into a winner. That made addressing another problem more difficult. He needed to increase the speed and athleticism of his team, which he has done, but there remains work to do there. MacIntyre also took over a program that badly needed some major facilities upgrades. Those are underway now with $181 million project in and around Folsom Field. Finally, I’d say another significant problem he faced, maybe the most significant when it comes to actually making headway, was getting players in the program to develop a culture of caring about each other and playing for each other on Saturdays. He inherited a fractured team with factions and friction.

This season hasn’t been a step back by any means. Continue reading

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Five questions: BearTerritory.net’s Ryan Gorcey talks Cal

Following back-to-back home losses, UCLA heads to Cal for a game that could stabilize the Bruins’ season — or knock it completely off the rails. The Bruins are a slight favorite, but haven’t won at Memorial Stadium since 1998. Ryan Gorcey, who publishes Scout’s Cal site BearTerritory.net, answered five questions about the Bears.

1. Sonny Dykes’ first season went about as poorly as anyone could have imagined. Does a 4-1 start in 2014 keep his job safe for the next few years, or could a second-half collapse put him in jeopardy again?

Well, 4-1 did wonders not just for the team itself, but also for a lot of folks in the general Cal community. I think there’s certainly evidence that the program is getting turned around, already winning as many games as it has over the past two seasons combined. The Bears are also playing an exciting brand of football, offensively, and the reasoning behind Dykes’s hiring was that he was going to put butts in seats with offense. That hasn’t happened quite yet. That’s a very expensive stadium that the university has to pay off, and the folks buying the most expensive seats aren’t sold on this new order quite yet. That said, Dykes has gotten Cal’s house in order, academically, which was the most significant directive given him when he was brought in. That’s played very well amongst those up top. Now, as far as a collapse, there are two ways it could happen: Cal could get blown out (like they did in the second half of 2007), or the Bears could keep things competitive against very, very good teams in a back-loaded schedule. We all knew that the second half would be tough, but if he can have his team in games at the end, I think folks will start believing.

2. What are the biggest improvements that you’ve seen from quarterback Jared Goff? Do you expect Cal to play Luke Rubenzer more given UCLA’s recent struggles against running quarterbacks?

Goff’s deep ball is much more precise and is incredibly consistent. He throws the back-shoulder fade better than any college quarterback I’ve seen, and wide receiver Kenny Lawler has rightly called it “indefensible.” Continue reading

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Five questions: The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif talks No. 12 Oregon

Coming off its first loss of the season, No. 18 UCLA hosts Oregon on Saturday as both teams try to keep dimming college football playoff hopes alive. The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif answered five questions about the No. 12 Ducks.

1. Shortly before Oregon’s loss to Arizona, Mark Helfrich was dubbed a “quiet genius.” Was that a premature coronation of sorts, or does he simply need more time to guide the Ducks back to Chip Kelly-like levels?

It wasn’t premature to hail his intellect, because he’s regarded as one of the country’s smartest coaches on a pure intelligence level. But how that’s translated to coaching is muddled for critics, who see his 15-3 Pac-12 coaching record and believe that it should be 17-1, at worst. Honestly, he’s in a no-win situation as Chip Kelly’s successor, a point the “Quiet Genius” story deftly told. His 15-2 conference record entering last week’s game against Arizona tied Helfrich for the best conference coaching start since Pappy Waldorf at Cal in 1947. But then Oregon lost, giving him a third conference defeat — as many as Kelly had in his entire four-year run. You can sense Oregon fans getting restless that given all his intellect and talent on the rosters, the Ducks haven’t done more with it.

2. After holding opponents to 4.61 yards per play in 2013 — the seventh-best mark in the country — the Ducks are giving up 5.73 through five games. How much would you attribute the defensive drop-off to the coordinator change (Nick Aliotti to Don Pellum) versus personnel changes/injuries?

Players and coaches are steadfast that the 3-4 scheme has barely changed since Aliotti retired last January, but there is obviously some difference in play calling when a new coordinator takes over as he learns his comfort calling plays. Continue reading

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