Five questions: Seattle Times’ Stefanie Loh on Washington State

Washington State was a popular sleeper pick in the Pac-12 North, then the Cougars lost to Eastern Washington in the season opener. Six weeks later, they’re back to where people thought they might be: in the thick of the conference race. The Seattle Times’ Stefanie Lowe answered some questions about the Cougars, Luke Falk and the deal with WSU’s suddenly potent run game. 

1. The Cougars started the year with a loss to Eastern Washington. Now they’re hot off two impressive wins against Oregon and Stanford. What has been the key in turning things around?

To this day, the Cougars themselves don’t seem to be able to pinpoint exactly why they started the season so flat. However, several things have been key to the turn around. For one, the defense seems to have come together and coalesced after a messy Game 1 that saw them give up 515 yards and six touchdowns against EWU. The return of Shalom Luani — who missed the first game due to a concussion and an ongoing legal case — at free safety was significant. He’s one of the cogs of the defense, and his steadying presence has helped the Cougars find their footing. Continue reading “Five questions: Seattle Times’ Stefanie Loh on Washington State” »

Five questions: The Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev on Arizona

UCLA is searching for a bounce-back performance against Arizona after a heartbreaking loss to Stanford. The Wildcats are just two years removed from their Pac-12 South championship, but fell quickly from the divisional perch. They finished fifth in the Pac-12 South last year and revamped their entire defensive staff this year. They have a dangerous mobile quarterback who nearly led them to an upset victory over Washington last week. The Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev answered some questions about quarterback Brandon Dawkins, the team’s struggling defense and its running back situation. 

1. Brandon Dawkins took over the starting role for an injured Anu Solomon and had some success. Even if Solomon is healthy, will Dawkins keep the starting job and if so, what necessary component does he bring to the offense?

I believe he will keep the starting job. He isn’t as polished a passer as Solomon, but Dawkins is a superior athlete. He can be a real difference-maker with his legs. We weren’t sure he could run effectively against Washington’s vaunted defense, but he did and then some (176 yards, two touchdowns). He has a big frame and a strong arm and has shown promise as a passer. But he still needs a lot of work (reading defenses, remaining patient in the pocket) to become a proficient all-around quarterback. Continue reading “Five questions: The Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev on Arizona” »

Five questions: Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner on Stanford

Stanford already has a conference win in the bag after a victory over USC last week while UCLA is just starting its Pac-12 slate. The Bruins are trying to snap an eight-game losing streak to the Cardinal and earn head coach Jim Mora‘s first win over Stanford in five tries. The Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner answered some questions about Stanford’s star running back, its quarterback and its defense.

1. Christian McCaffrey’s versatility makes him such a nightmare for opposing defenses. He has accounted for nearly 60 percent of Stanford’s yards from scrimmage, but how long can the Stanford offense survive on the solo McCaffrey show?

One more week, at most. Can’t image Stanford winning at Washington without McCaffrey getting help on the playmaking front. Can he beat UCLA largely by himself? That depends on the Bruins. Their front seven will challenge Stanford, but it doesn’t take much for him to find the end zone. I expect that Stanford will try to use Bryce Love’s speed in the misdirection game, attempt to stretch the field with receiver Michael Rector and look to tight end Dalton Schultz on third down. But if UCLA cannot contain – not stop, but contain – Stanford’s running game, then nothing else matters. Continue reading “Five questions: Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner on Stanford” »

Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Jay Drew on BYU

After barely escaping last year’s home game against BYU with a victory, UCLA travels to Provo, Utah for the first time since 2008 when the Bruins got stomped 59-0. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jay Drew answered some questions about BYU under new head coach Kalani Sitake and what the Cougars are missing with the suspensions of Kai Nacua and Austin McChesney.

1. For the first time in 11 years, it’s not Bronco Mendenhall at the helm for the Cougars. What kind of impact has Kalani Sitake had on the culture of the team? 

Sitake inherited a veteran team from Mendenhall, one with a lot of senior leaders and mature, proven players who were successful under the former regime. There was some question early if they would “buy in” to the new coach and his new staff, composed mostly of former BYU players. It appears that they have.

Players say they are having more fun, enjoying practices more, and aren’t playing as if they will get yanked the next time they make a mistake. Mendenhall was more of a no-nonsense, highly regimented coach, who rarely displayed emotion in public.

Take one look at Sitake’s behavior in the Utah game to learn that he’s totally different.

In short, there’s no understating the fact that Sitake has brought a “breath of fresh air,” as former BYU coach LaVell Edwards called it.

Slowly, the team seems to be taking on Sitake’s personality — positive, engaging and passionate. Continue reading “Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Jay Drew on BYU” »

Five questions: Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Todd Dewey on UNLV

UCLA is coming home after a season-opening loss to Texas A&M and will UNLV at the Rose Bowl on Saturday at 5 p.m. The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Todd Dewey answered some questions about UNLV, and what the Rebels have in store for the second year under head coach Tony Sanchez.

1. It’s year two of the Tony Sanchez era, how does the mood around the program compare to last year and what’s the next step for the Rebels under Sanchez?

Following the lead of the high-energy Sanchez, the mood around the program is upbeat and expectations are higher this season despite the team winning only three games last year. That’s because the 3-9 mark was an improvement after UNLV won only two games in eight of the previous 11 seasons. The Rebels are hoping to take another big step this year and go to a bowl game for only the fifth time in school history. Continue reading “Five questions: Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Todd Dewey on UNLV” »