Coaches dish on all 12 Pac-12 teams
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams bulletin board material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2019, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2019
"Everything runs through how well Khalil Tate is going to play. If he would've run the ball more last year, they might have won more games just on that."
"They're always a little undersized on defense; that hasn't changed much since (Kevin) Sumlin's guys have been recruiting. It was a huge problem with the last staff, too."
"It's more or less what you saw at Texas A&M without some of the size you get with Texas receivers and defensive backs. They want to go very fast, no tight ends, very detached. It's hard to tell how much Tate is actually reading on that offense. It looks like he's just freelancing a lot; whether it's a keep read or a give read, he ends up making a huge play. He's scary that way."
"They actually fit in really well with most of the current Pac-12 in what kind of guys they can get and what they want to do with them."
"Remember that they were a little late getting in there as a staff. It looked like they really didn't have a grasp on that roster until about halfway into the season, so it was a real learning on the fly type of coaching season."
"They don't really have a defensive identity, and they don't have a pipeline to bring guys in that are any faster or bigger. Keeping Marcel Yates was a surprise; the kids love him, but his defenses were an absolute mess when he coached for RichRod."
"What concerns you is the same stuff for Arizona. They don’t really have a defensive identity and they don’t have a pipeline to bring guys in that are any faster or bigger. This has hurt them for years and they still haven’t solved it with Sumlin, who wasn’t really a guy known for his defense."
"They weren't as talented last year as they had been, and they're losing a lot of really good players (Todd) Graham brought in."
"They have a really good running back in Eno Benjamin. He's excellent and could have a major year this season."
"A lot of the conference coaches, we didn't know what to make of Herm Edwards when he came in. A lot of the coaches only knew him from what they saw on TV with the Chiefs and Jets, but they did some really interesting things. Did you see how they beat Michigan State? They ate the entire clock in the red zone to seal the game. There are a lot of chess moves you see with them. He made a big difference doing little things like that, which don't really show up in the media."
"There's a lot of NFL decision-making on the team, especially on offense. You call it ‘complementary football,' where every unit serves to assist the next one."
"Losing Manny Wilkins is a big blow for them; he was really a resilient guy playing under all the changes he went through, and he made the new staff's first year a lot easier. They're going to have to build one from scratch now. Same goes with the top receiver they had (N'Keal Harry). I don't think they have another one of him ready to go either."
"They want to do to the 3-3-5, Rocky Long stuff from San Diego State but they’re really thin at some key places. They need better linebacker play, they need some bigger and more physical bodies against the run. A lot of teams were able to wear them down pretty quickly, but they do have an improved pass rush."
"I think this is the year you’ll start to figure out if Edwards is really going to work in the league.
"You're seeing the product of really excellent defensive calls. They're executing on defense better and faster than anyone expected. It's a total turnaround in philosophy from what Sonny Dykes was doing there with more or less the same kind of roster."
"They have some stout, big bodies clogging up the run. The outside linebackers are physical enough to play defensive line at some other places."
"The secondary is really the soul of the team's attitude. They press, they play really physically and bother you, and they're extremely well coached for one on one."
"It's not really old school, pound-the-rock offense, but there's definitely a sense that they're serving the defense. They're not trying to get 100 plays in anymore. They want to control possession more, and if they're playing that well up front on defense, it makes sense to limit possessions. All of a sudden it's a nightmare for opposing offenses, you're losing chances to score."
"On the flip side they have to score more points. They need stronger play out of their QB (Chase Garbers), and they need to find a better passing offense. They're not strong at receiver; they're not really exceptional anywhere on offense."
"Justin Wilcox could be there for a long time. He really gets that place, the way that (Jeff) Tedford did, and he's done a really nice job recruiting the Bay Area kids."
"I don’t think anyone expected that program to be able to develop this level of defensive football. But they have to show an offensive identity for that to keep going. If you’re going to be brawlers, do that. Maybe you lean into being a run heavy deal and you go find a backfield of big guys."
"They’re heading the right direction, they just need to build an identity on offense that better serves what they’re doing on defense, because if they get even better up front and in the back, look out."
"A big unknown here, at least in Year 1. A lot like Herm (Edwards) coming in last year, just not a staff the West Coast is familiar with. There was a lot of respect for Mike MacIntyre; you saw him build and build and turn that program into something it hadn't been in decades."
"We're not really sure how that fell apart. They fought some key injuries. They made a decision to go fast and score a lot of points because they had some guys last year who could do that, but it wasn't really their identity. That can't work for everyone."
"There's talent coming back here, especially at wide receiver. The strength for the whole team will be in the passing game. We think they're going to use a lot of shift-motion, some Pistol maybe, but they're not trying to tempo you. They want to run the ball, and (Mel) Tucker is a defensive guy so it's doubtful he wants to trade possessions. Then again, so was Mac. That job isn't going to offer you ideal personnel every year."
"This year they'll go however far Steven Montez can take them. If they're smart they'll switch over the system gradually and not force him to run as much as they probably want him to. He's got experience. He's won in this league."
"Everyone's watching to see how Tucker recruits, or really where. Colorado needs big help in either Texas or California, like a lot of schools."
"Defensively they want to do what everyone wants to do, it’s just a question of finding those guys at linebacker and up front who size and speed and versatility. That’s not normally what you get with Colorado."
"It's Mario Cristobal's team now. He's done a really solid job so far working with a unique situation, and a lot of times last season they would be playing some good ball, but as you looked unit by unit you'd see, yeah, these kids have had three different head coaches in three years, and three really different ones."
"I think Jim Leavitt is a great defensive football coach, but it was known that he wasn't Mario's guy. They came together when Willie Taggart was trying to build a superstar roster of assistants, and those two personalities just didn't work."
"Andy Avalos will keep some of the 3-4, but they won't be a two-gap defense. They'll move around guys a lot more, show a lot of different looks."
"They're going to go as far as Justin Herbert will take them. Getting him back, obviously it's huge, but it helps in a lot of different ways. They're going to be really strong throwing the football, but they've brought in a lot of young talent on offense that they can build around an experienced quarterback."
"Mario is bringing SEC recruiting to the Pac-12, the way that Urban (Meyer) brought it to the Big Ten. He's done a really good job outworking other programs, and they're loaded up."
"I think they're still a little shaky in terms of a conference favorite, because they're raw and not as deep as a Washington."
"Even with Herbert it’s not that old Oregon offense. They were a little predictable last year and it hurt them. They need to find a feature running back, they never really found anyone who could do what Royce Freeman did, not even by committee, and they have to replace Dillon Mitchell. They ran their whole pass game through that kid."
"It’s still really early to call these guys a playoff team or a conference champion, even. It’s not impossible at all, they just have plug a lot of these young guys in right away for that to happen. But you can ride a hot quarterback a long ways."
"The blueprint is still to try and emulate Washington. Right now it's a question of how they're going to get there."
"They've got those two young running backs who are really good players. They have a QB competition going, and it might be good if they pick a guy early and get him as ready as they can. That's probably the incumbent guy, Jake Luton, but they have to figure out a backup because they'll probably both end up seeing time."
"The defense was really bad. You could pretty much do anything you wanted to schematically, and they were thin so they couldn't really get aggressive or physical with you."
"Jonathan Smith has a ton of respect around the league. No one's questioning the plan or the scheme, it's just a matter of if they can ever build out enough talent. As an assistant coach, he was a pretty quiet guy who didn't really want the spotlight, and he's putting that personality into the program. He played there, he knows what they can be, but he also has to know how small their margins are."
"They need to look at how to be really different with their recruiting. Right now maybe that's junior colleges to get the defense shored up, or you go out of the region more than you have been. Everyone wants to judge them relative to Mike Riley, but he had them consistent when the division was a very different place."
"It’s going to be incremental, but the amount of time most of the young guys played on both sides would have you think they’ll be a little better just from the experience."
"It’s an extremely hard job right because they’re not trying to make their own identity and they don’t have the resources of these other division teams."
"Bryce Love's injuries seemed to really take their momentum last year."
"They have a really good Stanford-level tight end in Colby Parkinson. They'll use him to shore up losing their top receiver (JJ Arcega-Whiteside)."
"Defensively, they're replacing a lot of their linebackers, but they're so solid and effective there that you expect them to have guys ready to go. They're just consistent developing that position."
"They could actually stand to change things up a little bit more on offense. They have a really solid group of receivers, and they've been recruiting that position better and better in (David) Shaw's time. They're never going to move away from the power necessarily, but they didn't run the ball at all like they have in the past."
"Overall they're still extremely consistent and they have a fantastic culture. Shaw is completely at home, they have a very sharp group of assistants who know how to recruit and develop their guys."
"It’s hard to say something new about their identity, which is a compliment. You never see them trying to force themselves into something new. They’re always going to stay consistent. If you see them struggle with the run again this year, then maybe it’s enough to say there’s a trend. But they’ve been so good at their game for so long you have to look at last year as an outlier."
"The most improved team from the start of last season to the end. A completely different team from the one who lost to Cincinnati. You're really watching it come together for Chip (Kelly) and those guys game by game, especially on offense. The guys who bought in and understood the offense were the ones playing in November, and they also looked like the more talented guys. That's usually how it works when you're changing over."
"It doesn't look like it's going to be Chip Kelly Oregon. It's funny, he's still running a lot of base stuff that now almost everyone in the conference and the country runs, but he has such a thorough knowledge, really an architect's understanding, he has a way of making very small, very effective adjustments. And he likes to tinker anyway. It's scary how much command he has of that scheme."
"Joshua Kelley at running back was a big surprise, although the kid looks like he's a natural."
"They improved a lot on defense as the season went, but there are more issues there than on offense. They need a better pass rush."
"From what we hear, the school has given him a lot of authority. Whatever he's asking for, they're giving it to him. Facilities, staff, that kind of stuff that UCLA didn't really understand the importance of. He's probably got more control there than he did at Oregon."
"They could be the surprise of the South this year."
"Everyone will be watching to see if they can turn this thing around. They have to get it done this season or Clay Helton is gone. A lot of us thought their administration would make a change last year, but USC is a different place. A lot of their decision-making isn't like most places."
"Losing Kliff Kingsbury is understandable — the guy got a head job in the NFL — but it's still not a good situation. Graham Harrell will have some really talented guys to work with. They won't be drastically different; they've played in the gun for a while now. It won't look as extremely different as we're hearing in the offseason. It might be an improvement over last year. Of all the things around that program, their inability to run the ball is their biggest problem. They just don't look like the USC you expect. Mike Jinks was a great running backs coach in an Air Raid at Texas Tech. So yeah, the hires say they're going all-in on the Air Raid. It might look strange, but they're heading that way."
"They have to count on two things happening: JT Daniels getting comfortable in that system right away and the defense cleaning up."
"Daniels didn’t look comfortable, it didn’t look like he wasn’t progressing or showing that he was getting it with reads and checks. The backup Sears played a little bit, and I know they’re saying it’s an open job, but Daniels has a raw skillset that can’t be matched by those other guys."
"The receiver position is really good for them, so that will help moving to the Air Raid. They could go six deep with top level guys, that’s a position they’ve done really well recruiting."
"The most physical and demanding team in that division (Pac-12 South). They came together really well last season and really punished a lot of teams who weren't ready to get nasty."
"They always have a great defense; they probably always will with Kyle (Whittingham), but now they have a really athletic quarterback who can expand what we've seen from them the last few years."
"They're the most physical football team in the league, neck and neck with Stanford."
"You get the impression that they want to lean on that defensive physicality with the run game and make that the standard, so it was sort of a strange mix to see how the old offensive coordinator (Troy Taylor) would game plan. There's familiarity with Andy Ludwig, so that makes a ton of sense, and he was in a similar situation at Vanderbilt trying to fit an offense around a defense."
"I think they'll slow it down even more on offense. Old-school stuff. Tyler Huntley is a great threat with his legs, but I think they'll limit his exposure there, because they're nowhere near as dynamic when he's injured."
"The offensive line loses some guys, and they graduated some linebackers, but neither one of those areas would really bother you, they're good at developing depth for both of those."
"They always have good special teams too, really good at setting field position."
"Kyle Whittingham is a really underappreciated coach."
"I don’t think they won the South just because a lot of other teams were down or starting over, I think they won the South because they play really, mean, really disciplined football and they’ve tailored a team around going to play in a tough place in Salt Lake."
"This is their best opportunity to maximize their exposure and go win in some key areas in recruiting. They’re the favorite to win the South again, at least entering the season. What they need to do is find that last extra level in bringing some top flight guys in and they could really redefine the program."
"You've really seen the past few years that the coaching staff is their biggest strength. They certainly have great players on the field, but you've seen them have three or four first-round picks on defense and then the defense the next year was even better. They develop guys in a really amazing way. They will be tough no matter what because of Chris Petersen's culture."
"They really know how to run the football. They're a creative rushing team. Losing your running back and quarterback means you're going to lean on your fundamentals, your culture and your physicality, so they might not be as creative as we've seen."
"Jacob Eason is certainly the next guy, we assume as much, because obviously he's a really talented, proven guy. They could do some really dynamic stuff with him."
"I think the best way to describe what they do is extremely sound. That's boring, but it just seems like when you break down their tape, they do what they're always going to be good at, and they do so much. If they run power on you, they're going to execute it really well. Then the next week you see them all spread out and it looks like they've been doing it all year. They have the ability to look comfortable and experienced doing all different kinds of things on offense."
"They might take a step back on defense because they’re working a lot of new guys in, but just a step back. I think they’ve developed really well and they’ve been there long enough to system guys through there. They didn’t really have a strong pass rush, though. That’s one area they need to get better at if they’re going to push for a playoff bid."
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2019
"No one understands how to manipulate the Air Raid like Mike Leach. There's always a little bit of a wrinkle or a minor adjustment every single year."
"Mike always finds a quarterback. No one knew who Gardner Minshew was, and everyone expected a big step back after Luke Falk. So they're going to put a high-accuracy guy out there in Week 1 even if we have no idea who that is right now."
"They have good running backs, too, especially the last couple years. They've been more creative there running the ball, and that offensive line doesn't get enough attention. They're huge. They're really well coached."
"The secret for them is that they're going to show you the same seven or plays on film they'll run against you. It's all already out there. But the first two or three steps, the first few seconds of every one of those plays, they look almost exactly the same. It is impossible to defend something when post-snap, four or five diverse plays look almost identical."
"Up until recently, you could still beat them by tackling well on defense and being in the right spot. What changed is that they're a lot better on defense."
"Where the hell did they get a defensive line from? It's been a completely different deal for them on offense because they're not pressing anymore to score touchdowns every fifth play call."
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