Tag Archives: Paul Perkins

Pac-12 Links: Less Than 100 Days to Kickoff

Now that Memorial Day weekend is over, college football fans have a countdown initiated until we kickoff the 2016 season. It’s still only June and summer practice has not started, but that won’t stop fans in the Pac-12 from wondering what is going on with their respective teams. Let’s take a look at some of these Pac-12 teams and their summer goals.

Arizona State

The Sun Devils have a ton of goals during this upcoming summer. One of them is figuring out who will be their starting quarterback. For the first time in four seasons they don’t have a starter already named. Mike Bercovici graduated and moved onto the NFL, so now the Devils are trying to decide between Manny Wilkins, Brady White, and Bryce Perkins

All three quarterbacks have the dual-threat quality to their game.  With the scheme that new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will be running, it will be interesting to watch which quarterback will pick it up the quickest to separate himself from the other two players.

The battle between juniors Kalen Ballage and DeMario Richard for the starting running back position will also be fun to watch. Both bring a pounding type of running style to the field, but Ballage is 6’3”, 230 and trying to bring down a beast like that is difficult prospect for any defender. Demario is 5’10, 220, and is just a bowling ball when he has a full head of steam. Do the Sun Devils go with size or do they go with a guy that disappears once the o-line stands up?

I believe they go with Kalen Ballage because of his size and speed.

Utah

My dark horse pick to win the Pac-12 South has to replace its stud running back for 2016. A solid running back is a quarterback’s best friend. What are they doing up in Salt Lake City about their running back position?

The player that is set to replace Booker for the 2016 is Joe Williams. Joe who? That is exactly what many fans may be asking as well. However, he is not a total unknown to the Utah coaching staff.

Williams did get some playing time once Booker went down with a season-ending injury and did reasonably well in Booker’s place.

He ran for 121 yards against UCLA, had an even bigger game against Colorado, gaining 187 yards, and garnered some MVP consideration for the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl by posting 91 yards and two touchdowns.

Can he do it being “the guy”? That is a great question.

He won’t be a secret to Pac-12 teams, so he will have step up his preparation once the summer practices start. He is certainly a player to keep in mind once the Pac-12 season starts.

UCLA

Are the UCLA Bruins the favorite to win the Pac-12 South? To many fans, writers, and other media they are. Why?

Josh Rosen.

However, like I said earlier, a solid running game is a quarterback’s best friend. What does UCLA have now that Paul Perkins is gone?

Paul Perkins was a player who rushed for over a 1,000 yards. When Rosen was able to turn around and the hand ball off to Perkins it kept the defense from just pinning their ears back and coming after the quarterback.

The Bruins have three players ready to take Paul Perkins spot. With Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolu Olorunfunmi ready to take over, the big question is which player will be number one on the depth chart?

Based off what we saw last season you would think Jamabo is the front runner. He was the second-leading rusher with 404 yards and had a 6.1 yards per rush. Jamabo runs like a sprinter and has a high pad level. He will have to work on keeping his pads low so he doesn’t get pounded so hard during the game.

Nate Starks is just as talented and had five touchdowns to go with a 6.4 yards per rush average. The upside to Starks is that he has had an extra year in Coach Mora’s offense and, based on last season, he looks like a starter.

My thought is that the Bruin coaches will give Jamabo and Starks about the same amount of touches until one of them separates himself from the other.

Final Thoughts

There are so many questions with each and every Pac-12 team going into next season that I believe that the conference will be left out of the football playoff. The team that wins the Pac-12 will have two losses, maybe three. To get into the College Football Playoff you need to be undefeated or have just one loss. It’ll be another fun season in the Pac-12, just not a playoff year.

Image: Creative Commons

Pac-12 Football Early Preview: UCLA Bruins

The UCLA Bruins have had a ton of expectations placed upon them every year since the beginning of time in the Pac-12. They are one of the premier programs in the Pac-12 and one of the premier destinations for many athletes. If the Bruins come knocking on your door you listen to them. Playing in Pasadena would be an amazing thing for any athlete, but in the recent past the Bruins haven’t won anything of consequence and are looking to change that outlook with their 2016 squad.

Coaching/Personnel:

Expectations are always high at UCLA and with a returning quarterback that is pretty good in Josh Rosen, the replacement at offensive coordinator will scrutinized in a big way. Noel Mazzone is gone and nobody that is a fan of the Bruins is sorry to see him go. He had good offenses, but not great and only had one year out of the four ranked in the top 20 of college football in offense. Mazzone went to coach the offense with his long time friend Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Who takes his place?

Running backs coach, Kennedy Polamalu, who many consider the best coach on staff, takes over the offense. He had one year as OC while he was at USC but many people thought he was having Lane Kiffin make the calls. Polamalu is known as a “tough” coach and wants to put his stamp of toughness on the Bruins. How quickly can he do that will be something that people will be looking at as the Bruins get to spring and summer practices.

The other big change for the Bruins on the offensive side of the ball is that they think they finally have a quality quarterback’s coach. Marques Tuiasosopo gets to mold his star pupil in Josh Rosen.  Rosen will be looking to stay away from the dreaded “sophomore slump” in 2016 and Tuiasosopo will be a big part of whether or not that happens. The other big part of Marques is that he does very well as a big time recruiter, not that it’s tough to sell a big time recruit on the benefits of coming to play in Pasadena. His talent in recruiting will be a welcomed addition to the program.

One of the big changes that the Bruins will have to contend with is player personnel on the offensive line. They have lost three starters off the O-line from 2015 and that means replacing all that experience. They lost four-year starter Jake Brendel, three-year starter Caleb Benenoch, and another three-year starter Alex Redmond. With the departures on the O-line, do the Bruins have an idea of what the line will look like? They do have an idea.

The biggest returning offensive line player is Conor McDermott. McDermott had a good 2015 season and did stay pretty healthy for UCLA, so they are expecting the same in 2016. If Conor has a similar season to his 2015 season then he may be one of the top O-line prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Bruins are getting University of Texas graduate transfer Jake Raulerson after he graduates from Texas in May. He won’t be there for spring practice but most Bruin sources think that he will take the center position from current Bruin center, Scott Quessenberry once summer/fall camp starts. If that happens, Jim Mora will probably move Quessenberry over to guard where he has experience playing in the past.

The other position that is interesting is running back. All-American Paul Perkins is gone, so the Bruins have to figure out who will take the pressure off the passing game with Josh Rosen. UCLA has three players to choose from to replace Paul Perkins. They will pick from Soso Jamabo, who had four touchdowns and 6.1 yards per carry in 2015, and has a very smooth running style which makes people think he may be as fast as he actually his. The second guy is Nate Starks who has slightly better stats than Jamabo. He had five touchdowns, a 6.4 yards per carry average, and showed great potential in the offense for the Bruins in 2015. The next guy who will get a chance is Bolu Olorunfunmi who didn’t have as many carries or as much playing time as Starks and Jamabo, but still showed some solid stats when he did get his chance. He racked up 200 yards with a 5.9 yards per carry average.

With all these changes on the offensive side of the ball, from the coaches to the players, UCLA has some challenges in front of it that it has to start getting squared away when spring practice gets underway this week.

Schedule:

The schedule for the Bruins does not include two pretty good teams in Oregon and Washington, which is certainly a benefit for them. Still, the rest of the tough Pac-12 schedule is right in front of them for 2016.

The three non-conference games that they have are Texas A&M (away), UNLV(home), and BYU(away) which are not all that bad. They should beat UNLV, but the other two games will be fun, challenging games to watch the Bruins in. Coming out of the non-conference part of the schedule 2-1 or even 3-0 would obviously be optimum for UCLA because the next five games will be tough for them. They open Pac-12 play with a home game with Stanford on September 24, then they get the Arizona Wildcats at home, followed by a road trip to Arizona State, then a roadie to Washington State, then they come back home to play Utah to end this five game stretch.

The positive aspect for the Bruins with this stretch of games is that three out of the five games are at home. This stretch of games will determine what kind of season the Bruins end up having. The Stanford and Washington State game will be the toughest out of the bunch because of the talent that they will have coming back, but that doesn’t mean the other games are cupcakes for them. Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah just have more questions about them than the other two teams. Obviously, coming out of that stretch undefeated would be amazing, but reality says, it may be more of a 3-2 type of record for them.

Final Thought:

UCLA is like many other Pac-12 teams in that they are going to be battling changes in player and coaching personnel in 2016. When you have a lot of turnover in personnel it may take a while for everybody to come together and that’s not something that fans like to hear because they tend to think it should all come together after only a few practices. Reality dictates that it takes a while for a team to gel, but here’s the thing that UCLA has going for them, Jim Mora and Josh Rosen. Mora provides the stability for the program and gives them their identity and Rosen gives them the ability to be in most games with his talent. Rosen will be better than he was in 2015 and that will be nothing, but a positive for the Bruins. He’s learning what he is comfortable with and Mora is learning that same thing from his star player. Is UCLA going to the College Football Playoff? No, but I don’t think there is a playoff team in the Pac-12 this upcoming year. Will they have a winning season? Yes, I think they end up 8-4. It’s always for tough for fans and coaches to view anything but a National Championship at UCLA as a success though. Welcome to UCLA.

 

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Five You Must See: Week 7

#18 UCLA (4-1) at #15 Stanford (4-1) Thursday at 10:30 PM on ESPN

It’s rare to have a game featuring two teams coming off their bye week, but that’s exactly what we’ve got here.  UCLA badly needed that week off to get healthy and regroup after taking their first loss of the season two weeks ago against Arizona State.  Last time we saw Stanford they were pounding Arizona back into their place and looking more like the team we expect them to be.

I’ll be interested to see how the Bruins plan to stop a Cardinal offense that is unlike any other in the conference.  Being able to run the ball consistently with Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders (not THE, but his son) has made life much easier for Kevin Hogan whose completion rate is north of 67 percent.

The Bruins have a whole fleet of backs led by Paul Perkins, whose reliability has been a stabilizer for freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.  The kid came out guns blazing, looking like he was ready to set the world on fire, but has since reminded us that he is less than a year removed from playing high school football.

Tune in to find out which Pac-12 contender will be the first to take its second loss this season.  It’s something to watch late Thursday night, and Fridays seem to take care of themselves anyway.

#17 Iowa (6-0) at #20 Northwestern (5-1) Saturday at 12:00 PM on ABC / ESPN2

(Photo: Leon Halip / Getty Images)
(Photo: Leon Halip / Getty Images)

You’re going to turn this game on for three main reasons.  First of all, like me, you probably haven’t seen Iowa play yet.  And why would we have?  Kirk Ferentz never has what you’d consider an exciting team.  But every few years his Hawkeyes rattle off a bunch of wins and end up factoring into the Big Ten discussion.  This is starting to look like one of those seasons and a second win over a ranked conference opponent would obviously boost their resume.

Secondly, you’ll want to see how Northwestern rebounds from getting shutout by Michigan last week.  The Wildcats’ hopes were high just a week ago, but the 38-0 drubbing sent them crashing back down to earth even faster than you’d expect.  This game is crucial for their morale going forward.

Lastly, as is often the case, there is no better option in the noon timeslot.  I mean, sure, you could watch Baylor roll up another 50-spot, or witness Florida State’s weekly routine of squeaking by an inferior ACC opponent, but those games aren’t real football.  What you need is a hearty helping of Big Ten football, and lucky for you we’ve got that on tap.

#10 Alabama (5-1) at #9 Texas A&M (5-0) Saturday at 3:30 PM on CBS

This game, like so many others, will be won, or lost, in the trenches.  The offensive lines will have to lead the way and here’s why:

Alabama needs to run the ball in order to move down the field consistently.  Derrick Henry is a tank of a running back with a nose for the goal line, having rushed for at least one touchdown in each of the Tide’s six games.  However, most of his big runs come on plays where his offensive line opens up a canyon for him to rumble through.  If that doesn’t happen enough and Alabama has to rely on Jake Coker to convert third and longs, it could be a long day.

(Photo: AP Photo / Bob Levey)
(Photo: AP Photo / Bob Levey)

That’s because one of the nation’s top pass rushes will be lined up on the other side.  Can’t-miss NFL prospect Myles Garrett already has 7.5 sacks on the young season.  He’s the type of player you have to gameplan around or you’ll pay for it.

On the other side, A&M needs to figure out how to occupy the Alabama front seven which has allowed fewer than 78 yards rushing per game, good for fourth in the country.  My guess is that quarterback Kyle Allen, whose shown flashes of being a capable runner, will have an increased role in the rushing attack for the Aggies.

Settle in.  This is going to be quite the clash of SEC titans.

#7 Michigan State (6-0) at #12 Michigan (5-1) Saturday at 3:30 PM on ESPN

You like defense?  Good, cause that’s what we’ve got in the great state of Michigan.  The Wolverines are led by their corners.  Jeremy Clark has three interceptions already.  And Jourdan Lewis, who’s near the top of the leaderboard in passes defended, has a couple picks of his own.  These two have been Michigan’s best players.  They’ve kept opposing receivers on complete lockdown which has allowed the safeties and linebackers to step up and fill the holes to stop the run.  This, more than anything else, has been the key to the Wolverines’ success.

Interestingly, Jim Harbaugh seems to be testing out the same formula the Spartans have been working on perfecting for years now.  Nobody was better at single man coverage with no help over the top than State was the past several years.  Now, whether it’s related to Pat Narduzzi’s departure or not, I don’t know.  But the Spartans are struggling a bit with continuing that tradition.  When they get beat, it’s the corners who’ve failed.  It’s not exactly fair because they’re asked to do the bulk of the work, but that’s the system they play.

Shilique Calhoun has five sacks and is another pass rusher you’ll see playing on Sundays soon enough.  There are only a handful of guys in the country who have racked up more tackles than junior linebacker Riley Bullough so far this fall.  The rest of the defense is still just as ferocious as it’s always been under Mark Dantonio.

So, what’s going to break this game open?  Quarterback play.  Connor Cook and Jake Rudock are going to have to challenge those corners when they see the defense setting up in single man coverage.  Whichever one is more successful doing so will provide his team with a distinct advantage.  You do not want to miss this sibling rivalry.

#8 Florida (6-0) at #6 LSU (5-0) Saturday at 7:00 PM on ESPN

All of a sudden Florida’s promising season is up in the air.  This week the Gators found out they will be without their quarterback Will Grier for a calendar year due to a failed drug test that found some kind of NCAA-banned substance.  There are still questions about whether or not Grier knowingly took this PED, but frankly it doesn’t matter we’re here to talk about the game.

Thankfully, the Gator defense is still intact.  They’ll need to step up and carry an even bigger load now.  Charged with the task of slowing Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette, that’s the last thing the Gator defense needed to hear.  At 14.3 points per game, Florida ranks eleventh in the nation in scoring defense.  Staying true to that mark will be essential to winning this game.

(Photo: Getty Images Sport)
(Photo: Getty Images Sport)

You really can’t say enough about what Fournette has done in five games.  He’s tied for the FBS-lead in rushing scores with 12.  The sophomore (that’s right he’s got one more year before hitting the NFL) has run for almost 150 more yards than anyone else in the country despite playing one less game.  Fournette is averaging 204 yards on the ground per game.  I’ll repeat that.  He is averaging 204 yards per game.  That’s superhuman.  The dude has been incredibly fun to watch and I can’t wait to see how he does against the best defense the Tigers have come across this fall.

LSU loves playing at home in primetime.  For some reason the team gets a major boost when the lights are on.  Florida certainly has their work cut out for them here, but I would not count them out.

Basically, this is as good as it gets in college football.  We’ve got two top ten teams set to beat the tar out of each other until one of them breaks.  As Mike Wilson would say, “Get your popcorn ready.”

The “Better as a Basketball Game” of the Week

Purdue (1-5) at Wisconsin (4-2) Saturday at 12:00 PM on Big Ten Network

You don’t want to watch this game do you?  I didn’t think so.  Wisconsin isn’t a bad team, but they’re not as good as they have been in recent years.  At this point, I think the Badgers are better hoopers than they are footballers.  Purdue, on the other hand, is miserable on the gridiron so their basketball team has no choice but to be better.  Don’t worry Boilermaker fans; it’s almost time to tip-off your favorite season.  Until then, enjoy getting bowled over on a weekly basis.

Sun Devils Blitz the Bruins

The Rose Bowl Stadium. Not much more needs to be said when it comes to college football and this legendary stadium. All I needed was Brett Musberger saying “You are looking live at the Rose Bowl…” I have seen football here before and walked around these hallowed grounds and read every plaque about the history of this fine stadium, so I am familiar with the Rose Bowl. I have seen my beloved Oregon State Beavers win and lose here, but I have also seen in person the greatest college football game ever, The National Championship between the USC Trojans and the Texas Longhorns in 2006.

Walking up to the stadium my stomach was a bit on edge because this wasn’t an everyday type of thing. Iit’s reporting on a football game from the pressbox of the Rose Bowl. I was very careful to soak everything in. From the marching band practicing in the parking lot, to the fans setting up their tailgating fun, to the kids playing catch, and finally getting to the elevator to take me to the pressbox.

Talking with a few UCLA fans on the way in, they were in obvious high spirits about where the program is headed. They like head coach Jim Mora, but they want to hold off on all the Josh Rosen Heisman hype and the whole “Chosen Rosen” talk. All the fans I talked to basically said that the hype is fun to talk about, but they wanted to remind people that Rosen is still a freshman quarterback.

Jeff Jones, season ticket holder even said, “I took my grandson to the spring game and got to meet Rosen afterwards. He threw a pass to my grandson, but as he was throwing the ball I noticed how slight he was in the shoulders. It concerned me because if he takes a hit to his shoulder area it could be devastating for him. I like what I see so far, but he’s a freshman still.”

This game was a tough one for me to really call a winner. I know what you’re thinking, ASU has struggled mightily and UCLA comes in 4-0. So what is so tough to call about a game like that? Well, this is the Pac-12 and every week things happen that you don’t see coming. Oregon fans can attest to that. To me, this had the feeling of a trap game. A game in which one team may think that they can just show up and win because of the struggles of the opposing team. Would I be right?

Through the first quarter there was not much flow to the game. Neither team could impose their will on each other. There were a few big plays, but nothing that broke the back of either side. Josh Rosen could not get on track due to pressure blitzes from the Sun Devils, and Mike Bercovici wasn’t able to establish much of anything with Devil offense. It was mostly a field position type of quarter. The only constant up to this point was the pressure put on by the Sun Devil defense.

The pressure kept coming in the second quarter. Every time I looked down on the game, another blitz was coming off the edge of the defensive line or up the middle. The tsunami of pressure kept coming as the quarter went on.

The halftime score was 15-10 Arizona State.

Still, there was no flow to the game, and neither team looked like it was going to pull away from the other. However, the Sun Devils had made enough plays to take the lead and they were making life miserable for Josh Rosen.

What were the Bruins going to do coming out of the half? What were the Sun Devils going to do? The answer came pretty quick in the form of Sun Devil scoring. The Devils started getting chunks of yardage on the ground and loosening up the up the secondary with some intermediate throws. Then, to cap off a great drive by the Devils, Mike Bercovici rambles 34 yards for the score. All of sudden it was 22-10 and the UCLA fans were concerned.

UCLA was not doing anything offensively. Josh Rosen was throwing off his back foot, scrambling for his life, and was not completing anything to his receivers. It was the dictionary definition of a struggling quarterback.

The scoring was not over for the Sun Devils though. After another miserable three and out for the Bruins, the Devils put together a drive that ended with Bercovici finding DJ Foster in the end zone for the score. Now it was 29-10 Sun Devils. They had taken control of the game and were forcing some of the Bruin faithful to the exits with plenty of time left in the third quarter.

The game was officially on upset alert for the 80,113 people in attendance.

However, there is always the fourth quarter.

Nobody said this was going to be easy for the Sun Devils. They had momentum, the lead, and consistency with their offense. Josh Rosen and the Bruins had other ideas.

Suddenly, everything that the Devils had worked so hard for was gone. Play calling got stagnant and Bercovici threw an interception. Then Rosen starts getting comfortable in the pocket and making plays. The Bruins roar back to get within six points, 29-23, with nine minutes left in the game. The UCLA crowd is on their feet urging their team on. The Sun Devils look as if they are on the verge of collapsing, but as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.”

What the Devils needed was a drive to take time off the clock. They got two huge plays on fourth down to keep the drive alive. The drive did stall, but this was a moment for a punter, yes, a punter, to come up big. Mike Haak, the Sun Devil punter, booted the ball inside the Bruins’ one yard line.

With the Bruins pinned against the wall, the Sun Devils came with pressure and got their second safety of the game. The score was now 31-23.

The scoring was not done though. The Sun Devils capped off their miraculous win with a crazy 34-yard touchdown run by Kalen Ballage, helped by the offensive line pushing him into the end zone. Game over.

If asked if I was shocked by this I might tell you yes, but as we all know, this is the Pac-12 Conference where you can’t take anything for granted. This is a huge win for the Sun Devils and a huge boost for their confidence which was severely lacking in the past month. How do they respond next week? It’s anybody’s guess because we have seen them play well like on Saturday night, but then we have seen them look like the JV squad against USC and even Cal-Poly. Where does UCLA go from here? They looked as if they were sleep walking for a good portion of the game. They couldn’t deal with the constant blitzing of Arizona State and that is something that needs to be addressed for them.

In the end, the better team won this game, however, questions remain for both squads. The coming weeks will tell us how they respond to this game. For the time being, the Sun Devils can bask in this win and enjoy the spoils that come with it. Forks Up Sun Devil nation.

 

 

Pac-12 Notebook: Ducks, Utes, Bruins, and Wildcats Tangle in Week 4

Week four of the season is finally here and we all know what that means for us college football fans. Just in case you live underneath a rock or you simply don’t pay attention to this type of stuff, it means that conference play is starting. The Pac-12 will be in full force this weekend with plenty of huge games right out of the gate. These matchups create a lot of buzz for the fans, but behind it all are some issues that these teams must correct or their once hopeful season goes right down the proverbial toilet. Let’s take a look at some of these problems with these teams.

UCLA

If I had to choose a team that could make the college football playoff from the Pac-12 it just may be UCLA, but there are concerns in Westwood. How will “The Chosen” Rosen, Josh Rosen, do against Pac-12 competition? He struggled mightily in the Bruins game with BYU by throwing three interceptions in the first half. Lucky for him, running back Paul Perkins decided to put the team on his back and run for a personal best 219 yards on the ground. Does Josh Rosen play a better game against Arizona? What adjustments do the coaches make to help Rosen? We shall see. The one thing to keep in mind is that Josh Rosen, no matter how fantastic he may be, is still a freshman college football player. He’s going to make mistakes. He could be the next big thing, but he isn’t there just yet. There is a ton that Rosen needs to learn to take it to the next level of play.

Can Paul Perkins become that running back that everybody remembers? He is a household name in Los Angeles but now he needs to become more known a national basis. He is certainly worth any mention he gets. He is a top five running back in the Pac-12 Conference. If Perkins can continue to destroy the opponent’s defenses he will make life for his quarterback much easier and make things for the entire offense much easier. Will he be keyed on by Arizona this weekend? Absolutely. Watch Paul Perkins this weekend and as he goes, so go the UCLA Bruins.

Arizona

My two concerns with the Arizona Wildcats are these: Will the weak competition they have played in their non-conference schedule hurt them against UCLA this weekend? Will the injuries that they have been nursing catch up with them against the stiffer competition?

Remember, Scooby Wright is still out with a knee injury that he suffered in week one. We all know that Wright is a big part of their defensive schemes, so having him out for the Bruin game is a major loss if he can’t take the field. The word around Tucson is that Scooby will be testing the knee in practice and that he may be back for this weekend’s game. I would be surprised if he was back for the game because a knee injury is a tricky thing to make a full recovery from in just a few weeks. If he isn’t 100% he could risk damaging the knee again and making the injury worse. It’ll be interesting to see how this injury saga with Wright plays out before Saturday.

The competition that they have played in the non-conference has not been stellar to say the least. They started off with Texas-San Antonio, then the Nevada Wolfpack, and finished up last week with Northern Arizona. These are not teams that strike fear into the hearts of a big Power 5 team and they certainly don’t get you ready for the tough play of the Pac-12 Conference. UCLA will be bigger, stronger, and faster than anything the Wildcats have faced so far. Can they adjust to that? They scored 77 points in their win over Northern Arizona last week and things came easy for them. What happens when things don’t come as easy for them this week? If they struggle to score points, how do they react?

If Arizona starts slow it just may be because of the step up in competition and getting used to having an opponent who can match your speed and athletic ability.

Oregon

The question on everybody’s mind with the Ducks is whether or not graduate transfer Vernon Adams will be healthy enough to play against Utah. Adams sat out last week’s game against Georgia State with a broken index finger on his throwing hand and little is known as to how healthy he is. Head coach Mark Helfrich hasn’t tipped his hand in terms of who is starting against Utah either, but he only has two choices Vernon Adams or his backup Jeff Lockie. With that said, Adams is taking a big portion of the reps in practice which would lead me to believe that he will be “the guy” on Saturday.

“He’s taking a good amount of reps in practice so far,” Helfrich said of Vernon Adams. “It’ll be right up until the end of the week before we make that call.”

I’ll make the call right now. Vernon will be the starter and that is what Utah expects as well.

“We expect Adams to be back, not a 100% positive, but that is our best guess.” Said Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham.

Utah

The Utah Utes are being very coy about their own quarterback issues in preparation for their showdown with the Oregon Ducks in Eugene this weekend. In full disclosure, Utah is my dark horse pick to win the Pac-12 South this season, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have concerns with my pick. Going into this huge game with the Ducks, the Utes have to figure out their quarterback issue.

Travis Wilson who won the starting job during fall camp injured his shoulder last week against Utah State. Wilson was scrambling, got tackled, and ended up spraining his left shoulder. We don’t know if he is going to be healthy enough to play against the Ducks, but even with him in there I’m not really sure he is their best choice to lead the Utes.

Kendal Thompson is the backup quarterback who came in to lead the team to victory over Utah State. He brings another aspect to the office that Wilson doesn’t. Thompson is more athletic than Wilson and can extend plays. Thompson started and finished the game against Fresno State which gives him confidence that he can do the same thing against the Ducks. Plus, he played a great game.

Whoever they choose to go with on Saturday they have to be concerned about the health of either one. Thompson has been injured over the course of his career and as previously stated, Wilson would be coming off his sprained shoulder. In the rough and tumble Pac-12 where quarterbacks do get out and run around, injuries are always a concern with coaches. Right now it’s a concern in Salt Lake City.

The other concern I have for my darkhorse is this: Can they get Devontae Booker going against the Ducks? He hasn’t had the numbers like he had last year just yet. It seems like he’s off to a slower start than anticipated. We know that the Ducks will be keying on him, but it’s up to that big offensive line for the Utes to get their stud on track.

In the end, these four teams will have determined quite a bit in the Pac-12 this weekend, and even nationally. They all have legitimate questions going into conference play. As we all know, the team that makes the corrections to their issues the best is usually the one that wins the ballgame. Here’s to hoping for an exciting beginning weekend of Pac-12 Conference play!

 

 

 

 

These are five of the Best Pac-12 Running Backs in 2015

To be successful at any level of football you have to be able to run the ball effectively. Duh. I don’t know anybody who is going to dispute that point. However, you have to have a legitimate runner to balance out an offensive attack, and in the wide open offenses of the Pac-12 there are many teams that have that stud running back.

These are THE best five running backs in the Pac-12. It’s fact because I said so.

Devontae Booker

This is one of those running backs that I love to watch run. He runs angry and loves to initiate the contact with the defender(s) that are trying to bring him down. He loves to run between the tackles, but isn’t afraid of getting out to the edge and running away from would-be tacklers. He has the qualities that many coaches like in a running back. He’s muscular, stocky, low center of gravity, and has the tangibles that make him attractive at the next level. He’s about 5’11, 212lbs, with speed. As Booker goes this season, is how Utah will go in 2015. Many people believe that seeing Devontae Booker carry the ball over 300 times is not out of the realm of possibilities. In 2014, he carried the ball 292 times for 1,512 yards and that was after he got spotty playing time in the first couple of games. He absolutely went on a tear with people taking more notice as he tore up Oregon State’s defense for 225 yards and a big win on the road in Corvallis. He also tied a school record with seven straight games with at least 100 yards which caused him to be noticed more nationally. This is a guy that defensive coordinators have to game plan for and must account for every down he is on the field. The Heisman buzz is at a low murmur with him, but if he can come out of the gate strong, it will pick up plenty of steam.

Paul Perkins

There are two things that Perkins cares about. He wants to be the best running back in the nation and to win the National Championship with the Bruins. He is certainly making the case for the best running back in the nation. He was the leading rusher in the Pac-12 last season with 1,575 yards for the Bruins. He averaged 121 yards per game, 6.3 yard per carry, had nine touchdowns, and carried the ball 251 times for UCLA. He was the workhorse running back for Jim Mora last season and with a likely freshman quarterback in Josh Rosen running the show for the Bruins, Paul Perkins will be relied upon even more now. He will be a comfort player for the quarterback because Perkins will take some of the immense pressure off of Rosen when Perkins handles the ball. Perkins had six games of over 100 yards and that will be something that he will be looking to improve upon this year and looking to improve upon his 9 touchdowns in 2014. Bottom line with this outstanding player is that he is not looking for records and getting his own “shine”, but rather getting team accolades by winning titles in Westwood.

Royce Freeman

With the departure of Marcus Mariota, the Ducks may be a team in transition to many. I’m not so sure that they are in a big transition like many believe. They are relying on Vernon Adams as the quarterback now, but they have plenty of leadership on this team and it starts with Royce Freeman. He is a guy much like Mariota. He’s quiet, lets his play on the field speak for him. “Royce is a Marcus-type leader.” Head Coach Mark Helfrich has said. Freeman burst onto the scene in Eugene as a true freshman by running for 1,365 and 18 touchdowns which are Pac-12 records for a true freshman. He is a physically imposing runner who doesn’t shy away from initiating the contact with the defense and as he enters his sophomore season as THE running back for the Ducks he is looking to continue to improve upon his stats from 2014. A running back who stands 5’11, 230lbs who can move like he can is a weapon for OC Scott Frost because all Vernon Adams has to do is hand the ball off to a brute of a running back and it opens things up for the high flying Oregon offense. The other aspect of Royce that makes him dangerous is that he learned how to play from the slot receiver position last season and Scott Frost will be looking to continue that trend in 2015. By lining him up in multiple spots, it shows the versatility of Freeman who wants to do anything for the team to win and his teammates respect the heck out of him for how he conducts himself within the program and showing his willingness to win. Freeman will be one of those players in the Pac-12 that will be appointment television during the 2015 season. Pay attention to Royce Freeman football fans.

Nick Wilson

When Head Coach Rich Rodriguez entered into the 2014 season he wasn’t sure what he had on the offensive side of the ball. Well, he knows what he has going into the 2015 season. He has a solid three player attack of Anu Solomon, Caleb Jones, and of course Nick Wilson. Wilson was a true freshman last season and by the end of the year was a house hold name among Pac-12 football fans, coaches and media. Now, he will be trying to get a larger national following, but to Nick Wilson, all that fame is nothing if the team doesn’t win. After Ka’Deem Carey left Arizona, there were huge shoes to fill. Wilson has filled those shoes nicely for the Wildcats. Nick Wilson finished the 2014 season with 1,375 yards, 17 touchdowns, 5.8 yards per carry, and did this all on 236 carries. Impressive stats considering that the Cats had no idea who was going to replace Ka’Deem Carey and thought it might be a “running back by committee” type of offense. There is a concern about Wilson though. People question his durability, can he stay healthy? If he stays healthy, things go better for Arizona, if he doesn’t, well, let’s not go there right now. Wilson had 2 concussions last season and a nagging ankle injury that did limit his availability at times for the Wildcats.

Unlike last season where fans or coaches didn’t know who was going to be the starting running back, we know who it is in 2015. Wilson is that type of running back who will break off an 80 yard run to the house and the back that will make a tough two yard gain for a first down and keep the drive going. The key is health. Running backs get hit, we know this, but it’ll be up to Nick Wilson to limit the big hits to himself so he can stay in the game for the Cats. If he stays healthy, the sky could be the limit for the Arizona Wildcats in 2015.

Daniel Lasco

This is a player that I would argue most people don’t know about outside of the Bay Area or the even the Pac-12. He just may be the most underrated player in the Pac-12 Conference. Daniel Lasco is a player who has gained some notoriety with his production. Quite honestly, Lasco had the quietest 1,115 yards and 12 score season that anybody could have. While Jared Goff grabs most of the headlines for the California Golden Bears, Daniel Lasco just went about his own business and had the kind of season most backs just dream of. He is entering his Senior year and will no long be a “secret” to fans and even opposing coaches. They have to plan for him now. Not that they didn’t before, but he has shown what he can do in a major Power 5 Conference. Why has he stayed so under the radar? Well, to me it’s simple. California hasn’t won, hasn’t been to a bowl game, or really done anything of note in recent memory. If they had, Lasco would be better known. As with the other running backs that I have mentioned, Lasco is the back that has the versatility to run between the tackles to get the tough yards, but also the speed to bounce it to the outside and get to the edge.

Lasco only needed 210 carries to get those 1,115 yards and that works out to 5.3 yards per carry for the running back. That is pretty good efficiency to me, but here is the thing with Lasco. With the type of offense that Cal uses, he’s not asked to be this huge workhorse type of player, so his stats are not going to reflect the type of back he is. The other part of his game that people don’t realize is that he CAN catch the ball out of the backfield. He had 33 catches last season for the Bears. When defenses not only have to worry about him as runner, but also as catching running back it puts pressure on the defense every down.

With this stable of running backs in the league and even ones that were not mentioned like Storm Woods, the Pac-12 could be the conference of running backs for the 2015 season. Health plays a big role with a running back, but for right now, running backs in the Pac-12 may just being running wild.

E-mail Mike Wilson at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.