The first phase of the 2015 Pac-12 football season is now fully complete. Each team has culminated spring football with its own version of a closing scrimmage/event/showcase/etc. Hope springs eternal on the gridiron as in all places, and despite the optimism flowing freely from Pullman to Tucson to South Central Los Angeles, legitimate questions abound. Let's take a look at the issues all 12 teams will take with them into the summer. Teams rolled out in chronological order of spring games. Here is part 2.
Spring Game 4/11: Cardinal 37, White 23
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Offense: 5th
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Defense: 4th
Coach Steve Sarkisian begins his second year at Troy with very few alibis should his Army of 5-star recruits fail to return to National Playoff contention. First off, Quarterback Cody Kessler, The Bakersfield Bandit, returns for what should be a legit run at the Heisman Trophy. He's got highly touted Max Browne backing him up and Browne definitely looked capable at the Coliseum during the Cardinal-White (South Version) Spring Game. Browne completed 24 of 37 for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Of course that's made easier when you are throwing to Joe Five-Star, Fred Five-Star, Cinco Estrellas, Frankie, Five-Star, and the next 10 Five Stars on the depth chart.
All snarking for Sark aside, the Trojans are LOADED at wide receiver, a fact illustrated during the C-W Game as guys you've heard of (Juju Smith), guys you may have forgotten (Steven Mitchell) and you guys you probably never heard of (Christian Tober) took turns lighting up the scoreboard for USC. The emphasis was heavily geared towards the passing game, but the defense did manage to score some points (based on the in vogue Offense/Defense scrimmage system so many, including Stanford, utilized). The loss of Leonard Washington is a significant one, but there were points scored via the sack from Lamar Dawson that punctuated a rare stop on the day for the Trojan defense.
Lest all the SC-haters out there perk up and hope that the defense will be the weak link of the team, keep in mind that the Trojans are not going to see anywhere near the talent level they faced at the Coliseum in April when the season kicks off in September. That being said, USC's defense does need to manage the loss of Washington, though that's easier to do with players like Su'a Cravens and Adoree Jackson in the fold. Specifically on that D Line, however, the C-W game didn't offer much simply because of the absences of Claude Pelon (Lack of sufficient academic courseload) and Sophomore Tackle Kenny Bigelow (knee injury). Both should be ready for fall camp and of course USC has a plethora of incoming Frosh talent that will get a chance to contribute come August.
One area where USC has some drama to resolve is at kicker. Both players vying for the lead role at placekicker. Alex Wood and Matt Boermeester both hit 50-yarders in the Coliseum, so there is obviously talent to spare, and it seems a resolution will have to wait until the fall. Regardless, the Trojans seem to have accomplished what they wanted moving into the summer, and as one of the teams not only returning a QB but returning 16 starters from last year's team, all signs point to a resurgence in Troy.
Spring Game 4/18
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Offense: 2nd
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Defense: 12th
The Golden Bears were the anti-Beavers in 2014: All offense and no defense. And much as his Corvallis counterpart rigged the White-Orange game, Sonny Dykes clearly set the defense up to not look awful in front of the 1,000 or so fans who attended the "Experience." There were seven full 11-on-11 drives and the Cal offense mustered but one touchdown in those eleven drives. Even under contrived circumstances, that's an improvement over last year's "Offense-Friendly" unit. Evidently, it was a dearth of healthy secondary players who inspired Dykes to rig the scrimmage in the manner that he did, though he did point out the secondary players who did play as highlights of the day. One of those players was Luke Rebenzer, who seems to be following the Dallas Lloyd path from quarterback to safety. Cal seems committed to giving Rebenzer an honest look, as he got reps last Saturday with the first team defense.
Despite the surprising defensive resistance, Cal still got a solid if limited effort from Jarret Goff. Goff completed 9-12 for 108 yards a touchdown, the score coming on a spectacular 30-yard grab by Kenny Lawler during a 2-minute drill. Jack Austin and Maurice Harris also provided highlight catches for a unit that looks poised to absorb the departure of Chris Harper, who caught 52 passes and averaged over 12 yards a reception to go with six touchdowns in 2014. Ultimately, there is nothing to indicate that Cal will have problems scoring next season. Three offensive linemen from Cal's final game against BYU return (LT Stephen Moore, LG Chris Barrayo, RT Jordan Rigsbee) while Center Chris Adcock and RG Alejandro Crosthwaite graduated. There is some reshuffling to be done within the trenches, but Goff alone should continue Cal's potent point production.
At the end of the day, Cal will go as far as their defense progresses, and despite their showing in the Spring Experience, it's still a bit early to forecast how they'll do when the bumpers come off the lanes.
Spring Game: 4/18 White 38 Orange 7
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Offense: 12th
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Defense: 9th
The storyline coming out of Corvallis after Beaver Nation's Orange-White scrimmage in Reser Stadium was the explosiveness of an offense that finished as the worst in the conference last year. First year Coach Gary Anderson coordinated a scrimmage that had about as much spontaneity as a WWE event. This in no way distinguishes Anderson from his peers. The Beaver first team offense played against the second team defense, and they unleashed a barrage of big plays against a unit not only bereft of first stringers but also shackled with the predictability of an almost constantly employed base defense. That being said, the scoring outbursts were still an encouraging sight for a team that struggled so mightily in departed Senior QB Sean Mannion's final season. Junior wideout Victor Bolden hauled in a 70-yard reception and Xavier Hawkins took it to the house via a fly sweep (Insert James Rodgers flashback and assume fetal position, Stanford fans) from 70 yards out as well. At running back, Chris Brown had 89 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns of his own. The scoring was the culmination of a week of practice where the offense seemed to have turned a corner in grasping the concepts of first year offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin. Baldwin choreographed a Colorado State offense that was the only one in D-1 to have a 4,000 yard passer, 1,700 yard receiver, and a 1,200 yard rusher.
Despite the scoring, Andersen has not officially anointed true freshman Seth Collins as the starting quarterback, instead putting Collins and redshirt freshman Nick Mitchell "1A and 1B." Regardless, Collins started with the first team and dazzled the crowd of over 12,000 by front-flipping and hurdling tacklers on separate occasions. More importantly, he went 12 for 22 for 208 yards, two TD's and zero interceptions. Mitchell, for his part, went 6-13 for 59 yards, no TD's and one interception. Regardless of when Andersen and Collins become "Facebook Official," it seems likely that he'll be under center when the Beavers open their season. As far as the summer goes, Andersen reemphasized the need for the entire team to get stronger. Oregon State is going to be hard-pressed to move the needle with a first-year QB and Coach, but it's no stretch to say that they should be able to get out of the conference's offensive cellar.
Spring Game: 4/25 White 12, Red 0
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Offense: 10th
2014 Pac-12 Scoring Defense: 6th
Utah's offense will be centered around Davontae Booker, and it will hope for better results in the fall than it accumulated in the Utes' spring game. Of course, Kyle Whittingham knew what he was going to get when he sat over a dozen expected fall starters, including starting quarterback Travis Wilson. Whittingham's reluctance to put his best players on the field is understandable given the Utes' loss of promising Sophomore Running Back Troy McCormick. McCormick averaged six yards per carry in limited action as a Freshman. Junior !B Kendal Thompson, who carried the ball 56 times himself (third on the team behind Wilson and Booker) also sat out the Red-White game. Freshman Connor Manning got the lion's share of the snaps, and he went 16-33 with 3 Interceptions. Fellow Frosh Donavan Isom went 7 of 15 for 15 yards and an interception and was also the game's leading rusher with 11 carries for 56 yards.
There's no secret Utah needs to be able to score points if it's going to compete in the vicious Pac-12 South. Whittingham knew changes were necessary, and last February he made a number of significant alterations to the Utah coaching staff. He promoted Aaron Roderick (QB's) and Jim Harding (OL) to co-offensive coordinators. They replace Dave Christensen, who left Salt Lake after one season to work at Texas A&M. Believe it or not, Utah has been reshuffling its offensive coaching deck for years. In fact, the tandem of Roderick and Harding will make for 8 offensive coordinators in 8 seasons. It's hard to put a positive spin on that given the lack of productivity hamstringing a team with a powerful defense.
It's clear at this point that the team needs to make its biggest strides at its most crucial single position. Utah had the worst passing game in the conference last year, measured in either yards per game or attempt, and there was a huge gap between the Utes and even 11th place (Washington). Utah's O line finished right in the middle of the conference with 24 sacks allowed in conference play, and considering that Utah was 4th in the conference in rushing, it seems fair to put the onus on the quarterbacks. Wilson wasn't waht you'd call bad, but he just wasn't great. He actually got a little better in terms of completion better on 3rd down, and as a Senior you'd expect an uptick in performance. However, he has not been declared the starter, and won't be until the conclusion of Summer practice. With a back like Booker, it shouldn't take that much to move the needle. Whatever tricks and/or wrinkles the new Brain Trust have up their sleeves will have to wait until the Fall. For now, the Utes are content to move into 2015 with as many healthy pieces as they can muster, and Whittingham seemed satisfied to do just that. "The key is, nobody got hurt. We had a good spring. "There were no bad practices.
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