Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Pac 12 News and Notes: July 24

There are a few pieces of news floating around today that are rather important to the Pac-12 race this season but don't have quite enough substance to warrant an entire article so I'm combining them into one piece. Here is what's going on in the conference and what it means:

1. Scott Frost will call plays on offense for Oregon - Most people seem to have bought into the continuity that Oregon is fostering by promoting Mark Helfrich in the wake of Chip Kelly's departure. Everything is going to look exactly the same except for the absence of Oregon's play caller from the past six years. We've been wondering whether Helfrich or new Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost (previously the Wide Receivers coach) would call plays. Helfrich finally delivered an answer today in an interview with ESPN by confirming that it will be Frost making play calls from the booth.

This is interesting for a couple reasons. First, this sets up Scott Frost to rocket up the list of hot head coaching candidates. It has long been rumored that Frost wants to climb the ladder and become a big time head coach and he was even a finalist for the Louisiana Tech job this offseason. Scott is a bright young coach, a good recruiter, and someone who is beloved by his players. Getting the OC gig and a chance to call plays will make him even more attractive to other programs (so long as Oregon's offense remains productive and let's face it, Oregon would be productive with me calling plays). Also, as a former starting QB on a national title winner, he has a certain credibility he can bring to a locker room that most other coaches can't match. I think this announcement by Helfrich sets up Frost to become a head coach of a team in one of the five major conferences within the next two or three years.

The other and more important reason in the context of Oregon's championship hopes is what this will potentially do to Oregon's style of play and its pace. The last four seasons, Oregon's plays have been called from the sideline by Chip Kelly. However, during Kelly's two seasons as OC under Mike Bellotti, he called plays from the booth which is where Frost will disseminate his calls for at least this upcoming season. I don't think you'll see much difference in the style of plays and the run/pass ratio. Even under Kelly, the gameplan and the playbook were a collaborative effort and everyone on staff had input on a week to week basis and that will stay the same under Helfrich. With all assistant coaches back and only Wide Receiver coach Matt Lunick being a new voice to the offensive staff, I don't think the playbook will change very much at all. As for run/pass ratio and the spots on the field Oregon tries to attack, that will change week to week based on Oregon's opponent. There has been much conjecture about Helfrich possibly making Oregon into more of a passing team but truthfully, Oregon has talent at every position on the field and they will lean on whatever advantage they can find against certain opponents. Helfrich and Frost aren't going to approach every week saying "we need to call at least 40 pass plays." Instead, they'll break down the opposing defense, find weaknesses on film, and gameplan accordingly. They'll have a run based offense one week and a pass based offense the next week, and a perfect balance the week after.

One difference that could take place might be pace. I've been hearing a school of thought today that with the play caller in the booth, it takes a few extra seconds to get the play call to the players on the field and as a result the offense will move more slowly. Oregon might choose to slow down at times, but it won't be because Frost is in the booth. According to, Oregon ran 79.1 plays per game in 2007 and 73.7 in 2008 when Kelly made calls from the booth. That number actually dropped to 68.1 with Kelly on the sideline in 2009 before jumping back up to 78.8 in 2010, down to 72.5 in 2011, and finally, way up to 81.1 last year. Bottom line is Oregon is going to operate very quickly and be aggressive whether plays are being called on the field, in the booth, or from the parking lot.

2. UCLA S Dietrich Riley has retired due to injury - It's always sad when young players are forced to give up the sport they love, particularly guys like Riley who showed tremendous promise and probably could have made it to the NFL if not for his bad luck. Riley was a four-star prospect out of California in 2010 and broke into the Bruins secondary right away and showed a lot of promise in a reserve role. Riley was having a solid sophomore season in 2011 with 36 tackles and three pass break ups in just eight games before a violent collision with Cal RB Isi Sofele ended his season and necessitated a fusing of two of his vertebrae. Riley took a medical redshirt in 2012 and wanted to come back this year but lingering concerns in his neck have forced him to give up football. although I hate to see careers end like this, I am happy to see Riley make a rational decision with the rest of his life in mind. Here's to hoping Riley can finish his degree (if he hasn't already) and go on to have a prosperous life away from football.

3. Arizona S Patrick Onwuasor has been booted from the team - While Dietrich Riley has made a very smart decision to end his career for his own good, Onwuasor has made some very dumb decisions that has cost him his career. Onwuasor has been charged with a series of drug related offenses (four felonies in all) and has subsequently been removed from Arizona's roster. He played sparingly as a redshirt freshman last season and racked up 36 tackles but he was expected to play a larger role as a sophomore. Arizona runs a 3-3-5 which calls not only for playing a lot of safeties but necessitating a lot of production from those safeties. Losing a body who can play at that position always sucks but this is not expected to be a loss than cannot be overcome.

4. Lane Kiffin has joined the chorus of crusty idiots complaining about up tempo offenses:

Kiffin: "If we're so concerned about player safety, are you right to allow systems that increase a game by 20 plays."

This whole movement to stop fast paced offenses has really been bothering me. First of all, a study has been done that shows that teams playing at a slower pace actually suffered more injuries last season than fast paced teams. Secondly, what's more dangerous to other players? having to run really fast 20 more times a game, or a 330 pound defensive tackle running at full strength trying to remove people's heads? If you're going to restrict the number of plays a team can run you also have to restrict the type of players that teams use. You can't just take away the identity of Oregon, Arizona, Cal, Wazzou, UCLA etc. and leave USC and Stanford alone. Thirdly, running up tempo forces players to stay in better shape and do more real fitness training rather than just being he-men and pumping iron all day. The better shape you are in, the less susceptible to injury you are, it's just a fact.Football is a violent game and the players understand the risks when they accept their scholarships. Injuries happen in football whether offenses are running fast, slow, or in between.

Now I'm sure Kiffin's concern are entirely about player safety and have nothing to do with surrendering 588 yards to Arizona and 730 to Oregon. But, clearly USC has struggled to stop up-tempo offenses based on the hideous results of the porous defense that USC has played under Kiffin. Well since USC is the easiest school to recruit to in the country and has more advantages than anyone else, maybe Kiffin should recruit smaller, faster, and nimbler players to match everyone's speed and then the other team running a lot of plays won't be such a big deal. Maybe instead of locking your players in the weight room and telling them to just do power cleans all day, take them on a five mile run every now and then and get some real fitness for them to supplement all that weight training. Just a thought Lane, take or leave it though even if you take it you're still going to get fired at the end of the season so what does it matter?

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