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Three of Pac-12's four new coaches succeeding on offense
Entering this season, the biggest variable was how much effect first-year coaches would have at four schools: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State.
From an offensive standpoint, three of the new staffs have made a nice impact. The exception is the most surprising. Washington State, with coach Mike Leach, has not improved at all.
Arizona is 0-3 in conference play, but the Wildcat offense is impressive. Coach Rich Rodriguez has experienced far more initial success in installing his spread offense in Tucson than he did at Michigan in 2008. The Wildcats lead the conference in total offense. Rodriguez was fortunate that quarterback Matt Scott deferred his senior season by redshirting in 2011, when Arizona had Nick Foles, a third-round NFL pick.
Rodriguez expects more improvement from his offense, while acknowledging the players "have a better grasp of what we're doing" than when the season started.
UCLA is third in the league and eighth nationally in total offense, with coach Jim Mora having hired offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, formerly of Arizona State. Mazzone obviously benefited by inheriting redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley.
ASU has remained productive under coach Todd Graham, even with quarterback Brock Osweiler having left early for the NFL. Taylor Kelly has adapted well in an offense coordinated by Jay Norvell, who worked for Graham at Tulsa and Pittsburgh.
Washington State failed to score a touchdown against BYU and Oregon State and is ninth in the league offensively. Leach recognized there would be a transition period for his offense, particularly with an inexperienced line, but he said, "You always want as much as possible as early as possible."
Leach has two quarterbacks with experience, but Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday each has been benched at some point this season. Halliday threw three interceptions in the first half at Oregon State.
Offensive yardage for Pac-12 teams with first-year head coaches (national ranking in parentheses):
1 Arizona (6) 553.8.
3 UCLA (8) 529.0
5 Arizona State (34) 456.2.
9 Washington State (96) 353.3
Racking up numbers
Thanks to Stanford's interception of an Arizona pass in overtime and the Cardinal's subsequent 25-yard touchdown drive for a 54-48 victory, the teams finished with the same total yardage: 617. Even in regulation, they combined for nearly 1,200 yards.
The lead changed hands 11 times in the game and the teams recorded 69 points in the third and fourth quarters, after Arizona took a 14-13 halftime lead.
Scott went 45-for-69 for 491 yards and three touchdowns, breaking long-standing conference records for completions and attempts. The Wildcat QB "was in a zone unlike very many quarterbacks I've ever seen," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Everything was on target. It was a thing of beauty for a football fan. … The kid was on fire."
Arizona recorded 38 first downs, which sounds impressive, but Rodriguez wants more big plays from his offense.
Turning it around
Utah quarterback Jon Hays should find encouragement in the comparison of Cal QB Zach Maynard's statistics against Arizona State and UCLA.
Maynard completed 9 of 28 passes for 126 yards in a loss to ASU, then went 25-for-30 for 295 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA. Hays, who was 10-of-15 for 117 yards with one interception at ASU, opposes UCLA this weekend.
Holding off Star
USC coach Lane Kiffin again labeled Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei "one of the dominant players in college football," and was satisfied with the work of center Khaled Holmes in last week's victory. On its first two possessions, USC "just handed 'em the ball by screwing up," Kiffin said, citing fumbles via two poor snaps. After that, Holmes and the Trojans succeeded by scheming and blocking Lotulelei well enough "to keep him on the back side on the majority of runs," Kiffin said.