Jeremiah Laufasa

Pac-12 spring games wrap-up

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A recap of this weekend’s spring games from the Pac-12: 

Utah
After a disappointing season, Utah is looking to rebound in 2013 with a new addition on offense: co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. Following the Utes spring game on Saturday, head coach Kyle Whittingham explained what Erickson’s presence has done for the offense:

“He’s adjusted the tempo of the offense, he’s simplified what we’re doing, and he’s added some elements that have been good additions–mainly utilizing the running backs in the throw game a bit more and simplifying the run game,” Whittingham said. “There’s not a whole lot of variation from one team to another team that runs the spread, but just those subtle changes can make a big difference.”

The Utes showed off that new-look offense in a 35-28 spring game. Travis Wilson, who started the final seven games at quarterback last season, threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns on an efficient 13-of-17 passing. Senior Karl Williams led the running backs with 108 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.

Whittingham attributed Utah’s offensive production to a better, and healthy, offensive line. “The offensive line has been night and day compared to last year,” Whittingham said. “The main reason is Dan Finn has done a great job coaching them, they’ve worked their tails off in the offseason, and we’ve been able to have some continuity in the spring without any injuries. We had 17 guys in spring camp without any days missed, and I can’t ever remember that being the case.”

On defense, true freshman linebacker Uaea Masina had a game-high seven tackles.

Washington
Though Washington’s offense was missing tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins because of a suspension, the Huskies’ defense under second year coordinator Justin Wilcox was the star of UW’s spring game. Defensive tackle Connor Cree had a pair of tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery while Josh “don’t call me” Shirley had a sack and a fumble recovery that went 60 yards the other direction.

“Of course spring games are a little vanilla. But that’s no excuse,” said quarterback Keith Price. “Quarterbacks should lead with pushing the pace. I thought we could have done a better job with that.” For what it’s worth, Price went 5-of-14 passing and a touchdown.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian has been implementing a faster, no-huddle offense this spring, but that wasn’t on display just yet.

“We’ve been faster than this,” Sarkisian said. “You are in a spring game and I want to give the fans something to see and a chance to see what fall camp will be about and the season will be about. But I am also aware of the fact we were on national television.

“We’re doing something a little bit new. You don’t want to give up all of your goodies. We want to save a few things for August 31st. That was a little bit of the challenge. And I think some of the (guys), especially the quarterbacks, got a little bit frustrated with the simplicity of the stuff we were running – and not all the stuff that we had been running for the last few weeks.”

“We’re going to be a scary offense,” Price said. “Especially when we get Austin back.”

The highlight of the day was seven-year-old Jordan Johnston, called on to the field from the stands, was asked to call a play for the Huskies offense: a toss sweep that went for eight yards.

Washington State
Suffice to say, the first year at Washington State under Mike Leach didn’t go as planned. Consistency is key if the Cougars want to improve in 2013, but the team still got off to a sluggish start in Saturday’s spring game.

“We didn’t get our work done the first half,” Leach said, “so we were going to play a full second half.”

Expected starter Connor Halliday led all quarterbacks with 406 yards and three touchdowns while Austin Apodaca went 27-of-45 for 279 yards and one touchdown. Three receivers went over 100 yards with Kristoff Williams leading with seven catches for 136 yards — including an 80-yard touchdown.

“If we’re going to be the team that we want to be next year, we’ve got to fight through those lulls at the middle of the scrimmage,” Halliday said afterward. “I think that’s kind of the biggest thing we’re fighting right now. We did get through that in the second half and moved the ball a little bit, so that was good.”

Report: USF’s Willie Taggart to be named Oregon’s new coach

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 28: South Florida head coach Willie Taggart celebrates with his team after a first quarter touchdown against the Navy Midshipmen at Raymond James Stadium on October 28, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images)
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It was reported over the weekend that Oregon could have its opening at head coach filling by Tuesday.  A day later than that timeline, it appears the Ducks are on the verge of doing just that.

According to a tweet from ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy, Willie Taggart of USF will be named as the next head football coach at Oregon.  No timeframe for an announcement was given.  FootballScoop.com subsequently confirmed the initial report.

The latter site added that Taggart was informed the job was his last night and that the coach wanted to let his Bulls players know today, presumably prior to an announcement being made.

Taggart was interviewed by UO athletic director Rob Mullens in Dallas last Thursday. Tony Dungy, whose son played his football for both the Ducks and Taggart at USF, has publicly stumped for the coach to be hired by the Pac-12 program.

In his fourth season with the Bulls, Taggart has seen his win total increase every year, going from two in his first season in 2013 to four to eight to a 10-win season this year that has another game to go. It’s unlikely Taggart sees this season through, however.

Taggart has also been the head coach at Western Kentucky. After a 2-10 start, he guided the Hilltoppers to a pair of seven-win seasons before leaving for the Bulls.

In addition to Taggart, Boise State’s Bryan Harsin also reportedly interviewed for the Ducks job. The program reportedly offered the position to Matt Rhule, who left Temple after he was named the head coach at Baylor Tuesday.

With Oregon apparently closed, there are no current Power Five jobs open, which seemingly means that P.J. Fleck will be staying at Western Michigan for at least another season. Counting USF, there are currently eight Group of Six jobs that will need to be filled — Cincinnati, FAU, Georgia State, Houston, Nevada, San Jose State, Temple

Jeff Tedford adds four to first Fresno State coaching staff

BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 02: Head coach Jeff Tedford of the California Golden Bears argues a call with head linesman James Wharrie during their game against the Washington Huskies at California Memorial Stadium on November 2, 2012 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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After nearly a month on the job, Jeff Tedford has made his first official hires at Fresno State.

Tuesday, Fresno announced that Tedford has added four assistant coaches to his first Bulldogs staff — Jamie Christian (running backs/special teams coordinator), Kirby Moore (wide receivers), Scott Thompson (tight ends) and J.D. Williams (defensive backs). Those four represent nearly one-half of what will be a nine-man coaching staff.

Just two of the four have been position coaches at the FBS level before — Christian and Williams.

The former spent the 2016 season as the running backs coach at UNLV, his second season with the Rebels. Christian has also spent time at FBS programs like Houston (2012-14, special teams coordinator/tight ends/inside receivers), Arizona State (2007-11, special teams coordinator/inside receivers) and Idaho (2006, special teams coordinator/running backs).

The latter was also an assistant at UNLV the past two seasons, serving as the corners coach as well. That was his second stint at UNLV, the first coming 2010-13. He’s also been a defensive backs coach at Utah (2009), Washington (2006-08) and Cal (2002-05).

Moore was an offensive grad assistant at Washington last year, his second year in the profession. Thomas was an offensive assistant at USC in 2016. Prior to that, he held football staff positions at USC (2010-15) and Tennessee (2009).

Christian, Thompson and Williams are all former Bulldogs football players. Williams also served as an assistant at his alma mater (2000-01).

Deshaun Watson wins Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 31:  Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after throwing a touchdown during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 31, 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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He probably won’t win the sport’s most important individual award, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson took home a nice consolation prize on Tuesday.

Watson was announced as the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback in college football. A three-year starter for the Tigers, Watson has completed 775-of-1,115 career passes for 9,489 yards with 86 touchdowns against 30 interceptions while also adding 1,829 yards and 23 scores on the ground.

Most importantly, he’s led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff. His 2nd-ranked Tigers will face No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.

Watson was named a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday for a season in which he’s thrown for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Recent winners of the Unitas award are Colt McCoyAndrew LuckMarcus Mariota and, in 2015, Connor Cook. Watson will accept the honor at a ceremony in Baltimore on Friday night before jetting up for the Heisman ceremony on Saturday.

Navy to don 1963 throwbacks vs. Army on Saturday

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 13:  Brendan Dudeck #81 of the Navy Midshipmen carries the American flag on the field before the start of their game against the Army Black Knights at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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On Monday, Army displayed the World War II-themed uniforms the Black Knights will wear against Navy on Saturday.

On Tuesday, it was Navy’s turn.

With President-elect Donald Trump in attendance, the Midshipmen will put their 14-game winning streak on the line by channeling one of the best Navy teams of all-time — the 1963 bunch.

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That 1963 team was led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach and finished the season ranked No. 2 in both polls, falling to No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

The ’63 game remains one of the most memorable in the 116-year history of the game, played on the insistence of Jacqueline Kennedy amid talk of canceling the contest following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

And, oh by the way, Navy won that fabled game, 21-15.