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.”

Oregon St. assistant Brent Brennan hired as head coach at San Jose St.

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After a few years away, Brent Brennan is coming back to one of his college coaching homes.

San Jose State announced Wednesday afternoon that the 43-year-old Brennan has been hired as the program’s new head football coach.  Brennan will replace Ron Caragher, who was dismissed late last month after four seasons with the Spartans.

From 2005-2010, Brennan was an assistant at SJSU under both Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre.

“We want to recruit high-character young men that are tough and love to play football and also take their academics seriously,” Brennan said. “We’re going to help them grow from young men into men and put a product on the field that anybody who has a connection with Spartan football can be proud of.”

In between stints at SJSU, Brennan spent the 2011-16 seasons at Oregon State.  He coached wide receivers in each of his seasons with the Beavers.

This will be Brennan’s first head-coaching job at any level.

“We are thrilled to have Brent back at San José State. He is an exceptional football coach and one of the most respected recruiters in the country. His coaching background and ties to San José State make Brent a perfect fit,’ athletic director Gene Bleymaier said.

The Spartans went 4-8 in Caragher’s last season.

Oregon makes hiring of Willie Taggart official

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Head coach Willie Taggart of the South Florida Bulls during a 3rd quarter timeout against the Florida State Seminoles at Raymond James Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images)
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And now it’s officially official.

Wednesday morning, myriad reports surfaced that Oregon was set to name Willie Taggart as its next head coach.  A few hour later, the Ducks confirmed that they have plucked Taggart from USF to replace the dismissed Mark Helfrich.

Taggart, who will be introduced at a press conference Thursday, will be the first of the 33 head coaches at UO to be African-American.

“We are thrilled to welcome Willie, his wife, Taneshia, their sons, Willie Jr. and Jackson, and their daughter, Morgan,” UO athletic director Rob Mullens said in a statement. “Willie places an emphasis on ensuring a positive student-athlete experience and on winning, and his previous stops have proven his success at both. We have a very bright future under his leadership.”

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. Taggart won’t this season through, however, as USF announced that co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist has been named as the Bulls’ interim head coach and will guide the team through their preparation for the Birmingham Bowl matchup with South Carolina.

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.

The 40-year-old assistant also comes to Eugene with experience in the Pac-12, serving as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh at North rival Stanford from 2007-09.

“I am grateful for the trust that President Schill and Rob Mullens have put in me to be the next head coach of the Oregon football program, and I thank them for the opportunity,” Taggart said. “Oregon has a strong national presence and a proud recent history of playing among the nation’s elite, and I look forward to the challenge of upholding the excellence. I can’t wait to get started.”

Taggart will be taking over a program that went from winning 13 games and appearing in the first-ever College Football Championship game following the 2014 season to nine wins in 2015 before bottoming out out with a 4-9 campaign in Helfrich’s third and final year at the helm.

LSU DC Dave Aranda becomes highest-paid assistant ever

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When it was revealed that Dave Aranda would likely remain at LSU when Ed Orgeron was named the permanent head coach, it was thought the defensive coordinator could become the highest-paid assistant in college football.  Wednesday, that became a reality.

LSU announced earlier today that Aranda has signed a new three-year contract that runs through March of 2020 and includes the additional title of associate head coach.  The deal will also be worth  total of $5.5 million — $1.8 million in 2017, with bumps to $1.85 million and $1.9 million the last two years of the deal.

“My family loves Baton Rouge. We are excited to build on what we’ve started. LSU is a special place,” Aranda said in a statement. “Our outstanding student-athletes, the passion of our fans, the first class facilities and the commitment to excellence from the administration makes LSU one of the premier programs in college football and I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

The deal still needs the approval of LSU’s Board of Supervisors, although that’s expected to be a mere formality.

The $1.8 million will, at least at the moment, make Aranda the highest-paid assistant coach in the history of college football, trumping the $1,6 million Will Muschamp pulled in as the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2015.  The highest-paid assistants in 2016 were Texas A&M DC John Chavis ($1.56 million), Clemson DC and Broyles Award winner Brent Venables ($1.43 million) and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin ($1.4 million).  Aranda was fourth at $1.315 million per the USA Today salary database.

At the end of the regular season, Aranda’s Tiger defense was sixth nationally in scoring (16.4 points per game) and 13th in total defense (323.0 yards per game).  The former was second in the SEC behind Alabama, the latter third behind ‘Bama and Florida in the conference.

The leader of the Tide defense, Jeremy Pruitt, was 12th in the country in pay at $1 million and will likely be in line for a raise at season’s end.

Michigan’s Jake Butt named Mackey Award TE of the Year

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26:   Jake Butt #88 of the Michigan Wolverines is tackled by Marshon Lattimore #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes after catching a pass during the first half of their game at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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For the second time today, a Michigan Wolverine has taken home a major college football award.

This morning, the Paul Hornung Award announced Jabrill Peppers as its 2016 winner.  Not long after, the John Mackey Award named Peppers’ teammate Jake Butt as the 2016 recipient of its award, handed out annually to the nation’s top tight end.

Butt was a semifinalist for the 2015 award won by Arkansas’ Hunter Henry.  He’s the first Michigan player to win the Mackey.

“It’s a great honor first and foremost, especially for this team,” a statement from Butt began. “One thing Coach [Jim] Harbaugh says, ‘A rising tide raises all ships.’ So it’s great to win this award. I want to thank the guys in this group; this is our award, really it’s not a one-man award. I really thank everyone on this team, this coaching staff, my position coach Jay Harbaugh, my family and everyone that’s helped me achieve this great award. I’m really appreciative of that.”

Butt’s 3.6 receptions per game tied for 10th amongst tight ends.  he was one of three finalists for the award, and was joined by Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Clemson’s Jordan Leggett.