Gold Nuggets: Arizona's youth movement begins; Sun Devils settle on a starter
Welcome back for this week’s Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s weekly trip around the Pac-12.
Read below for news, notes and quotes from the third week of fall camp…
Arizona: Wildcats reportedly going with youngster at guard
Part of Jedd Fisch’s offseason makeover was infusing a less-than-imposing Arizona offense with some size and talent.
Six-foot-five, 326-pound incoming freshman Jonah Savaiinaea fits the bill, and as a result, he is slated to become Arizona’s first true freshman to start at guard in nearly two decades, according to Arizona Desert Swarm’s Brian Pederson.
That speaks volumes on two fronts.
Offensive linemen usually have a steep curve in the transition to college, so it says something that Fisch is putting trust in him this early. Secondly, it reflects well on Fisch’s recruiting that he can make promises to let young players compete, and that he’ll deliver on those promises.
Arizona State: Emory Jones gains praise from teammates
It’s one thing for a head coach to rain praise on a quarterback, but the real test comes from a player’s teammates, and on that front, Emory Jones’ ears must be burning.
“He adjusted really quick too. He was dialing the defense up and we had a few touchdown passes. He’s caught on to the offense pretty quick which is good,” wide receiver Chad Johnson told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “From Day 1. I didn’t see any nervousness. He just knows what he has to do and he’s so calm and collected.”
With the starting position firmly in Jones’ hands after Herm Edwards announced on Thursday that the Florida transfer had won the gig over Alabama transfer Paul Tyson.
Jones finished his Florida career 279-for-432 passing (64.6%) for 3,347 yards and 26 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, finally earning the starting gig upon the graduation of Kyle Trask. But he was only average at best at times last year, when he had 19 touchdowns (10 of which came against Samford and Vanderbilt) and 13 interceptions.
He has quickly found a home in Tempe after arriving via transfer in May.
“I just like the way he goes about things,” offensive lineman LaDarius Henderson said about Jones. “He’s a professional person, so I think he’s had a really good impression on all of us on the offense.”
Cal: Voice of “The Play” to hang up the mic
It was a call that lives in infamy, maybe the single biggest moment in Pac-12 history.
And for it, Joe Starkey will be remembered by Cal fans forever.
“Harmon will probably try to squib it and he does,” Starkey said at the end of the 1982 edition of the Big Game between Stanford, and it’s legendary quarterback John Elway, and the Cal Bears. “Ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds. Rodgers, along the sideline, another one – they’re still in deep trouble at midfield, they tried to do a couple of – the ball is still loose, as they get it to Rodgers! They get it back now to the 30, they’re down to the 20 – Oh, the band is out on the field! He’s gonna go into the end zone! He got into the end zone!”
“And the Bears! The Bears have won! The Bears have won! Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!”
To be sure, the call is legendary. But it does not define Starkey’s memorable career, which he announced would end at the end of this football season.
Starkey also served a 22-year stint on the San Francisco 49ers’ radio broadcast team (1987-2008), including 20 decades as play-by-play voice. He was the first television voice of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, while also broadcasting with the Oakland Seals, Colorado Rockies, Golden State Warriors and Pittsburgh Penguins, and for 25 years, Starkey served as sports director at the Bay Area’s KGO 810 Radio. He had numerous other gigs in his hallowed career.
“What an incredible career Joe Starkey has had over such a long period of time,” Cal football head coach Justin Wilcox said. “Joe’s name is synonymous with the history of our football program. It’s going to be a thrill to see him honored and recognized by so many who have enjoyed his work over the years.”
Colorado: Buffs tough September schedule ranks among country’s hardest
If any Pac-12 deserved – heck, if any Pac-12 needed – a cupcake September schedule, it’s Colorado. Coming off a 4-8 season that included a 3-6 league campaign, the Buffaloes need all the help they can get.
Unfortunately, a fearsome first four weeks awaits Colorado and head coach Kark Dorrell. On3 Sports ranked the Buffs’ September-to-forget as the sixth-hardest opening month on the schedule.
How bad is it? Put it this way: the Buffaloes are literally the only team in the country playing 11 games against Power 5 opponents. The one non-Power 5 on its schedule? Air Force, which won 10 games last season. Colorado also takes on a solid Minnesota offense as well as the always-tough TCU Horned Frogs.
Oregon: New offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham trying to push the pace
The Oregon offense has long been known for its flash and speed, but in recent years, as the Ducks have moved further and further away from the styles of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, Oregon has lost some of its creativity and speed.
New offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham is trying to make the Ducks fly once more, though he’s having mixed results in training camp.
“We’re not playing at a very fast pace right now,” Kenny Dillingham told reporters as the Ducks prepared for a second fall scrimmage. “It’s not really who we are, but we got to play a little bit faster. I’d like to see us take care of the football more with the ball in our hands. I think we’re a little too loose with the ball. I want to see ball security and I want to see us play with a little better tempo.”
Oregon State: After defense pitches shutout, Beaver offense responds in second scrimmage
Last week, Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith had to have mixed feelings. The Beavers are counting on a veteran defense to take a step forward this season. But after shutting out the OSU offense last weekend in a scrimmage. Smith had to have some questions about his offense.
“We gave them almost 100 plays,” OSU coach Jonathan Smith said last week. “Now, we didn’t give them great field position throughout. But I mean, that’s a credit to the defense.”
On Saturday, Oregon State returned to the scrimmage setting and, the Oregonian’s Nick Daschel reported, Smith deemed this week’s practice a 50-50 result. Progress for the offense, no?
“I was pleased with a lot of it being back and forth from both sides,” Smith said. “I thought it was really good. There was energy, a few good plays on each side, a couple turnovers, some fourth down stops.”
Stanford: Tight end commit Walker Lyons lost for the season with a broken leg
Back in late-July, Walker Lyons’ commitment was heralded as he committed to Stanford over a group that included Utah and BYU, USC, Alabama, and Ohio State, among others.
But his season ended in horrific fashion, as the 4-star tight end suffered a broken leg on the second drive of Folsom High’s season-opener against Monterey Trail. Stanford’s highest-rated recruit, Lyons was slated to graduate early in December and embark on a two-year LDS mission. Those plans now might change.
UCLA: Ken Norton Jr. finds a new home at his old home
As part of the Bruins’ tempestuous offseason, which saw UCLA introduce five new assistant coaches and promote a sixth, the Bruins brought back one impactful former face. Former long-time NFL linebacker and USC linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. returns to Westwood, where he starred from 1984-87 for the Bruins.
“I’ve had nothing but great memories at UCLA and everyone where I’ve gone on my journey, UCLA has always been in my heart,” said Norton, son of legendary boxer Ken Norton. “The things I’ve learned here — the friendships, the great coaches — so much good has happened for me that has allowed me to go off into the world to do some things.”
Norton talked about his comfort level recruiting players to a place with which he is so familiar.
“As an alum, you have a certain personal connection to the school,” Norton said. “You know what it feels like, what it’s supposed to be like. You have a personal touch. You’ve walked Bruin Walk and sat in the classrooms. … You’re speaking from experience, as opposed to what it should be like.”
UCLA will need to lean on Norton’s recruiting acumen to get back into the Rose Bowl picture. Reminded that he was on the last UCLA team to win the Granddaddy of Them All, Norton was shocked.
“That seems pretty crazy, knowing how many great athletes and great coaches have been here,” Norton said. “It just shows you how tough it is. It’s not easy. We’re about due. We’re about due to make some new memories in the Rose Bowl.”
USC: Linebacker Eric Gentry drawing rave reviews from Trojans
Seemingly overlooked among an influx of offensive skill position talent that transferred in during USC’s offseason bonanza, maybe the
Trojans’ most important defensive acquisition is raising expectations.
Eric Gentry delivers a double blow for the Trojans. He arrives via Arizona State, where he was a consensus freshman All-American for the Sun Devils last season.
Now he’s settling in with USC, which needed an infusion of defensive talent.
“I’m very impressed with Eric,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “You could tell he’s played football at our level. The difference between a freshman and sophomore…there is no greater difference. And then sometimes we will minimize that as coaches and expect these high-level high school guys to come in here and beat grown men. There’s a huge difference between 18 and 19. So you see that and I give him a lot of credit. He didn’t have the spring with us. Summer is good. We can do some things and max out the time that way but coming out here and picking up as well as he has in a short period of time has been a real bright spot for us.”
Utah: Can Utes overcome heat and a sold-out Swamp?
The prohibitive Pac-12 favorite Utah Utes have one of the least-enviable season-opening matchups when they head southeast to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators at the Swamp in what is expected to be sticky heat.
Even worse for the Utes, if you believe in these sorts of things: Florida announced a sell-out on Saturday morning, giving Utah a truly tough opening test.
While Florida enters the game unranked after a poor (for their standards) 2021 campaign, the Utes are comfortably in the top 10 to start the season. With a loss, however, Utah can say goodbye to its high perch.
Washington: Unsung Giles Jackson drawing praise — and the defense’s attention
There was some worry about Washington’s wide receiver corps heading into the season, with Terrell Bynum joining the USC Trojans during the offseason. His absence leaves three underclassmen — sophomore Jalen McMillan, sophomore Rome Odunze, and redshirt freshman Ja’Lynn Polk — leading the way.
But on a unit that features two other underclassmen — sophomore Taj Davis and redshirt freshman Lonyatta Alexander Jr. — it is the lone upperclassman who is getting the pub.
Michigan transfer Giles Jackson has played his way into a major role in the passing game, and he’s got a big fan in offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, The Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel reports.
“Giles has been awesome, man,” Grubb told reporters. “The one thing about Giles, he’s won most explosive, ball-dominant guy (position competition) multiple times in camp already. But he’s (also) the guy in the receiver room where I feel I could call a play and have the wrong people out there, and Giles would get it right. He’d get people lined up. That’s the most impressive thing. He’s a super dialed kid.”
Washington State: Cougars getting healthy up front
Washington State opened training camp on thin ice with the losses of Ma’ake Fifita and Brock Dieu on the offensive line. Already thin up front, these injuries could have proven disastrous for the Cougars.
But both are on the mend, reported CougFan.com’s Jamey Vinnick, instantly bolstering the Cougars’ biggest question mark. Fifita figures to reinsert quickly into the starting lineup at right tackle, while Dieu is competing for a starting guard role.