Oregon Ducks: T.J. McDonald

Pac-12 superlative tracker

October, 3, 2012
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We're tracking the offensive, defensive and coach-of-the-year races in the Pac-12.

For a more thorough look at offense, re-read our Heisman Trophy update.

Offensive player of the year

1. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon: Thomas scored a touchdown against Washington State but it was a relatively quiet game for him. For the season, he's rushed for 302 yards (9.7 yards per carry) with five touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 193 yards and three TDs.

2. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA: He ranks fourth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 with 139.4 yards rushing per game. He rushed for 111 yards on 15 carries in the blowout victory over Colorado. He also caught three passes for 48 yards.

3. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Barner rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Washington State. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry and ran for scores of 22, 10 and 80 yards. He's second in the Pac-12 in rushing with 121 yards per game and his nine rushing touchdowns leads the conference.

4. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Kelly is first in the Pac-12 and 16th in the nation in passing efficiency. The Sun Devils are second in the Pac-12 with 38.4 points per game. Kelly threw three TD passes in the win at California and now has nine for the season.

5. Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Barkley was off last week. His 12 TD passes still leads the conference, but he's fifth in the conference in passing efficiency.

Keep an eye on: UCLA QB Brett Hundley; USC WR Marqise Lee; Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton. Arizona QB Matt Scott; Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor.

Defensive player of the year

1. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: Won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording a career-high eight tackles (six solo), including three sacks, and forced a fumble in a 27-12 victory over California. He's second on the Sun Devils with 34 tackles, including 10 for a loss. Also has 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two pass breakups.

2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Off last week. Fourth on the Utes with 19 tackles. Also has four tackles for a loss, a sack, two pass defenses and two forced fumbles.

3. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: Had a sack and four tackles against Washington. He's third on the Cardinal with 23 tackles. He also has five tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks.

4. Morgan Breslin, DE, USC: Leads the conference with 2.38 tackles for a loss per game and has five sacks.

Keep an eye on: T.J. McDonald, S, USC; Travis Long, OLB, Washington State; Chris Young, LB, Arizona State; Datone Jones, DE, UCLA; Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA.

Coach of the year

1. Mike Riley, Oregon State: The Beavers, who went 3-9 last year, are now 3-0 and ranked 14th. 'Nuff said.

2. Chip Kelly, Oregon: Ducks are atop the Pac-12 and ranked No. 2. If they ended up winning a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title and earn another berth in the national title game, Kelly wins.

3. Todd Graham, Arizona State: While the Sun Devils are lacking a marquee win, they've been impressive during a 4-1 start. Of particular note is their discipline and efficiency on both sides of the ball. That wasn't what you said about the Sun Devils in the past, even during the good times.

Keep an eye on: Jim Mora, UCLA; Steve Sarkisian, Washington

Pac-12 teams getting defensive

August, 22, 2012
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T.J. McDonald, Star Lotulelei, Shayne SkovUS PresswireThe Pac-12 boasts some of the best defensive talent in the country: USC safety T.J. McDonald, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.
In the depths of their offices, some of the best offensive minds in college football are grinding.

Chip Kelly is pondering how to get 10 more plays per game out of his offense.

Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach are re-re-revolutionizing their attacks.

David Shaw is trying to figure out how to get nine offensive linemen, five tight ends and three fullbacks on the field at once.

Lane Kiffin has more offensive toys than an FAO Schwarz display.

"Option, option spread, I, heavy-I, pistol, triple-backs, full house, triple tights; it's something new every week," said Oregon linebacker Michael Clay. "It makes every week pretty interesting."

The Pac-12 is widely regarded as the conference of offenses. And they are only getting better. Prior to 1990, only twice has a team led the conference with a scoring average of more than 40 points. Since 1990, it's happened nine times -- including USC's conference best of 49.1 points per game in 2005.

That means being a defensive player in the Pac-12 is awfully difficult.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKyle Whittingham says his defense must be able to adapt to the different offenses in the Pac-12.
"You get Andrew Luck one week and then Matt Barkley the next," said USC safety T.J. McDonald. "The preparation is on a whole other level compared to other conferences. There are great quarterbacks and great receivers and running backs. But the culture of this conference has changed. They've forced defenses to get better."

As the spread offense became chic and more teams were stretching defenses, they were forced to respond in kind. Gone are the days of everyone lining up in a base 4-3 and slugging it out. Now defenses are evolving into multiple fronts, exotic and disguised coverages and zone blitzes.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham should know. He and UCLA coach Jim Mora are the only head coaches in the conference with a defensive background.

"We're definitely the minority," Whittingham said with a laugh. "It's a broad spectrum. Defensively, in this day and age, you have to be able to defend it all anyways. When the spread became en vogue 10-12 years ago it caught on like wildfire. Now almost everyone has a version of it. You have to be equipped to deal with whatever you come across week in and week out and have a scheme that is flexible enough and adaptable enough that you can cover all of your bases.

"Things go in cycles. The spread becomes en vogue and takes a while for the defense to catch up. Then the zone blitz was giving offenses fits and the offenses had to catch up to that. I think everything in football is cyclical and if offense has the upper hand right now, it won't be too further down the road where that role is reversed."

And that time might be coming sooner than later. Utah, California, USC, Oregon and Stanford all have defenses that are very good and bordering on elite. But the numbers don't always add up because in this conference, you are going to give up yards and you are going to give up points.

"Part of it is innovation," Shaw said. "Part of it is Chip Kelly and Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez. The thing is, you can use the word 'spread' offense for half the teams in our conference, but they are all different. You can say 'pro-style' offense, which is what you would say about us and USC, but they are so different. The hard part of playing defense in our conference is every single week, you are playing against something you didn't see the week before.

"Cal has a pro-style offense. But their passing is different than our pass game and their running is different than our running game. And theirs is different from USC's. You are going to play a nine-game conference schedule and every single offense you play is going to be completely different. Defensive coordinators -- and we've got a really good group in this conference -- defensive coordinators and players have to flush a lot of what you watched the week before and study film hard the next week because you're going to see a different animal."

The conference also has the players to back up the defensive hype. Stanford linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov are projected as two of the best at their positions. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is regarded as the best defensive tackle in the nation and McDonald is a returning All-American.

And while perception might never really change nationally since the conference keeps chugging out A-list offensive players, Washington quarterback Keith Price says he's seen the difference.

"The difference between us and some of those other conferences is the defensive linemen," Price said. "We've always had good skill players. They say the trenches is what separates the SEC from the other conferences. But you can see now that our conference is starting to get there. When you look at teams like Cal and Utah, their defensive lines are really tough."

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