UW coach Chris Petersen addressed the media for his third Monday press conference of the regular season as the team prepares to host Fresno State on Saturday:
“New week, good to watch the tape. Guys played well. Good to get a lot of the young guys in and watch them improve. On to the Fresno State Bulldogs. Excited for the next challenge.”
What showed up well for UW on the Montana tape?
“Just a lot of guys played well. That’s really what it was. It was clean in all three phases. If you check the critical stats we were able to run the ball. They didn’t have a lot of explosives. We got our turnovers and pressured the quarterback. On offense it was pretty effective except for the one turnover that obviously was a big one that hurt us, that gave them points. Special teams - you don’t have to talk about Dante’s punt return but some other stuff - there was some good learning opportunities on both kickoff return and kickoff. Our field goal protection was soft, obviously. That’s why it got blocked. So we’ll get all those things cleaned up and hopefully continue to progress.”
On if Montana showed you anything that caught you off-guard in the way Rutgers did early?
“The thing about Rutgers, they didn’t do anything that caught us off guard other than they slowed the game way down. The other thing that caught us off guard was we didn’t execute on offense. So you have the combination of the two and then you have 22 plays in the first half and you’re not really in rhythm - that catches you off-guard. We need the ball, we need to get some things going. That was probably the biggest thing in that game, to just stay on the field and get into a rhythm.
“Every team has some wrinkles that you haven’t seen, certainly early in the season. As you go on there’s so much tape you can’t defend it all. You’re always going to see things you haven’t totally prepared for. That’s where you’ve got to play assignment-sound football on both sides of the ball.
“There was a couple things we knew that we didn’t quite know about but the guys reacted good, recovered and made plays.”
On what you liked seeing on film from the punt return unit that helped spring Pettis’s returns?
“Just guys playing hard. That’s what it comes down to - winning your one-on-one battles. Football comes down to that, winning your one-on-one battles. Special teams it shows up more than anywhere on the field because you just spread the field out. Football in space. That’s what you see from a lot of offenses, spread offenses - they are trying to create more space. Well, that’s what special teams is. You just find the one-on-one matchups and Byron Murphy does a great job on his gunner to slow him down so Dante can get space. He keeps on playing and then ends up springing him at the 10-yard line to get him to the end zone. Those things are awesome to watch. Jordan Miller does a great job too of really handling his gunner. There’s no harder jobs than trying to slow down those fast guys with all that space. If they can do that and give Dante a chance to get started, he’s usually going to do something pretty good.”
Pettis only needs one more return to tie the all-time NCAA mark. You coach that position personally…
“Here you go with expectations, records, trying to do all that stuff.”
Where has Pettis improved on in the return game?
“I’m much more into the subtle nuances of him catching balls that are tough to catch. There might even be a fair catch backed up into the red zone area…other than Dante’s touchdown I wasn’t too happy with what was going on back there. I thought we let the ball hit the ground way too much. We’ve got work to do, including him. He could have got one that shouldn’t have hit the ground. The other two guys, I don’t know what they were doing at all, but if they do that they’re not going to get many more opportunities. We’ve got work to do and it’s all those subtle things. Everybody likes all the flash plays, and that’s great. They are game-changing plays, but there’s a lot of subtleties in the hidden game of special teams that creates yardage that you can see even watching other teams. I was watching some of those later-night games and watching some special teams stuff, and a lot of it is on the punt returner. People don’t pay attention to it. We’ve got work to do.”
What did you see from the second-string offensive line, helping Salvon Ahmed and Sean McGrew get their first career touchdowns?
“There was some stuff. It’s hard when you full-sale change. Those guys aren’t used to working together and really getting those type of reps but it was good to see. There was some good stuff working together. Obviously had a couple things where it was some hits in the backfield, but not quite as much than that first time when they all went in there. So it was good. Sometimes you kind of look at individual performances in those lines and see some things, and Luke Wattenberg getting going and Henry Roberts and some of those guys, it’s really good to see that. We’ll keep growing those guys.”
On linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven leading the team in tackles for the second week in a row and his improvement from last year?
“He’s always been a pretty active player. Our linebackers are all kind of uniquely different. Some of the guys take on blocks. All linebackers have to take on blocks sooner or later but some guys are curve-ball hitters where they can run around. They are really athletic and they can run around blocks just as easy as they can take blocks on. Ben’s one of those guys that’s really athletic and really fast and I think he has really good instincts at that position. He’s a hard guy to block, especially for those linemen, in space. The game of football is going sideline to sideline and that’s kind of Ben’s game as well. He can run those things down. I think he just kind of understands the defense and probably seen a lot of things over the last two years where he can now attack things more than react to things. He’s played really good for the last two games.”
Is Jake Browning’s ability to throw on the run and scramble something you’ve seen grow in his game?
“I think he does that pretty well. I think some of the things that we’re kind of looking at with him is I think he can hang in there a little bit more before he takes off and needs to, there were a couple times there. It’s that fine line because he actually does have confidence in his running abilities and scrambling and our receivers working with him. He does make plays there. It’s that fine line between hanging in there and is everything covered up and now I need to do something, so we’re still working on that.”
Having Ben Burr-Kirven play as much as he has the first two games, does that free up Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria to do some other things?
“I wouldn’t say that. I think everybody has their job and their responsibility. When one guy isn’t doing there thing, getting freed up to freelance or something, it’s going to come back to get you. Sometimes you can see guys making some splash plays that run through and take chances and those are awesome to see, but sometimes that can get you on the back end, where you’re taking a chance where you shouldn’t take a chance and you need to really do your job. But I go back to saying the same type of thing where you need to play the game of football. You can’t be a robot out there. You do have to take chances and you do have to make plays. That’s the uniqueness and the fine line of guys that - when to take those chances and when to just do exactly what you’re coached to do.”
How much trust do you put in experienced players to make that judgment?
“I think that’s hopefully the beauty of having experienced players. They’ve been there enough to make really good split-second fast decisions. That’s where the experience comes in, where a young guy might take that chance, make a play, and think he can get away with it all the time where an older guy will say ‘I got that one, but I have to understand I can’t do that every time or I’m going to get caught on that.”
Did you notice how much faster the game was with the shorter halftime?
“I did not notice that. It was a fast game, I guess. It was under three hours and it still seemed kind of long to me. It’s just the TV timeouts. They have a TV timeout and you kick off and they say ‘okay, we’re going to take another one here’ and it’s like a long wait. Those are the things that are really, really painful. Halftime seemed great. We went in, made our adjustment, you know, had our conversations, went right back on the field. I think that’s not a problem at all. I think the only time it an maybe be a problem is if a team has to go a little further to a locker room, if it’s not right in a stadium. There might be a couple places that take three, four minutes to get there, might be a little bit tight. But when they’re right here on the fields it’s pretty good.”
Do you need to worry about Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford knowing your secrets after working with him last year?
“You know, he’s got Kirby Moore down there too. Kirby probably knows more than him about our operations. Those are some things we pay attention to for sure. You watch their offense, it’s very, very similar. A lot of things look a lot alike. That’s one of the reasons that we liked him here. We believe in the same thing fundamentally and philosophically on offense. That’s why it was a nice fit to have him here.”
What did Jeff Tedford add last year?
“Just a lot of wisdom. He’s seen a lot of things. He’s been familiar with how we do things. Just all the history that we have from way back when. It’s just not as easy to bring somebody from the outside that’s not familiar with you at all. Whether it’s a brand new coach at all, you’d be just surprised how long it takes to get guys on the same page, believing, knowing why things work. From all the history in the past that we have with him, it was pretty easy.”
Have you filled the role Jeff Tedford had?
“No. Not another - not what he did.”
Do you want to fill that role eventually?
“It would have to be a unique situation. Like I said, there are a lot of good plays out there. We have a lot of plays. We’re not looking for more plays. We’re looking for thing that fit us and compliment what we do and I know it seems easier said than done, but really when you’re, everybody has their unique style and is used to a no-huddle go fast or used to a shift in motion. There’s some really philosophically dramatic differences in how guys do things and you can really just be wasting a lot of time talking about stuff you’re not going to do.”
Is filling this role something you want to be proactive on or do you just have to wait for the right fit and the right time?
“It’s always the right fit to me in everything we do around here, whether we’re recruiting kids, recruiting staff members, recruiting coaches. It’s always about the right fit. The consultant thing, they’re not going to be with you very long, a year or two. And if they’re not familiar, it takes a flat out entire year to even figure out what guys are doing. Never say never. We’re always eyes wide open, but it’s not as easy in my opinion what we would be looking for.”
On Fresno State going from playing Incarnate Word to Alabama — as someone who cares about college football, is that a good idea?
“These are tough questions. I just don’t have any influence in those areas, so I haven’t spent a bunch of time thinking about it. We’ve talked about scheduling a lot; we’ve talked about how … those games are important to the FCS schools to pay bills and those types of things. But I do think it’s something (that) everybody needs to be on the same page about. And, like I’ve said, I do think that’s one of the frustrations about college football, in my opinion right now — nobody can get on the same page about almost anything. I look at the NFL and admire that situation where they’ve got 32 teams and they’re all on the same page. And we have 120-some teams, plus all different levels of teams, and we’re making rules for us and their rules, they want different things. It is complicated.”
Are you concerned about player safety when you get such diverse level of talent week to week like that?
“I haven’t gone that far as far as player safety — I don’t really see that. But I think everybody likes competitive football. I pay attention to some of the high schools and there are certain leagues where things are really nice and really competitive. And then there’s 4A and 3A — well, there’s some 3A teams that should be playing these bigger, better teams. You just want competitive balance. I think everybody’s into that. You just don’t want the lopsided (result) — coaches, fans, everybody wants to have competitive football games.”
Folks in Prosser probably knew Kellen Moore had some natural coaching ability. Can you shed some light on Kirby Moore and what coach he could be?
“It’s a special family. I think Kirby, he’s a lot like his brother. Both of those guys are soft-spoken guys. They’re really smart, really into football. Kirby did a great job around here obviously (as a GA the past two years). Jeff Tedford saw him work with us for the year and that’s why he took him with him — he’s just a smart, efficient worker. You ask him to do something and it is done better than you thought it would be. Growing up from the time those guys could walk they were at football practice forever, and I think all that matters. If you develop a passion for it, which they both have, you can kind of see young guys do some good things.”
What is Drew Sample’s status?
“We’re still evaluating him. Still figuring out what his situation is going to be. So we’ll get him in here today — today’s their day off so I haven’t seen him yet.”
Do you anticipate more adjustments with how teams will, or won’t, punt to Pettis?
“I think it’s hard not to kick to a (returner). Are you just going to kick it out of bounds? That’s hard to do and still get some distance. You get a punter that can get some hang time, that really helps some things. That’s what guys are going to work on — get the ball up in the air and cover. I think everybody’s trying to move the ball around from all returners, and then it just comes down to execution.”
Have you and Tedford had any recent conversations — just catching up or even about Alabama?
“Not that at all. We didn’t have one conversation about (Alabama). We had a conversation a month ago — he was worried about the police escort getting over here (to Husky Stadium on Saturday) because he doesn’t really have one because the Seahawks sand the Dawgs have ‘em. So we had a conversation about that (laughs) if that counts. We haven’t really had much conversation. … I didn’t even know we were playing those guys until he got the job and everybody said, ‘Take his playbook.’ I was chuckling until someone told me we actually played ‘em and I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’d better get his playbook.’ But by then it was probably too late.”
You mentioned watching late-night games Saturday — any thoughts on WSU-Boise State finish?
“Good football game. I didn’t see it all. Saw a lot. But I knew it would be a competitive game back and forth. Those are both really competitive programs. I thought that was an interesting game. Credit to both of those guys battling. Coming back like that, and both guys ended up with their backup quarterbacks. It was a unique, impressive (game). I still haven’t had a chance to study the tape, but those are the competitive games everybody likes to watch.”
On Will Dissly’s big game vs. Montana?
“Everybody notices catching passes and those types of things. But like I’ve said before, our tight ends are sort of unsung heroes around here because they do so much for us around the line of scrimmage. Even in the pass game, maybe they don’t get the ball, but with our shifts and our motions and those types of things. Drew and Will kind of work off each other — they play different positions. So for Drew to go down and Will to step up and not miss a beat, he can do it all. There’s a lot on his plate, a lot on those tight ends’ plates to be able to do that. It’s just not as easy as plug a guy in. That position is as complicated to us as our quarterback position or anything else that’s going on.”
You pleased with the run game?
“Yeah, it was good last game. That always takes a minute to get that thing going. That’s a rhythm part of football and you have to run the ball a bunch to get into a rhythm. Fresno will present some challenges. They move their guys all over the place. They’re not going to stay in one spot and let us have a size advantage — they’re going to slant and twist and all that, and that’s always challenging. So we’ll have a challenge in the run game this week for sure.”
Were you always planning to get Jacob Kizer some time against Montana?
“Yes, this game it was. We were looking at that. And like we’ve said, those tight ends are valuable to us. It’s a really physical position. To me, it was a matter of time where (we played him). I do think that’s a position you’d love those true tight ends. We see Jacob as a little bit more of a true tight end. You would love to be able to redshirt those guys, because they is so much underplayed knowledge-wise, and weightroom-wise and all of that. But he did come in mid-year, so that really helped things. But before going into the game, we were planning on playing him anyways.”
Do you see Salvon Ahmed as a gadget-play threat, or could he run between the tackles?
“Yeah, I think he can do it all. It’s on us as coaches to try and figure out ways to get him the ball. That is one of the good problems that we have now on offense right now is that we have some guys that are good with the ball in their hands – the running backs, a couple of wide receivers. Chico is a little bit like him, so we have to find creative ways to get our playmakers the ball and get them used to college football – the speed of the game, the hitting of the game and all of those things. I thought it was good that he got his feet wet real nice this game. So it is nice to keep progressing that.”
Any film-review chuckles over Trey Adams’ run?
“He actually looked a little better on the tape, you know, then I remembered it. It was pretty good. He was really proud, though. He put it on Jonathan Smith for calling the play too far away from the end zone. We hadn’t practiced it that far. The endurance factor set in when we got outside of 20 yards. It probably wasn’t fair to him. It went pretty good.”
Are you OK with Jake Browning’s long scrambles in a game you are well ahead in?
“I don’t think you can play the game like that. I think when you are playing, the score is always 0-0 in terms of the players’ mind. You have to go play how you think. Now I would say this, I think when our quarterbacks run, we do want them to get what they can get, then get out of bounds or go down. I mean, the name of the game is to not get that guy hit. If he is going to take off, we want him to be really smart. Reps are all the same. If you are in, you are playing full speed, but play smart football.”
Is Hunter Bryant ready for more on his plate?
“I mean, we are trying to expand all of these young guys’ roles. It’s just easier said than done. I mean, there really is a lot at that tight end position. You see him out at wide receiver, and now he is at the line of scrimmage, and there is five different looks in him blocking something. It is slow, steady progress, which is what we hope with all of those guys.”
You praise your linebackers’ versatility, but do you see the same thing with the tight ends as well?
“Absolutely. We always think that way with the tight ends. We’d love that 6-foot-5, 250, 255 pound guy that can run like a receiver. Those guys are just hard to find. And so what we do is kind of mix and match them, play to their strengths and use a lot of guys at that position.”
What is it like watching the young guys, particularly the new defensive backs?
“Well, it is really important. If we are going to play these young guys, these freshmen, we are planning on those guys being factors soon than later. It is good to get them in, and get them significant reps. The reason we are playing them is we think we are going to need them, and it may not appear like right now – today – we have to have them, but we know how this goes. We will have to have those guys. Even getting them on some special teams where no one really pays attention, we got them on that, and there were some really good plays those guys made. So it was good – this was a good game to take the next step with a lot of those guys in terms of the amount of reps that they got.”
Do you want these guys to develop that football-serious mindset on special teams first?
“We tell these guys it’s for real – we only play our best players. And it doesn’t matter if it is offense, defense or special teams – we’re not putting you out there unless we think you can be the best player at the L-4 on the kickoff team. You see Keishawn (Bierria) out there. You see Azeem (Victor) out there. You see Jojo McIntosh out there. These guys take pride. They want on those teams. That is what the good teams do, they play their best players. Now, if one of our young guys has a limited role and he can study more tape, and take more pride and beat out one of these guys that has been around, we will play him there. But we are not playing anybody for charity reps, on anything. If we play charity reps, it’s going to be on offense or defense, not special teams. That is the mindset. That is why you see it with those guys. If you see a young guy on there, we think he is, or is going to be rapidly our best player on that unit.”
Impressions of Sean McGrew’s first game action?
“Yeah. It was nice to get him on the field. You can see, he’s got a knack – he’s got quick feet and makes things happen. I’ve been saying all along, he’s got instincts and he finds space. It is nice to see him get a couple of runs in there.”
Where will he fit in behind Gaskin, Coleman and Ahmed?
“This is a long season. This is a long career. Even if you play a young guy – and I know he’s ready to play as a redshirt – but if you play a true freshman that may not get all of these starter reps, but gets the game-planning reps, the practice reps and does get some reps in games, that guy is a much different player, year No. 2 than the guy that redshirted. So if a guy is ready to play, and can help us, we’d like to go that direction. That is how we think about all of that stuff. You might not see a guy in there, but he is growing and gaining more than if they were just on the scout team. And we like that.”