It was a lengthy Monday press conference for Huskies coach Chris Petersen, who spoke for nearly 30 minutes about Shaq Thompson, UW's defensive line, UCLA, Thompson as a Heisman candidate and a few other topics.
First, some injury notes:
--- Tailbacks Lavon Coleman (shoulder) and Dwayne Washington (chest) are both "good to go," Petersen said, but Thompson will still "probably" start at running back against UCLA. He'll play some defense, too, Petersen said. So at this point, it's clear that Thompson is simply the Huskies' No. 1 option at tailback, regardless of whether the rest of the players in that group are healthy. But Petersen did say he's "anxious" to get Coleman and Washington back into the mix.
--- Petersen said Dexter Charles (foot) could return to action this week after missing the Huskies' last two games. "He practiced a little bit last week and so he should be much better this week, and we’ll see," Petersen said.
Right tackle Ben Riva is also progressing, Petersen said, and he hopes to have him back before the season is over.
--- Petersen said that sophomore receiver John Ross has been banged up and somewhat limited in practice, so that's why you didn't see him on the field much against Colorado.
--- Senior defensive tackle Evan Hudson rolled his ankle pretty badly against Colorado, and Petersen praised him for playing through that injury while also saying he thinks he's OK this week.
Here's everything else he said.
(Is Shaq Thompson your starting running back Saturday night?) “Um, probably. I know he misses the defensive side. We just need more Shaqs. But he’ll play some offense, and he’ll probably play some defense as well.”
(On non-offensive scores in win over Colorado) “Any time you get big plays, where ever they can come from, really gives us energy. It was really nice to get something done on special teams. We felt we’ve been so close all year. We’ve gotten some things done, but we’ve really been frustrated with a little bit ourselves, maybe some penalties that have been called and we know we’ve been very, very close and finally got one done. It’s always good to score on defense. Those guys are doing a tremendous job of not only getting turnovers but scoring.”
(If Shaq does play both ways, as you said, how challenging will that be coming up with a plan for him?) “It’s always challenging. I don’t know if it can be done, when you put a guy who’s going to play both ways. So we’ve got to pick and choose our spots and figure it out and not make it too complicated in terms of what we’re going to do and not overwhelm him and kind of go from there.”
(If he’s in for long drives, does that preclude him from playing defense?) “It could. We’ve just got to ask him where he’s at on all those things. Really, these guys are in pretty good shape. So you’re carrying the ball, carrying the ball and get something big, you come over, catch your breath. The whole thing is, guys get tired; it’s all about how fast you can recover. Catch your breath and let’s go, if we’re in shape like we semi-think we are.”
(Have you ever had, in your career, a situation like this where the guy’s a star defensive player and all of a sudden he’s your star running back?) “I don’t think I’ve been around as good of a football player. That’s what he is. He’s just a really special football player. There’s really good running backs out there and there’s really good linebackers, and he’s really good at all of ‘em. And there’s probably guys that are out there, but (their team) has depth, so they don’t need him on both sides. I think it’s kind of fun. I think it’s cool for Shaq, I think it’s cool for our team, I think it’s good for even recruiting. There’s a lot of really good high school players that play two ways, and if they’re good enough, we’ll play you two ways; we’ll figure out how to maximize your talents and how you can help the team the best.”
(On UCLA’s Brett Hundley) “Yeah, he’s good. He’s good. All the talk about him and this is our first chance to really study him. He can throw with a strong arm and all those things, but he’s equally if not more dangerous as a runner. That’s what makes him really, really hard. You can cover their guys or get some pressure on him, and there he goes. That’s always so frustrating as a defensive coach.”
(On Hau’oli Kikaha’s success this year) “He plays hard. Lot of pressure on that QB. He’s really done a great job. I really think our D-line has done a nice job. I think one of the guys that’s really, really — there’s a couple guys that are underrated. Hau’oli’s the sackmaster and Danny Shelton’s got some good love in there, for appropriate reasons, but I think Andrew Hudson is playing as well as we’ve seen him play. He comes to work every day; every detail matters to that guy and it shows up on Saturday. He just goes hard. Evan Hudson is the other guy next to those guys; everybody wants to talk about everybody else, that guy is probably as tough as they come. He rolled his ankle (at Colorado); you can see it on tape — it is ugly. And that guy missed about two plays. It wasn’t one of those rolls where it didn’t swell up. It was all of that and didn’t limp around. All those guys are really doing a nice job. Hau’oli gets to the quarterback more than all of them, but they all work pretty well together.”
(Evan OK?) “I think so.”
(On Cyler Miles) “He’s coming along. He’s making some progress. There’s always a couple in there that you just really want him to hit and get. And then there are some things that are pretty nice and you’re like, ‘OK, that’s good; that’s progress.’ And that’s all we can ask. And that’s how it is. It’s just always: Are you making progress? Did you learn from last week? Did you get better in practice? He can get better. He can make us better. When that passing game gets better, it’s going to help everything. We’re running the ball fairly effectively, but the pass game’s what needs to get better.”
(On big plays, does that give you more confidence to open things up more) “When the stuff you’ve got in the game plan starts hitting and creating some momentum, it gives everybody confidence (that) we’re doing some things. I think the better team you play, the margin for error is so close. And that’s one of the things our guys need to continually understand that, ‘open’ against a good UCLA team is going to be very small. You’ve got to throw an accurate pass and the receiver’s got to make a tough catch. And that’s good … that’s how it’s going to be. It’s not going to be like practice where guys are running open and open by three yards. That’s not realistic. That’s the mentality we’ve got to get in terms of making plays.”
(On Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman) “They’re good to go. Which has been good, because they haven’t gotten any reps the last couple weeks, and they’re out there running around pretty good.”(So Shaq at running back is a matter of him just being the best guy you have back there?) “Yeah, I think so at this point. I am an anxious to get those other guys back in there. It’s been nice to get some explosive runs, and if we can get some more explosive passes, then it’s going to help our point production.”
(On John Ross III’s lack of touches the last couple weeks) “We’re always trying to figure those things out, whether it’s Kasen (Williams) or John Ross. So a lot of it comes to practice. Those guys that are practicing well and showing up. One guy that’s done a really good job over the last few weeks and it’s starting to finally show up is Dante Pettis. Practices hard, makes plays in practice, all of sudden it starts to translate in the game. So we just keep working those guys and hopefully we can get some things done.”
(On Darrell Daniels) He’s OK. He’s had, I think one week he had a tight back. Nothing real serious. What happens is you put the next guy in, Josh Perkins and Harvey (Michael Hartvigson) and they go and they get the reps; guys that get the reps, they play in the games, unless something happens. So you’ve got to kind of work your way back. Nobody loses their spot because of an injury, but you’ve got to be able to show up and practice and go, ‘OK, there he is; he’s ready to roll.’”
(Dante Pettis - what did you see from him Saturday) “I think the punt return that we got, we caught them with a good call. We kind of got them all condensed, the guys did a nice job forming a wall. He’s the beneficiary of that nice wall. But he’s getting more confident fielding the ball, trying to look to make some things happen. But at the receiver positions he’s not thinking quite as much. And when those guys can play faster and react it helps.”
(Has your LB depth allowed you to play Shaq more at RB?) “Yeah, absolutely. When you take a guy like him out of there you start getting nervous because nobody has enough depth. But we do have some decent players in there. But you take Shaq out of there, now we’re thin and some guys are doubling up at different positions and it kind of waters things down. So it’s not just as easy as taking a guy out and saying hey we’re good. It does make that position a little more vulnerable. All those linebackers play on special teams. They are getting more reps there, they are getting reps on defense. It’s just not as easy as people saying, ‘Hey, Shaq’s a running back and we’re all good’. There’s a lot of things going on pretty good on defense to allow that to happen out of those linebackers.”
(Keishawn Bierria) “I think he’s progressing. Redshirt freshman, I think he’s playing hard, he really cares. He’s one of those guys that’s fun to watch and play and see how hard he goes. Again, we’re using him on special teams a lot. That has an effect. It does when they have their reps increased. So I think he’s progressing. He’s a fun guy to watch because he’s young and you like to watch progression, when you can really see it. Okay, this guy’s getting better. And I think that’s what he’s doing.”
(Have you crossed paths much with Mora, and did you know you have his dream job?) “I met him for the first time this year. Some of the meetings we had, and that’s it.”
(Is John Ross not giving the effort in practice? Is that why he’s not being targeted?) “No. It’s nothing with that. John had been banged up a little bit over the couple weeks and we always go back to when guys can practice full speed and practice hard and all those things, it will show up eventually. Whether it’s our running backs or our tight end - that’s part of the game. You’re going to have to play a little bit banged up and hurt. But if you can’t practice to improve, it usually shows up. I think there’s some of those things going on at a lot of positions. But how many games have we played now? That’s where we are. This is the tough part of the season, this is where the tough guys show up.”
(More on that) “It’s really a challenge. Because it’s hard to practice, let alone practice when you’re not 100 percent. Some guys are better at it than others. Those that can be better at it…it shows up on game day. If you don’t take a lot of reps and all those things…I don’t believe in those guys that hey, I’m a gamer. Just get me to the game. And I know guys can have a good game and those rare things happen - but that’s rare. The guys that can have a little fortune and stay healthy and those guys that can have a lot of toughness and work through hurts - and some guys are injured. We make a difference between that. When you’re injured, you can’t go. You’re going to hurt your team, you’re going to hurt yourself. You might set yourself back. That’s why we’ve got a great medical staff to differentiate between he needs to slow down, he’s a not-go, we need to get him healed up. At this point if you’re playing all healthy, you oughta go to Las Vegas and let it ride because you’ve got a lot of luck on your side.”
(Guys still adjusting to your process?) Absolutely. They’re not going to get it in two months. They are adjusting. Not only are they adjusting to that, but getting better at practice and playing against good teams. It’s just really hard. It’s really hard work. It’s not going to happen in one week. You take a team that’s been together for a handful of years and you have your way of doing things and the kids get it and all that - it’s still hard to go out there and practice and get better and win games, let alone when we’re still figuring some things out. It’s so competitive. Everybody’s got good coaches; everybody’s got really good players. So you’re splitting hairs, and all this stuff matters.”
(So are you making progress?) “I think we’re making progress. I think it’s one step, two steps forward, one step back. I feel like that, and it’s hard and it’s frustrating, and you talk to anybody that’s new it’s not unique. It’s not unique to us. But I appreciate the kids. I appreciate that they are working hard. I appreciate that they are trying. And I do think we’re making progress.”
(Did Shaq ask to play defense this week?) “I think Shaq’s a defensive guy at heart, but I’m not really sure of that. I think he’s played over there a long time, so that’s where he feels his home is. He’s played with a lot of those guys for a lot of years so he likes to be out there. I know he likes carrying the ball and doing that as well. He’s a good player, so however we can get him on the field as much as we can we want to do.”
(Get an explanation from the league on the running into the kicker penalty against ASU?) “They said it was hard to see on the tape whether he blocked the ball. Because if he blocks the ball, there’s no running into the…so that’s what they didn’t see.”
(Does that jive with you?) “That’s the explanation we got. That was the question you asked.” (laughs)
(What showed up on tape with UCLA’s defense that maybe hadn’t shown up to that point in their season?) “I think UCLA is really good. Again, you watch these teams from afar and you watch them on TV - like I watched them a little bit to see a little here and there…and then you put them on and study them and you’re like - okay. And that’s what it is. These guys are really good. They are athletic, they are physical, they know exactly what they are doing. There’s no guy out there…and they’re young. They’ve got young guys. Their rankings and all those things are completely legit. This is one of the better teams, without question, that when you put the tape on you go, okay. These guys are good.”
(But anything in specific about last week’s game that they weren’t doing before?) “You watch a few of their games and you watch teams progressing and getting better and that’s what I saw. And I saw guys playing really, really hard with a lot of energy and urgency. It was impressive.”
(Couple weeks back Mora had a sideline altercation with one of his assistants (Ulbrich). How hard is it to keep your emotions in check?) “It’s hard. It’s just an emotional game, and it’s so painful because whether it’s on camera or not - it’s so emotional down there. You put so much into it and you’re trying to do the right thing and get things right and emotions are high. It’s hard to keep an even keel, it really is.”
(How do you do it?) “Trust me, I don’t even look how I feel half the time. Now I don’t really know how I look, but I feel like crying, screaming, throwing tantrums and falling down on the ground. That’s what I’d really like to do. It’s painful not to do that stuff, it really is. It takes a lot of energy just to stand there and catch your breath and if you’re going to say something, try and say something constructive, which if you probably asked our coaches I’ve got a lot of work to do on that one myself.”
(Were you ever a real emotional guy on the sideline when you were younger?) “All I can tell you is, how it looks is not how I feel. Not even kind of. We want our players to act a certain way, and so I think our players are challenged in so many ways when we play the game. I think me as a coach is challenged very much when we play the game. I mean, tremendously. Been doing this a long time and every Saturday you go out there, every day at practice, you’re challenged to, like, really be good and really be a teacher and an educator, all those things. It’s hard.”
(Ever used facepaint as a motivational tool?) “We’ve done it.
(Even with your coaches?) “I don’t know about that. I know this – you’re always trying, I always think we’re trying to educate our guys. I want to educate guys. You want to motivate them, and motivate them … sometimes it’s in fun ways, sometimes it’s imagery, it’s whatever. And so, hey, whatever works. You’ve just got to gauge your team and if that fires guys up, we’ve done that in the past ourselves. The kids get into it. Do they get into it, do they buy in, are they in on it? They are, you go.”
(Did you win?) “We did.”
(What do you have to do to beat a top-25 team?) “You have to play a really good, clean game, and we haven’t done that. We haven’t done that. We’ve turned the ball over too much, we haven’t hit enough big plays, those type of things. And that’s what has to happen. You’re not going to be able to go in there and play average football and beat one of these ranked teams. When they’re ranked, especially this late in the season, they’re ranked for a reason. Early on, it can be polls and all this kind of stuff, but when you get this late in the season, guys are earning things and it’s showing up on tape. So for us to beat a really good team, we have to play really good, consistent football. It can’t be three-quarters of the game, that was pretty good, but we had these handful of plays that really killed us. You’re not going to beat a team like this.”
(On the defensive performance against Colorado) “I thought what was good on defense is we got some turnovers. Got three on defense, one on special teams, scored. I thought all that was awesome. Did I think there were some times we tackled very poorly, where we need to play with more passion and emotion? No doubt about it. And I think our guys would tell you that as well. And that goes back to that consistency that we’re talking about right there. We do that this week, it won’t be good.”
(On cleaning up poor tackling) “So it’s a fundamental of football and really hard to do. You show me a good offense and I’ll show you a lot of missed tackles. So part of that is, they’ve got good players in space. That’s what this game’s all about. So it’s not going to all be clean. Guys are going to break tackles. What I look at is, are we running to the ball and helping the guy that’s singled up out there so if he does miss, we slowed him down and somebody else can make the tackle. Everybody’s going to miss tackles. The better and more efficient we can get at it, that’s what we’re talking about.”
(Harder to coach that in-season now because of wear and tear?) “I think we’re a little bit wiser. I think there’s a fine line there. I think it’s way more delicate, complicated than ... I don’t know. Maybe some people have figured it out. But I know, it’s like, you’re nervous about getting guys banged up at all times, let alone losing them in practice. If you don’t go hard in practice, then what are we talking about here? We’ve got to get better. There’s no staying the same. There’s just not. There’s not in life and there’s not in football. You’re either getting better or you’re going down. There’s no staying the same. And so that’s obviously something fundamental, day-one fundamental, so we’ve got to do a better job running to the ball, wrapping guys up, and we’ve got to practice that.”
(What about using John Ross at cornerback?) “So we’re always experimenting. We’ll always try to move guys around, if somebody can help us on the other side of the ball, if someone can make more of an impact. Like I said, if we can play a guy two ways, we’ll do that. So we’re always experimenting, just seeing if there’s something more to getting explosive guys on the field and seeing if they can help us.”
(Shaq Thompson has been mentioned as a possible fringe candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Thoughts on that?) “So I think I go back to ask you guys, because you guys are the guys that do this stuff – what is the Heisman Trophy winner? What is it? Someone help me with that, and then I can answer your question.”
(In theory, the best college football player in the country) “So, theory, can you take that out? Or is that what it is?”
(Depends on how you approach it) “Hey, I don’t get a chance to watch everybody around the country. But I do see a lot. And I haven’t seen a better football player out there than that guy. A better, flat-out football player – in your words, ‘best football player’ in college football. There might be somebody who’s the same, all those type of things, but a football player? I know there are some good ones out there, but what this guy does in terms of special teams and offense and defense and all those things, I haven’t seen a better one.”
(What are UCLA’s strengths?) “I think the easier way to answer that question is I really don’t see a bunch of weakness. I think that’s their strength. They don’t have well, this guy’s a true – they play a couple true freshmen, I think, but they’re good. They’re good. I think that’s their strength, is they don’t really have a position group that’s a little bit of their Achilles heel. You put the defense on and they fly around. We know about their offense and the quarterback. They do the same thing with Myles Jack, move him around and get good players on the field as much as they can. I’m really, really impressed with this program and this team.”
(On the o-line shuffle against Colorado) “So, yeah. That’s usually how it goes on the o-line, you know? Those guys are banging every single play. We move guys around even earlier in the season than this, just to make sure we can cross-breed and all those type of things, and tackles to guards, and guards to center, so if we get a guy dinged it’s not like ‘oh my stars, what are doing now?’ James Atoe got kicked out to tackle. He’s played a little bit there before and I think he did a really nice job. His natural position’s probably inside, and he battled and did a good job.”
(Dexter Charles back this week?) “Dexter should be. I think he’s the same old, same old. He practiced a little bit last week and so he should be much better this week, and we’ll see.”
(Ben Riva?) “He’s getting closer. He’s not this week. But we’re hoping we’re going to have him before the season’s out.”
(See anything from teams that surprise you?) “This late in the season, we’ve kind of seen a lot of things. Certain teams, everybody, the good teams, have their core schemes, and that’s what they do well and they have enough wrinkles around it to keep you off balance. So I wouldn’t say it’s something we haven’t seen. They just do it really well with fast guys who are good athletes. That’s the thing that really shows up.”
(Is this team where you thought it would be at this point?) “I don’t really ever make those predictions. I just don’t really … I think you’re always just trying to like, are we playing well? Are we playing to our potential? And are we really, like, all-in, and just everything we’ve got? Those are the questions that we’re always looking at and answering. And all those things, I think it’s two steps forward and one step back. Whether I thought we’d be here or not, I think as a coach you’re always pushing, you’re always expecting more, you always have high standards, you always want to be perfect, knowing that it’s not going to be perfect, but hopefully it’s at a real high level. So it’s hard for me to really answer that question and say ‘did I predict this.’ I know we’re itching to be better. I know that.”