UW coach Chris Petersen addressed the media for his fourth Monday press conference of the regular season as the team prepares to play at Colorado on Saturday:
Anything you can share on the injury front with Andre Baccellia, Chico McClatcher, Drew Sample front?
What do you want guys to remember about last year’s Pac-12 Championship game?
“It’s not that I want them to remember or forget, has nothing to do with that. I’ve said this many times: the lessons that we’ve learned, good and bad, from last year’s season, we always want that to carry over so we can learn. But this is a completely new season, early in the year, completely different energies and rhythms. Away we go and now we start the hard part of our season.”
Anything else jump out at you watching the tape of the Fresno State game?
“I said it all on Saturday. You get all your guys in there and they pack the box you’re not really trying to throw it but it can make it tough sledding for guys that haven’t had a lot of reps and the combination of those two things. It’s kind of what it was.”
On the decision to burn Ty Jones’s redshirt?
“We’ve been wanting to play him. We’ve been back and forth the whole time. It’s just a matter of having a decent crew there. We just want to make sure and get everybody on the field and use them how we want to. Some of these decisions are not always black and white, really easy. There’s a couple of those but some of these other ones are like, we just think we can continue to grow the guy. When the guys are in the mix and are playing, or even just the preparation for that week, I think just moves them so much further along for their future.”
What about Colorado and not having defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt there anymore?
“Coach MacIntyre is a defensive guy, so that’s not changing. That’s his baby. They have all their offensive coaches intact with most of their players. It’s not dramatically different. They are playing really well on both sides of the ball but really on defense for how many guys they’ve graduated. That’s a tribute to him and his influence and probably where he spends most of his time.”
What about quarterback Steven Montez that stands out?
“He’s similar to (Sefo) Liufau. We saw it last year when they both played. They are big, strong, physical tough guys, not afraid to run the ball. That’s part of their game, running him as a quarterback, as a running back. Also scrambling around and finding receivers open. They’ve got those three returning really good receivers, couple more than that, in fact. They’ve got an experienced, experienced receiver crew. And the running back (Lindsay). It’s a group that’s seen a lot.”
Is the altitude any factor at all? Is it something you have to prepare for?
“The only thing that I see…how do you prepare for it? We’ve been to Wyoming a million times and that’s never affected us. Not one second. The only thing it does is, the kickoffs usually go into the end zone. That’s the only thing I see.”
What do you remember about Drew Lewis during his time here at UW in 2014?
“Redshirted, and then moved on. That’s about it. Good athlete, and I know he’s doing well over there, so I’m happy for him.”
You and Colorado are the only teams to have not allowed a rushing touchdown. What do you think has allowed CU to continue to play at a high level despite losing impact players?
“It seems like the players are very dialed in to what they are doing. There’s not assignment mistakes. Sometimes early in the season, especially when you have new guys you’ll see guys that are misplaced out of a gap a little bit. Haven’t seen that from those guys. That’s the thing, they are playing at such a high level of defense, and for all the guys that have left it’s really a credit to those guys.”
You were able to run the ball well in the Pac-12 title game. What jumped out there?
“I haven’t studied that game yet. It’s still too early. There’s a lot of tape to watch. I haven’t gone back and looked at that.”
Big jump up in run game last year from non-conference to Arizona game?
“I don’t know if it’s that simple. Sometimes it’s styles, and defense and matchups, and all of those things. Like you said, the running game takes a minute. I watch everybody’s run game. It is kind of hit or miss at times. I think it’s when you get into a rhythm, and get enough touches and carries and build some confidence that if you can get some positive things going, guys start to believe in things. I always say it a millions times, this game is such a game of confidence. There are certain situations that guys believe strongly, whether it is the run game, special teams or whatever.”
Are you concerned where the run game is right now?
“We already talked about that – it’s a work in progress.”
Do you ever talk about the intangibles – the payback factor – in preparing for Colorado this week?
“That doesn’t have anything to do with us. That has to do with them. So, we just have got to get ready to play, defend the plays we see and make sure we are ready to play.”
What are your impressions of Colorado tailback Phillip Lindsay?
“He is a unique back. I was watching him a lot this morning, and he’s one of those backs that plays with a great base. He’s very quick. He’s very sudden. I think he’s really tough. He doesn’t cross his feet over much when he plants – he is a north-south runner. He does a really good job. I think he’s a hard-nosed, tough running back. It seems like he has really good vision. Sometimes there’s not a lot there, and he’ll find a crease and get positive yards.”
Impressions of Hunter Bryant’s game Saturday?
“I think he did some good things, like all of our freshmen. All of our freshmen did some good things. When you really analyze it, there is much to improve on as well – there is just a lot on their plate assignment-wise and trying to get up to speed. But you can see when those kids flash, they have talent. And it’s just a matter of getting it engrained so they don’t think so much.”
Can an early road game at Rutgers help prepare for an opening Pac-12 game at Colorado?
“You hope it would help a little bit. I think it’s going to be a much different environment – much, much different. We got on a plane, we got on a bus to go to the stadium and it is probably the only similarities in terms of the energy and the environment we are going into. But I think that helps more than not going anywhere.”
Have you been in a situation, much like Colorado, that you’ve played the revenge card?
“(Interrupts question) We don’t ever go with revenge. … I don’t know. We don’t think like that. We’ve got a good football team, and we are going to play. If it was flipped – like I said, much different guys on defense. I don’t know how many guys played (in the last game). Our thinking is, this is a new team, and we are going in with our team. They can think whatever they need to think. We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. They are a good football team. It will be the best team we’ve played this year, and away we go.”
Other than Dante Pettis’ touchdowns, you said you had been disappointing with some of the punt return plays from Montana. Still displeased?
“It is all about decision-making. I don’t care what position it is, or what phase it is – I just hate to see bad decisions and I love to see really smart football players. That is in our blood around here. Those are the things that really get my attention, and I think our team’s attention when guys are making really good decisions. And certainly if it’s not good decisions, how do we learn from it and not make those bad decisions again. A lot of that has to do in punt-return game when to catch the ball and when not to catch the ball. They seem very simple. But sometimes they are hard to deal with.”
Do you get a chance to enjoy what Dante Pettis is accomplishing in the punt-return game?
“To me it’s all the same, whether we have a long run, a great defensive play, a good special teams play – I like exciting plays. So it doesn’t matter if it’s Dante returning a kick, a punt. I’d like to see us do something on kickoff returns and see if we can get something going there. To me, it’s all the same. I am not rooting for one thing more than the other. I want us to do well in all of it.”
How hard is it to stay clean on kickoff and punt returns?
“That kind of goes back to that smart football I’m talking about. We spend a lot of time trying to work on that, talk about that, show clips like that. It’s almost like you can’t get enough reps on that. They come up in practice a little bit, but again, the special teams thing, it’s hard to practice that close to live at all. If you’re not practicing live, then how do you make great decisions? Because that’s when these split second decisions of pulling off and not making a block. But we do spend as much time as we can really emphasizing those things and I think coach Gregory does a really nice job and the kids have bought into it. I think we’ve had one penalty so far on something like that. And when it happens we try to really emphasize it to everybody so we can all learn from each other.”
You seem to spend more time emphasizing special teams than other coaches?
“I don’t agree. I don’t think we put more emphasis on that. I think everybody in this day and age does. I think Colorado, they’re trying to emphasize it and it shows up on tape. Those kids play really hard on special teams. There’s probably been one opportunity to return against them this year. Combination of their kicker and their coverage and all those things. I think they’ve had two kickoffs returned in all the kickoffs they’ve had. This is what I’ve been saying. Your opportunities are really few and far between. We’ve had some these first three games, but I know how it goes when we get into our league.”
What about Joel Whitford’s progress through three games?
“We haven’t had a whole bunch returned on us as well. I think we’d like to a get a little more distance on the kicks. He’s good at kind of positioning it and placing it where we want. He’s good on the pinned kicks. He’s still adjusting and getting his feet wet to this level of football.”
Do you do anything different when preparing against a hot punt returner like Dante Pettis right now?
“I mean we face it I think every other week if not most in the PAC-12, so it’s something you deal with all the time. That’s what I’m saying. You don’t see a bunch of these returned in our league because I think everybody does emphasize these types of things. They’ll emphasize their coverage and their kick placement and the punter getting the ball up and coverage and their pretty darn good at it. Two punt returns in the first three games. That’s not a lot of opportunities.”
Did you notice an emotional uptick when conference play started last year?
“I think last year was the first time we went on the road, so that was a little bit different. I mean the one thing you just notice for the most part is everybody realizes ‘okay, league has started now.’ And the intensity of those games kind of feel a little bit different. It’s not like kids play harder, don’t play hard depending on the game, but maybe what you’re talking about leading up to it, there’s a little more focus. Everybody understands how competitive this league is that we play in. I think you can feel it a little bit.”
Do you prefer playing all non-conference games first and then starting conference play?
“I like playing them all right away. I do. I think everybody is trying to win their league. That to me is the most important goal. That’s how you should be measured and judged off the league you play in. That to me just jumps out. I like to play those and learn from them and try to improve and then you hit what everybody is trying to do, which is win their league.”
Can you judge the dynamic of the league yet through three games?
“I just think it’s really competitive. I’m kind of a broken record on our conference and I just think that. I told our guys that. I just really think that anybody in this league can beat anybody on a given day. I think we have good teams. I think you can kind of see that and I think it’s going to be an interesting year in this league.”
What do you like about John Gardner on your kick coverage teams?
“I like John Gardner. I think he’s one of those guys that’s worked his tail off for a really long time around here. He just does a great job being an awesome team member. Anything we ask him to do, you should see him practice during the week. It doesn’t matter if we’re asking him to be on the starting kickoff team or he’s a scout team guy, which he is a lot. He just always does a great job, makes plays out there, and that’s why you kind of saw him out there. It’s like ‘we need to give this guy an opportunity to do something in a game.’ He really does it the right way. Shows up to practice everyday, and it’s not for this year. It’s been for years, just business and works hard and gets better.”
Did Azeem Victor take another step last weekend?
“Yeah. I think it’s good to get him back out there and get him up to game speed and all those type of things. I think everybody still - like you said, I think he’s had two, and I think most everybody, we’re still adjusting. We’re still not into the rhythm of the true season. So I think there was progress.”
Did Tevis Bartlett have a coming-out game for you against Fresno State?
“I thought he was really good. I thought he played the Tevis brand of football. He goes one speed, he’s really a tough guy. You might not see him, but he’s doing his job and setting the edge on the defense, and then all of a sudden — he’s really smart. He’ll study tape and know tendencies. So kind of how he played is how I expected him to play. He’s slowly inching his game forward as well.”
Are you satisfied with the pass rush you are getting right now?
“You know, I think we’re always trying to get – that’s one of the things every defense in America is like, OK, how do we get more pressure? Whether you’re going to do it with four guys and you feel like you can get there, or you gotta bring more pressure or you mix it up and all those things. I think we’re always paying attention to that.”
On targeting calls, in general — is that a rule coaches still are trying to figure out, or are officials really assertive calling them?
“No. I think it’s very had to practice. Because these are split-second (hits). I know the one Fresno got on us. Hunter (Bryant) caught the ball and the guy was right there just reacting to it. I know those guys at Fresno talk about where the strike zone is and where you’re trying to hit guys. I talked to Jeff Tedford yesterday about that, and he was saying the same thing: ‘How much time do we talk about the strike zone and where your head should go?’ It’s easier said than done. You can talk all you want. Talk doesn’t change things. As coaches, you’ve got to get creative on how to drill those types of things. But you don’t play live football during the week, so how do you do that? You’ve got to get creative setting up drills. I don’t think the officials are doing more — I just think everybody’s on it and that’s how it is.”
Do you feel like an ejection is an appropriate penalty for targeting?
“I haven’t really gotten that far. We’re trying to take those head shots out of the game, so it needs to be something that’s pretty dramatic — and that is pretty dramatic. There’s nothing like playing time for coaches and players, when that goes away. So I think the trick is how to get better of lowering the strike zone, because those kids don’t want to be thrown out of the game. … It just happens. Even the horse-collar tackle, that’s another one. You’re just reacting and grabbing trying to get the guy. I think it’s a good rule as well. We’ve had a quarterback back in the day (who) got tackled like Jake (Browning) got tackled break his ankle on almost exactly the same-looking type play.”
How pleased are you with your linebackers in pass coverage?
“I think that linebacker crew is doing a nice job. I think Coach Gregory coaches those guys good and there’s some good players there. They’ve got a good feel for the game, whether it’s the run or the pass. They’re doing a nice job.”
You hosted a couple of recruits this weekend. With the early (December) signing day, are you having to host more official visits than normal during the season?
“We’re always thinking about it. It really hasn’t altered our approach. As coaches, we don’t love the official visits during the season. It’s just very hard on everybody. You want to spend time with these guys, hanging out with them and their families, and the time is really, really limited. Some of these guys haven’t had the opportunity to be around these places and now’s the time to do it and they want to make their decision sooner rather than later, so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Going up against a spread offense like Colorado, what have you seen from you defense and open-field tackling so far?
“I think it shows up, that we still are always a work in progress. I think open-field tackling is one of the hardest things you have to do in football. Another thing we spend a lot of time on, but again how do you tackle full speed and keep your guys healthy? That’s something we’re always paying attention to and working on. But I thought there was some pretty good open-field tackles, and I thought there was a couple that those backs from Fresno were shifty and did a nice job of making us miss.”