Q: How big is the rivalry game with all its bowl implications?
"It's huge. The winner is going to be guaranteed a bowl game. The loser of this game could be left out, depending on what happens with the USC-UCLA game. The Pac-10 Conference could have as many as eight teams with six wins and there are only six guaranteed bowls. There are some other scenarios out there, but those will all be played down the road. For our bowl season, it's pretty simple. Either we win or we aren't guaranteed."
Q: Bowl implications aside, how much will this game define your season?
"I think this game has a lot to do with defining ASU's season every year."
Q: What are your thoughts on Arizona's play the last few months:
"There's no question that the number one stat in winning games is turnover margin and they are plus nine in the last three games. They have skyrocketed to plus seven on the season which leads the Pac-10. Those nine takeaways all lead to a lot of points and that is clearly the defining thing about the run they are on now. "
Q: What are your thoughts on Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama:
"I'm a big fan of Willie Tuitama. Obviously, he has had some tough breaks with injuries this year. Willie is a guy who gives them a real threat at quarterback. He is a pure passer. I've always liked him."
Q: With all the sacks Rudy Carpenter suffered last week, did you think of going to the shotgun formation?:
"The shotgun in of itself doesn't decrease pressure – it's just a formation. You still have to block blitzers, whether you're in the shotgun or not. If you noticed, when a quarterback starts his drop, he takes a 5-7 step drop, he usually ends up with the sane depth as a shot gun quarterback catching the ball and taking a three-step drop. That's kind of a misnomer that the shotgun eliminates pressure."
Q: Will you prepare different for the Arizona game without the usual bye week:
"Game plan wise, you have to speed it up. Our players are used to a three-day work week. Monday, we have off, and we'll have a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practice routine. So that part is not different. But the game plan part for the coaches has to be extremely accelerated. In the past five seasons we have had two weeks to do a game plan for Arizona. When you are sitting there with 11 game films to study, you had a lot more time to look over them. You can be very thorough and pick your spots as far as putting in special plays maybe, and really picking it apart. Now we are limited by time. You have got to let some of that game film go. There aren't enough hours to watch it all."
Q: When you open the newspaper the week of the ASU-Arizona game, and it's talking about your future – how do you handle that?
"(Laughs) I don't open the newspaper. No offense to anybody."
Q: What do you attribute the passing game struggles against UCLA compared to the success it had against Washington State:
"UCLA plays a much different style of defense than Washington State does. UCLA is much more aggressive with their secondary where as Washington State was a lot more of a more zone team. UCLA plays man to man and a lot more match-up zone. They are really on top of your receivers and make it a lot more difficult for your receivers to find those holes. The other thing is that UCLA has two of the best defensive ends in the country. That really stresses your tackles and puts a lot of pressure on them and puts a lot of pressure on the edge of the pocket for the quarterback. He can't sit back there and hold the ball forever. We had some chances to make some plays in the passing game but they didn't work out. Those young receivers are getting a baptism by fire, so to speak. They're making progress."
Q: Does Arizona's pass defense remind you more of UCLA or Washington State?
"Probably closer to UCLA. Although Arizona is primarily a zone team, they have tremendous experience in their secondary and outstanding players back there. For years now, that has been the strength of their defense. Both those corners each have like 34 starts in a row, maybe the best corner tandem in the Pac-10.,"
Q: Do you have a gut feel about this being possibly the last regular season game for tight end Zach Miller ?:
"I don not have a gut feel on that. We are just totally focused on what is going on this season and that is how Zach has been. Zach has said all along, that after the Arizona game, he is going to turn his paper work into the NFL. That will be just a few days to turn that around, a couple weeks at the most. Then the NFL advisory panel will give him an idea of where he stands. He and his family will sit down and make a decision. He has up until January 15th. I've talked to him about this process several times."
Q: How has quarterback Rudy Carpenter's grown through out the season:
"Rudy has gotten a lot of different types of experiences than he had last year. He came in and played with a lot of skilled playmakers around him last year, where Rudy just had to ‘drive the car'. This year, because of graduation, injuries and other factors, Rudy has been counted on more to be the center playmaker, rather than the guy who just distributes the ball. We are just a different style of offense this year. We more of a run first, pass second style of offense. That has forced Rudy to sometimes probably try to do a little more than he should. He has had some ups and downs. I still wouldn't trade Rudy for any other quarterback. He is a heck of a quarterback. He is a great competitor, an excellent leader. He is a tough guy. He cares a lot about what is going on in our program. For a guy in his second year playing in our program he is doing an excellent job…Rudy is very hard on himself, often times too much so. I often think that's Rudy's style. It has worked for him through his high school career, through out his life. That is who is he is. He is not pretending. That is Rudy Carpenter."
Q: You have been part of many rivalry games. How would you classify this rivalry compared to others you've been involved with?
"All rivalry games are huge for the programs involved. I would say that this particular rivalry seems to be a little bit more intense than most. I think that has to do with the demographics of the state we live in and how things are spread out. How the alums are mixed together. That definitely spills over into the players. It starts with the fans and the water cooler talk through out the year and then it definitely spills over to the people involved in the game."
Q: Some people say that it doesn't matter the way your season goes, as long as you win the rivalry game it's a successful season. Do you subscribe to that theory?
"(Laughs) Depends on if we win or lose. I hear that a lot. As a coach and as a player you prepare hard to win every game. There are plenty of people who believe that and I certainly believe it this week."
Q: Do you prefer playing Arizona without the usual bye week:
"I think the two-week build-up in the past definitely adds to the (intensity) of the rivalry. The players already know how to get ready for a game. They've been doing it for two months. In the past, the two weeks of fan build up and media coverage has thrown fuel to the fire. When you have 11 game films and you are trying to get through them in a couple of days, it adds more stress on the coaches to come up with your game plan. In the age of 12-game seasons, it is here to stay."
Q: Do think that second-year quarterbacks usually struggle more compared to their first year?
"I don't think of it like that. If you look at both Rudy and Willie, their struggles, if that's what you want to call them, this year come from different reasons. Willie – his struggles are primarily due to injury. Rudy's struggles are primarily due to the fact that we have a different type of offense ands different players around them, compared to what we had a year ago."
Q: How will you remedy the troubles you had in the red zone against UCLA?
"A lot of it has to do with the defense that you're playing against. This season we haven't gotten to the red zone enough times and when we have gotten there we have been a good touchdown scoring team, and we preach that. Last week against UCLA we were not good. We had to settle for four field goals. Of course, great job by (ASU kicker) Jesse Ainsworth to knock those four in. All four of those drives in the red zone, we had opportunities to score touchdowns but we just didn't capitalize and make the plays. Defenses have different strategies, some defenses go all-out blitz in the red zone. Some defenses play tight zone coverages because they don't have much field to defend. The way you attack in the red zone is somewhat predicated on the style of defense you play (against)."
Q: What is the team's psyche after the UCLA loss:
"Our team was very disappointed after the game on Saturday. We felt that was a winnable game for us. Our guys played very hard. They put it on the line and there was a lot of disappointment in the locker room. The day after the game on Sunday, especially since it was a late game, our guys were tired, beat up. Our guys know what's on the line this week, as far as the rivalry, the season, the bowl game. By the time we left last night after our work out, I thought our guys were up beat. That's one of the reasons why we take Monday off, so the guys get a chance to separate for 24 hours and get ready to get back at it on Tuesday."
Q: Do you have any injury updates?
"(Wide receiver/cornerback) Rudy Burgess continues to be bothered by the dreaded high ankle sprain. I wish there was more to it than that. These high ankle sprains are hard to shake. He is day-to-day. They are trying different braces, different tape jobs; different things to get him back, and it is just been slow going. (Defensive end) Tranell Morant is doubtful with a knee injury in the game the other night. It doesn't look like it is going to require surgery but we are going to keep him out of this game. (Wide receiver) Terry Richardson last week returned to practice. He practiced very well on Tuesday; his knee bothered him Wednesday so he didn't practice. He came back practiced a little bit on Thursday. We thought he was going to be able to play, but then he came down with the flu on Friday and Saturday. Although he dressed for the game he wasn't able to play. I would anticipate Terry will be back."
Q: Can you talk about the play of Justin Tryon as a kick returner and will we see him at that position on Saturday?
"I thought our special teams overall, (kicker) Jesse Ainsworth, (punter) Jonathan Johnson, (safety and special teams "gunner") Josh Barrett and (cornerback and kick returner) Justin Tryon all did a great job. Tryon as a return man had been progressing all year. We were saying that this guy was getting better and better and better. What he really did a great job of was bursting at the hole and bursting at the right time. UCLA, I don't believe, has given up any kickoffs past the 25-yard line all season in nearly 60 attempts and he took two past that point. Some of the credit needs to go to (special teams) Coach (Tom) Osborne on the scheme and certainly to the other ten guys blocking up front. We are excited about J.T. as a return guy and there is a possibility you will see him back there."
Q: What do you think is the biggest difference between the team you had last year and the team you have this year?
"Injuries. Definitely injuries. Think about it this way, our defense has improved. Our defensive numbers are way better than they were last year. We've moved up fifty some spots (in the national rankings). If you look at the numbers, as good as I think Arizona's defense is, we are right there with Arizona's defense. Our defensive scoring average would be a lot less if our offense hadn't put our defense in some bad positions in some games. The biggest difference in our team from September, we had (offensive tackle) Andrew Carnahan, (offensive lineman) Stephen Berg, (wide receiver/returns specialist) Terry Richardson, (wide receiver) Jamaal Lewis and (wide receiver/cornerback) Rudy Burgess. That's five pretty good offensive players that aren't with us right now. That's over half our offense. Approximately half our offensive line and three of our top play makers.
Q: Can you talk about defensive end Kyle Caldwell and his play this season?
"Kyle has really come on the second half of the season. These last four games have really been the best four-game stretch of Kyle's career. He has been healthy for the first time this year. He is playing with a lot of enthusiasm. The fact that we can rotate two-deep on the defensive line has really helped all of our defensive line, but Kyle especially. He played with a ton of passion and emotion last week. He had two tipped passes that he got his hands on. He is tremendous bull-rusher. He is very powerful. It is a shame that we've been missing a player as talented as Kyle for the last two years due to injury. He is playing the best football of his career right now."
Press Conference Quotes – Dirk Koetter
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