Coach's Corner: Catching UCLA at the wrong time

Mike Hankwitz is still getting the hang of a head coach's media responsibilities, but he had the Cats hanging tough late against WSU. This week the Cats get a UCLA team that is coming off their best offensive performance of year. Hankwitz discussed the UCLA game as well as last weekend's WSU game.

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Coach Hankwitz began the press conference with some general statements on UCLA

Mike Hankwitz: "UCLA obviously is hitting stride. I wasn't surprised that they beat Washington but surprised that they dominated as much as they did in the second half. If you look at their season, they probably are sitting there thinking that they should have beaten Colorado. They dropped some passes and missed some opportunities. What happened at Oklahoma can happen to anybody. I've coached against them for a long time, and I know that you can go there, and things can snowball like they did. They beat San Diego State and came back with an outstanding win against Washington. They are starting to hit their peak."

I've always had great respect for Larry Kerr and what he has done with his defenses at Colorado State. They play a Tampa Bay-style defense, and they are an aggressive unit. They really haven't allowed many touchdowns. They have a veteran defense, and they have some guys who can make things happen."

"Offensively, like Coach (Karl) Dorrell said, (Drew) Olson just gets better. If you look at his stats, he has continued to improve. They have great speed and great skill. (Craig) Bragg led the Pac-10 in punt returns a year ago, and he had 55 catches, so he has picked up right where he left off. They have three other receivers that have over 10 catches, so Olson is starting to spread it around. It looks like their running game is starting to kick in with (Manuel) White and (Tyler) Ebell. We are catching them at a time when they are playing their best football. That's the way football works."

Question: What did you think of how the team played against Washington State?

Hankwitz: "In watching the video, I was encouraged. I look at our defense against the last two ranked teams, and we held TCU to 13 points and gave up a cheap touchdown where we made an unnecessary gamble. Against WSU, the defense allowed 23 points, and we had two breakdowns. On one of the plays, we had a defensive back in position to make the play, but he just didn't make the play. We are making progress, and we are making strides. We have to continue to make strides. We need to realize where we are in getting better and identify those areas, so we have something to build on. Morale is the feeling that you are accomplishing something, and the players have to understand that we are improving in areas, and we have to continue to identify those areas."

"The offense ran downhill better. (Mike) Bell had some nice little runs in there, but we are not getting the running production that we would like. We had some opportunities. Washington State was a veteran defense, and they were a very aggressive unit, but we didn't take sacks, which was a tribute to our offensive line and to (Kris) Heavner. Heavner continued to show great poise. I've been impressed with him in the limited amount of time that he has been practicing. It was a situation where we brought him up to see if he was ready to compete, and he did so well in practice and made plays that the other guys weren't making, so we felt that he deserved that opportunity. He just continues to improve from game to game. He is a very accurate passer, and he is going to continue to get better."

Question: Are you pleased with the improvement of the team?

Hankwitz: "When we watched the tape yesterday, they needed to make sure that they saw that the one touchdown was easily preventable because we had a defensive back in perfect position who kind of went half-way between. He didn't play the man, and he didn't play the ball. All you do is make the tackle, and it is on the 40-yard line, so it would not have been a long play. After the fumble late in the game, after we threw the interception for a touchdown and then the fumble, frustration probably crept in a little. We didn't execute, and we have to learn how to be a little more poised and how to handle that adversity and not let it frustrate us and affect us. We have to continue to correct those mistakes."

"I believe our offense is going to get better. If you look at the first half of the TCU game, we held the time of possession against a quality defense. Even in the Washington State game, we reduced the margin of possession time over and above what we did against TCU. They (offensive players) are cognizant of the fact that they need to try to generate more first downs and keep us (the defense) off the field. I believe they will as they continue to improve. In this last game, the defense didn't play an inordinate amount of plays. It wasn't like we (the defense) were out there for 99 plays, and our offense didn't hold the ball at all."

Early in the year the quarterbacks rotated, but the past two games Kris Heavner has gone the whole way. What is it about Heavner that caused the coaches to go with him exclusively?

Hankwitz: "He made plays in practice that the other guys (Nic Costa and Ryan O'Hara) had not been able to make. In the game, we think that he has handled himself extremely well, and he has made excellent throws. He has made great decisions and shown an elusiveness to get out of tough situations. Overall, he has managed the team and moved the team a little more effectively. We feel like he deserves that opportunity to continue."

"He is very accurate, and he hasn't made a lot of bad decisions since he has played, which says a lot about his poise. Obviously, with a limited amount of practice time with him, our offensive coaches are tailoring things to him. You can't give a freshman too much, particularly a guy who has only practiced nine times, and expect him to execute. You have to give him things that he can build on and add to it as he goes along. We have had to limit things, where if he had been the guy from the beginning, he would be much further advanced, and we could probably do a lot more with him. We've handcuffed him in some respects in order to try and allow him to have a chance to be effective and not make it unfair for him by giving him too much and putting him in an impossible situation."

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