Coach's Corner: Hankwitz on the Cal Bears

After a very difficult loss to UCLA, the Wildcats used a bye week to mend their wounds before heading to the Bay Area. Mike Hankwitz met with the media to discuss the upcoming game against the Cal Bears.

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

Mike Hankwitz: "This week certainly will be a challenge. California has shown that they can be a very explosive team by beating USC and taking UCLA down to within one play. I've been very impressed with their offense. (Adimchinobe) Echemandu has the speed to really make things happen in their running game. Their quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) has continued to improve. If you look at his statistics, he is hitting 56 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns, but he has only thrown three interceptions, which is the key. Obviously, (Geoff) McArthur, who is third in the country in receiving yards, is a dangerous threat. If you look at his last four games, he has probably had over eight or nine receptions per game. (Burl) Toler is an excellent receiver on the other side. (Vincent) Strang, their punt returner, has stepped in, and he is a quick guy. They also have a big offensive line that presents problems for teams. Defensively, they are starting to play better. They had seven sacks against UCLA, so it will be a tremendous challenge going up there."

Why has the Cal/Arizona game traditionally been so close?
Mike Hankwitz: "From what I know about the history of the series, in the last 14 games, 12 of them have been decided by seven points or less, so it is going to be a dog fight. We are going to have to play 60 minutes. And, we have to execute better than we did against UCLA."

How did you use the bye week to prepare for Cal?
Mike Hankwitz: "We used the open week to address some specific areas of our defense and offense, both at individual positions and schematically. We got a lot accomplished. We also gave the players an extended break at the end of the week to give them a chance to get healed up. We have had numerous guys playing each week with nagging things, and then they re-injure them slightly, and then they are limited the week after. The injury report looks good right now, so it was a good week in that way. It was a good break both mentally and physically, so we should come back much more enthusiastic this week."

On giving up the "big play":
Mike Hankwitz: "That was one of our goals, and obviously, we weren't doing it for a couple of games. Even in the TCU game, we gave up a cheap play that we should not have given up. We came back against Washington State and had coverage on a guy, but we still ended up giving up a big play. What we have tried to illustrate to our defense is that when you don't give them those cheap plays, it is hard for the other team to drive consistently and score. TCU did not have a sustained drive for a touchdown, Washington State did not have a sustained drive for a touchdown, and UCLA had one sustained drive on their first touchdown. In the second half (of the UCLA game), we had a chance to have a stop, but we jumped off sides on the field goal. Once the players realize that when you execute and make a team move it consistently, you always have a chance to stop them. That has started to play out, and I think they have started to see the benefits in that way, and that has placed a greater premium on executing and making sure we are doing the right things. If you don't give them anything cheap, and you make them drive it all the way down the field, at some point, you have a great chance to stop them."

Have you gotten over the loss to UCLA?
Mike Hankwitz: "It was agonizing because I was so proud of the effort and the intensity with which our players played. They were excited, and they were playing. You like to see that rewarded, but you don't get rewarded just for effort. I hope that only intensifies our hunger to get a win and show that we are continuing to make the climb."

How have you worked to improve the kicking game?
Mike Hankwitz: "First of all, we went back to identify our problems in that area; we looked to see whether it was mechanics, and we looked at where our breakdowns occurred. We did have a bad snap that wasn't the kicker's fault. Last week in practice, we tried to simulate game situations. Anytime during the team period, the kickers had to be ready to come out and kick. We tried to simulate a game situation so the kickers would stay loose on the sidelines. When we called for the field goal unit, the kicker had to run out and see if he could have the focus and put it through. We will see how they (Bobby Gill and Nicholas Folk) perform today and tomorrow in practice. I don't believe in game players. The best players I've ever coached are the guys who played the best in practice. If you do it in practice, you have a much better chance of doing it in the game than the guy that doesn't do it consistently in practice. We just want to make our share (of field goals); we don't expect a guy to be perfect."

Will you continue to work on and emphasize the running game?
Mike Hankwitz: "It has been a joint emphasis (between Hankwitz and the offensive coaches). We agreed that we needed to run the ball better. We were going to put a greater emphasis on it in practice with competitive drills against each other and with the emphasis of the backs running downhill. We felt like if we could run the ball better, then that would open up some of our passing game, too. Our offense wanted to get a better balance, so it has been a mutual philosophy there. As a defensive coach, when you get into some of those uncertain situations, like 2nd-and-5, they are harder to defend than 2nd-and-9 or 3rd-and-12. So, when you make yards and force a team to start committing more to the run, then you open the passing lanes, too. I was pleased with the way our offensive line blocked in the last game, and our backs did a better job of running downhill. We will continue to emphasize that. I told the players that consistency is a true measure of greatness. You can play one good game, but good players have more than one game in a row. We have to show that we can run the ball more than in one game. We need to continue to be able to run it and keep the balance, and that will help make our passing game more effective."

"We go into the game saying that we need to run the ball X number of times. Then, you base it in the game on who is running more effectively. Clarence (Farmer) ran it very effectively in the last game, as did Mike Bell. When you're getting that kind of production out of him (Bell), he needs to have the ball in his hands, too. One of our goals is not to give up on it either. Just because we didn't make yards the first couple of times we ran, that does not mean that we aren't going to run it anymore. We will stick with it."

How has recruiting been effected since the firing of John Mackovic?
Mike Hankwitz: "We are continuing to evaluate and continuing to offer. We typically don't bring a lot of players in for official visits during the season. We are continuing full speed ahead because this is a critical year in recruiting. We have to get our numbers back up. We have had good players in our last two classes, but we have 13 seniors, so we will be able to sign 25 players. If we can do that, then our numbers are back up to where we are close to 85 scholarship players."

"The first thing we did is that we told everyone that we needed to contact everybody that we had been actively recruiting and explain the situation to them. We told them that it was unfortunate that it didn't work out with Coach (John) Mackovic; it was nothing against him. He is a proven head coach, but it just wasn't working, and the University made a decision to go in a different direction. First, our point is that the University is committed to winning. Second, it is going to be a fresh start here, and that we are close to winning. And third, whoever they name (head coach) in all likelihood will be given a three-, four- or five-year contract and be given time to build a program. That should signal to recruits stability and a commitment to winning. They are seeing how close we are (to winning). The kids have been very receptive, and once we talked to them, we have gotten a good response."

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