It was not hard to pick out what was the biggest issue the Red Wolves faced in Saturday’s 55-6 loss to No. 8 USC.
Coach Blake Anderson was pleased with the effort but not some of the results.
“After having watched video and talked about everything the positive to take away from Saturday night game was the tremendous effort, 60-minutes worth,” he said. “That is something we harped on knowing the opponent was very talented and the challenge was going to be big. Wanted to make it clear to the guys that our main goal was to get 60 minutes effort from our guys and we were very clear on that.
“That being said you can’t turn the ball over 4 times, giving up at least 14 points, if not 21. And you can’t miss tackles and create explosive plays. Positives were the energy and effort, negative things that can be controlled. And hopefully be improved upon in a week’s times against a very, very strong opponent.”
The Red Wolves finished with three interceptions and a lost fumble, their highest turnover total in Anderson’s 14 games.
“The biggest thing we had was turnovers,’’ said offensive coordinator Walt Bell. “Obviously you play a team with that high of a talent every mistake we made is going to be magnified. Even some hidden things that people don’t see. We had issues there with X-and-O-wise make us look bad and what we did. We have a lot of work to do.”
Senior quarterback Fredi Knighten finished 8 of 23 passing with 2 interceptions for 86 yards. It was the first sub. 50 percent completion game of his career.
“Whether it was the stage, which would surprise me considering he has been on big stages before,” said Anderson, “or whether it is the amount of pressure he has put on self as a senior and the offense is on his shoulders. He will have to answer that.
“They (USC) are built kinda his worst nightmare in the sense they are extremely long and very tall. They take up a lot more space visually for him than some of the opponents in our league. He has had a tremendous amount of success against visually. I’m not sure how well he saw, but even with that being said, both interceptions were things that he could control. At worse those are incompletions are thrown away. That is just not what we expect of him or what he expects of himself. He is not going to be successful if we continue that trend.”
The Magical freshman
One of the big hits of the game was freshman running back Warren Wand, who at 5-foot-5, 174 pounds, made a splash. He ran for 52 yards on 10 carries and caught a pass for 10 more.
“Warren did really well,” said Anderson. “It was what we expected. He ran the ball well; looked fast even out there against fast people. Physically held up his own. Thought he finished a couple of runs with some power. Played on all special teams.
“He is going to be sprinkled in throughout. A lot of that has to do with how Mike (Gordon) is feeling and if the injury bug hits us. As long as Mike is healthy, we will manage as best we can. It was good the see how Warren came out of that thing. He protected the ball really well, he didn’t play like a freshman at any point. He knew what to do, played well on special teams, protected the ball. He finished a couple of runs. It gives you confidence he can do that at any time. I’m not sure how many snaps he played. But he was out on the field a pretty good bit.”
The Red Wolves finished with 208 yard rushing. Knighten has 58, Warren 52 and Johnston White 30 yards on 6 carries.
Bell on Knighten
“He and I are kin in one way – we are very critical or ourselves. He and I don’t handle that well. The place where he is much more equipped for there. I’ve never seen a guy play so poor then go and win the football game. He bounces back. Last year against Utah State he played so poor then won the ball game for us. I would be hiding under the bench somewhere. If he plays a poor game he usually bounces back and plays lights out.
“We had issues protecting and we knew we would going into the game. That is a good group. They played really aggressive. They blitzed us more than they had at any point in the year before. Doesn’t make the turnovers acceptable but he was under some duress.
On the sideline
Bell moved down from the press box area for the season-opener.
“I typically always, especially with a veteran quarterback like Fredi, a guy who really took over in the back half of year, am where he want me to be. I’ve been upstairs and I have been on the field. It doesn’t bother me either way.
“In terms of communication and being on the field I prefer to be on the field. There are good things about being in the box too. At the end of the day its where do you want me to be he said coach ‘I really like you on the sideline, I like you in the huddle, I like it when you are talking to the other guys. At the end of the day if he’s successful and comfortable I’m ok. You saw it the other day if he is not very successful we are not going to be.
“We got very good information from coach (offense graduate assistant Kyle) Ceffalo and coach (Dan) Dodd up there in the press box.”