Editor's Note: On December 19th Larry Johnson traveled to Moscow and talked with Nate Kaczor for a few minutes about last season's progress, and the goals for the upcoming recruiting season. The entire interview is for our subscribers.
LJ: First question: The season is over. How do you rate the offense's progress?
NK: "I would rate the offensive progress two ways: One, we wanted to get better at throwing the ball down the field vertically, and we did that without question. I think that in the run game…statistically we were not very good. That's a fact, and I would attribute some of that to injuries and players that were ‘key' for us…running the ball last year…not being available for games. There's no question that missing Jayson Bird and Luke Smith-Anderson and some of those things hurt us running the football. It'll be fun to see if we can put together the running that we did two years ago and the throwing that we did this year. I think that's about what we would like to see, in terms of when we envision the finished product. I'd like to be a good running football team, and also throw the ball down the field like we did this year. So, in retrospect, throwing the football deep was much better. We didn't run the ball as good as we have in the past, and I think a lot of that had to do with some injuries. We [also] need to get a little better at taking care of the football with some of the interceptions late in the year, and I think a lot of that had to do with Steve just trying to be aggressive and make plays, and we can get some of that stuff worked out. I was very happy with the progress we made throwing the football. Obviously we need to run the ball better."
LJ: What do you see as your biggest recruiting needs?
NK: "We still need to recruit fast players. There's no question that anybody that watched us play this year saw a few more guys that could make you miss and make some plays with the ball in their hands. You can never have too many of those guys; so every year we need to keep recruiting speed and guys that can score touchdowns…and also linemen. We've taken a lot of young linemen, and we have some young linemen in the program. They need to keep growing. I'd say fast speed guys…[and] a couple quarterbacks."
LJ: Did the tight ends and H backs play as big a role in your offense this year, or do you expect more from this group as far being a receiving option for next year?
NK: "They play a lot for us. Keith Greer, I thought, did some decent things and Eddie (Williams) did some decent things [both played extensively at H-back for Idaho]. The tight end position was a little bit of a revolving door with the loss of Luke (Smith-Anderson). You know, we had to move Andrew Stobart over from defense and play some really young guys; so really those guys, for no more experience than they had, did decent. But, we probably didn't get the production that a normal year, without injuries and so forth, that you'd get out of that position. But they were able to execute some things for us."
LJ: Did the wide receivers make good progress this year? In what way did they improve their game the most?
NK: "Like I said, we made some big plays...what we call an ‘explosive pass.' We did a study and it's not done yet, but I think we had 65 passes that we would deem ‘explosive,' and that's roughly five-point-something a game, and that's decent. That means you're making some big plays. Now, in between that we need to execute better. [An] example would be [that] we had guys that could get open and make a tough catch, but then getting lined up right all the time, and running a crisp route in an intermediate area...we can get better at. So, very similar to our passing game in general, I thought they did a better job this year making big plays down the field. But we need to clean up some of the alignments, things like that. The junior college players…this was their first year playing for us. They're very similar to freshmen, and I anticipate that stuff getting cleaned up just because they'll be a year older. But they definitely improved making big plays, the kind of the plays we all want to see."
LJ: Assess your running back situation today. What went right, what got better, and what needs more work from the running back position?
NK: "Well, we'd really like to have Jayson Bird be healthy for one, and then when Jayson Bird – if he's your featured back – then Rolly (Lumbala) and Tracy Ford and those guys can come in and role play 15 plays a game. That's what we'd like to do. You know, Tracy Ford, just in stature, is not a running back where you're going to win the WAC conference with him carrying it 40 times a game. And if you look at our league, the best teams in the league are the teams that run the ball. All [coaches] say ‘You've got to stop the run and run the ball to win.' Well, that's not what fans want to see. But explosion, as I alluded to earlier, [with] big pass plays sprinkled in amongst the runs: that's good football. The lack of a consistent running game this year kept us from being really good on offense, and that's why. We were, I think, 27th in the nation in passing offense but we didn't run it like we needed to. So, like I said, there's times we looked like a great offense, and there were the times that we could run the ball effectively. Or, at Boise State for example…using Tracy Ford on all those shovel passes are very similar to a run, and that's what he does best. So the times when we could execute some sort of a running game, be it shovels and screens or runs, that's when we really were explosive…which happened several times this year…which was fun to see. But, we've got to get Jayson (Bird) healthy, and then we can role play a little and get some mismatches and let Tracy (Ford) come in and carry it or let Rolly (Lumbala) carry it. I think Rolly – one of the differences this year from last year – was that last year we had Jayson. Well, this year, when we were so injured, Rolly was the only guy we had, and that's a whole different animal. When you're the featured back there's a lot of pressure on you to make plays, as opposed to someone [else] making a lot of plays and then here comes this guy who's kind of a change-up curve-ball and he goes 50 yards for a touchdown, which you saw out of him (Rolly) some as a freshman. But that's a different role. So, you know having all those guys healthy and playing together would really make a big difference."
LJ: Did the loss of Luke Smith-Anderson really affect your offense this year? What is the outlook for tight end for the next year?
NK: "The loss of Luke no question was a blow. Now, you know, the blessing in disguise there is that we got to play a lot of young guys; so again that's how you develop some depth. But when you lose your best player at a position, for me to sit here and say that that didn't hurt us, I'd be lying to you. And Luke is such a…he's really emerged this last year as a leader for us and a vocal, spiritual type leader…and you lose guys like that and it has an effect on the team. Now, as we develop depth, you know, that lessens the blow when you lose a player like that. So when we get him back and everybody's a year better, that should be a solid position for us."
LJ: Despite the rough finish at San Jose State this year, describe quarterback Steve Wichman's progress this year.
NK: "Steve made really good progress. It's hard for people to understand how big of a transition it is to Division I football. It's a big transition. It's not easy. You know, if you'd look at Steve this year he had a few ups and downs, but his talent and his ability, his accuracy, and his ability to throw it down the field was very evident at times. Conversely, his mistakes were very evident at times. So, [overall] he made really good progress and we just need to cut out the glaring mistakes. It's kind of the nature of the beast of the quarterback. I think he had 18 picks, probably five or six of those were not his fault…might have been a tipped ball…might have been hit while he was throwing it. So, just eliminating the pure mental mistakes: ‘I should not have thrown it there. I should have thrown it here'…is what we have to do. There's no doubt it'll be better next year just because…there's five (picks) I can think of off the top of my head that I know will never happen again…just were simple mistakes that he now knows…that happened early in the year."
LJ: What are your expectations for the offensive line next year? We know the group will be deeper, but what does that mean as far as your expectations for the unit next year?
NK: "Well, as I said earlier, developing depth – all that does for you is it makes the loss of players less of an issue. I mean, if you have seven guys that you feel good about and one gets hurt, then getting [his replacement] in there and building chemistry in a week of practice is your mission. But, if you lose a 6-4, 300-pounder that is very strong, and you have to throw in a true freshman that's 265 and not very strong…that's a big, physical drop off. So depth just creates more consistency in the event that you lose people…because the offensive line is really not a position like D-line where you just roll guys in and out to keep ‘em fresh. You do that a little bit, but having depth will allow us to build chemistry because those guys will play together for a long time at practice, spring scrimmage and so on and so forth."
LJ: Well thank you very much.
VV.com Exclusive: Nate Kaczor
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