Walt Harris Washington State Post-Game

After another disheartening display and defeat, nudging Stanford to an 0-4 start, Stanford head coach Walt Harris was again surrounded in the post-game locker room press conference with questions. Harris talked about field position, turnovers, freshmen, glimmers of improvement, the path going forward, and more.

How tough was that first quarter?  You guys run only a few offensive plays and your defense is out there forever...

"Well, it's a combination.  You'd like to stop them and get off the field.  Then we get the ball on the two-, one- and 11-yardlines.  When you are down inside there, it's pretty easy to know what you are going to do on offense.  We really had to step up physically, and we did not.  Getting stepped on is probably a picture of our situation right now."

What is your emotion as a coach when you want to see things go well right out the gate, but you see that safety happen?

"You know what?  If you spend too much time dwelling on it, you are not being fair to your players.  You have to move on and keep on fighting, which is what Stanford Football has to do: keep moving on, keep getting better and keep chipping away at our areas where we need to get better at."

Walt, what do you think it is going to take for the light to come on for this team?

"I don't know.  If I knew, I would turn the light on.  You may say, 'You just blame your players,' but we think we stress it as much as anyone I've heard.  I just think we need to slow the game down and play it with that very high in our mindset in order to give us a chance.  We're capable of playing no-turnover games.  When we do, as proven in the past, we will give ourselves a better chance to be successful.  But a turnover game and no-physical game?  We don't have a chance.  We've got to find a way to be physical with our opponent to match up.  Now, it's obviously better not to be on the minus-one, the minus-two and the minus-11, but our field position has not been good in a lot of games.  That's because we are having the ball moved on us; then we stop them wherever that might be."

What happened on the blocked punt?  Did they just make a play, or did somebody not block somebody properly?

"Some young freshman tried to do more than he is supposed to do, and he didn't do what he was supposed to do."

Michael Okwo talked a bit about playing to perfection.  That's a pretty high standard.  Do you feel like you almost have to play perfectly at this point?

"No.  No, I think that's not really the way to look at it.  You have to be in the right spot at the right time.  You don't have to be great, but sometimes we were not even in the right area.  You can't have 10 guys doing it right and playing as hard as they can, and one guy makes a mistake and is not where he's supposed to be - whether it be offense, defense or special teams.  It takes just one."

It looked like a different team at the start of the second half, the way you guys moved the ball.  Were there adjustments made here [in the locker room] or things said here?  What happened?

"We moved the ball.  Did we have better field position?  [Yes.]  That's huge.  You are much more free-wheeling when you have better field positions.  One of our team goals is to always win the field position battle, and that is based on the average start.  In the games we have won, we have always had a shorter field to drive the ball.  That's one of the other secrets in football.  If you have to drive it 99 yards, you're not going to drive it very often.  It could be one yard, but if we're not physical, then we're not going to score.  The two glimmers that we're going to hang our hat on was I thought we had improved special teams play - minus the punt block, which was one individual and a young guy.  Then I thought as a team we played early in the third quarter with great enthusiasm, and we made some things happen.  But we fumbled and that really took a lot of air out of us."

On the Toby Gerhart fumble, you challenged.  What did you see?

"I think they reviewed it.  We were getting ready to challenge it, and then the official did an excellent job.  He held me off and said that they were already reevaluating it."

Doesn't it seem like any time a guy goes for a second or third effort, that's when a helmet gets put on the ball and you lose it?

"I thought it got ripped out.  From my perspective, I saw something different.  But once they say it was a fumble, then it has to be conclusive evidence to overturn it.  I guess it didn't show that."

You lost Brandon Harrison early.  What is your assessment of that injury?

"I walked off with him after the game, and he said, 'It doesn't hurt while I walk, but I couldn't run.'  He is a very competitive football player, too.  He was hurting out there on the field; then he got himself back onto the field and played some plays.  I don't how bad off he is."

How do you in this week and the coming weeks measure the balance between tough practices that make these guys not make mistakes, but at the same time trying to keep spirits up or hope up when things are down for the team?

"That's a good question.  First of all, if you play football, you had better play it for the enjoyment of the physical parts of it.  For me, having 'tough' practices in my mind - you're not going to be out there four hours.  There are rules, and there is no use to that.  But we need to be much more crisp and much more physical.  It starts with our scout team.  We're not giving our offensive players a good look.  The defense - I'm not sure they are getting the physicalness either.  What happens is that you train yourself for something a lot different than what you face in the game.  That's about what happened.  We have to do a better job of that, and that falls with me.  I started working on that on Thursday because I saw that our resistance wasn't enough, so we're giving our guys a false sense of how good we are, how much we can move them.  I'm sure that has happened on the other side, as well."

Walt, how shocked are you by all this, to be 0-4?

"I just think that this is a really tough game: football.  When you are playing younger people, that's not a good sign.  For whatever reason when you are playing younger people, they have not really had the chance to adjust to the game.  There are some guys.  We had Larry Fitzgerald, for example.  He played in the first game and started the second game from then on out.  There are freshmen who are so far above everybody else - he caught 13 passes his second game - but that is not why a lot of our guys are playing.  There is a learning curve, and it just takes time.  That is why I was enthused seeing that our special teams did a little bit better.  I think we are coaching them better, and they have the 'exhibition season' out of the way.  We don't an exhibition season; they all count.  But in a sense it is like pro football.  Pro football plays four games or in some cases five to get all the bugs out.  We don't have an exhibition season, but that's kind of what our young guys have gone through.  They have gone through playing football in space.  Until you really get your recruiting program going, when you play in space, that is when you really need a lot of good athletes.  Special teams is where your athletic ability shows up the quickest."

Walt, do you feel like you have everybody's undivided attention?  Is it going to get harder next week to get their attention than this week to perform?

"It may be, but I'm not worried about whether that is going to be easier or harder.  I'm just going to do what I think needs to be done, what I know how to do and that I've been involved with before.  I'm going to stay the course.  I'm not going to be negative to them.  I'm going to be honest with them and demanding of them because that's why they play - they want to win.  You practice and go through all the things you want to go through to play to win.  There were some sparkles in that game where you could say that we were finally playing to win, and we just need a lot more of them.  We have to go one play at a time.  We can't be worried about the next play.  One play at a time, one quarter at a time and we'll see what happens."

What do you think about the rush defense and what are you doing to shore it up?

"I'm not pleased with that, but I'm not pleased with the rush offense, either.  For me to say that I have answers...  I'm like everybody else that I have opinions but I need to talk to A.J. Christoff, our defensive coordinator, as well as our offensive line coaches, and see what we can do to give our players a better chance."

What about Washington State?

"I thought they played a good game.  They played us smart.  I think their quarterback has continued to improve, which is what you would expect from a good athlete.  They have skill; they have athletic ability; and they did a nice job up front blocking on offense.  Defensively #94 dominated us, but he wasn't the only one who dominated us.  I think some other guys dominated us.  They played it to keep the ball in front of them, which they did most of the whole game.  They laid their ears back and rushed the passer."

You talked about #94, Mkristo Bruce.  Later in the game, that was Ben Muth he was going up against.  Did Allen Smith leave the game because of injury or because of a coach's decision?

"He left the game because he was struggling against them."


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