In looking at the tape, were you able to get any different impression of what the offensive performance was like?
Well, yeah, it was really good. We had 39 first downs. We had 59 points. We had 6.6 per carry. We had 16 receivers catch a ball, we had eight backs run a ball. We were 12 for 12 at one point on third down, ended up 12 for 14. But the only issues were the turnovers in the red zone, which we have to get fixed, and the false start and the delay of game. A couple of those other calls were, you know, they were what they were. Tough to fault the players on a couple of them. I thought they played well. Some pretty impressive numbers—I haven't been around a whole lot of games like that.
In terms of Brett's performance, did you get a different sense of it from watching the tape?
Yeah, a couple of plays that weren't good, but overall, he was excellent again. He's a big time player. He just has great command. We had 98 offensive plays, and I don't know how many he had, 70 or whatever, but if you have 70 plays, you're going to have a play or two that are not perfect. I think sometimes we have to realize that the other team's got players that are good performers as well. Brett played well.
Do you think he's judged at a different level because of how well he played last year and at the beginning of this year?
That's possible. I don't necessarily think that's all from the outside, I think it's us too. Everyone. That's not necessarily a bad thing. That means our expectations are rising and others are as well. I'm ok with that. I'm certainly ok with our expectations rising. It's very interesting when you come out of a game where you've just completely dominated, and I don't say that disrespectfully to New Mexico State, only that we played very well, and you're disappointed. I think we have to be very careful that you don't minimize wins. Wins are hard to come by, but I also think it's very important that you're very honest with yourself as well. We're happy with the win, but we're unsatisfied, we have to get better. But you have to be careful sometimes that you don't, you have to appreciate those wins. They're not always going to be beautiful. Not every win is going to be a work of art. That's just an illusion to think it's always going to be like that. But, and I'm just talking in circles to you guys here, at the same time, you have to be critical, so it's a fine line to walk. (Laughs) I'm sorry.
But those are the kinds of games that aren't going to look pretty, right?
Sometimes they're not. I hate the old "if we hadn't done this," or "if only we hadn't fumbled" or "if only we hadn't thrown an interception" excuses. I think, though, sometimes human nature takes you to the point where you look at it and go, "God, if we had just executed in the red zone, we had 70 points right there." Actually, more than that. 59 plus 21 is 80.
Does that sort of come from the knowledge that there are tougher opponents coming and it'd be dangerous if these sorts of things keep happening?
Yeah. Absolutely. But here's the thing: they haven't happened, they happened last night. I don't want to say "Keep happening" because they haven't happened.
But if there's a reoccurrence of them, I guess.
With what happened last night with the turnovers? Well, as you guys pointed out, we went 83-0 over one stretch there. So, the only issue for me on offense was the false start on Shaq, the delay of game on Brett, and then the turnovers in the red zone. But those haven't been, there's no reoccurrence there. That's why you have to head them off. That's why you don't ever excuse them. It's a fine line. You don't say "it's ok", "oh, that happened", and "Oh, that happened." But you've got to be fair. "So it happened one time, let's make sure it doesn't happen again." It's not like we've had three games where we've had a bunch of turnovers, because we haven't. It's not like we've had three games where we've had a bunch of issues in the red zone, because we haven't. So, I think you just have to look at it objectively, which is what I try to do. A lot of times you come in after a game and you're emotional and you're thinking about all the things that went wrong, and you come back and look at the tape and you see a lot of good things.
The same player picked off both of Brett's throws in the end zone—how much of those can be attributed to Brett and how much to the skill of that player?
Who's ability as a player, the player that made the play?
Yeah, the two picks on Brett in the red zone.
Ok, well, let's go back to all three of them. The first one was a run, and what it looked like to me and after talking to Noel is that Brett put the ball in Jordon's stomach and he either didn't pull it out quick enough or wasn't certain in what he wanted to do. So there was a little lag time between the two of them. And you just can't have that. That's not good. The second one, the throw, it looked like he left it a little bit low and behind. The third throw looked a little high and behind. Brett's better than that. Brett will make better throws and decisions than that. I'm struggling to answer these questions and not sound like I'm excusing anybody, but these are great learning opportunities. When we can win a game, not play perfect, and have a lot of things we can correct, and get better at, because we saw them on tape and because we experienced them, that's a positive.
Did you feel the defense was kind of ratcheted up aggressively last night?
After the first drive, Chris. The first drive, I didn't like. Now, they punted, but I didn't like them taking it from like the five to whatever, the 45. We did not look solid on the run. After that first drive, they played very very well. Very well.
With Jordon in the top 5 in the nation in rushing and the running game in the top 15, has the running game exceeded your expectations?
I didn't know those statistics, so when you tell me that Jordon James is in the top five of the country, yeah, that surprises me. That surpasses my expectations. We're top 15, and I don't know if that does, because I always felt like we had the ability to run the ball. We've got a really nice scheme, and I feel we have some good players, both blocking and running. I didn't realize that Jordon was that high. I'm very pleased with our run game. I think we were all very very uncertain as to who was going to carry the load, and we all used the term, I did, you guys did, "running back by committee." Who's going to be the workhorse? I think what we found is that Jordon is a capable runner, and there's others as well. Steven Manfro played great last night. Malcolm played outstanding. Perk had some great runs. WE're going to get Thiggy back this week or next week. It's a heck of a group. I don't know that there has to be a lead dog. Obviously, statistically right now, that's Jordon, but they're all very capable players. It's an exciting group to watch.
When you do get Thigpen back, is that a realistic situation where you can possibly conceive using five running backs?
I don't know. That's a tough one, man. Here's what I think we have to do. Guys like Thiggy, and Steven, we have to be creative. You know how we did it last year, sometimes Thiggy was in the slot, sometimes Manfro was in the slot. I think we have to just get very creative, I mean, not so creative that we screw ourselves over, by trying to outscheme or outthink ourselves, but try to utilize those guys as much as possible because they're good football players. So, it'll be interesting. Like I said last night, people say, "Oh, that's a good problem to have", well, it hasn't been a problem. It's just trying to figure out the best answer.
How much do you think it's helped Jordon to just get consistent carries as opposed to last season when he was the backup?
Oh, I think it's big. Running backs, they're not going to break one every time they touch it. You have to have patience. Sometimes they've get a two yard run, a three yarder there, a five yarder, and then all of a sudden they pop one. And then they might get back to a one yarder, two yarder, and then they pop one. If you don't get them consistent carries, it's hard for them to get that one where they pop one. If you expect them to just break one every time, that's probably unrealistic as a coach, and it's probably unfair to the players. I think that consistent carries is really helpful for him.
You mentioned going a perfect 12 for 12 to start on 3rd down. How key is that going forward with some potentially tighter Pac-12 matchups on the horizon?
It's encouraging. What was discouraging was that some of them were third and longer and we would have liked to see more third and shorter, but we converted them. On the other side, they were only one of 11 on third downs, so we did our jobs on the other side of the ball. But, you know coaches, we're never satisfied, and I think that's a good thing, but we also have to be objective about it. You know what I mean, like, offensively, we were 12 for 12, and on every one of those 12, there was something we could have done a little bit better. On defense, even though they were one for 11, on all 11 of those plays, even if we stopped them, there was something we could have done better. We just have to keep trying to pursue perfection.