Does it help you guys at all, the experience of heading up to Stanford last year for the Pac-12 Championship?
I think it does. Yeah, I think it does. It wasn't that long ago that we were up there for a very important game. I also think that we can draw on the Nebraska trip and the Utah trip as well. I don't think we mind going on the road. We love playing at home. There's nothing like an environment like last night, the place was packed and people were excited. But we don't mind going on the road and playing. That's not something that seems to faze this group.
What did you see went wrong on 3rd down last night, and would you agree with Noel Mazzone's assessment that his play calling was a little out of sync?
We always are looking to get better no matter how well we play or how big of a win it is. We're always trying to improve. That's just kind of how coaches are. I don't think we're ever satisfied. I think Noel's like that. We're happy that we won. And we're happy with the final result. But we're always going to find things that we could improve upon. Last night, even though our third down percentage was pretty darn good in a general sense, there were things we felt we could have done better, from the way we called things to the way we executed him.
Were there any particular plays or designs that you tried out multiple times that just weren't working?
Not that I'm comfortable talking about, no.
Anything different that you saw on film from Caleb and Alex having seen them again?
Well, I think they're both good young players who are going to continue to get better the more that they play. I think any time you're playing with young guys, I mean, they're kids still, new in this world. There's going to be a level of inconsistency that you've just got to push through. I think that every time they go out and play they're going to get a little bit better and they're going to become a little more consistent. I think it was really important last night, for Caleb especially, to go out and play a full game. It's not like Caleb has a safety blanket. He's got Alex next to him. And Alex, at least he can lean on Jake a little bit, but you put both of them next to each other and they've got to fight their way through some things they haven't seen before, some decisions that they have to make based on their roles that they haven't necessarily practiced. So it's just a great learning experience. I didn't look out there at any point last night and go, "Oh my gosh, we've got two freshmen playing on the offensive line right next to each other." I couldn't do that with this team. I mean, heck, how many teams in America are 5-0 and started six true freshmen yesterday? I just can't worry about it. I just have to go out and expect them to play well.
Is it more of a physical thing than a mental one for those freshmen?
I think they're physically capable of being tremendous players. I think sometimes the technique, the physical part of the technique, is a factor just because they haven't done it as much as some guys who have played longer. But I think you're exactly right, it's mostly just seeing the looks, responding to the looks, handling what we call unscouted looks—things that are new, new wrinkles that a defense puts in every week. But I think they are both tremendously gifted player, and I'm excited about them. It's fun to watch them go out and get better every time. It's fun to watch them rise to the occasion like they did last night and at the same time there are plays where you're frustrated. But you've got to get through those times.
Do you see Damien Thigpen's role increasing with the amount of live action he got last night?
Yeah, you know what, he got his hands on the ball for us a few times, but where he really made an impact for us was on punt coverage, which is something he's excelled at since we've been here. But I think he touches the ball, every time he makes a cut, every time he gets tackled, I think that his confidence level is going to grow, and I'm talking about confidence in his leg. He had a smile on his face last night during the game. He was actually playing. And I think that he kind of broke through a little bit of a mental barrier. I think he's just got to keep doing that. We all know what he's capable of. He's got speed, he's got wiggle, he's got burst. He's a guy you love to see with the ball in his hands so we'll keep working that way.
What do you think it says about the state of the program that guys seemed mildly disappointed after a 27 point win?
Well, it's funny because I went home last night and I looked at the scores from the top 25 teams in the country and I think there was only one other team in the top 25 that won their game that had a larger margin of victory than us. And I can't remember who it was. That's pretty good. Just the fact that none of us came out of that game satisfied is a really positive sign that our expectations amongst ourselves are very very high. But what I also want them to understand is that wins are hard to come by, and the minute you stop enjoying that you just went out and won a game, I don't know that that's always a good thing. You're supposed to enjoy the win. But if we can enjoy the win and be happy that we got the win but never be satisfied necessarily with the overall performance, I think that says a lot of good things about our program and where we're headed.
Obviously, you guys aren't looking ahead past Stanford, but is there a sense of "ramping up" heading into the meat of the Pac-12 schedule, with some difficult opponents on the horizon?
I got the feeling in the locker room after the game that there was a little bit of a heightened sense of what's coming. We try to take the approach that every game carries the same value, the same meaning, and that we have to prepare the same way, we have to have the same mindset. And I think it's important that you try as hard as you can to try to maintain that approach. But we're all human, and when you get a chance to go play at Stanford, things are going to ramp up a little bit. And without looking down the road too far, I think our whole team realizes that things are going to get really difficult really fast here and that we're going to have to increase our performance pretty soon. I think they're excited about that challenge.