Opening statement “Pleased with how hard the guys played after reviewing the film. It wasn’t too much different than we thought. I thought on defense our guys played extremely hard, limited some of the explosive plays that USC is very good at making, and got us some turnovers. We finally won the turnover battle, which was critical although we didn’t capitalize like we would like to. On offense I think the positive is how we were able to run the ball. On the glass half full side of things, I think Jake (Browning) is an accurate thrower that will make some of the throws that we did have that can change the game rapidly.”
On how he assesses offensive growth “We analyze every single play and it starts there. Why is it effective or not effective and do we need to get rid of it? Do we have too much? This whole thing, like we’ve been saying from the start, is a work in progress and do we think it fits the scheme? Every week we’re back to square one in terms of where we are there. I think the thing that was good about the run game is it’s really easy to abandon that. You get two, three, zero and it’s really easy to give up on that. The run game is all about getting into a rhythm and when you have young guys it’s even harder to do that. It takes some time to stay with it. I thought that was a nice thing that we did on Thursday night. We stayed with it long enough to get everybody, the back as well, into a rhythm.”
On if Myles Gaskin has earned more carries going forward “Absolutely. I really think it started with our o-line. If you put the tape on, those guys did a nice job staying on their blocks. Myles (Gaskin) is one of those guys that is very, very patient. If we can continue to do that, he doesn’t run in there blind; he’s going to pick and choose where that seam actually develops. That’s a pretty unique gift I think."
On Myles Gaskin’s patience gave him the edge to succeed against a defense like USC that a player like Dwayne Washington doesn’t have “Those guys are so different and so unique, which is a good thing. I think, again, I just kind of go back to the o-line. Myles hit a run or two early and so we kind of left him in there; he had the hot hand. I thought the o-line got into a rhythm and stayed on their blocks a little bit which we hadn’t seen a whole lot in the past games. I thought they did a really good job of that and that just fits Myles’ style pretty well.”
On the Azeem Victor suspension “You’ve seen the tape. What’s your opinion on that? I can’t say anything. That’s the bottom line. You guys have seen it and it is what it is. I know what your opinion is. I know what everybody’s opinion is. It is what it is.”
On if there’s an appeal process “No. We kind of went through this last year with (Joshua) Perkins. Once they look at it and review it you move on.”
On if this situation provides an opportunity to teach his players about hitting the right way “Absolutely. That’s probably the most disappointing thing. Around the quarterback you’ve always got to be really, really cautious. That’s easy for me to sit here when for those kids the name of the ‘game is get to quarterback.’ The strike zone has changed completely. How we wrap-up and all those different things factor in. If we do what we’re coached to do we don’t put ourselves in a situation.”
On if he thinks the NCAA will look at the targeting rule at the end of the season “I would really hope so, that it would get looked at. There’s nobody that’s a bigger advocate for making the game safe than me and our staff. We get all that. We really do, but I think what you’re saying is correct.”
On if there’s a tendency for officials to call targeting when in doubt “I think I’ve been told that a lot of times with penalties if there’s a gray area they really shouldn’t call it, but when it comes to targeting or anything like that and there’s a gray area they’re going to call it. I think that might tie into what you’re talking about.”
Is there a tendency now to over-officiate those kind of calls? “It’s been going on for a while. It’s not like this rule is out this year. So I don’t really know. It’s hard on the kids, I know that, because it’s a rough game, you know? You’re trying to get to that. And so we’ve got to make good, split-second decisions, and hopefully, like you said, we kind of address that at the end of the year and we all get on the same page and go from there.”
According to your interpretation of the rule, what is the violation? “I think there’s two different things. I think there’s targeting, where you’re going to a guy’s head, and then there’s the personal foul part of things, where, ‘could you avoid that guy? Did you need to hit him?’ Those type of things. It wasn’t like … even if you’re not targeting the head, it’s bang-bang, he just got rid of it, almost got there – a lot of that’s just going to be judgment.
What was the explanation you got on that call? “Targeting. That’s why he’s thrown out.”
Who fills in for Azeem in the first half? “Yeah, Sean Constantine, Scotty Lawyer, Ben Burr-Kirven. All those guys have been getting work, and they’ve got to be ready to go against one of the better teams in the country that can run the ball, there’s no question. Very good at it.”
Do you get a sense of what the Oregon rivalry means here? “I think it’s important to a lot of people around here, no question about it. It’s been going on, long-time rivalry, and I think it’s really important. I was on the other side for a while and it was really flipped, and so on both sides, I think it’s an important game up here.”
Do you play up the losing streak at all? “I just for the most part go back to – this is our next most important game. Our kids played really good, really well certainly in certain phases of the game last week, and so can we build upon that? That’s what it’s got to be, because everybody we play is really good. So it’s just always got to be that we can’t be super motivated for one team and kind of motivated for another team. And I think it’s really hard every single week to, like, be off the charts in terms of motivation and all those type of things. So I think that’s why you’ve just got to come back to you being locked in during the week and your preparation is spot-on, and you’re really excited to play against a good team with a lot of history. It’s all those things. And I think there’s different storylines every week. but if we can just stay away from up and down and highs and lows and just try to build skill each week and get a little bit better, I think that’s the right approach.”
What kind of impact can Thursday’s win have on the program? “What I would hope it would be is, we have a real particular way of practicing and talking to these guys, and so I hope it gives us, me, our coaches, everything we’re doing around here, all their hard work some credibility. Yeah, this will work if you keep just sticking to the process. No matter what your formula is, when you don’t have success – and how everybody measures success around here is the final score, which we get how important it is. That’s the one thing we don’t ever have to talk about. They get that. But there’s a lot of other little victories along the way, in terms of, are we getting better? Did we make improvements, even though it may not show up sometimes? And I think that’s what happens when you have a young team, that you can have a lot of small victories that nobody else is talking about and it’s hard for them to even pay attention to, but because this is such a game of confidence, it’s nice when it shows up on the scoreboard, as well.”
Oregon has obviously struggled more this year than they’re used to. Do you see a different team when you look at them on tape? “I’ll tell you what. I think you look at who they’ve played, and you look at Michigan State – have those guys lost a game? They haven’t lost a game. And Utah, where they are. I mean, we’re talking about some of the really top, elite programs in the country. I think Washington State, those guys are always going to be an issue for everybody, just in the nature of their style and how they throw it and all those type of things, and obviously Coach (Mike) Leach is doing a good job over there building that thing. So I think you take that all into consideration. We’ve been saying from the start that on any given day, this league is so difficult. And so you put them on and you watch them and you say, ‘oh, this is the Oregon team that we’ve seen for a long time.’ They do some very, very good things. And if our team for one second thinks this is like a different Oregon program, yeah, I know what’ll happen, and it won’t be good.”
Who do you think starts at QB for Oregon? “I don’t really know. If I was guessing, it would probably be Vernon Adams. He’s been out for a while. I know he’s been throwing, and those type of things. But we again can’t really get hung up on that. That has nothing to do with us. They’re going to run their system. I mean, I don’t think it really changes. There might be some different plays they emphasize with him, but it all looks the same to me.”
Do you peek at last year’s Eastern Washington game, then? “Nah, I don’t need to peak at that. I remember it very clearly. There’s no need to peek at it.”
Was working on receiver separation an emphasis during the bye week - “Yeah, I think so against some man coverage, some press coverage. Maybe he got surprised and maybe that’s why some of the balls weren’t right on, because they did a great job of separating, and we’ll just keep building on that. I am confident that we’ve got to keep doing those type of things and Jake will get the ball there eventually. We practiced yesterday and he looked better even yesterday when you challenge him and a lot of our guys about stuff they’ve got to improve upon. They respond pretty good.”
Given his youth, were the Jake Browning overthrows a factor of nerves, adrenaline? - “That’s hard for me to say. Once you start playing the game and kind of play and you don’t think about those things…seeing the guy is open and pressing a little bit there and all that kind of adds up. I don’t necessarily think it’s because it’s a Thursday night game and a lot of people are watching. You kind of put that out of your mind. I think he maybe needs to set his feet a little bit better and know he’s got a little bit more time. We’re talking about fractions of seconds here. We’ll just keep working on it.”
Given the confidence gained from the win, do you sense you have a different team right now than before? - “I think your team is slightly different every Sunday. I really do. Depending on what happens it’s a little bit different. You’re always trying to gauge them and where we are. This to me is just one small step forward. That’s all it is. We still have a ton of football left to play. It was a good step forward and it’s progress. That’s what it is to me. And it’s also behind us and as we talk right now those kids show up tomorrow for practice - we are 0-0. That’s the type of mentality. And it’s easy for me to say that. If they can have that mentality and be excited to play, really excited - like they were the week before - then I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Looking back at the opening three possessions, did you think you had a chance at a decisive win? - “I don’t know, because I think sometimes it’s easy to say that and the other team responds accordingly. So it’s hard to say. I do think we should have had some more points on the board, without question. But it’s hard to say. I think so many of these teams, starting with USC, have so much firepower, maybe that sparks them and motivates them more. I thought about that, but you never really know.”
Is it important to have one RB get the majority of carries, or are you happy with it being by committee? - “I’m okay as long as somebody is productive, you really feel like a guy is getting something done for you. We don’t want a bunch of guys back there that are kind of not on. Some of that has to do with the rhythm and putting a guy in there a little bit to get him into a rhythm. The guys that can get into a rhythm quick and can do some things are going to get more reps. To answer your question, it is important in some ways to have a guy and leave him in there and go, but it’s also important to have even more than two running backs that you feel good about and the competition thing comes forth where when you get in there you need to produce a little bit. You need to do some things where maybe it’s not all blocked just perfectly. That’s what we’re always talking about. A lot of guys can go in there and do something if it’s blocked really, really well. But we’re looking for the guys that can do something when it’s not all clean. It starts with the o-line giving our guys a chance because they are all skilled. And that’s what I thought was a little bit different; our line gave our guys a chance to get something going.”
On Budda Baker’s return from an ankle injury “Budda did great. He’s amazing. He really did. I think where he was when his injury occurred — he got back faster than a lot of guys. And that’s why — I know you guys always chuckle when we say ‘week to week,’ because we really don’t know. But that guy, we weren’t sure if he was going to play probably up until Wednesday and by Thursday, how much it was going to be. And he’s a tough kid and it was nice to have him back out there."
What’s your reaction to what’s going on with Sarkisian? “I don’t know everything that’s gone on down there. I’ve heard a few things. And I think half the time everybody piles on and doesn’t really know the full story. I think this is a tough job and you just feel bad for the whole situation, for everybody. … It’s a hard enough when you’re doing well. And then (when) something doesn’t go right in your situation and then everybody piles on, I think it’s very tough. Everybody’s got their opinion now and I don’t think everybody knows exactly everything that goes on to have an opinion like that.”
You and some of your staff stayed around SoCal to recruit after the game. How was that reception? "It was good being down there. We got some good recruiting done. I think the one thing is everybody has so much respect for that program, that that’s what’s always nice — that you go down there and beat a program that a lot of people, whether they like them or don’t like them, there’s a lot of respect because they know what’s there. So when you’re able to beat a team like that, I think it’s good for the program. But I think for us to continue moving forward, it’s got to be more than one game and we’ve got to keep building.”
On WSU after it’s victory over Oregon “That didn’t totally surprise me. Just because, the one thing is they have a unique style that not everybody sees — just how much they throw it. And they’re darn good at it. And so you just never know. I think Coach Leach is doing a great job over there, putting his stamp on those things. And I’m sure all the things we’re talking about here, it’s the same for those guys, to get some confidence and go. And then you factor in when we play those guys and the rivalry and all that, that’s always an issue for us. I’m sure they’re building on that as well."
On Travis Feeney being named Pac-12 defensive player of the week “He is? Awesome. It’s great. We probably had a handful of guys that could be it. I think it’s even better when he wasn’t our defensive player of the week. I think that’s great; I think that’s interesting, to spread around the accolades where they’re deserved. And I think there’s a couple other guys in there that could get something as well.”
Does that show how well Feeney has picked up the Buck position? “I think he’s at a good position for him. Travis is a really good athlete, a good football player, and still even learning the nuances of that position. But he’s obviously gaining weekly. And when he’s on, he’s as good as anybody out there. I think you saw some really good plays out there on Thursday.”
Who was your defensive MVP “Darren Gardenhire."
On Gardenhire’s interception in the first series “Not only him, we got a sack early and he gets a pick. I think they all played well together. Darren's game is getting better each week. Been really pleased with that.Those are some tough guys to cover now (at USC). And he was covering them. That one was a post corner double move and he was right there. So I think he's starting to settle down and really see things for what they are. And if he keeps staying focused and progressing — that's the thing you hear me say every week about the progress and getting better. And obviously he is. I don't even just look at the pick; he had another one. Sometimes, DBs and corners can guess on things and be right. And then they can guess and be really, really wrong and I think he's kind of getting out of that mode for the most part and really seeing things for what they are."