Is the defense exceeding expectations? - “It was a really good effort, there’s no question about it. It’s interesting, because each week you go out there and it’s just such a new challenge every week with a certain type of player or style of scheme, some really good offenses out there. So you never really know. It’s almost like the mentality of we have to prove it every week before we say hey, we’re this or we’re that. And I think that’s probably the best thing our defense has done. They kind of go out there with a prove-it mentality and did it again this week. That was nice. I think they feel good about it. We never try to predict things, but I don’t think we were predicting that. The first drive they went down there and got their points and tough sledding from there. Hat’s off to those guys.”
Eight yards the first two drives, then 49 points. Anything that changed, or just sticking to the script? - “Yeah, it really was (sticking to the script). It was nice to get a touchdown in the first quarter. That’s kind of been the MO. We talk about it, we do things in practice and sometimes it’s almost works against you a little bit. But I know this; if we can stay on the field a little bit and convert some third downs and get a little bit of a rhythm - to me that’s the whole key to our offense starting to settle in a little bit.”
Did Jake Browning take a serious step forward Saturday? - “I think he’s a guy, each game you feel something that maybe he’s doing a little bit better. He sees the field really well, so when he misses something it’s almost like what’s going on out there? I say that as a sign of respect for that kid. We don’t think of him as a freshman because I think he sees things pretty well. I think the guy throws the ball really, really well. I’ve said it all along; as long as he can set his feet and have a chance to see some things, he’s going to find people if they are open and he’s going to throw it pretty accurate. So I keep going back to our o-line, who I think did a pretty nice job for the most part. I think we took a step there. Couple times Arizona got us on some scheme things. But when he’s able to set his feet he can throw it pretty well.”
Did you get a sense from him last week that he was going to do everything in his power to play Saturday? - “I wasn’t sure he wasn’t going to play against Stanford. This guy is as tough as they come. Don’t let the school-boy looks fool you; this guy is competitive and as tough as they come. I don’t know how many guys would have even played, and played at that level with what he had going on. He’s got to be able to practice to play, so I don’t think practice was all that fun for him in terms of pain tolerance and those type of things.”
Did he lobby to play at Stanford? - “I think he got it in terms of how many reps he was getting during the week, but yeah. He was in there every single day. It’s not like one thing had changed for him in terms of his preparation or what he was doing on the field. He was just trying to work through it. That has never changed since the second he got here. He’s very, very competitive.”
Where has the offensive line improved? - “It’s interesting, because the offensive line, you just see flashes at times from some of these young guys. You go wow, that’s really good. The other times, it’s maybe a day late and a dollar short. They know what they are doing but it doesn’t react quite quick enough. Some of the guys we play against will crease you and it’s too late. It’s not any one thing, it really isn’t. I think our fundamentals are getting slowly better. And certainly knowledge of the system is a big thing as well. Work in progress, but I think it was a step forward. We’ll be challenged much differently this week with this crew that’s coming in here, so we’ll see.”
What does Utah do well? - “Play really, really hard. They’ve got physical guys up front, they play hard. That’s really what it is. It sounds simple, and it’s not simple. They’ve got a good scheme and these guys play really, really hard. Tough guys that play hard.”
Coach Whittingham said UW’s defense reminds him of Utah’s defense. Agree? - “They might be similar in terms of some of the scheme stuff is similar. but I think both sides are playing really hard and I think there’s tough guys on both sides of the ball. I think those guys have stayed relatively healthy over there. That’s one thing you’re seeing as the season goes on, certain teams get hit really hard by the injury bug and you kind of see the same guys out there for the most part for Utah.
Is Elijah Qualls better? - “Elijah will be week-to-week. He will. We had all the doctors look at him and all those kind of things and still haven’t gotten the final verdict. But he’s still on that week-to-week rotation."
On getting good blocking on the outside on pass plays “I think we had a couple impressive blocks out there. Even throwing a bubble screen out there, Dante (Pettis) was able to knock the guy off his feet, and then Jaydon was able to take it. And I thought one of the things on offense that changed that had been really bothering me for a while is, we just hadn’t had anybody do much with the ball once they catch it. Catch it, and go down. And so finally, we got some yards after the catch. The most impressive one, to me, might have been Isaiah Renfro in the red zone, broke two tackles to get the ball down to the four. It doesn’t look like anything much, but I just haven’t seen that. Josh Perkins breaks a tackle, gets in the end zone (after) we throw him a little 4-yard route. That changes everything. Finally hit Dante in stride over the middle and he kind of makes a guy miss and gets in. I mean, that changes everything. Catching and going down, that’s just tough sledding. Everything has to be just perfect."
More on getting yards after the catch “It’s something we talk about. These kids, we talk about a lot of things that are still a work in progress, but for whatever reason – maybe Jake was throwing the ball … I think accuracy has a lot to do with it, and timing. So when you put the ball on the shoulder it needs to be, and they can catch it in stride, or in Josh Perkins’ situation, he stops, turns around, that ball’s right there, pivots out with no wasted time and it’s like, ‘what just happened?’ Touchdown. So a little bit more precision on everybody’s part helps that tremendously.”
Are there any other areas where you’re starting to see development take hold? “I think when you’re playing kind of how we’ve been playing, it’s not any one thing. There’s a lot of areas we need to get better at, starting with our o-line play. At times that’s the thing that’s really been frustrating for everybody, because at times you see flashes, and you see some really good football. It’s just inconsistent. Third and long, we can’t convert a third down that we should, and you look at it on tape and it’s like, it’s pretty obvious why not. We’re just not executing like we can. We’re always looking, are we putting our guys in a position that’s really hard to get that done? Are we asking them to do something they can’t do, scheme-wise, or something like that? And sometimes it is. We’re not going to be perfect as coaches, as well. But a lot of it is, some of these guys just seeing this stuff, and they’re starting to settle in a little more. I don’t know if that answers your question, but it’s not any one thing.”
You said after the game that the players responded to the urgency of the week – what was that message? “We’re pretty deep into our season here, and are you going to sit there at, it would be 3-5, or 4-4? I think this team really understood, there’s a huge difference between those two at this time. Especially with who we have coming here. And I didn’t have to say a whole lot. I think they said a whole lot. They got it. And they responded, which was nice.”
And what was the response to that message? “Well, kind of what we felt all along, that these kids – I keep telling you, they practice hard, they prepare pretty hard, they’re doing everything they can do to continually try to improve, and that can get hard, because we’ve been at this for a long time. Since spring ball, and how hard they’ve worked over the summer. And everybody’s worked hard, every program. Everybody’s got good players and coaches and those things, but I think they just pay attention to how hard they’ve worked and the sacrifice that’s come with it, and not all those results have shown up right now. And that’s the trick. Things that are worthwhile in life usually are going to be very, very difficult, and most people can’t and won’t persist through those things. They just get frustrated. They back off with the energy, attitude, effort-type things. That’s human nature. And I’ve been saying, we’re going to get good – if we can persist, if we can continue to stick to this process, which is really, really difficult to do, when all the results aren’t coming right away.”
If someone told you before the season that through eight weeks, you’d be leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense, what would you have said? “You know, again, really pleased with those guys. So, I don’t know. I think one thing that was a little bit interesting was last year, how that whole thing went. I mean, we had some really good players, and for whatever reason at times it really clicked, and at times it didn’t click. And so I know we’ve got really good coaches over there on the side of the field, and I also know that we have some pretty good talent. Let’s not underestimate that, with some of those guys that have been playing at a really high level. I think those two linebackers inside have really stepped their game up, that no one really knew a whole lot about, but they got enough experience last year to kind of set the stage. Our secondary was completely young last year, so we’ve played all those guys, and that’s really paid off. Then Feeney and Cory Littleton are pretty good football players. Then inside, losing Danny (Shelton), but then Elijah (Qualls), Greg Gaines, Vita (Vea) – you never know about that. But you kind of see some things, like, hey, there are some pieces there. because it’s always going to start with talent. It doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. If you don’t have the pieces in this league, you’re going to be exposed in a heartbeat. We probably had a little more talent than people thought, behind some of those good players. But yeah, I think going back, you go, ‘Really? You’re telling me that? That’s pretty good.’”
On what has allowed Travis Feeney to make the jump to BUCK “I think he’s a little more detailed than he’s been in the past. He’s so athletic that even when he does makes a mistake he can make up for it a lot of times. I think one thing is he’s not having to do that quite as much, playing with better eyes. He can make plays chasing things down that maybe he shouldn’t be, and they come back with a naked or gets out of his gap and he’s been able to make that up throughout his career. I think he’s playing a little more solid because he’s doing his job playing with better eyes and it’s really starting to translate for him.”
Was there ever a consideration to play Travis Feeney at BUCK last year behind Hua’oli Kikaha in anticipation of moving him to BUCK the following year? “Well, I think we were still trying to figure out what his best position was last year, you know, kind of where he played. And then I think as we went through the season and then kind of analyzed things, could he hold up kind of almost as a defensive lineman. We felt he could rush the passer and chase things down and so we were trying to figure that out. We kind of think his natural position kind of is that hybrid outside linebacker, so I think he’s right at home where he needs to be. We kind of told him that all along, we really think that’s what you are. I think guys when they play a little different position it takes a while to make that change in your mind.”
On the similarities between how Travis Feeney plays the BUCK and how Hau’oli Kikaha played the BUCK“That’s a good question. I think the one thing Hau’oli (Kikaha) did so well, that guy’s just such a natural pass rusher. I say natural. I don’t know if there are many guys I’ve been around that work harder on the intricacies of pass rushing. He made it look so natural and so easy. That guy was probably always the last guy off the field. Then he’d be in the weight room going through these hand placement moves and all that. He was such a good pass rusher, as good as we’ve seen for a long time. But I think Travis (Feeney) is so athletic that he can continue to develop those type of skills and be right there with him. Just his God-given speed to be able to things down is different.”
On practicing lateral plays and the review process “I don’t think anybody likes the wrong calls. I think that’s why we have so much instant replay anyways. To me, it drives me crazy. It’s like ‘really? We’re going to look at this too? Let the guys go and do part of their job.’ Now, maybe game-ending and some of those type of things, scoring plays and all that, maybe you need to look at all those. I don’t know. I think everybody wants to get it right. First part of your question, yes we do practice it. In fact, we started practicing a couple weeks ago. It was kind of interesting yesterday, because we practiced it for a long time over the years and never really used it. But we had started practicing just in case. It was interesting yesterday that we actually showed them the clip to say ‘this is the situation that we’ve been coaching a long time and we’ve never used it, but here you go.’”
On Utah being underdogs in two of their last three matchups and if the public perception of Utah is wrong“Yeah, I don’t know anything about underdogs or anything like that. I don’t think those guys are underdogs in any games they play. Those guys, that’s a good football team. It’s solid. They don’t have a weakness. They’re awesome on special teams, play great defense, big time running back, offensive line that can move the ball, a senior quarterback, I mean I don’t know what everyone is talking about there. A lot of respect for these guys. This is another type of program that you’re going ‘okay, this is kind of what we’d like our guys to look like here down the road.’ They play really, really hard, they know what they’re doing, and they’re not going to give you anything."
What was USC able to so well against Utah? “Turnovers. That’s the whole thing. Four turnovers. Just like we got a bunch of turnovers last week (vs. Arizona), that changes the game completely. They’re usually pretty good with that; had one of those games where they turn it over more than they’re used to. That changes the game.”
More on Browning: Are you at the point where you can throw more on his plate? “It’s interesting because, I kind of said this before, even when we were going into — maybe not the first game; he had to get his feet wet and all those things — (but) he’s not the limiting factor in terms of what we do. At all. It really isn’t. All those guys have to work as a crew, all 11 of them. And he’s not going to slow the crew down. … The whole thing is just getting into those grooved calls and reps as we say, that these guys have had this a lot. We might have a play in but in changes depending on the defense that they throw at you — your assignment, the technique, all those things. So when we game plan and all that, we really don’t think about Jake — I mean, everything kind of starts with your quarterback, but that’s not where we start. It’s, ‘Can the crew handle this, if we’re going to do something new?’ And so it’s that fine balance of game-planning, to say this is the (opponents’) scheme; it dictates this type of stuff.’ Have we had enough work on this to be good at it? So he’s not our limiting factor.”
Browning has looked comfortable in the uptempo drives — is that something you might do more of? “It something that debate and discuss. It’s not like we don’t have it in our offense. We have the go-fast stuff, and again it has to do with getting in a rhythm — not quickly three-and-out and those things. I will say this, I think that’s one of the things that has helped our defense; may have slowed our offense down, but when you’re not out there seeing all these snaps, we know for a fact that helps defensive football as well. But, again, you come back to the balance At this point, our defense — they can play defense. So what do we need to do to get more points? So those are the things we look at now.”
After the game, you said ‘About time.’ What is that worth for a young time to blow out a conference opponent like that? “I think this game is so much about confidence. I really do. I know it makes it feel a heck of a lot better going out to practice for everybody, but the one thing we need to do around — and I think this comes up in every single talk I have — is just be more consistent. Now, like I’ve said before, this is one of the top teams in the country coming in here to play. And so that’s a problem within itself; we could be making some strides and sometimes it doesn’t show up exactly because those are some really good players that are coached really well on the other side of the field. But for us to make some progress with our confidence and those types of things, we need to be more consistent — not just a game here and then go back to not moving the ball or those types of things.”
On benefits of building depth late in a blowout “I think that’s one of the things that we’ve tried to do a decent amount on offense. We’ll rotate a lot of guys in. One of the keys to that is — it’s not a lot of fun to go to practice. When all you get to do is get your teeth kicked in and don’t get a chance to do anything on Saturday, after awhile that can get old. So I think that’s important; we pay attention to that. But then sometimes there’s a line where, hey, sometimes these guys aren’t quite ready and especially when all the games we play in are so tight and so competitive, it’s hard to do that. So when you can get some guys in there who maybe haven’t seen the field a whole lot, I think it’s awesome and I think they totally deserve it. We feel great to be able to go in and put them on in Husky Stadium running around in a game uniform making plays, and even making mistakes. That’s awesome for everybody.”
At what point are you cognizant of tapering reps in practice to keep these guys fresh and healthy? “After the first game. We pay attention to that. Certainly you get into the last month and you’ve got to pay closer attention to it. Sometimes you almost have to fight — it’s counterintuitive, like we need to stay out here three and a half hours, not an hour and 50 minutes. But the give and take of keeping them fresh, keeping them hungry, not just going through (the motions) of work, getting sweating and not really improving. Certainly that’s something we’re paying attention to right now. Even if we’ve cut practice down by 10 minutes, it can feel like a tremendous amount on both sides — coaches are going, ‘I didn’t get this drill (in) today; we’re still not good enough here and I didn’t get this drill.’ But the players feel it too, ‘Hey, we’re off the field a lot earlier.’ So we do pay attention to it and we do try to cut it back where we can.”