Elijah Qualls status - “He’s making progress. Always making progress. We’ll see.”
Any sense with carryover of confidence from last week to this week? - “Definitely want some energy and some spark at practice. And we’ve got to have that when we play, there’s no question. But I think you’ve got to bring some maturity to the table. And we’ve got to be smart that every week are they going to be at this emotion peak, this high? I don’t think that happens. Now, do we have our mind right, be really ready to play and have prepared well? That’s what I mean by more of an even keel. But come game time? Guys need to be locked in and there needs to be tremendous energy, but it also needs to start during the week. We don’t believe that you can kind of go out there, work hard and put the work in if you don’t have that good intent to get better. I think we’re doing a decent job of that.”
But has there been a change with that this week because this is a young group? - “I think practice is a little more fun for ‘em, it always is after a win. You listen to all teams around the country and you listen to some of the teams, even Pac-12 and some of the kids talking about how hard they’ve worked and some of these games come down, and it’s like - they didn’t turn out like we thought. Everybody’s the same. You can work your tail off and do everything right and still not come through. And that’s a hard concept for a lot of people to stomach. And that’s where that perseverance comes through. You’ve got to stick to the plan and eventually you’ll improve and get what you want to get done.”
How would you measure Jake Browning comfort level right now with the OL and pass protection? - “I think we’re making incremental steps. I think everyone is kind of worried about their job. I think the o-line is all worried about those guys protecting him. I don’t think Jake really worries about the o-line; I think he worries about, are his feet right, is his drop right, is his read right? I think that’s really a good thing. We all know we’ve got a ways to go to improve this thing, but his whole focus is on himself. As coaches, we see the big picture. When the o-line’s right, it’s going to make Jake’s game and our running backs’ game a lot better.”
Utah special teams: Well, I think you start with two All-American type kickers. Couple that with an outfit that prides themselves. You can tell they spend a lot of time (on it). Coach (Kyle) Whittingham is very involved. Any time the head coach is involved with those things, it shows the importance to it. And it backs it up on the field. There is a reason these guys are ranked like they are. You know how I am with rankings, but I think you get this deep into the season, I think those things mean a little something. There is no question this is one of the better teams, if not the best team we’ve played. Just a lot of respect for how they do everything. (They are) really physical, across the board. Their special teams are good. Everybody wants to talk about defense and offense, and this is really the first time special teams have come up. Everybody knows when you think of special teams in the Pac-12, Utah is the one that has been getting it done.
What in particular impresses you with Utah special teams: Like I said, you start with their kickers. Big legs. We’ve never lined anybody up this deep as a punt returner – never, ever. And if you study the tape, you need to line him up about 8 yards deeper than maybe we normally do. So it starts with that. They get good coverage. They get great kick placement. And the field goal kicker as well, he is very deadly, very accurate on kickoffs, and puts the ball where he needs to, and they cover well.
Special teams being important to Petersen: I think we’ve felt … good about a few games. I think we’ve felt OK about the rest. And I think there’s a game we didn’t perform up to the standard that we’re capable of playing at. SO these last handful of games are really important to us to see if we can make strides in. When you get deeper into the season, I think your special teams can change dramatically as you get guys beat up. We are always trying to play our most effective – our best players – on special teams. Who is going to be the best L2 on the kickoff team? But a lot of times that team looks different than it did at the start of the team. Sometimes things change down the road, especially in special teams as well.
How has Chico McClatcher done in the kick return role? “I really admire all these freshman, these true freshman that play, but Chico (McClatcher) as well. The guy’s fearless. That’s really what you want back there, a guy that, knock on wood, has done a good job with securing the ball. We don’t have a problem putting him back there as a punt returner, as well as a kickoff return guy. I think they’re really different skill set and he’s able to do them both. He’s going to continue to get better at that with good reps. I kind of go back to the guys upfront give him enough space. He’s a shifty guy that can get some things done.”
On similarities between the Utah and Stanford defenses “I think they’re really physical. Scheme-wise there are some similarities. But I think the two things that jump out are one, they’re a physical crew; they do a great job with one-on-ones. They defeat blocks and they get off blocks and they run to the ball. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, just like Stanford, I don’t think they give you anything. They play a lot of press coverage, a lot of man coverage. You’re going to have to go up and make plays. You’re going to have to win your one-on-one battles. There’s not a ton of zone coverage in there where you’re going to have these big seams. The quarterback is not going to be able to hold the ball long because they really pressure the passer, like Stanford did. Sometimes it’s not with extra blitzers; it’s just those front four guys. Those are the similarities that I see between those two squads.”
What has surprised you about Utah’s ascension in the Pac-12? “We’ve had some history with Utah when I was over at Boise. It was even a little bit like TCU before they made their jump (to the Big 12); those guys were as good as anybody in the conference we were playing in and those are the guys that set the standard. We knew how well they were coached and how hard they played. Sometimes, what you’re trying to do (in recruiting) is build depth, because it’s such a physical conference and you’re going to lose guys (to injury) and the dropoff could be dramatically different. So what’s going on there (at Utah) doesn’t surprise me, and what’s going on at TCU doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen those guys and how they recruit and how they run their program. When you compete against those guys and you pay attention, none of this surprises me.”
On topic of sign stealing around the league this week “We do pay attention to it. We try to have a couple signalers going, but I think certain teams are pretty smart in terms of picking off what’s what after awhile. I think the no-huddle has really led to that on defensive guys picking off offensive signals. I think it’s maybe going on a little bit longer — we’ve had a little bit of discussion where sometimes the offensive guys will picking off defensive signals. But I think it’s been going on; maybe more teams do it now than they did in the past, and I think some of the not huddling up as much and reading it off a wrist band has something to do with it.”
Do you look at that as just the game within the game — or is it maybe cheating? “In some ways, I guess it’s like baseball, you know. You’ve got signals and people are going to try pick your signals off. So I think it’s probably something everybody needs to talk about after the season and say, ‘Hey, are we good to go? Or is there an ethical thing?’ It’s probably a discussion for after the season.’
Do you guys try to change up signals halfway through the season as teams maybe try to get film on what your signals are? “So I think that would be probably in my mind crossing the line — if you’re filming other guys’ signals and studying them that way. If you’re picking them off during the game and those types of things, I think you’ve got to do a better job of protecting them. You switch up signals, who’s ‘live’ and who’s not, those type of things to try protect yourself a little bit.”