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Chris Petersen ‘pretty confident’ Huskies would make College Football Playoff with victory in Pac-12 title game

Huskies coach Chris Petersen recaps Apple Cup, previews Pac-12 title game

Washington coach Chris Petersen meets with the media Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, in Seattle.
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Washington coach Chris Petersen meets with the media Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, in Seattle.

Here is all that Huskies coach Chris Petersen said today at his press conference to preview Friday’s Pac-12 championship game against Colorado in Santa Clara.

(Opening) “Really proud of our team. I thought we played a really good game. Our offense, even though there was a lot of things in that first quarter that was not right for us on offense, we kind of overcame it and were still able to score points. It was nice to be able to do that. And our defense getting a turnover early and those goal-line stands were really impressive. Third quarter (WSU) came out and did a great job of holding the ball. I think we had the ball for four plays. But fortunately our defense was making them earn some things. I knew they would make a run. By the time the fourth quarter got here we were able to control the clock a little bit and get another touchdown. I thought overall our guys played really well. Unfortunately that thing seems like it’s ancient history and we’ve been on to the next challenge, which is a big challenge for us. I think this is a unique team that plays tremendous defense and has a unique offense. We haven’t seen anything like it this year with how they run the quarterback, how he carries the ball. He’s a good passer but he’s a power runner as well. We haven’t seen that, so that’ll be different for us.”

(You mentioned things weren’t right offensively in the first quarter?) “We jumped offsides four times. We were missing blocks. They were stemming and we had guys cutting wide open in Jake’s face. So it was not clean at all. But we were able to rally and capitalize and get some big plays. But it was really not good, clean football offensively except for the fact that we were able to strike and score points. So when you look at it, it was not methodical, we’re on point. We practice with noise all the time and the combination of the noise and the stemming threw us off. But again, somehow we were able to capitalize and score.”

(How much fun was it to watch the film of those two goal-line stands?) “It was great. It was really good to see that. Probably the difference in the game. When they get the ball down there and those are the same as turnovers, really, at the end of the day. On one of those our offense took it the length of the field to get points out of it, so the combination of that, that was really good offensive football answering. Those were big. That was impressive, because Washington State does a good job. They really do, and really running the ball. They are hard to stop on the goal line with how they spread you out and you don’t need much room to get in there when you only need a yard or two. It was a great job by our guys.”

(Who knocked the apple off the trophy?) (laughs) “Why is that so important? It wasn’t like the guy did anything wrong. I know exactly who it was and now I’m for sure not telling you because you guys really want to know when it’s not important at all.”

(Is it getting fixed?) “It’s in the process. It’ll be better than new.”

(What is it that has allowed you guys to shut down the Air Raid three years in a row?) “It’s a good question. It’s very hard to defend, obviously. I think one, our kids play really hard in the rivalry game. And I think our coaches put them in positions to not give them too much and not change ourself a whole lot. You’ll see that a lot when guys play Washington State. You watch them on defense and you watch them play Washington State and they just look a lot different. Because their scheme is so different. But that can be problems when you’re changing yourself so much and not doing what you do well.”

(Does Sefo and his running remind you at all of what Brandon Dawkins did with Arizona?) “He is a power runner, is how I see it. They run some of the same schemes, but it’s different. He’s running between the tackles. They keep their offense in third and manageable situations and then they spread you out and then he keeps it. It’s a little like - when talking about Washington State on the goal line - they spread you out by numbers and he’s tough and big and strong. He’ll put his pads down and you look up and he’s got three yards or he’s got four yards by tough running. You don’t see a lot of people doing that. I’d love to do it but I worry about our guy getting hit when he’s throwing passes! He can handle it. He’s durable and holds up in there and it’s made them really hard to defend.”

(Any rules violations that you could see with WSU stemming along their DL?) “No. It’s something we’ve got to be able to handle. It’s not something that we work on every day, but sometimes it’s harder on the guys that are further away from the ball, those tackles and tight ends because they are trying to hear things and the ball is a long way away from them to see that and so their eyes are inside and then the defensive lineman moves. You’ve got to have a lot of poise and discipline because you’re thinking about your assignment and then it changed and now…it’s more complicated than it looks but we’ve been pretty good about it all season. They just got us early in the first quarter with that.”

(On Keishawn Bierria’s injury status) “He just had a little minor injury. We think he’ll be ready to roll. We hope. We hope all our guys are ready to roll.”

(Was Sefo Liufau on your radar at Boise State?) “I can’t remember what class he was in. It’s hard for me to remember. Quarterbacks commit so early these days so I can’t remember who we were recruiting when he was, but he’s a really good quarterback. There’s no doubt.”

(Are there similarities to how your program and Colorado’s program have been built?) “I think when you’re building anything there’s always going to be adversity. It doesn’t matter if it’s us or Colorado. That just comes with the territory. You have to be able to withstand it and make adjustments and have time. That’s one of the things that’s so hard in this business. You don’t have time anymore. Then the expectations get set. So now going forward next year now it’s never good enough, like ‘what? We’ve already done that. Why are we doing this?’ That’s not reality. There are a few programs that have an inherent advantages in this country that can kind of just reload every single year. But most aren’t. It’s the nature of the business. It’s the world we’re living in. But, I knew if you gave those guys enough time at Colorado - I knew when we played them three years ago that they were going to be good. It’s just a matter of you hang in long enough to let things take over and get it right.”

(Did Sidney Jones give too much of a cushion to Gabe Marks?) “No. You have to pick your poison a little bit with those guys. A lot of it is going to be mixing up. But go ahead and keep throwing it in front of us and play good red zone defense and don’t get something throw in the seam or over your head. A lot of that didn’t have to do so much with Sidney (Jones) going over his head. But he’s protecting seams as well. I think it was good. I know he would like to be locked up, man to man, let’s go. But that’s not what the strategy was.”

(On Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman) “(Lavon Coleman) is kind of the finisher. Myles (Gaskin) goes in there and he’s dancing around and making guys miss and all that stuff. Then Lavon will come in and put his pads down. It’s a good combination.”

(How much has the defense changed since the USC game?) “I don’t think of it changing a whole bunch. All these calls, whether they’re blitzes or whatever, we’ve had them from day one. I think the good coaches look at the opponent they’re going against and try to figure out what can possibly work and how do we make ourself more effective. I think that’s what our guys have done on defense. Just figure out what we need to do to put more pressure on offenses. I think we just mix things up better. I think that.”

(On the differences between Sefo Liufau and Brandon Dawkins) “Yeah. It’s different. It’s a much different style of offense. I think of Arizona as kind of the classic spread type, zone read, quarterback is going to pull it a lot. This is kind of a spread you out, misdirection type offense where the quarterback keeps it inside. Running power plays and counter plays. They go fast. They go fast a lot. They just have a nice blend. There’s a lot of offense there because they will also check plays. So they’re going fast, going fast, and then they’ll make sure they have the right look. ‘We don’t like this into this’ and they’re going to get out of it. They mix up personnels. They’’ll go with four wide and they’re going fast kind of like a true spread team. So they have that element but they have this whole other power element that goes with it and makes them completely different.”

(Do you prepare for up tempo offenses?) “Yeah. It’s hard to do in practice, but yes we do. We’ve done it all year long. The key to that is you have to get some stops to get them off the field. I think they had a lot of third downs. They’re in third down, then they’ll convert it. They hold the ball and hold the ball, so you’re going to get a lot of plays. So you have to get some stops to get them off the field.”

(On Colorado’s secondary) “I think they’re really good. I think they’re similar (to Washington’s secondary). Across the board they have good safeties, long corners, they challenge you, pressure a lot. It’s very similar. I think there are a lot of similarities there. Even in strategy and coverage and those types of things.”

(Is Colorado similar in any ways to Stanford on offense?) “It’s similar to Stanford in terms of it is like power football. But the style is much different. I think the mentality and how they go about it is very similar to Stanford. But the scheme is much different. II think the mentality, I do think of it like that type of - I think that’s a good comparison in terms of Stanford is login to be kind of hard nosed and down hill at you. They are too. Stanford just does’t run their quarterback like that.”

(Does this feel like preparing for a bowl game at all?) “You know, it feels like just getting ready for the next game, not so much a bowl game. The bowl game, you have time off, you’ve got to kind of regroup the guys, you’ve got to get them refocused and all those things. This is kind of a long season and we’re back here on Monday practicing. For us it’s kind of a normal week. This is a Tuesday to us, and away we go. I think when you get to the game it’ll be a little bit different. We’re used to going into a really energized stadium one way or another, and I think when you have a neutral site like this, it won’t quite be the same. So that’s something they’ll just had to adjust on the run.”

(What do you think of playing it at a neutral site?) “I think there’s a lot of … I think if you’re probably the underdog, however they would figure out who gets the home-field advantage, you’re really glad it’s a neutral site, and if you’re the higher-ranked team, however they do that, you’re really bummed about it. Because it’ll be different for both teams, I think, to go into a neutral site. Either stadium, wherever they put it, in Boulder or here in Seattle, it would be packed to the rafters, and now it won’t be.”

(On playing on a grass surface) “None of that stuff … I shouldn’t say it doesn’t bother us (because) we’re the only team in the country that hasn’t played on grass this year, I think. But the grass is good, so it’s like people talking about going to Utah and playing in the altitude. I think it’s completely overrated. As long as it’s not a muddy field, we’re good to go.”

(On the day-before walkthrough being more important) “We always go to the stadium, and I think that’s really important, but we don’t do any football there whatsoever. They wouldn’t let us, certainly on a grass field. They’re so worried about logos and that kind of stuff. We just go to see the stadium, what it looks like, what the locker room looks like, and go back to the hotel. I’d like to go down there Thursday and have a practice on that field, but…”

(On what the grass surface will be like) “I think it’s going to be good. I think the 49ers have been away the last two weeks, and I’ve heard no reports that it’s not a good surface. When we played last year … playing USC down there, that was good grass. I think our guys would prefer to play on grass, as long as the grass is nice and tight, and that’s how that was. It was an added bonus to play on grass.”

(On Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay) “He’s a good player. One, he catches a lot of balls. He’s caught over 40 passes. He’s tough, very quick. I think toughness is what stands out, because he’s not the biggest guy, but he doesn’t go down. He bounces out of things, and he’s very quick. There’s a reason that they’re in this game. They’ve got good players pretty much across the board.”

(How confident are you that a win Friday will land you in the CFP?) “I feel pretty good. Pretty confident. I’ve always said that. We take care of business, everywhere I’ve been, those people usually do the right thing. Our whole focus, like you said, is on Colorado. We’ve got a big hurdle there, and if we can get over that hurdle, yeah.”

(On how long he thought it would take to get the UW program to this point) “I don’t know. I never looked at it like that. I expected to be good from the second we got here. I think that’s what players expect, I think that’s what coaches expect, and when it’s not like that, you’re frustrated as all get-out and trying to figure out why it’s not right. With that being said, we all know it takes some time to develop a program and how you’re going to do things. That’s obvious. But I never thought OK this is going to take two years, or three years. In fact, when somebody had told me that it takes about two years to change thought patterns and culture and those type of things, I thought, yeah, that’s true for the normal world, but not for football coaches. We don’t wait on anything. And then when I look back, I was like, man, they were a little off, it takes a little bit longer than what they said. I’ve always heard 18-24 months to change things like that, and if it goes faster than that, you probably have a lot of things lined up that you didn’t know you had lined up. But I think in general, it takes a couple years to get that going.”

(How has DJ Beavers played in place of Azeem Victor?) “Really good. He’s a football player. He’s one of those guys, that’s what I think about him. I’ve said we can teach all of our schemes to most people, and then there’s players that got to bring a little something to the table in terms of figuring things out, like instincts. I think he’s one of those guys that has pretty good instincts. And he’s tough. He’s tough. He really hasn’t even been completely healthy all season long, and he hasn’t missed a beat. And so the combination of those two things has been really awesome to watch him go out there and get an opportunity and what he’s doing is not surprising from what we’ve seen kind of behind the scenes.”

(Has Taylor Rapp surprised you at all?) “I’d like to say yes, but I’ve said this last week or so – it was really surprising what he did in spring football, that was surprising, and since then, after the first couple games, you’re like, OK, he’s playing real games now and he’s doing the exact same stuff that he did in (practice), from not making any assignment errors to being a physical, good tackler, to – he broke his hand the second day, and I’m thinking, well, there goes his spring football. Well, next day, I didn’t even know, he’s out there with a big club on, not even thinking twice about it. That’s him. He’s been great.”

(Philosophical question: Do you think any team that doesn’t play in a conference championship should be invited to the playoff?) “I heard about that or stumbled on that yesterday and thought, ‘Wow, how about that one?’ I don’t know. I really don’t know. I haven’t given it any thought like that. That’s another twist in the whole (thing).”

(The fact that you have to play another week for a high-profile game, you can see the arguments both ways?) “Oh yeah. But what are they (Ohio State) supposed to do, you know? That’s a heck of a football team, without question. They just don’t have the opportunity to play. Everybody knows they’re really, really, really good. So I don’t know what the answer is.”

(Jimmy Lake has talked a couple times this year about getting text messages from Budda Baker and others about preparing for the next game. What have you seen from this team in terms of its preparation?) “I don’t really feel much different. I keep saying tat. They’ve done a really good job of just preparing like we expect them to prepare. Sometimes I want to go out there and feel like, ‘OK, this is a really big game!’ (But) every next game is a really big game. It really is. And I really haven’t felt like that, and I think it’s because they’re really focused anyway and they’re kind of business-like and they get what we’re telling them, and even when we don’t tell them they get it anyway. They get what this game is, but I kind of go back to … we challenged them to have the best week they’ve ever had. It’s not like we try to be status quo, but it’s hard to set that new standard in terms of their preparation. Just because I think they’ve been doing a really good job with it.”

(On Mark Helfrich’s job security at Oregon …) “I think we all get this. So much has changed over the years with the media, with the money that they’re paying coaches. I mean, money ruins everything, right? It does. With the money come the expectations, and if it’s not right all the time in a really fast, quick level. … So that’s why when you see somebody hang in there, an administration hang in with somebody who you think are doing good and doing right and doing it the right way, that to me is impressive and inspiring, because that goes against everything else that’s out there.”

(On your approach to these championship games going back to your days at Boise State) “I think everything that we do is evolved. I think it does. I think everything we do evolves. I think it’s got to evolve week to week. We’re always looking a it. It’s like, Yeah, the week’s the same and, yes, we have a routine, but we tell our kids: You can’t refuse routine with commitment. Are you really committed in this whole thing to take the next step? Or is this just the routine that we go through? The routine is going through it and we don’t improve, we don’t get any better. So that’s the challenge, to continually evolve — not only year by year but even each week as the season goes on. There’s twists and turns and your team’s different when they win and your team’s different when they lose. You’ve got to figure that out and figure out how to help them the best you can.”

(How have you evolved?) “The one thing I do is, I try to learn. I really do. I try to study and I try to learn. And I think all guys, all coaches, it’s that fine line between being hard-headed with what you believe in and changing and adapting with what’s going in in the times we live in, but also how to make yourself better and how to create energy and momentum and all those types of things. I think it’s really hard for me to look back and say, ‘I’m completely different on this.’ But I know there’s a lot of things that are completely different. How we practice is completely different; how we tackle is completely different; how we talk to our team is different. But there are still fundamental beliefs in everything we do … that have not changed.”

(With the coaching carousel that’s coming up, do you anticipate any of your assistants being candidates elsewhere?) “No. They’d better not even think about it. They won’t be down in San Francisco with us this Friday. (laughs) Hey, we’ve got great coaches, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the worst of the year for me. But my job is to also help guys and their families achieve something they really want and what their goals are all about. It’s also to, hopefully, like our players make good decisions. I see so many coaches run off to other places — it’s not better in the long run. But when it is better, and that’s really their call, then it’s my job to help them do what they need to do. As long as they’ve done a great job here, and I think what’s going on around here speaks for the job that these coaches are doing; they do a tremendous job, so that’s my responsibility to them, is to help them. But I hope they don’t go.”

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