I’m not in Dallas yet, but the Huskies are, and coach Chris Petersen, defensive tackle Taniela Tupou and center Siosifa Tufunga met the media this morning at the Heart of Dallas Bowl press conference. Here is a transcript of what they said. Southern Mississippi coach Todd Monken’s comments are also included in the Petersen transcript.
BRANT RINGLER: Thank you, everybody, for being here today. Truly appreciate your time. We wanted to give a special thanks to Roland and Greg, the people that put together, and their team, the Cotton Bowl Stadium. The field looks great. I saw the coaches down there looking at it earlier. Appreciate all you guys do. As usual, fantastic job.
We're excited about this matchup. We look forward to seeing them on the field. Teams last night got together over at Eddie Deen's, and you could already feel the excitement in the air. Teams were chanting at each other. We expect a high‑flying affair.
I'm looking forward to see you, Mike. I saw you over at the LA Tech game. You are phenomenal. Love watching you.
Coach Petersen, hope you had a good DB on him. I'm sure you will talk about that a little bit.
I think we'll have great matchup. Game time is scheduled for about 1:25. There is a TV game before us, so we're going to be sliding a little bit possibly. So just be aware of that.
And then, of course, we want to make sure everybody remembers what this game is also about. It's about our first responders. We have several thousand first responders who have signed up through our ticket program to be out at this game that we will be honoring. We look forwarded to taking care of our first responders, our firemen, our police officers, our EMT. They take care of us 24/7. So that's what this game is truly about as well.
TIM SIMMONS: Can you explain a little it about the matchup? We knew Conference USA was in a bowl. Obviously, the Big 12 was on the other side, did not have enough teams. So can you explain how the matchup came about?
BRANT RINGLER: Yeah. We had a Big 12 lineup supposed to play against Conference USA. They didn't fulfill enough teams. Therefore, we had already started working because we saw this kind of coming possibly. We started talking to the Pac‑12 about filling the spot, and we were fortunate enough to get Washington in our game.
Q. I have been following you for the past few years and watched this bowl come into existence. Can you talk about the success? You guys start off at Purdue, Oklahoma State, and other teams that have come here to play in these bowls and these careers. We saw LA Tech Bulldogs, everybody here. Talk about that a little bit, how important this bowl is to Dallas.
BRANT RINGLER: Sure. We definitely think it's very positive for the City of Dallas, the fan bases that are able to come in here. We took it over ‑‑ I say "we," ESPN Events, took over the event three games ago. This is our third game. So we weren't here for Purdue and Oklahoma State. We redid our contracts to have a Conference USA team every year versus either a Big 12 or Big Ten team, assuming that they would fill their roles.
So when we do have LA Tech or Southern Miss that are a regional team that are able to come here, we're excited about that because it's easy for them to bring a fan base.
The historic Cotton Bowl deserves to have a game here year‑round. I mean, they have obviously the OU‑Texas game, which is a staple. But to have a bowl game, this stadium deserves that due to all the history that's played here.
TIM SIMMONS: Washington will be the visiting team. They will be in the locker room down below us, and they will be on the west side of the stadium. We'll open with Coach Petersen for a few opening comments about playing in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl.
COACH PETERSEN: Yeah. Really like to thank everybody for inviting us. We didn't know if we'd be going to a bowl. Really proud of our team to keep fighting and battling and get a chance to come to this historic place. Been here once before, and we love coming to Texas. It's such a football place. And to get matched up with a really, really good opponent, I mean, that's what bowl games are supposed to be about, in my mind. And so I think our guys are excited to play.
A lot of respect for Coach Monken and what he's done there. I have known him for a while. I've known him when he first took over Southern Miss. It is really, really impressive in the short amount of time what he's done.
So, Brant, and everybody involved with this game, really, thank you for inviting us. And we're really proud to be here and excited to play.
TIM SIMMONS: Southern Miss will be the home team, will be on the ease sideline. Coach, some opening thoughts about the Golden Eagles.
COACH MONKEN: Well, echo the same things Chris said. We're excited to be here. Thanks for all that are involved in making this game possible. I do agree there should be a bowl game here at the Cotton Bowl Stadium. I was a GA at Notre Dame in 1992, and we came here and played A&M in a game. And it was fantastic, a fantastic event.
Our team is excited to play. We targeted this game from a few weeks out that we wanted to play here. We wanted to play against a really good opponent. We got that. I got a lot of respect for Chris and what he's done, starting at Boise and then, obviously, taking over at Washington. They've got a really good football team, fun to watch. Really are playing their best football now, finishing out the season with two wins.
And we're excited. That's why you want to play. You want to play a quality opponent, as Chris said, and we've got one and we're excited about the opportunity to play one more. We've got a special group of seniors that have been through a lot bringing this program back, and it will be fun. The week has already been fun to see them play one last time together.
TIM SIMMONS: Coach Petersen, some comments about you've had a lot of a couple of weeks now to look at Southern Miss on film. Just some thoughts about them offensively, defensively, and anything else.
COACH PETERSEN: Yeah. Well, I think on offense, you can just let their stats speak for themselves. One of the most prolific offenses in the country right now. And, you know, our defense has played at a pretty high level most of the year, and so we have our hands full. I think we will truly be challenged in some ways like we haven't been all year. I think that will be interesting.
And I think their defense is physical. I think they're really fundamentally sound. They know exactly what they're supposed to do, and they play hard. And, you know, like I say, I mean, I think it's ‑‑ we think we have a really, really good opponent. We're going to have to play our best football to have a chance.
COACH MONKEN: Well, when you look at Washington defensively the whole year, I mean, I think statistically, same as Chris said about our offense, is I think they finished number one in the Pac‑12 in scoring defense by a wide margin. And as their offense has developed with a young quarterback, young running back, their skill guys, you can see them gain confidence throughout the year.
Played a very difficult schedule. I mean, this year arguably, the Pac‑12 was the deepest conference. Really, ten bowl teams. I mean, played Utah State, played Boise, so really a challenge. And when you play a lot of really good teams, it's hard to win them all. It's hard to get those in the NFL. And when you play good teams, you know, a 7‑5, 8‑4, 6‑6 record's pretty good. I mean, you've played some really good people.
So we're excited. Again, it's easy when you turn on the tape. I was hoping after last year ‑‑ because they got a chance to play Oklahoma State where I was from and they lost three great players defensively. I was thinking, there is no way they will be the same, and they are better. They're better defensively than they were last year, in my opinion. And then offensively, as the quarterbacks come around, they're doing some really good things at the end of the year.
So same as Chris had mentioned. We're going to have to be at our best, and that's the way it should be. You want to play a good opponent and you want to play your best. It feels better when you do.
TIM SIMMONS: Talk about the keys to the game for the Huskies,
COACH PETERSEN: I don't think there is anything special. I mean, Todd would probably say the same thing. I think turnovers are always the big thing. I think what's interesting is when you take some time off, playing our last game, you seem to lose ‑‑ I think everybody gets into a pretty good rhythm towards the end. I know there's guys that are always beat up, but you still probably are in a decent rhythm for your team and then you seem to lose that a little bit. So it comes back to turnovers and a lot of tackling‑type things, which is hard to simulate in practice. So those will be two things that we pay attention to.
COACH MONKEN: We always talk about the five areas ‑‑ explosive plays, turnovers, third‑down conversions, touchdowns in the red zone and then lost‑yardage plays. So one thing we are going to have to do offensively is not turn it over and figure out a way to get explosive plays. That's one thing their defense has not given up a lot of. You watch on tape, do a great job of creating pressure without giving up of explosive plays, which is a sign of a really good defense.
And then offensively, it's corralling, in my opinion, their quarterback. He's a real good athlete, not a runner per se, from an offensive standpoint of that style of play, zone read, but extending plays and letting their skill guys run. It's going to be a real challenge, how do you get explosive plays, not give them up, and how do we win the turnover battle. It never really changes. That's what's going to be the key to winning.
TIM SIMMONS: Can you talk about the two players you brought today. Introduce them and tell what makes them so special.
COACH PETERSEN: Well, starting here with Siosifa Tufunga, he's our center, a fifth‑year player. And just one of those guys ‑‑ both these guys are guys you just really like to coach. Full‑time dogs. They're in 100% at all times. The guys respect them.
Tani has done an unbelievable job in his journey. We always talk about this with our players. You come to college and you sign a scholarship and you have this vision of how it's going to turn out, and it almost never turns out like you think it's going to. There's just so many hard setbacks along the way, whatever they are.
And I think Tani has experienced a lot of those. But there is nobody that's more important to our football team and our locker room than Tani. And I think it's so awesome the year that he's had, his senior year, is his best year of football. But it's not just what he does on the tape; it's how he is in the locker room as well.
And so both these guys are extremely important to our football team, not just playing on the field, but how they are with our young guys in establishing the culture that we are all about. And we just really like coaching them.
TIM SIMMONS: Todd, if you can talk about both your players.
COACH MONKEN: Well, it's interesting with both these young men. When I got the job three years ago, Kalan Reed was already here. He came to Southern Miss after the 2011 season, after the team went 12‑2 and won Conference USA. And came here with the expectation that he would be competing for championships.
And as Chris mentioned, it doesn't always go as planned. That's life. You're going to have speed bumps. You're going to have potholes. You’re going to have things that happen to you. And it's not really what happens to you, it's how you respond to it.
Kalan has stuck with it when a lot of our guys didn't. As we tried to change over the culture and tried to change things and keep building, a lot of guys left. And as I said earlier, shame on them. They missed out on this unbelievable opportunity and team we had this year. And Kalan has been a great leader for us and a great player at playing corner and, again, is a special young man.
Mike Thomas, who we recruited after our first year here, out of Dodge City from Chicago, was going to have to work all the way through the summer to get eligible. In fact, right on signing day, Mike was thinking about going to Minnesota, which would have been the dumbest thing he ever would have done, obviously. (laughter)
But on signing day, you're trying to convince ‑‑ he hadn't even visited, for God's sake. And you're like, Mike, it's cold.
And when you've got a player over the phone, it's hard to see their facial expression. Yes, Coach. So you're coming? Yes, Coach. You're signing? Yes, Coach. Is this for real? Do we have to do FaceTime to see if you're really ‑‑ are you smiling? Are you coming? Or are you just telling me what I want to hear and you are going to sign somewhere else?
So, hopefully, we lived up to our end of the bargain when we recruit our players. Hopefully our players will say that about our staff and me as their head coach, that we've lived up to try to create the best version we can of our players, which is why we are hired, in all aspects of their life.
Mike has improved from last year to this year. He's stayed healthy and has made a bunch of plays for us, game‑changing plays that you've got to have. It's a talent game. It's recruit, develop, and coach better. And it starts with having really good players that buy in. And these guys who are our best players are our hardest workers, and that gives you a chance when your best players are your hardest workers, and I can't say enough about these two young men.
Q. I was noticing on your roster, I don't see any Texas people on it. Are you going to be recruiting while you're down here? I know you got a couple ‑‑ you have Ito over there ‑‑ but are you going to do a little recruiting? Because we got the best in the world.
COACH PETERSEN: There's no doubt about that. You guys have some really good players. We actually do have a couple on our roster. And so, you know, we primarily ‑‑ we kind of recruit in the west and a little bit in Texas. If there's a connection, a guy has an interest, those type of things. But you're right. And when we were at Boise, we had a lot of success with some Texas guys. And they were always some of our best players.
So, yeah, that's another reason we're excited to be down here, just to spread the Washington brand a little bit. And maybe there is a high school player out there that likes purple and gold and we might catch his interest.
COACH MONKEN: It's great football here. I was at Louisiana Tech. We recruited Texas. I had the Dallas Metroplex. I got LSU. Got Oklahoma State. If you look at the Oklahoma State roster, it's just littered with players from Texas. Really, Texas supplies the Big 12 with the majority of their players. Let's say it like it is, I mean, besides a spattering of the other states. But it's hard to get everywhere. There is really good football here. There's really good football, from our end of it, from Mississippi, Alabama, those areas.
We'd love to be able to recruit here more often. It's just hard to get everywhere. And there is really good football, really good coaching. It's fun to recruit here. You come in the spring and the coaches, you know, it's awesome. It's a lot of fun, and football is important here. And so we'd love ‑‑ we probably have a handful or two guys from this state. And we'll continue to recruit here when we get an opportunity.
Q. Coach Petersen, it seems like you guys, as far as offense is concerned, spread the ball out pretty good. You had no one on the team have more than three touchdowns received and then everybody seemed even keel as far as reception yards. Could you just talk about your offense a little bit?
COACH PETERSEN: Yeah. I don't think we take a ton of pride in only having three touchdowns per guy. We'd like to have a handful of guys with more touchdowns than that. But we do. We try to stay balanced. We try to run the ball as much as we throw the ball. We play a lot of different guys. We are a fairly young team at all positions as well as the wide receiver position, and so we'll play a lot of guys.
And I think that those guys have done a decent job of getting better as the year has gone on, starting with our quarterback. It kind of all ‑‑ sometimes we say it starts with him, but it probably starts in our offensive line. And if those guys can let our guy set his feet a little bit, it's going to give us a chance to throw the ball to multiple guys around the field.
Q. Both coaches, you guys addressed the idea of the historic Cotton Bowl. Some of these kids might not be aware of the history. I know the Heart of Dallas Bowl is still a relatively young bowl. What have you done to impress upon them what's happened in the stadium and some of the great players and great traditions here?
COACH PETERSEN: I'm glad we have got two of our guys over here. We will come over here the day before the game. But as I'm walking around here and seeing this, I have been to the Cotton Bowl as a coach one time myself, and you forget about all this history, you know, not being here in Dallas the whole time. And I really wish we had our whole team here today to bring them through these buildings and these meeting rooms and see these historic pictures. But we'll do some education as we go through this week, what it means and all the great players that have played on this field before these guys. And I think that's really important. And I think it puts a lot more importance on this game and it makes it even more special.
COACH MONKEN: Same thing. We wanted to play in this game for the obvious reasons, of the tradition of playing here, the history of it. Our players understand that, understand where we're playing. And the same thing, we'll come over here and walk through tomorrow and get the bowl picture. And our guys will get a chance to really get a feel for that, and as we get further in the week, touch upon the history and tradition of this place.
Q. We watched yesterday the bowl at Boise State. I saw one of the players after the game who was just in tears because he led their school to their first‑ever bowl win. And these young men, you talk about them and their careers and everything, and they are playing on this field. This field not only was home for the Cotton Bowl for many years but also the Dallas Texans and the NFL teams that played here.
Can you talk about the heart ‑‑ you have seen players, both of you have. And I remember watching this team beat Houston a few years ago. So you guys have seen a lot of things happen. Can you reflect on that a little bit?
COACH PETERSEN: I mean, I think all coaches really understand the importance of getting an opportunity to play in a bowl game. I think some of the questions that we got through our bowl preparations or having a chance ‑‑ how important it is to go to a bowl game and everybody talked about the extra practices. Well, I don't really think the extra ‑‑ I'm not that excited about the extra practices in terms of our guys practice year‑round as it is. We have spring football, and they are there in the summertime. I actually worry about wearing them out a little bit.
But what I do think is really important is that we get a chance to play another game. That's what these guys need to do, and that's what they live to do. They work year‑round to play these games. And not that we don't need to get a lot better, we do. And our guys practice hard. But that's what I was so excited about, not necessarily extra practice time, but a chance to get to play in a place like this at the Cotton Bowl that's such a historic venue with this history and tradition against a really good opponent.
So for us, it worked out really, really well in terms of, you know, setting up the stage, how we want to end the season with those things.
Q. Ten yards separate the top‑two rushers on your team. Can you talk about the advantage, if that gives you an advantage, or how things work with your run game.
COACH MONKEN: I think the more talented players you have that can touch the ball, the better chance you have of being successful offensively, especially with running backs getting nicked up, banged around.
You know, last year, Jalen Richard was hurt half the year; so it was nice to have him healthy this year. And Ito Smith was a true freshman. Really, our third back, Justice Hayes, transferred from Michigan. He is a good player. We just haven't been able to get him on the field. But him being in our locker room forced those other two guys to work harder.
We are better at running back because when you add talent and you have ‑‑ when you are at 85 scholarships, the more guys of the 85 that you think can compete, it heightens the practice. And the competitiveness in practice. So is it nice to have a couple of guys ‑‑ and really, their skill set is pretty similar. They have got some nuances that are a little bit different, but really being able to catch the ball to the backfield, which we utilize that a lot, and getting them in space, that's been an advantage for us.
And when we've been able to rotate those guys and keep them fresh, which is important to be able to keep guys fresh and, like I said, you are going to get banged up. So it's been nice to have those guys.
No. 65, Siosifa Tufunga, 6-3, 314, Center, Senior, Long Beach, Calif. (Long Beach Jordan)
Regarding true freshman on the team.
“I definitely had to step up my leadership with all of our younger players. Being an older guy I felt that me as a captain I had to step up my leadership role and bring the young guys along and try and help them out with learning the offense too, but it’s been fun and rewarding.”
“There were some frustrating times, but they bought into the system and into the coaches so there were some moments but they have matured tremendously since the first day of camp.”
Turning point this season:
“Winning against USC in the Coliseum (17-12 on Oct. 8), I think it gave us a lot more confidence that we could play with anybody. We learned we could compete against any team, especially with the victory.”
Stepping into the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium for the first time today:
“I still have to learn more about the history of this stadium, but it was very impressive to see it for the first time in person. It will be great to play here and become part of the history of this legendary stadium.”
What clicked after you were 4-6?
“I think it was more guys on our offense, especially the young guys stepped it up. We increased our passion for the game and finished the season strong. The seniors led and the younger guys accepted it and raised their game to a higher level.”
Beating Washington State to become bowl eligible:
“We knew that game was going to be a big challenge, you know to play our biggest rivals. They had a very, very good season but we were ready for them and beat them for the fourth time in my five years here at Washington. Our young guys were ready and we played with our A game on both sides of the ball.”
His career at Washington:
I really think I did good here at Washington. Like coach said not everything goes as planned but I have really enjoyed the journey at the University of Washington. I am blessed that I have had the opportunity to play here.
On academics (second straight year as a second-team Pac 12 All-Academic team):
“I majored in American Ethnic Studies and minored in Anthropology. Wanted learn about other people’s cultures and different points of viewing things and a variety of opinions.”
No. 90, Taniela Tupou, 6-2, 288, Defensive Tackle, Senior, Marysville, Wash. (Archbishop Murphy)
On four defensive starters gone to the NFL:
“I wasn’t really worried. They are all great players but we have even more good players who were just waiting for their shot and we obviously did very well this year on defense after losing four players to the NFL. We showed everyone we have this year even without those players.”
Turning point in the season:
“Winning against USC in the Coliseum was a very big deal, especially for guys like Siosifa and myself. We were playing against our former coach.”
See the Cotton Bowl Stadium for the first time today:
“It was pretty amazing. We looked up and said, ‘oh wow! This is the real deal.’ We are both excited to be here and learn more about the history of this great stadium. It will be a wonderful place for both of us to finish our college careers.”
About Southern Miss offense:
“They have two really good running backs. If one goes down they have another one right there. They have a high-power offense, really good at moving the ball around. They can put point up on you so we have to come to play with the same intensity that we finished the regular season with this year. You have to know which one is in the game because they move differently. They are both powerful and make you miss tackles. They are both big strong guys so we will have our hands full.”
Washington defensive development:
“A lot of our defensive growth was behind the scenes, off the field. I think what makes our defense so good this year is that everyone plays collectively. We had a lot of stars last year, which isn’t a bad thing, but this defense does it truly as a single unit. We are very close, like brothers and it shows in our performance. Everyone just does their job and plays together and we help each other out constantly. Everyone on our defense is really close to each other as well. We developed a strong unity that we didn’t have in the past to this degree. We do a lot of things together off the field that has brought us much closer than just practice and playing games will do.”
“We have developed a lot of trust in each other. I thing I did with my unit we went together to many of the rivers we have in Washington and jump of bridges together and just have fun together building a close camaraderie. The water is cold so we were taking ice baths and this definitely helped us develop a tighter bond as individuals and a team.”
Speaking about Tufunga:
“He is my best friend here. We bang heads together in practice have fights but at the end of the day what happens between the white lines stays there. Afterwards were just great friends again.”
What changed defensively after you were 4-6?
“Not really anything major for us on defense as we played good all year. It was more of a mindset, I think. Coach is big on that aspect and I think it helped us get even more focused to finish the year strong and earn a bowl bid. Sometimes when you lose games, especially close ones, you can go into a slump. We decided to just keep fighting and we changed our mindset some and just moved forward and won the last two games. We kept fighting to play one more and we have reached Dallas to do just that.”
My four years at Washington:
“I had offers that I considered out of high school from Utah and BYU. I am LDS and my mom wanted me to go to BYU. But I love the ‘dogs and wanted to come here and it has been overall a great experience for me. There have been some struggles, but I am blessed to finish up here at UW. I just love the program so much that I have a big W tattoo on my right forearm for everyone to see. There are a few of us on the team that have them. I grew up watching Husky football and really didn’t want to play anywhere else.”
Plans for the NFL:
“My plan is to play in the NFL but both of us have tried hard to keep that out of our minds and just finish up strong here at Washington. We pushed it aside and have tried very hard not to get caught up thinking about it. After Saturday’s game, we’ll figure it out then.”
Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen comments regarding these two players:
“Well, starting here with Siosifa Tufunga, he's our center, a fifth‑year player. And just one of those guys ‑‑ both these guys are guys you just really like to coach. Full‑time dogs. They're in 100% at all times. The guys respect them.”
“Tani has done an unbelievable job in his journey. We always talk about this with our players. You come to college and you sign a scholarship and you have this vision of how it's going to turn out, and it almost never turns out like you think it's going to. There's just so many hard setbacks along the way, whatever they are.”
“And I think Tani has experienced a lot of those. But there is nobody that's more important to our football team and our locker room than Tani. And I think it's so awesome the year that he's had, his senior year, is his best year of football. But it's not just what he does on the tape; it's how he is in the locker room as well.”
“And so both these guys are extremely important to our football team, not just playing on the field, but how they are with our young guys in establishing the culture that we are all about. And we just really like coaching them.”