SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media Monday in advance of Utah's first out-of-state trip to play against the Arizona Wildcats Saturday.
Here's a full transcript of that press conference.
Note: The section referenced in the headline takes place at the 18:25 mark of the recording. Can't sit and watch the whole video? Download the audio and take it with you.
Kyle Whittingham (KW): Ok, uh… It was a good win for us — a much-needed win. Our players have fought and competed all season long. We were due to come out on the right end of one of those close ones. So, I'm very proud of the way the guys finished and hung in there start to finish as they have all year, as I said.
The biggest difference in the game or the biggest reason for our success, in my opinion, was our ability to run the football efficiently against a very good front seven of Stanford. That really was, in my assessment, the biggest factor in being able to win the game was to put up the rushing numbers that we did. The offensive line was, obviously, a huge reason for that. Bubba Poole ran the ball exceptionally well.
Coach Erickson and Coach Johnson's scheme with the bubble screens on the perimeter loosened up the front and softened things up in there for us a little bit. Receivers blocking downfield were key to making those bubble screens go. We did a great job with our receivers blocking that up, and Travis did a great job of putting that ball right on the money.
That's not an easy throw to make. It may look easy, but to put the ball right where it needs to be, in stride, with very little margin for error is really the key to the play to get that thing underway. Travis did an outstanding job of managing those throws.
A lot of other good things. Andy Phillips continues to be a weapon for us. He hit two field goals. One was about 48 yards there in the early fourth quarter, which extended the lead to I think it was 27-14 at that time.
And then defensively, outstanding plan by Coach Sitake and the rest of the defensive staff. We really only gave up two scores: the first drive of the game — that's two games in a row where we've given up touchdowns on the first drive, so we've got to get that corrected, but other than that, there wasn't an offensive touchdown by Stanford until the midway through the fourth quarter.
A lot of positives to build on. This game is big like I said, but it can be magnified if we're able to build on it and do some good things going forward. We're playing a good Arizona team this week. Ka'Deem Carey, one of the best backs in the country, gave us fits last year, and we've got to try to have a plan to try to not let him do to us what he did to us last year.
Reporter: Coach, you bring up that first drive touchdown for Stanford. Was that an issue where you guys made adjustments to shut them down after that or was it settling the nerves?
KW: I think it was the latter — settling the nerves. Really, there were the two big plays that were the catalyst for the drive where we missed a tackle earlier in the drive — I think it was the first play of the game — and then we blew a coverage. We turned a man coverage. They ran a cluster formation. We had it defended as far as structurally with our alignment we had. We had practiced it, but then one of our DBs lost his eyes. Looking back at the quarterback, he lost his man and left him wide open. Those two plays were the things that did us in on that first drive.
It wasn't necessary to do anything adjustment-wise after that, but it was just doing the things we'd been practicing during the course of the week.
Reporter: Kyle, it says here that this is your latest road opener out of state since 1947. Is there any logistical concerns going on the road for the first time, getting a team on an airplane for the first time in the season, things like that that make going out of state a little different?
KW: Well, I think I'm a little concerned for the players that have never done that. I don't think it matters when that happens during the course of the season. I don't think that's relevant, but our guys that have never been on a Div. I road trip, which there's quite a few guys on this team that will be in that category, it's important that they handle themselves the right way and understand how we operate. I think that's the bigger issue than the timing of it.
Reporter: Can you expound a little bit? You said Louie Sakoda was around last week, and Andy Phillips being perfect this late in the season… I take it you're not that surprised?
KW: Well, we're just elated about what he's (Phillips) given us and what he's done for us. He's 11-for-11 on the year. He hasn't missed a PAT. He's just been lights out, and that's something that's been a big difference for us. It's made a big difference in the complexion of the games, and I hope it continues.
Reporter: Coach, can you comment on the state of the Pac-12 as a whole? It looks like a very strong conference at the top, but as you guys proved on Saturday, it also looks like the conference really has some depth. When you talk about going up against some of the other conferences in the country, where do you guys stand as a league as a whole?
KW: I think we're right up there, certainly, in the top two or three without a doubt. I don't think that's even a question. And as I've said over and over, the conference today is much better than when we entered it. We entered it two and a half years ago, and it's much more competitive top to bottom. I think that really on offense. You look at some of the offenses, there's a lot of prolific offenses in this conference. It seems like every week we're going against an offense that's ranked very highly nationally. It's very challenging, and I think that, like I mentioned, the SEC's in the conversation, obviously. They're always in the conversation, and we're right up there in that group.
Reporter: Kyle, as big as the win was on Saturday, and as much as people want to keep talking about it, is the most important thing you can do right now to forget about it?
KW: Yeah, I think that going forward what we want to do is accentuate to the players the reasons for the win: the great week of practice, the focus, their film study, everything that went in to winning the football game, and emphasize to them that that's what needs to happen again. We've got to be able to duplicate that as far as our preparation. This team this year has not had a problem preparing, but some weeks you're obviously a little bit better than others, and last week was outstanding, and just instill the belief in them that preparation is absolutely key to your success or lack thereof.
Reporter: Could you talk a little bit about the play that you're getting right now from Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly off the edge? I think this is the first game where they both had monster games at the same time. Is this what you expected coming in?
KW: It's what we hoped for, especially Nate. I think Nate played probably his best game as a Ute this game this past Saturday. The defensive line, as a whole, is doing very good things.
I was optimistic about those guys way back in fall camp, saying that even though we lost Star and the Kruger brothers and some really good players, we expected to have one of the best, if not the best defensive front, in the conference, and so far through the first half of the season, we're leading the league in sacks. We're playing the run exceptionally well. Tenny Palepoi is a big reason for that.
We mentioned Trevor and Nate, but Tenny is really the anchor of the interior guys. It's a situation where we're getting outstanding play up front, and it needs to continue. To answer your question, yeah. We envisioned getting good pressure off the edge from Nate and Trevor, and they've given us just that.
Reporter: You've seen a lot different quarterbacks league-wide and even in non-conference this year. How about a thought on B.J. Denker, the quarterback? He's not what you would call a traditional Pac-12 quarterback. He's not the guy the guy that maybe sits back there and throws the ball a ton. He did put up good numbers against SC, but maybe a little bit more like the quarterbacks you saw in the non-conference season?
KW: Well, he's a very, very good fit for their scheme. He runs the ball exceptionally well. For what coach RichRod likes to do, I think he's, like I said, a good fit and able to do the things required of a quarterback in that system. He's another guy that's mobile, he's tough to tackle, he's fast, and he does throw the ball with efficiency. Another dual-threat quarterback like we see almost every week.
Reporter: Coach, we saw Bubba Poole carry the ball primarily against Stanford. Is that something that you are going game-to-game to see who's in the rhythm? Who has the mojo as far as the running back is concerned?
KW: Yeah. We talked about this last week, and pretty much the same mindset. If we've got a guy that's the "hot back," I guess you could call him, making the big runs and gaining the yards, we're going to stick with that guy. We supplemented him with a few runs from Lucky, who came in and did a really nice job.
A lot of it has to do with the practice week leading into the game, making sure that we can count on a guy not to make mental mistakes and do the right things. That also goes into the equation of how many reps you're going to get. In this particular game, Bubba started out extremely productive and stayed that way the entire game. We just spelled him really to get him a little rest and really no other reason.
Reporter: The biggest difference between UCLA and Stanford: the illness?
KW: No, we're not going to let the illness ever be an excuse. It's just the ball bounced a little bit funny against UCLA, and again, I said it last week that the six interceptions, at least five of them were not bad decisions and not bad throws. I think that him playing the way he did was no surprise to us. We expected him, with his competitive nature and his confidence, to bounce back and to play well. Fortunately, he did that.
Reporter: He already kind of asked what I was going to ask, but just about the running backs. Kelvin was your top rusher the week before. He really didn't play at all. Talk about that, and then Karl Williams, has he just been injured? Is that the reason he hasn't played as much?
KW: Well, we lost both our tight ends, so we had to do something. We lost our first two tight ends. We still like Greg Reese and Siale Fakailoatonga, who are the next two, but we felt like this particular week, with what Dennis and Brian wanted to get accomplished that Karl was a good fit. He came in and played exceptionally well.
I was very proud of Karl and the way he blocked and the things he gave us. It was twofold: One, out of necessity because of the tight end situation, and No. 2, what we thought was going to be a potential advantage for us in this game.
Reporter: Coach, can you talk a little bit more about Carey and what makes him such a dangerous runner? I think he had 204 yards last year against you guys.
KW: Yeah, he did a number on us. He's a powerful kid — not the tallest kid in the world, you know, 5 (feet) 10 (inches), 5 (feet) 11 (inches), but he's about 210 pounds, extremely explosive, great vision, and great quickness. He's a guy that can really change direction, and tough to tackle. We've got our work cut out for us, and we've got to do a much better job than we did last year on him. I've been impressed with him since the first time I watched him play, and I think he's one of the top backs in the country.
Reporter: Coach, I just had a question about your offensive line. Watching Poutasi, one series, he kind of had a letdown. He got beat on a speed rush on the inside, and then after that, seemed to just clean things up. I saw help from the half back. I saw also some of the scheme that ran at Murphy, but can you just tell me about his performance in particular, how he came back from those moments and then how the offensive line graded out?
KW: Yeah, Cedric's still a young kid, and you know he's just a true sophomore. He did have a couple bad snaps early in the game. We got him on the sideline. Coach Finn got in his ear and gave him some encouragement, I guess you could say, and he responded and played the rest of the game very well. It was a situation where he got a little bit more motivation and upped his level of play.
The offensive line as a whole I thought played exceptionally well. What was the second part of your question?
Reporter: Yeah, just how they graded out.
KW: How they graded out, yeah. They all graded out, as I recall, I think three of them were in the 90s and two in the high 80s. Our goal is to have them all grade out at 90 or above. That would be ideal for us, offensive line play-wise, or winning level. You don't rush for nearly 200 yards without good offensive line play. We were only sacked one time — another indicator of how well the offensive line played for us Saturday.
Reporter: This will be one of the only questions from me as far as kicking goes, but where did you find this kicker again? When did you know, Kyle, that he was going to be perfect through this many games?
KW: Ah, well. OK. When did we find him? He sent a tape to us. I say us. It really came straight to Jay Hill. I want to say not last summer, but the summer prior. He was a skier obviously. He was on the Olympic Ski Team or was getting ready to be on the Olympic Ski Team, and joined the program. He was not really anything sensational when he first joined the program. You know, he's gotten better since he got in our program, and that's a credit to Coach Hill in coaching him up and helping him develop.
We had a feeling in fall camp that we may have stumbled upon a pretty good kicker. We had no idea for sure because he hadn't kicked in front of anybody — ever — at any level. There were a lot of unknowns in that respect. In spring ball, there really wasn't that much separation. It wasn't until fall camp that he started to pull away from the rest of the kickers, and we were thinking, "Hey, we might have a guy that's pretty good for us." And then, as the season started to unfold and he just made kick after kick after kick, it's just continued. We're very excited about it.
We no longer go to the soccer fields for kickers. We got to the slopes to try to find those guys.
Reporter: Coach, in these close games, the team has remained fairly composed and confident. Can you talk about the team leadership this year as opposed to maybe years passed, and how does that lead to the remainder of the season?
KW: The leadership this year has been outstanding. I think I've referenced that a lot in the first six weeks of the season, and it starts with Trevor Reilly. He's the team leader and the guy that really is the leader of the leaders.
I met with the seniors. I mentioned that after the game. I had a meeting with the seniors last week, and they're just a great group. They're a pleasure to coach, they're tough, they're competitive, they want to win in the worst way. That's something that's really been apparent through the first six games through the season, and we need that to continue. We expect that to continue.
Reporter: What do you see defensively from Arizona? What do they do?
KW: 33 stack. I think that everywhere RichRod's been he's got the 3-3 scheme going. They're very athletic. They've got a really good linebacker, inside linebacker, really good corner. I haven't had a lot of time to spend on their defense, but they're good and they play a lot of quarters coverage, a little bit of zone pressure. Most of the pressure is 5-man stuff, either zone pressure, or what we call "50": 5-man pressure with man coverage behind it.
They're active. They give you a lot of different looks as far as linebackers moving around, and like I said, they've got some really good players over there.
Reporter: I know you've been pretty pleased with the kicking game — punt and kick game — but what can you do to improve kick coverage?
KW: Yeah, that's the phase we haven't been pleased with, and we have to take a long, hard look a that. Last week, we were playing against a premier kick returner, Montgomery. Our plan was to not let him touch the ball. He ended up touching it two or three times, and we paid the price. That was not due to any lack of effort on our part to keep it away from him because we tried.
We've got to get that fixed. If you look at the football team in its entirety and say, "Where's your Achilles' heel, it's probably the kickoff coverage unit right now. We've got to get that addressed, and we will.
Reporter: Last thing for me. Going back to something you said earlier about the conference and quarterback play and things. I think there's eight quarterbacks right now on pace to go for over 3,000 yards passing. Just kind of your overall view on quarterback play right now in the Pac-12?
KW: Well, it's outstanding. Like you mentioned, there's eight. If you do the numbers with what they've accomplished so far and what's left in the season, that's exactly what will happen is eight of them will go over 3,000 yards.
First of all, I don't know if that's happened in any conference ever, but most importantly, we're very glad that our guy is one of those eight. And so it's a conference full of very good quarterbacks, and the numbers they're putting up is outstanding right now.
Reporter: Coach, as good as Andy Phillips is at putting that ball through the uprights, is there even a possibility that someone else might step in and kickoff and put the ball out of the back of the end zone?
KW: We've tried that. We've worked all the kickers in the program. We're searching for the guy that is able to do the best job of that, and right now it's Andy. It's not for a lack of searching and giving other people a shot. It's just that right now we don't have that guy that can pound it out of the back of the end zone with any consistency or any regularity.
Reporter: You've referenced that meeting last week. Is that a routine meeting, or was it called by you or them or…?
KW: It was called by me. It's not really that out of character. We do that periodically through the season. I meet with different groups, the leadership council on occasion, the captains quite often and the seniors on occasion.
That's something that you just go by feel. When you think you'd like to sit down with some of those guys, take their pulse and see what they're thinking.
Reporter: Coach, that was your 75th victory as a coach. Did you celebrate that in any way, or did you even know that?
KW: Yeah, I went to In-N-Out and had a Double-Double. That was the extent of it.
I didn't know that until we were at In-N-Out and did have a Double-Double. One of my brothers mentioned that. I had no idea, but yeah. There you go.
Reporter: Kyle, I want to ask you about your friend Andy Reid and Alex Smith being undefeated with the Chiefs. Did you sense that they would be a good partnership?
KW: I did. I had conversation with Andy about that potential move and gave Alex my 100 percent endorsement. It's been a good match, and they're doing great.
And by the way, Andy is a closet Ute. Not a lot of people know that, but Andy Reid wears Ute gear constantly and is a closet Ute. Actually that wouldn't be a closet Ute if you wear your Ute gear constantly.
But anyway, I'm very proud of those guys and what they've accomplished, what they're doing there in Kansas City. They got another big win yesterday, and I couldn't be happier for two guys that I really care a lot about.
Reporter: Would you say their personalities are similar in a lot of ways?
KW: I would. They're both intelligent. They're both very even-keeled — no peaks and valleys. They're very steady, and I think it's a very good match, and so far, the results have proven that.
Reporter: Coach, after the Stanford-Washington game, there were some allegations about Stanford faking injuries. Just for you as a coach, to hear another coach come out publicly and make those kind of comments, do you sort of bristle at that? Is that the kind of thing that should not be brought out into the public, into the press?
KW: I really don't have a take on that. I've really never been associated with that in a game on either side of it. I don't know. I guess I would have no comment on that. How about that?
Reporter: Coach, could you talk about Anthony Denham and just how he's evolved into the passing game for you guys?
KW: He made a couple big catches for us, contested catches on Saturday. He's continuing to contribute in that respect. His biggest contribution has been his blocking. He's a big, strong kid. He's 6 (feet) 4 (inches) and about 220 (pounds).
I mentioned the receiving corps blocking downfield for Bubba and those guys that were on those swing routes, and he's the lead guy in that. He's a guy that really does a nice job. Our whole receiving corps takes a great deal of pride in blocking. That's something we stress. What are you doing when you don't have the ball in your hands. It's extremely important and those guys have really embraced that and taken it to heart.
Reporter: Kyle, you're at the midway mark of the season. Can you just give an evaluation of where things sit at this point?
KW: I think we've done some good things this season. Obviously, we'd choose to be undefeated, if we had a perfect world. But we've competed every week. I don't think we've had a poor performance. We haven't won every game, obviously, but I don't think we've had a game where we just flat-out didn't play well. That's been encouraging.
The competitive nature of this team is fun to be around, the way they compete and they way they care about what they're doing. So, we're 4-2, and we've got the second half of the season coming up this week, and we've just need to try to keep things headed in the right direction.
Reporter: Last thing. With Stanford being a very physical team, how did you come out of it health-wise?
KW: I think we're pretty good — much better than in some of the other games in this season, and we'll see as we start to get back on the practice field. We don't practice on Mondays anymore. We use Mondays for the film room and the weight room for the veteran guys. The developmental guys have a practice. We'll be able to have a better assessment tomorrow as to where some of these guys are.
Reporter: Coach, one thing I want to point out to people is the intricacy of what Travis Wilson is having to do in a given play. Those sweep screens, those comet screens, there's a lot that goes into that?
KW: There is.
Reporter: As I watch the play, a lot of people might think, "Ah, that's just a basic screen. He's throwing a screen." But he's got to make a lot of decisions there.
KW: He does.
Reporter: You put a lot of weight in decision-making on Travis in nearly every play he runs.
KW: There's a lot of moving parts. There's a lot of ball handling that has to go on. You know, we fake the fly sweep and throw the swing, or fake the fly sweep, read the defensive end for the read-zone. I mean, there's a lot of reads that he's making on just about every run play or on that swing screen.
His mind and his decision-making is very much like Alex Smith in that regard. Alex made great decisions. Now, we're not running the option game that we were when we had Alex. We had the triple with the shovel option as well as the speed option. That's not part of what he's doing, but as far as the zone read and reading that defensive end on some of those fly sweep series, he's got a lot on his plate, and he's made very good decisions this year with that.
OK! Thanks guys!