Here's a transcript of Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham's pre-Utah State press conference:
KW: Can’t believe the season’s here already, but we’re excited about it. It’s been a long offseason for us. Our players have worked hard. Kind of a quiet offseason in a lot of ways. Our guys took care of business and didn’t have anything that was negative. From a player standpoint, I thought we handled ourselves pretty well.
The biggest thing obviously in the offseason was Dennis Erickson’s hire as the co-offensive coordinator, and we’re excited about that. I’m excited to see what the offense does on Thursday night. So, that’s the biggest thing that I’m anticipating.
Utah State, a very good opponent. What, did they win 11 games last year? Quality football team. They got most everybody back. New head coach, a lot of the same assistants and staff has returned. But we expect them to be every bit as good as last year. We have a big challenge ahead of us.
Reporter: Coach, looking ahead at Thursday, what are some of the biggest keys for your team defensively against Utah State?
KW: Defensively, I think we need to do a lot of the things we did last year. They had one touchdown through three and a half quarters offensively. We had the blocked punt early, which was something that was a huge part of the game and really changed the game. But defensively we played well for the most part. A little bit soft in the run at times, but we’ve got to tackle well and keep the quarterback in the cage and contained in the throw game and not let him get out. He’s very good at extending the play, and when he gets out and improvises, he usually does something really good, so we got to try to prevent that from happening. But overall I thought we played pretty well on defense last year as a whole.
Reporter: The history has been so lopsided between Utah and Utah State that some people shy away from the word “rivalry” with them. But with their recent success, what does that do to this series and your preparation?
KW: Well, we prepare the same way for every game regardless of who the opponent is. We’ve always had a great deal of respect for Utah State, and as I mentioned last year, they’re a terrific football team. We view anything in-state has a rivalry flavor to it, so we approach it that way from a mental standpoint. But like I said, they’re coming off an exceptional year and we are going to have to bring our A-game in order to have a chance to win.
Reporter: You’ve had some seasons where you’ve played a lesser opponent like a Division I-AA and then obviously this one. Do you any preference of what you’d like for the first game?
KW: I think ideally you like your first game of the year to be a I-AA opponent. I think that if you were laying out the schedule exactly how you wanted it to unfold. But to me I’ve never really been too concerned about how the games come up on the schedule. It’s beyond our control, or at least beyond my control, so I just don’t worry about it. But if we had a choice, yeah I think we’d rather do that.
Reporter: You’ve had some inconsistencies over the years with quarterback. What do you have to say about this year’s quarterback group and how you expect it to be.
KW: Well, to say we’ve had inconsistencies is an understatement. The last four years have been not anywhere near what we needed to be quarterback-wise from a consistency or production or continuity standpoint, all of the above. And so we’re hoping this year that we put an end to that. We’ve got a much improved offensive line, at least we feel that it’s much improved. We’ll have to find that out for sure on Thursday night. But with Travis Wilson being our quarterback, he’s a much bigger, stronger guy than the quarterbacks in years past — 6-foot-6 and 240-plus pounds, so we’re hoping that this is the year for the first time in many years, four years I guess, that we’ll be able to finish the season with the same quarterback that we started the season with. So, we’ll see if we can get that done.
Reporter: USU, this week’s opponent, is returning a new coaching staff with Gary Andersen departing to Wisconsin. How does that change the dynamic at Utah State? They have a new defensive coordinator and new position coaches as well.
KW: Well, it changes things a little bit and like I said, there’s a few of the assistants that stayed behind and are still on that staff. And coach Wells, all I can do is liken it to when I took over for Urban [Meyer]. The things that aren’t broke you don’t try to fix. And so I think you’re going to see a lot of similarities between last year’s Utah State football team and this year’s as far as schematics and how they operate. I would be shocked if there was wholesale change. We’ll see what happens, but relative to the situation I was in, I think you’re going to see a lot of the same stuff.
Reporter: When you take the field on Thursday, what is the single biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s team?
KW: Hopefully production on offense. I think that we were 2 for 17 on third down against the Aggies last year. I don’t know if you’re ever going to win a football game going 2 for 17 on third down. That’s atrocious. We hope to be much different offensively, much more productive, much more explosive than we were last year. If we’re going to compete in the Pac-12, as we go through the conference schedule that has to happen. That has to be the case.
Reporter: How much of an increase in plays per game do you think you’ll average now?
KW: Good question. I would say, just off the top of my head, you’d hope for 8 to 10 to 12 somewhere in that range from what we were last year. But we haven’t put an exact number that we’d like to hit. We just want to play up-tempo and get in and get on the football and get it snapped, run the play and the same thing over and over. Get the tempo where we need it. With Utah State, probably we’ll be doing the same thing this year, at least we anticipate it. It could be a four-hour game and a lot of plays.
Reporter: Coach, what does it mean to you personally to have a guy like Dennis Erickson on your staff and now that football week has arrived, you’ve been through spring and fall, what has he done, what have you seen out of the offense since his arrival?
KW: Well, first of all it’s been a huge benefit to all of us to have coach Erickson with us, not only from an offensive standpoint but as I’ve said before as a sounding board for me. A guy that has been in just about every situation imaginable as a head coach. If a situation arises for me where I need some advice, there’s no better guy to go to. He’s right down the hall from me. So it’s been big and the players have really embraced him. But like I say, we have to wait until we line up on Thursday and see exactly what the effects are. But so far it’s been very positive.
Reporter: Coach, you talked about Chuckie Keeton’s ability to extend plays and to improvise. What specifically have you and your coaches done this week to prepare your defense for that?
KW: Well, we’ve got a couple of athletic quarterbacks that have been running scout team and being Chuckie’s duplicate, trying to duplicate what he does. Brandon Cox and Micah Thomas, and they’re both exceptional scramblers and very similar style of play. So, that’s been a big help to have those guys running the scout offense. We’ve also had a bunch of what we call scramble drills where the quarterback breaks contain, and needing to stay on coverage. We call it plaster, you know, stick on your coverage and maybe have to cover six or seven or eight seconds at times. We’ve done our best to duplicate exactly what Chuckie’s strengths are, and we’ll see what happens.
Reporter: I don’t know if you’ve talked about it much during fall camp, but it seemed that Phillips was really good. Do you expect that? Andy Phillips, your kicker?
KW: Andy Phillips, yeah.
Reporter: Do you expect that to continue?
KW: We hope so, and everything we’ve seen through fall camp has been exactly that. He’s been lights out and really has separated himself completely from the rest of the specialists. We’re hoping that when the lights are bright and he’s out there that he does the same thing in the game as he’s been doing in practice, because he’s been exceptional for us. That’ll be a big plus if we can get him to kick the same way in the game as the way he’s been kicking for us in practice.
Reporter: What’s your plan for utilizing that stud linebacker spot with Blechen and Trevor Riley in that rotation?
KW: Well, those guys, well Trevor mainly is the guy that can play both down on the defensive line and at linebacker. He’ll be playing both this week. You’ll see him move around. Blechen, we’re not sure what his status is going to be, but Trevor is going to be a guy that, and you’re going to see this all year long, as per the opponent as per the scheme we’re playing where he fits best is where we’re going to utilize him. But he’s a guy that, we feel he’s a big impact player on defense for us. We expect him to make a bunch of plays, and we’re going to try to put him in position to do so.
Reporter: Coach, you mentioned how you’ve thought about the loss to the Aggies a lot since you lost to them. Do you think that affected how the team played the rest of the year?
KW: I think in a way it may have set the tone for a lot of things. And that’s something about this profession, you get to be able to bounce back. There’s going to be disappointing losses and you’ve got to move forward. So, you like to think that we’ve put it behind us, but I think that it lingered for a while without a doubt and personally I didn’t handle it the best. I’ll put that squarely on my shoulders. I was not resilient enough. We can talk about that game.
Reporter: How much do you go head-to-head with Utah State in recruiting?
KW: Not often. Not very often. In-state is about the only time that it occurs. I can’t recall. And when you say, “head-to-head” when a recruit comes down to his last two or three schools, very seldom. Do we offer the same guys? Quite often, yeah. Often we offer to the same guys, but when it comes down to decision time, it hasn’t occurred a lot.
Reporter: The fact that they beat you last year, do you ever use the revenge factor as a motivating factor for your team?
KW: Well, yeah. You want to talk about winning in-state games, that’s a priority for us. We play on anything we can for motivation, and last year was a huge disappointment, as we said over and over and over, and so we got to try to get that corrected.
Reporter: You open with three straight home games, five of six at home, can you talk about re-establishing earlier in your career how things were going at home as far as the 21-game winning streak. The last couple of years have been
KW: Yeah, we want to make Rice-Eccles a place that is very tough for our opponents to come in and play. The home-field advantage is something, as you mention, in years past has been very good for us. That sold-out stadium, the MUSS and all the things involved with that. We’ve got to do our best to get that corrected. But it also has a great deal to do with who is coming to your stadium week in and week out. That’s very obvious, too.
Reporter: Coach, overall have you felt how the team came out of camp satisfied with, did you see improvement and that kind of thing?
KW: I didn’t get the first part.
Reporter: Were you, overall, happy with the way the team came out of fall camp?
KW: Very much so. I think the leadership has been excellent. The players have taken ownership of the football team, which is what you want to see happen, and this team generally has cared for each other. Great chemistry. That’s a credit to the players because that’s something that comes within.
Reporter: Kind of your ongoing defensive storyline through fall camp was your secondary. Now that camp’s done, now that you’ve got the opener, how confident do you feel in maybe your top three or four corners headed into Utah State, or is it one of those let’s wait and see?
KW: Athletically, very confident. They’ve got speed, they’ve got athleticism and a lot of ability. Zero experience for the most part. It’s going to be a wait and see thing, but based on what we’ve seen in practice and the improvement we’ve seen from spring ball through fall camp to right now, they’ve made a ton of progress. But it doesn’t change the fact that none of them have played corner in a game. So that’s something that you never can completely predict, how a young man’s going to react when the lights are on and it’s on the bright stage. So, we’ll see what happens.
Reporter: Coach, you may have touched on this earlier, but when people think of rivalries they think Utah-BYU. This is older, though. What does this rivalry mean to you and to this university and how special is it to kick off the season with this?
KW: Well, it’s important for in-state. I mentioned that we don’t go head-to-head often in recruiting, but still you want to take care of things in your own backyard. That’s important. Utah State’s obviously in our backyard, so it’s always going to be an important game as long as they’re on the schedule.
Reporter: Have you had trouble defensing a quarterback like Chuckie Keeton before, who is mobile, who can do kind of a dual-threat guy? Are you better equipped this year to handle it?
KW: Well, it’s always a problem. That’s a defensive coordinator's, one of their worst nightmares is a dual-threat quarterback. That’s why everybody, not everybody, but most people in the country are going to that. It presents problems that your old traditional pocket-passer or just a guy who is just a runner. The guy that can do both is the ultimate weapon. Hopefully we’re equipped to deal with that this year. Like I said, we dealt with it pretty good last year. We played pretty good defense against them, but anytime you have a guy that can hurt you both ways, and then you add the spread element, and then the option element, you know the option game, it all makes it very difficult to defend. That’s why so many people are doing so much of it.
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