In our four losses in the Pac-12, we’ve had 15 turnovers. That can’t happen. The league is too good to hope to win if you’re going to turn the ball over at that rate, particularly when we're not getting a great deal of takeaways on defense. If we can move the chains and protect the football like we did against Stanford, then I think we’ve got a very good chance. —Kyle Whittingham, Utah head football coach
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media Monday afternoon in his weekly press conference.
In his comments, Whittingham expressed sadness over the death of Matt and Shawn Asiata's father, described the activities that will take place this weekend in conjunction with Veterans Day and discussed how Utah football is approaching the Arizona State game.
Here is a full transcript of the press conference.
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Kyle Whittingham: OK, first of all, I want to say how deeply saddened we are as a program. Matt and Shawn Asiata, two of our players who played for us, lost their father a few days back in a tragic accident. I went to the funeral today, and really our thoughts and prayers are with Matt, Shawn and the whole Asiata family. It was just a horrible thing, and so we want to make sure that we acknowledge that.
For the game Saturday, also, a little sidebar to the game, we’re having a “Salute America” theme, and we’re going to be wearing some different drum-and-feather decals on the side of the helmet honoring the servicemen of the country and the veterans as well. At halftime, the band will have a presentation to honor the servicemen as well. So, that’s going on in addition to the normal activities of the game.
Arizona State: tremendous football team, talented. “Complete team” I think was the term I used last week — well, I know I used that term. They’re very good on offense, second only to Oregon as far as total yards, points per game and second only to USC, I believe, in total defense. There really is no weakness. They’ve got a lot of things going for them. They’re playing very well right now. They’re in first place in the South, and they are, right now, a very hot team. They’re coming into Rice-Eccles, which is a positive for us. We’ve got them at home, but it’s going to take our best effort in the game this weekend.
Reporter: Coach, looking at Arizona State’s offense, what challenges do they present specifically for your team's defense?
KW: Well, I think they’re so balanced. They do an exceptional job running and throwing the football. Taylor Kelley, their quarterback, is a great decision-maker. He has done a nice job with the read-zone aspect of their offense. He throws the ball very efficiently. Grice, Marion Grice, the running back, is a talent. They’ve just got a lot going for them on offense and they’re doing everything well. There really is no weakness right now. They’re throwing the ball, they’re running the ball, they’re doing everything to a high degree of efficiency on offense.
Reporter: So Kyle, two times you’ve played them in the Pac-12, they kind of got you really good. Is it speed thing, or is there a common denominator in those two losses?
KW: Well, last year we clearly were flat, not to play our best game, and they took it to us down in Tempe. The year before was really close. I think it was 14-13 with a couple minutes left in the third quarter. I think if I remember right, we had three, I think we had three turnovers in succession, which let the game get away from us, but you know, they’re first good personnel-wise. Coach Graham did a great job with the personnel, but he was left with a great deal of personnel. Coach Ericson had done a good job recruiting there, and Coach Graham has maximized that talent.
Reporter: Coach, any special insight Dennis Ericson can give you on this program? It’s been a couple years, but is there anything you can give similarly to when he was there?
KW: Uh, not a lot schematically, a whole different coaching staff and coordinators and, so there’s not a lot there, but personnel-wise, a lot of those guys, like I said, he recruited. He's got a pretty good idea of their capabilities, and so there’s a little bit of insight in that respect, but, it’s been couple years, and so, I don’t perceive that as a huge advantage.
Reporter: Coach, your team has consistently played better at home this year, and it's not because you’re playing the best teams on the road necessarily. How much of that is a function of playing in a friendly environment versus the distractions you face when you go on the road and not being at home?
KW: Probably a little of both, and we have not handled the road very well. I agree with you there. We really liked playing on our home crowd in Rice-Eccles. We’ve got a great crowd, and they give our team a great deal of support. It’s something that, with MUSS in our corner at home, has been a big boost for us, and so that’s probably the best answer I can give. We’ve got to find a way, in the future, play better on the road, ‘cause we have not done that.
Reporter: Hey coach, how did Travis Wilson’s hand look through the first part of this bye week, and how have you handled the quarterback situation rotation through the bye week?
KW: Should be good to go. The bye week comes at a very good time and for Travis and for a lot of our guys for that matter. We’ve got a lot of guys that are healed up and hopefully that they’re ready to go this week, and so that should be behind us. We’re hoping that Travis is now, you know, 100 percent completely free from the effects of that injury, and then, what was the second part of the question?
Reporter: How did you handle the quarterback rotation?
KW: Quarterback rotation! We’re going to continue to redshirt Connor Manning, which means that Adam Shultz will get used to the entire dose of the twos, reps with the twos, so Travis will take the ones and Adam will take the twos, which is probably about a 60-40 split for Travis and Adam.
Reporter: Coach, as good as it felt at the time, how far away does that Stanford win feel right now?
KW: Yes, it’s been a couple of weeks. It feels like it’s been an eternity. It’s only been a couple weeks, and it’s hard to believe. I guess with a bye week, it’s been three weeks now on the calendar, but just a couple games ago. We thought, well, we knew we played a good football game, and got our quarterback hurt the first quarter of the next game and just proceeded to not play very well across the board in those next, although we played very well defensively last week. I shouldn’t say we didn’t play very well, because last week defensively was a great effort.
Reporter: To have just lost all of that momentum, how do you just get your guys emotionally out of the rut from those two really tough losses?
KW: Yeah, you got to just continue to do what you’re doing, and we've got a lot of character on this football team, in particularly in the senior class. They’re a competitive group, and, if nothing else, you’re playing for the love of the game and for the competition of it all, although there is a lot of reasons. We’re still playing for a bowl bid.
A lot of these seniors are playing for a chance to play on after college, and they've got to continue to showcase their skills. But more than anything else, you shouldn’t need anything but the competitive nature from within, which I think our guys have a great deal of.
Reporter: Arizona State hasn’t failed to put up more than 30 points in every game. With the pressure on your offense, then over the last couple of weeks, do you take more chances knowing that you can’t just put up 17 to 20 points and beat this team?
KW: Right. In fact, I think they’ve scored over 50 the last three weeks out and over 50 maybe five times this season. They’re very prolific on offense, like I said, only second to Oregon. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and if we can take care of the football .
In our four losses in the Pac-12, we’ve had 15 turnovers. That can’t happen. The league is too good to hope to win if you’re going to turn the ball over at that rate, particularly when we're not getting a great deal of takeaways on defense. If we can move the chains and protect the football like we did against Stanford, then I think we’ve got a very good chance.
Reporter: Coach, will you take me into the game film against these guys at Arizona State. I mean, they’re putting up so many points, what is it that they’re doing to make it so hard to defend them?
KW: Well, I think like I said, that's the balance, you can’t just load up for the run or the throw, because they do both so well, and it’s much like Oregon. You know, Oregon does a great job with a balanced attack, and so that’s really the key is that they force you to defend everything. They spread. They force you to defend the entire field in both run and the pass. That makes it difficult, and the quarterback is very efficient and running that offense to perfection.
Reporter: Tell me what they’re doing defensively, coach. Washington, Washington State combined for three yards total rushing? Obviously, they’re looking to stop the run, but, give us some ideas of what they’re going to do defensively to stop the run?
KW: Yeah, they’re a quarters team, first of all. Split safety look in the secondary. They've got some real good players. Sutton, the defensive lineman, is their premiere guy. Another kid, No. 52, is a tremendous player. They got Darby, I think is the name of the safety, so they’ve got very good personnel, No. 1.
They’re very well coached on defense. Technique and fundamentally, they’re very sound, and then their safeties are very aggressive. I mean, they'll come downhill in the run game and hit you in the mouth. They’re very quick to diagnose the run with the safety group, and the corners are skilled cover guys. For their scheme, they have all of the parts in place to make that an effective scheme, and it all starts with Sutton. Will Sutton's the lynch-pin of the whole thing, of the whole defense.
Reporter: Kyle, is that Taylor Kelley the best quarterback you'll face so far?
KW: Well that’s a good question, we’ve faced some good ones. Let’s see, I’d have to think. You know, from a numbers standpoint, maybe, but, you know, there’s, you know, there’s some good ones down the road as well. We just expect to face very skilled guys each week. It seems like every week in the Pac-12, we face a top-round draft choice, or several of them, and this week will be no different. Taylor Kelley’s had an exceptional season so far.
Reporter: And they kind of have a unique thing. They have the two top scores in the NCAA on their team too. They just have a lot of weapons on offense.
KW: They do, and like I said, the best way I can describe a great team. There is no weakness and they’ve been hitting on all cylinders. They’ve stayed very healthy all season long, which is a key to a lot of their success, so they’ve got a lot going for them.
Reporter: Just kind of going off Dirk’s question, I believe that Taylor Kelley was responsible for seven touchdowns, and last weekend, five through the air and two rushing, I believe 66 rushing. Obviously, Sean Mannion, another one that you faced. Who in your mind is he comparable to? Is he more likely to sit the pocket, look down his receivers, or is he kind of got a will get out and run?
KW: The latter. I think he’s more of the guy that will get up and move around, where Mannion is purely a pocket passer. He’s a guy that wants to stay in the pocket at all costs and just pick you apart with his arm. Kelley is very mobile and a lot like the quarterback at Oregon that we’ll see in a couple of weeks, Mariota. He’s very similar to that style of play, not quite as prolific as a runner.
Reporter: And so, you’ve told me that your base packages are designed to stop the pro-style offenses and you’ve got sub-packages for this. What exactly is it that you need to do against one of these fast-paced high-tempo spread offenses to get stops out there?
KW: Well, I think we’ve got to keep the run game under control, which is what we didn’t do against Arizona. I think Ka'Deem Carey had a field day, and so we’ve got to make sure we make it very tough sledding for the run and then try to make some plays in the back end. Our pass defense has been really pretty darn good this year with the exception of not being able to come away with our interceptions.
We have an efficiency rating which is down in the line in the league, but if we added for just the normal amount of interceptions, the bare minimum amount of interceptions, then we’d be really good in interceptions. We haven’t done that, and so that’s really a moot point, but the coverage aspect itself has been pretty good. Bottom line: Take away the run, and be sound in coverage, not give up the big play.
Reporter: Kyle, we know your background as a defensive guy, but with the struggles your team's had all season, especially, again, against USC facing third-and-longs, has there gotten to a point where you’ve had to sit and talk about your play calling, especially on first and second down, and in plays that have come and putting you in third-and-long?
KW: Well, we’ve got to be more creative without a doubt, but, you know, the entire offense and the complete autonomy rests with Dennis Ericson. You know, he’s got complete control of the offense. As you mention, I'm a defensive guy. I'm certainly aware of what’s going on on offense, and certainly have input as far as what I’ve seen from my vantage point. But make no mistake, the offense is completely in the hands of Dennis and Brian at his side. That’s what they’re paid to do, is to get the offensive going.
KW: Thanks. I’ve enjoyed it. That’s great, and yeah.
Reporter: Just, you mentioned last week that Kelvin York will be seeing a few more touches. Is that still the plan?
KW: We think so, yeah, and it’s a product of, you know, how you practiced during the week. Some of the weeks that he hasn’t seen as many touches. He’s nicked up a little bit in the couple of the weeks where he wasn’t healthy, a couple of the other weeks didn’t play as well on practice as we thought he needed to. As of last game and the week leading into it and what he did in the game was very productive and so, we think that Kelvin yes, to answer your question, yes. He should get more touches this game than what he’s been getting.
Reporter: I was curious what you thought of the USC result last week with Oregon State, and maybe even the ASU-Washington State game, just what your thoughts were on those results?
KW: Well, USC didn’t surprise me. They’re so talented. I don’t care. They say they only have 45 scholarship players. Well there’s 45 four- and five-star players that you have access to. That’s a solid two deep, and so, to me, they’re still the benchmark for the league as far as talent level. That was apparent in the game against Oregon State.
The other game, Arizona State Washington State actually had some momentum. They pulled within 42-21, and got a stop, and the fake punt that Arizona State executed swung the whole momentum back to Arizona State. Otherwise, Washington State has the ball down three scores and has some momentum, but you know, Arizona State is playing as well as anyone in the conference right now with the exception of Oregon.
Reporter: Last thing, is there a chance that Westlee Tonga will be back this week?
KW: I’m going to say no, based on the report I got this morning. I don’t think he’ll be available.
This writing was transcribed by contributing writer Russell Olsen and Deseret News staff.