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Kyle Whittingham Weekly Press Conference Recap: Pac-12 Championship Game

Opening Statement…

(Listen to the full presser here)

”Great opportunity for our players this week to go over to Santa Clara and be involved in the Pac-12 Championship game. It is our first trip to the championship. I am proud of our guys for continuing to persevere and fight this season. We overcame so many obstacles and so much adversity. They are just a great group to be around and this has been one of the most enjoyable years of coaching for me. They are just a tough-minded group of players and I am proud of them. Our opponent, Washington Huskies, we are very familiar with them since we have played them multiple times since joining the Pac-12. They are an outstanding football team, well-coached, good players, great defense, great quarterback, great tailback, you name it, they’ve got it. So, we have our work cut out for us, but it is a challenge and an opportunity and we are looking forward to it.”

On if there are any lessons they learned from their first meeting with Washington this season…

”Sure, that will be a big part of our preparation is what transpired in that game and what we can do differently. Now both teams have evolved since then and for us, probably more than them because they have been pretty constant. But we have been playing better offensively and things like the quarterback change. That will be a big part of the preparation though is what happened in that game.”

On the importance of getting pressure on Washington quarterback Jake Browning…

”I can tell you one thing, Jake Browning is a terrific quarterback and does a good job handling pressure. His escape ability is very good. It is far above average than most quarterbacks and his pocket presence and ability to sense the rush and maneuver out of tough situations is outstanding.”

On how he felt they did against Washington running back Myles Gaskin in the first game…

”We didn’t let him just go crazy on us but still had a good night. I think he is a heck of a back and one of the best in the country in my opinion. He was banged up around mid-season and missed some time, in fact the Cal game which is one of the games they lost, he didn’t play at all. So he is definitely a guy that we are going to focus on. If he gets out and gets going and has a big game, then our chances aren’t real good.”

On how he would grade himself through 12 games…

”I’ll let Mark Harlan grade me, but I can tell you that I am very proud of our assistant coaches handling this season as well as the players as far as continuing to stay the course and not panic. To just continue to persevere.”

On the journey to transitioning into the Pac-12 and then getting to the championship game…

”It has been an exciting journey. Like I’ve said many times, when we joined the Pac-12 it was like getting a new job. Everything was different. The bar was raised in virtually every area and coming from a group of five to the Power Five is a huge undertaking. I think bigger than most people realize. I think we did it the right way. Facilities got on board and we did a lot of things in that regard and now the stadium is going to be expanded, so I think that we are still in process. It is never a finished product and we are continuing to transition. It has been a challenge from a roster standpoint, which was probably the most important thing was getting the roster to the right place as far as depth to compete in this conference.”

On if there is a lot of hype around this game or if they are looking at it as business as usual…

”More the latter, but this certainly is an exciting opportunity for our players. This group has done a great job of handling their business this year. Not getting too high or too low and just staying the course. I keep going back to our seniors on what a good job they have done leading this team all year long and my guess is that we won’t press, we will just come out and play and give us our best shot.”

On if we will see Siaosi Mariner and Solomon Enis’s roles grow with the offense…

”Solomon, a true freshman, has been on an upward trend since he got here and George Mariner was banged up during portions of the season, but now he is healthy so he is starting to be integrated into what we are doing more.”

On what makes Chris Petersen’s teams so good…

”He is a very consistent, disciplined football coach. He knows football extremely well, particularly the offensive side. He is rock solid. In my opinion, he is one of the premier coaches in the country. He has done a great job for a lot of years.”

On Jason Shelley’s calm demeanor and if that has helped him be a leader

”It has certainly made the transition to the starting quarter better. He doesn’t press or try to do too much. He has done a great job taking care of the football since becoming the starter, so I think that confidence and that poise is critical in a quarterback. And then I think as a leader, the team really responds to him. He is a guy that has really got the respect of his teammates and that is through his work ethic, how he has performed and just with who he is. He is a professional guy.”

On how they have faced a first quarter deficit in eight of their 12 games…

”That is just how it has transpired. I am a numbers guy so I look and drill down fairly deeply on things and if you look at it by quarter, the first quarter definitely is our least favorable as far as the deficit. We are particularly strong in the second and third quarters. I just told the team last night in the meeting that it is OK to start good and not have bad things happen early and that is something that will be an emphasis this week and see if we can get a faster start. But, with that being said, the game is judged on 60 minutes of football, not in sections. You gauge and evaluate the entire body of work so it doesn’t matter how you played at stages, it matters how you played in that 60 minutes to win the game.”

On if he thinks playing a team twice in a season can be challenging…

”You always hear about it in the NFL, but it will be a first for us. It was weeks and week ago since it was early in the season, but there have been some things have transpired since that time. It will be a new challenge and something we have not done yet.”

On what he remembers from the first game against Washington…

”Just that we couldn’t get much generated on offense. We hadn’t hit our stride yet offensively. I thought the defense played well. I felt like we competed well but just couldn’t generate any offense at that time and that was the real reason for that outcome.”

On if the rollercoaster atmosphere of the BYU game will be beneficial or harmful moving forward…

”Momentum is a powerful thing in football, not only from an in-game momentum but also week-to-week momentum. So I think it is going to be a positive thing for us because it is keeping the momentum with us from the last three wins. Our guys, if they weren’t as resilient as they are, I would be a little more worried. It was an emotional game and it drains you, but our guys have bounced back and answered the bell every single time when they’ve had to do it.”

On Jason Shelley’s big play capability…

”I think Troy Taylor has done a great job scripting for success for Jason. He is not asking too much of him, leaning on the run game and designing things that are in his skill set and the strengths that he has. So I think that is a big reason he has success is the way Troy has directed things. And then we keep coming back over and over again with Jason’s confidence and poise. He never presses and he doesn’t try to make a play when it isn’t there.”

On if Tyler Huntley has been helping Shelley during this time…

”Yeah Tyler is back with us as far as meetings and he is around constantly. He is getting closer to being healthy by the way. He has been a really good mentor for Jason during this time, but also previously when Jason was the No. 2 guy, so Tyler and him are very close.”

On where this season will stack up against other rewarding seasons for him…

”Tough to say until you get everything said and done. I can tell you at this point like I said earlier is that this is one of the most rewarding experiences to coach these guys. It is a great team to be around. The personality of this team is really something that I think is special.”

On if there is a chance that Tyler Huntley comes back if they play in a late bowl game…

”Oh yeah, there is a big chance. Like I said, he is getting very close. Depending on the timing of the bowl, there is a strong possibility that he will be ready.”

On if he can make a case for Chase Hansen to be Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year…

”Without a doubt, and the guy that plays right next to him, Cody Barton, his statistics are nearly identical. They are both the heart and soul of that defense. They have done a great job all year with their production and leadership, just everything. I couldn’t ask for anything more from the two guys that we have in there.”

On if they’ve been tracking Washington’s trick plays…

”Chasing ghosts for the most part because if they have a trick play or two or three, more than likely it will be brand new. Chris is very innovative and creative, that is one of his strengths. I think everyone has memories of that Fiesta Bowl where they had three or four of them at the end there that really made the difference in the game. So, that is something we have to be aware of. Typically though, that is a matter of us just being disciplined and doing our job on defense and not getting out of position. Your best chance at success defending those types of plays is being disciplined.”

On if they will use the game as a recruiting tool since they won’t be able to get out on the road this week…

”Absolutely, it is a great trade off and a great problem to have. We will not be on the road this week at all while every other team that is not in a championship will be. We have alerted our recruits that this week we are not available to go out and hit the road and make the visits, but the exposure and the tradeoff of where we are, that is invaluable. I think it more than offsets the ability to get out.”

On the Barton brothers…

”They have been huge for us. They are both seniors, even though Cody is a year younger than Jackson, but Jackson redshirted and enabled them to play their senior year together. They’ve both been great. Their work ethic, their character, everything about them is first class. I can’t say anything about the rest of the family because there is more on the way, but hopefully this isn’t the end of the line for the Barton’s. They are the second and third best athletes in the family. Mom is No. 1, but it has been great having them. Local boys that have made good. Hometown heroes I guess you could say.”