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Kyle Whittingham Weekly Press Conference Recap - Week 9

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NCAA Football: California at Utah Gabe Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham recaps the team’s “outstanding performance” against Cal and previews the match up this week against Washington.

Opening statement…

”Outstanding performance by our guys on Saturday night. I was proud of the way they got ready and prepared during the week and they came out and played well, particularly on defense. The numbers they put up, like in the first quarter, but also throughout the entire game, was pretty impressive. Now that is in the rearview mirror and we are moving on. We have a tough road trip to Seattle where we will play the Huskies. They are a really good football team. They have good personnel. Their quarterback is a big, strong kid with a big arm. They have a solid team across the board and like I said, it will be a big challenge for us. We haven’t fared real well there since joining the league, but we have a new challenge and new opportunity this year.”

On the pass defense the last two games…

”I don’t think it is just one thing. It starts at the line of scrimmage, I can tell you that for certain. The pass rush has been outstanding and even though we haven’t gotten a ton of sacks, we have had the quarterback under duress a high percentage of the time. The coverage in the backend has been outstanding. The mixture of zone and man coverage that coach Scalley has dialed up has been a positive as well. The linebackers have been doing a nice job of matching up in their zone concepts. But I think it all starts at the line of scrimmage, that is the key to great pass defense.”

On if teams do more than they’ve seen when they come off a BYE week…

”Typically yes. There are usually some new wrinkles that haven’t shown up in the earlier games. It is a good time for specials too, like tricks plays and those types of things because you have time to do that. Coach Petersen is a master at that anyway with the specials, so you always have to be ready to anything. They do a great job with that. There will be things that we are certain of that will show up Saturday that have not shown up previously.”

On Washington’s passing offense…

”I’ve seen good stuff. They have good receivers. They have a 30-catch guy and a 40-catch guy and the quarterback has a big arm, an NFL arm. He can make every throw. They are getting about 170 rushing and about 250 throwing the football, so they are balanced. They are doing a good job throwing the ball, he has a good QB rating, around 158 for efficiency.”

On if there is a revenge factor going into this game after losing in the Pac-12 Championship game…

”No, two different teams and two different matchups. They have a lot of new faces and we’ve got a lot of new faces, so I don’t think there is that element. I remember the sting of that loss, I am not going to pretend like it never happened, but it is more just going through your normal process and preparing like we have been for the last several games and not deviating from that.”

On what about Washington’s head coach Chris Petersen makes it hard to play against…

”He is very disciplined. He does a great job, particularly with openers. In the first quarter this season they’ve scored like 97 points which is by far their most productive quarter. The scheme he has is always solid and it is always balanced. As a former defensive coordinator, it is always tougher to defend the teams that are balanced, and he has certainly been balanced over the years.”

On if he expects the game to be physical…

”I would say yeah. They are a physical team every year and that is something that they pride themselves in like we do. It should be a physical contest.”

On if Julian Blackmon, Jaylon Johnson, Zack Moss and Leki Fotu have raised their stock in the NFL after deciding to play one more year at Utah…

”To me without a doubt. If I am making the evaluation, I think they have positioned themselves better. We still have a lot of football left because we are only about 2/3 of the way through, but I think right now you would have to say that yes they have improved.”

On if it was beneficial to get Tyler Huntley in the game this week instead of having him sit…

”It was beneficial to get him some action and it was just as beneficial to get him the second half off. I thought coach Ludwig did an outstanding job of tailoring the offense to his state of physical wellness. There were some things we took off his plate and supplemented that with Jason Shelley. I thought that was a good plan of attack. Andy needs to be commended for that. And then in the second half he didn’t play at all. The plan was if we were able to get a stop on the opening drive in the second half then we were going to go ahead and rest Tyler and let Jason and/or Drew Lisk take the reps.”

On if Washington’s defense will be as good after losing players to the NFL last season…

”The scheme is outstanding and they are well coached. There are a lot of new faces, but they are still in the top half of the league in almost all of the defensive categories so they are still playing solid defense.”

On if this is the deepest backfield he has had…

”I know that we have a lot of guys contributing right now and they are giving us quality carries. They are also not just carrying the ball, they are pass protecting and doing routes so it is good to be able to supplement Zack so that he doesn’t have to carry the ball 30 times a game, because that is a heavy load. So to be able to supplement his runs with those other two or three guys has been a big positive for us this year.”

On if there is anything unique about this year’s Utah defense compared to previous years…

”Probably that there is really no holes in it. There is no spot where we feel we can get exposed. Now we don’t have all the answers and we are still a work in progress, but every level is good. The defense is playing well and there is a good vibe. The defense seems to be really cohesive right now.”

On getting close to the .500 mark in Pac-12 play over the last nine seasons…

”It was a tough transition. Going from G-5 to P-5 is a big undertaking. It takes time and it is all about recruiting because you have to build your roster and continually upgrade it. We knew going in that it was going to be a challenge and we also know that the biggest challenge was going to be the perimeter with the skill guys. That is what we were furthest behind in. We think we have closed the gap considerably. It was like spanning the Grand Canyon – it is a big jump. It has been a long, hard journey but I am proud of our assistant coaches and the way we have just continued to recruit and build each year. We are still a work in progress though.”

On if Jason Shelley has assured his spot as the No. 2 quarterback or if it is still an ongoing battle…

”It is still week-to-week but he sure made a positive impression in the game on Saturday. The reason he was the supplement to Tyler was because of his running ability. Tyler gave us everything we needed throwing the ball, but what Tyler lacked in being able to run the ball this particular week, Jason fit the bill better on that.”

On what Jason Shelley needs to do to lock up the No. 2 position…

”He needs to be a little more accurate in practice. Jason seems to elevate his game in the games. He is athletic and he has a confident air about him. He is one of those guys that when the bright lights are on he actually gets even better. He needs to make sure that Andy feels good about him with his read progression, putting the ball in the right spot and going to the right guy. That is what it boils down to. Drew Lisk is the guy he is competing with and they each have their own strengths. Jason is obviously the better runner and Drew is more accurate in practice. It just boils down to judging the entirety and making the call. It is subjective.”

On the challenges of coaching November football…

”Nothing really. We don’t pay attention to what month it is. It is all the same to us as far as our preparation. We do have personnel challenges as the season goes on because of injury, but you have to continually face that. We do shorten practice a little, but I think everyone in the country does that as the season goes on. You start to back off and try to preserve them as well as you can. The positive this season is that our defense is only averaging 54 snaps a game. We have played eight games but they have the wear and tear of probably five games because of how we are controlling the football.”

On how unsettling it is for opposing defenses not being able to get off the field because of how Utah is controlling the ball…

”Very unsettling because that wears a defense out. In the first half we had four drives that averaged about 89 yards and 10 plays with all being touchdowns. That is demoralizing as a defense to being out there and not being able to get a stop. So, that is a great job by our offense. A great deal of our defensive success comes from the offense and their ability to control the ball. It works in harmony with each other.”

On being ranked second in the FBS in time of possession and if that is giving the defense a little more juice this season…

”Yeah without a doubt they are fresher not only because of time of possession but also because we are scoring points. We are putting points on the board and it is so much easier playing defense when you are ahead instead of behind. It is working hand in hand. There are many things I look at like points per minute and differential of offensive snaps vs. defensive snaps. But yeah the defense gets juiced up when the offense is controlling the ball and they are sitting on the bench for eight minutes of real time, that is a positive and lets them get rejuvenated.”

On outside of wins and losses if there is a stat that he “geeks out” about after a game…

”Turnover margin is my No. 1. It is such a critical stat.”

On how much they let Bradlee Anae loose compared to keeping him disciplined…

”We have given him more freedom this year and it is because he just keeps getting better and better. He is playing his best football this season as a Ute in my opinion. You don’t just say to take a chance whenever you want, but you structure it and make your calls to turn him loose. So, it is controlled chaos or just giving him the option to do different things. If we know that we are going to turn him loose, then we have a guy in position that will cover.”