Everything Utah's Kyle Whittingham said to preview Washington State
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham thinks this setup for a Washington State game — a bye week leading into a Thursday night kick, giving the team extra prep to prepare for this game and then a couple extra days to prepare for its next game — is as ideal a situation as they can be in.
That doesn’t make the task at hand any less challenging. The 14th-ranked Utes (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) head to Pullman on Thursday to face a Washington State team that is 4-3 on the year (1-3 Pac-12) but has played tough week in and week out.
Whittingham talked about the challenges the Cougars pose, what the Utes did during their bye week, and how the schedule changes this week. Here’s everything he said, with video of the press conference below:
“Washington State this week. Thursday contest, obviously coming off a bye for both teams, so extra preparation time for each team. Washington State’s a good football team. They’re playing very well on D, in fact, No. 1 in the conference in points allowed, which is really the bottom line and the most important statistic defensively. They’ve got some good players on defense. The linebacker (Daiyan Henley) is exceptional, I think he’s second in the league in tackles. They’ve got a couple d-ends that put pressure on the quarterback. Secondary is talented and plays hard.
“Offensively, very similar to the scheme we saw against the Trojans 10 days ago. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for us, but there’s a lot of carryover. It’s 10 and 11 personnel, predominantly. Predominantly 11 personnel in control downs, and they jump into 10 on third downs. It’ll be a test for our secondary. They’re primarily a throw team. Not getting a whole bunch done in the run game but they’re getting quite a bit of production throwing the football. That’s something that will be a challenge for our secondary.
“Night game, obviously, it’s a Thursday nighter. Should be a good contest for us and we’re going to have to play our best. There’s no doubt about it. They do some really good things on tape. They’ve had some good wins this year. At Wisconsin is probably the biggest win for them this year. Took care of Cal pretty handily. That’s where we’re at.”
On harnessing momentum from the USC win
“That was a good effort by our guys against SC. Hung in there, continued to fight. It was a great college game. Anybody who was at that game or had a chance to watch it I’m sure felt the same way. Real testament to our players and their competitive nature, how we hung in there. Offense did a great job keeping us in the game. That was really the key to the game — matching the scores that SC was putting up on the board and keeping us within striking range. Then at the end, being able to get that last play to win it. We’d love to keep that momentum heading into this game and that confidence on offense. Hopefully, we can build upon that.”
On preparing for a shorter week leading up to the game
“We gave (the players) a couple days off after the last game at home. We did come in on Monday, watch the film, and put that game to bed. Tuesday and Wednesday we gave them off, then we picked up on Thursday as if it was a Monday, then just carried on through. Gave them Sunday off, so (Monday) is kind of like a Wednesday/Thursday hybrid practice, I guess you could say. (Tuesday) will be like a Thursday, then we’re right on track for a Wednesday/Thursday that is the same as a Friday/Saturday routine.”
On the run game
“Focus on it. Just (need) more production. We’re not as productive in the run game this year as we have been in years past. But on the other side of that, we’re throwing the ball pretty darn good. So as long as you’re getting it done one way or the other. We seem to be at our best when we’re running the ball effectively, which opens up the play-action pass game even more so than it has been.”
On the running back rotation
“We’ve got it sorted out. That’ll be kept internally. We’re not going to tip our hand there, but we feel like we’ve got the guys for this week in the right pecking order and plugged into the game plan (so as to) maximize their strengths.”
On the reason for the right guard rotation between Jaren Kump and Michael Mokofisi
“A health thing. We’ve got (Mokofisi) a little bit banged up.”
On defensive changes during the bye week
“Little bit of streamlining, not a ton. We weren’t doing all that much, it’s not like it was overly complicated. But you look at the second half (against USC), we played much better in the second half than we did the first half last week. There’s no panic or reason to have wholesale changes. But if we can play more like we did in the second half rather than the first, that’s the objective. Just guys making plays, playing with confidence, and playing hard. They always play hard. But just settling in and making plays.”
On whether the change to the Pac-12 title game structure changes how they try to get to the game
“I don’t think so. You’re just trying to win every week. That never changes. I’m not a math major but I would think having to be better than 10 of the schools rather than five of the schools to get to the championship game would make it a little more difficult, but everyone’s in the same boat. The champion is going to be crowned by who wins the game in Las Vegas, not by whether you go in there first or second.”
On the setup going from a bye week into a Thursday game, and being afforded extra prep time for this game and the next
“I think this is the ideal scenario if you have a bye, to have (the next game) come on a Thursday so you get an extra couple days and an extra couple days for next week. I think that sometimes you can get a little bit stale going the full two weeks. If you were to map it out and say, ‘This is exactly how we want it to play out,’ I don’t think it could be any more beneficial than it is, at least from the preparation and time sequence.”
On targeting and roughing the passer calls
“Ever since targeting became a focal point and roughing the passer has seemingly been more and more prevalent — I think targeting has pretty well leveled off but roughing the passer (is more prevalent). It’s become more at the forefront. We certainly try to coach our guys and educate them every chance we get as to how to operate even when you’re making the sack, you have that strike zone you’ve got to stay in, no unnecessary late shoves or anything like that. It can cost you. It cost us in the UCLA game.”
On Washington State’s Cameron Ward
“He’s very similar to what we saw against USC. He’s got a big arm, he can extend plays, he’s hard to sack. He’s not as hard to sack (as Caleb Williams) once you get a hold of him. The other guy was like tackling an o-lineman. This guy is very similar and can get himself out of jams and has done a nice job throwing the ball. They’re close to 300 a game throwing — 280ish.”
On what makes Pullman a tough place to play
“It is. The stadium can get loud. It’s not the biggest stadium but they’ve got good support. I couldn’t tell you why it makes it difficult but it has proven to be a tough place to play.”