Washington coach Chris Petersen offered his regular Monday briefing and, as usual, we learned very little about about the state of the Huskies outside of generalities.
The coach, who withholds all lineup changes and any injury news for fear of creating a competitive disadvantage, sidestepped a question about back-up Keith Taylor replacing starter Jordan Miller at cornerback against Colorado, said he hoped to have starting running back Myles Gaskin back against California this weekend and suggested the team might be close to getting tight end Hunter Bryant back on the field from a season-long injury.
What Petersen didn’t say was that Miller, nursing some sort of leg or knee injury, got beat bad on an early Buffaloes touchdown pass and was pulled in favor of the younger player and didn't play again on Saturday. Best bet is Miller needs more time to recover and won’t play at Cal.
What Petersen didn’t cop to was that Gaskin is likely to miss his second consecutive game with a nagging shoulder injury, one that probably needs surgery. Best bet is sophomore Salvon Ahmed makes his first career start against the Golden Bears after his 73-yard, one-touchdown outing against Colorado.
And, finally, what the coach didn’t say was exactly how close Bryant was to returning, with a logical guess that he plays in the Stanford game but not before.
Here’s what Petersen had to say to his media audience:
(Opening) “Good to get a win, it’s always good to win in this league. I keep telling our players that (there’s) a lot of parity, kids play hard and sometimes it’s not exactly how we draw it up and sometimes we make it harder on ourselves, but at the end of the day can you figure out a way, and our guys did. They played really solid defense and at times on offense we were good. Shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. Sometimes that’s how it goes. We’ll be back at it against the Cal Bears.”
(On creating an identity after nine games of grinding things out—is that something you think about when game-planning?) “I don’t know about that. We’re always trying to be better. That’s what it is. We’re trying to figure out, why did this play not work, how do we score more points, how do we convert more third downs, but we do talk about trying to play our best in the fourth quarter, no matter what the score is, and kind of go from there. Maybe there’s a couple of teams around that are great with that identity and are great where they are but we’re certainly not one of those teams.”
(On not having the same kind of explosive plays that you had last year with guys like Dante Pettis and Hunter Bryant) “I still think we have some explosive guys. We’re always trying to find a way to shake guys loose and the best way to attack a defense. Cal, going into this week, is really, really good against the pass. You do take those things into consideration. So how do you attack them the best you can and let your playmakers go.”
(Did Salvon Ahmed show you anything on Saturday, especially not being 100 percent?) “Most of our team’s not healthy. That’s just how it goes when you’re this deep into it. The guys that are, you just thank your lucky stars and if you’re going to go and you really can’t help us, we’ve got to get another guy in there because that’s not going to help you or the team. We want to be smart and safe. I thought he did a nice job. That guy is hard to tackle.”
(On Salvon’s throat-slash after his touchdown) “I didn’t see it. I think it was kind of late. Guys get fired up and sometimes your emotions just get the best of you.”
(Did you have a talk with him during the game about it?) “It just depends. It’s something we address, we take care of, but it’s not something that’s a concern. Salvon’s a great kid. But sometimes when you’re playing in the heat of the battle you just have to learn to control your emotions and not hurt the team.”
(How much of that might be carryover from a tough loss the week before and having that chip on their shoulder?) “I don’t really think it does. You’re not thinking about the last week. I think you’re playing hard in the moment, playing against a good team and grinding it out. He kind of made something out of nothing and was emotional about it.”
(Ever have a player get called for jumping over the wedge like Alex Cook did?) “Yeah, 10 years ago when it was legal. It just kind of comes back to coaching. It’s stuff that we try to address, like all of these little nuances of the game that you don’t see a whole bunch. And if we do see it during the week from somebody else, we have guys that are paying attention to what’s going on in college football and pro football that we can address with our guys and show them tape. It comes back to us doing a better job of educating them. Because the guys are going to play hard and if you don’t hammer some of these things you think are really obvious to us, but they’re not to these guys — as coaches, we live it 24/7. They don’t.”
(Are you a fan of the rule?) “It’s all about player safety, so if you look at Alex landing on his head, you can see why the rule is there. It started to change years ago really on the kickoff team when the wedge was legal and guys were just catapulting themselves over that wedge. So it’s really for protection of that player, not necessarily the guys they are going against. When it comes to that, yeah. We’re a fan of it, player safety.”
(Are any of the shorter kicks you have employed this year due to a reaction to the new rules regarding kickoffs and fair catches?) “If we could boom it out of the end zone every time, we’d easily just defer to that, but a little bit of wind in the stadium always changes the kicking game. You see all these guys on tape that kick it out, whether you’re at altitude or a little breeze at your back, it doesn’t show up in the normal game but it shows up in the kicking game. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do when they’ve got really good returners.”
(So it’s almost always a function of wind direction?) “A lot of times. It depends on if it’s a wet day or a dry day and the ball is going to carry. But you always want to keep them off-balance.”
(On the impact of the new kickoff rules) “Well, I think if we could boom it out of the end zone every time we would just easily defer to that. But a little bit of wind in the stadium always changes the kicking game. I mean you see all these guys on tape that kick it out, whether you’re at altitude, little bit of breeze at your back. It doesn’t show up in the normal game but it shows up in the kicking game and so you gotta do what you gotta do when they have really good returners.”
(On that meaning it pretty much is the function of wind and direction) “A lot of times. A lot of times and it just depends if it’s a wet day or dry day. The ball is going to carry but you always want to keep them off balance.”
(On Keith Taylor getting most of playing time at right corner in place of Jordan Miller) “I think Jordan’s being a tough guy and he’s practicing the whole time and all that. But it’s late in the season and he’s taken some pounding and we’ll play all those guys.
(On Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant) “Maybe what I’ve learned is I didn’t learn anything. They’ve done exactly what I thought they would do. And I think they’ve done what our whole offensive staff thought they’d do. I mean those guys are good players and they can make yards for us, and it’s good to see those guys get in their meaningful reps and do what we think they can do. That’s really what it’s kind of been. I don’t think there’s been a bunch of surprises.”
(On what first stood out about McGrew in the recruiting process) “I think probably his vision. He was always hitting the holes correctly and always making positive yards. He played in a really good league and was really productive in that league. Just thought he was a really solid player.”
(On if the third-down throw to Ty Jones was late or miscommunication) “We’d like Ty to kind of hold up in there and he kind of stayed on the move because he had a lot of space. And Jake’s under a little bit of pressure and he’s counting on him being in certain spots. So it’s a little bit of miscommunication and something that definitely needs to; another one of those things like you play the game. You’re like ‘huh?’ We’ve done this a lot of times and you could see when a guy’s in space why he’d want to keep moving. But we’ve got to be on the exact same page.”
(On Levi Onwuzurike having a strong game against Colorado) “I think Levi that’s what I see out of him every game. He’s really explosive. And the more consistent he can get and play at that level I mean he can really be something special. But yeah that was, I mean great execution always sparks emotion and that’s what it was. Guys get fired up when you see that especially coming out of the d-line. Everybody could see it. It was just one of those plays. A lot of times you don’t see what goes on in the d-line and this time everybody could see what was going on at the point of attack.”
(On evaluating the job of Bush Hamdan and Jimmy Lake have done as first-year coordinators) “I think we’re doing a good job. I think our defense is playing at a pretty high level and doing what we need to do on offense to win games. I think we’re always trying to figure out how to score more points. Of course you were just talking about our identity and sometimes it seems like it comes down to that fourth quarter. We’re kind of running the ball and slugging out. We have some really good backs and pretty good O-line. Not that our receivers can’t make plays, it’s just kind of seems that’s the nature we’ve been going. I still think it’s work in progress. I think we’re always evolving trying to be better. How to maybe sometimes no make it so hard on ourselves.”
(On playing without Gaskin and seeing the depth emerge) “I will just tell you this: We live in the here and now. We can’t worry about next week or next year. We really can’t. We got to figure out how to beat the team in front of us and that’s kind of how we go. Now we all know that we need depth to do anything worthwhile around here. The team just continuously changes.”
(Will Gaskin be available at Cal?) “Hope so.”
(On true freshman DL Tuli Letuligasenoa playing against Colorado) “I would have liked to see him play a little bit more personally. It was good to see him in there and, I mean, I do think like I said last week sometimes when those guys know they’re going to get in the games even their practice mentality can change a little bit and how it carries over. But I think we planned on playing him more than that. Just how the game kind of went. We were expecting a hard-fought game but coaches got to make their decision on how they’re going to play their guys but he did a nice job for three plays.”
(On Washington State doing UW a favor with its victory over Oregon) “I just know and I said it last week and I said it after Game 1: There’s just so much football left to be played. You’re so worried about somebody and then you don’t take care of your own business. So that’s the first step. The main thing is that we won last week and certainly how that game went probably helped us. It’s not going to help us very much if we don’t take care of ourselves this weekend. I really mean this, I think we got a very dangerous Cal team. We know those guys. We know those coaches. I think those guys are very well coached. I know how Justin runs that program. We better play at a very high level.”
(Did you watch Washington State-Oregon film?) “Not the film. I saw some of it (live). We were doing some recruiting. The TV was on so I saw a little bit of the first half, saw the score and then Oregon come back and I think I saw the very end of the game, too. I didn’t see the details really of the game.”
(Reaction to 27-0 WSU lead and Oregon’s comeback?) “It’s exactly what I tell our guys: This is a long game. College football is a long game. There’s huge momentum swings. You saw it in the Oregon-Stanford game. You saw it in the Washington State game. That’s just how it is. Teams are going to make runs. Like if we’re going to pay attention to that game at all, that’s the lesson out of it. You have to just keep playing because when you have good teams, things are going to even themselves out.”
(On Chico McClatcher’s fumble-touchback) “Extremely (frustrating). And I think there’s probably nobody more frustrated in the whole thing than Chico. I just know how frustrated he was at the whole thing. Sometimes it just comes to that point when you’re tying too hard. You’re trying to make something happen. You’re trying too hard. Those guys from Colorado got their hands on and kind of pulled it out where he was going down.”
(Is Chico back physically but not football-wise?) “You always have it with a few guys as the season goes on. Some guys get into a good groove and some guys get into a little bit of a rut. That’s just sports. You got to fight through it. It’s that unique trick of not trying too hard, not caring too much. We care so much about this that it works against you sometimes.
(On how much Cal has improved from a year ago) “A bunch. And we knew they would. Just kind of how they operate down there. Not only do we know Justin (Wilcox) really good but a lot of those coaches, how they coach those kids, how hard they play. Each week we see something better out of them so we know what we’ll get.”
(Do you have a sense of how frustrating the season has been for Chico?) “No, not really. I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. I know he’s trying hard and I know he’s frustrated with a couple of things that have happened, the stuff like I said is important to all of us. He’s not alone in that. There’s other guys that just go through this type of thing and you’re trying to help them play the best ball they can play.
(On whether Wilcox has established his culture at Cal) “It’s really hard for me to answer that question because I don’t know the inner workings of what’s going on there. It takes some time. I know it’s a lot different than it was three years ago when he wasn’t there. I know they know what they’re doing. They certainly are different than they were last year.”
(On the traits of a Beau Baldwin offense) “I think they play to their strengths, that’s what I see. I think they’ll do whatever they need to do to attack a defense and play to their strengths. I think there are certain teams that are kind of system oriented and it doesn’t matter what you do, we have our system that we like and it works against most stuff, might throw out a few plays. I think they’re game planners. I think that they’ll attack you in terms of the coverages and fronts that you show up into coupled with this is what we do well. I think their offense can look different year to year depending on who they have and then they are certainly going to attack you where you’re at your weakness.”
(On preparing for Cal’s two QBs) “That’s unique. They really use those two guys, depending on the game. Whether one guy’s going to go or the other guy’s going to go in the game. They’re rotating those guys on different plays. Still, you’ve got to come down to do your job and you’re defending formations and then what you see post-snap. But it is a little bit unique. Now, both guys are runners; one is more of a runner than the other one. But I think they’re the second- and third-leading runners on the team, so they’re going to run those guys for sure.”
(On Fuller’s one-handed catch) “It was a good one. That was a good one. That was kind of like Kevin King’s a couple years ago.”
(Has Fuller maybe even surpassed your expectations?) “Nope. He really has not. He has not. I think he’s that type of player. I thought he was last year.We maybe just didn’t get him the ball quite as much. But he’s always been very sure-handed and a smart football player. I think that’s one of his best qualities — he’s just really smart. And that shows up. He knows how to get open and obviously really talented hands.”
(On Browning’s trust in Fuller) “I think you’d have to truly ask Jake that question. I think Jake always goes with the ball where his read takes him. If all things are equal, maybe he is going to put one up there (for Fuller). I know where Jake’s going to go where the read takes him. I think he trusts (all) those guys. But I don’t think he has any problem, if all things are equal, throwing to Aaron.”
(On Mike Leach’s comments/texts regarding Pac-12 officiating; did you feel the same?) “I really just — I’ve got enough problems. That’s how I think of this.”
(But do you have a problem with the replay controversy?) “Well, hopefully they get that fixed. And I’m sure they will.”
(Does it concern you when a ‘third party’ is influencing the replay?) “I think you’re concerned when you don’t feel like a call is correct. And there is some subjectivity in all this type of stuff. I think everybody’s working really hard. I think targeting is a really sensitive issue: Was that targeting? Was that not targeting? Like I say every week: We just go back to what we can do. How can we help our kids with this whole thing? I still some helmet-to-helmet stuff that is not targeting in this day and age that I think (will be) down the road. I just keep thinking, as coaches, how can we help this game and help our players take the head out of the game. We talked about Jaylen (Johnson’s) hit two weeks ago (vs. Oregon). It’s a bang-bang play and how do we re-create that, which is hard to do in practice? Really, just the way I think about this, I always just worry about ourselves.”
(Given the complexities of all that, are you dismayed at all about the Pac-12’s protocol?) “Like I said, I know where you’re going with this. I really, truly do. I try to be as honest with you guys as I can. It really didn’t concern us. They’re going to fix it. I just try to worry about ourselves and be the best we can. We trust that they’re going to fix the problem and move forward.”
(Should there be different levels of targeting depending on the play/hit?) “The only thing, and I don’t know if this is right or not, the only thing that always feels a little bit weird to me is the guy getting thrown out in the second half and doesn’t come back until the second half of the next game. That one, for whatever reason, feels different from the guy (ejected in the first half) missing that game and then you move on. But different levels of targeting? It is what it is. We’ve got to take the head out of the game. That’s how I think about it. We’re not going backwards.”
(What’s the preparation like when you have a guy like Jaylen Johnson who can’t play in the first half?) “When everybody else is in the locker room at halftime listening to their coach about a few little adjustments, he’s over there getting more warmed up than everybody else is. That’s kind of how it goes.”
(Would you like to see a specific area get better and what are you happy about?) “Yes, we would like, we put the tape on every week and I don’t’ think there is a time where everybody is going, ‘Yeah, we’re pretty good with this, pretty satisfied.’ I mean it’s always the details. We can talk until we’re blue in the face, our guys know this, it’s like where we’re at right now there is not whatever each side plays, 70 plays, whatever it is, there’s not many missed assignments. There might be a couple, but there really isn’t. That’s not the issue. The issue is always a bunch of little details. So I can sit here as a coach and say, ‘We’ve got to be more detailed, we’ve got to be more detailed,’ and that’s not going to help those guys. We have to go out on the field and recreate those details and then program the guys. That’s what we’re trying to do as coaches. So that’s what, as a general statement, we’d like to be more detailed and got to do that for them as coaches.
(Happy with assistants?) “Our coaches, they work hard. They’re very aware. Like I always say as a staff don’t try and ever put this on the kids. We’re in this together and we need to teach them better if we’re not getting it done. They need to go get it done for us, but it always comes back to us as coaches.”
(Bye weeks tied in to health and safety) “I don’t know about health and safety. I don’t think anybody is that fired up about a bye on Week 10. You’d like it somewhere in the middle. I don’t think you like it really early in the season. You’d like it somewhere in the middle of the season but I think every year there is going to be a couple of teams that don’t have that luxury. Was it last year or the year before USC had to play their whole season? I mean, that is a serious competitive disadvantage. There is no question about it. We play 10 games without one. I think our league is looking at those things but from our standpoint we’re not going to sit here and complain about it. It is what it is and we’ve got to get it done, and that is our mindset. Now I think those guys are looking at that schedule and how do we help this thing.”
(Pac-12 scheduling format not having predetermined favorites) “I will tell you this, I’m not in favor of it if it doesn’t help Washington. That’s all I can tell you. I look at that and I’m like, ‘I don’t like this schedule,’ but I know they’re not going to change it because of Washington. But when I look at that and I see it’s game 10, I don’t like that. But they’ve got 12 other teams to pay attention to but all I can do is worry about our team.”
(Any update on Hunter Bryant?) “We are getting close. I will give you that.”
(He could maybe be available this Saturday?) “We are getting close. I’ll give you that.”