The full transcript of Steve Sarkisian’s press conference today:
(opening) Just a quick recap of the (Oregon State) game: I thought our guys played really hard. And that’s been a common trait of ours, of the way we’ve been playing. We’ve played really hard and physical, and I thought we did that in all three phases. I thought one of the big keys to it was our execution. I thought especially up front with the offense line they blocked extremely well. Not only were they physical but they were targeting guys well, they were communicating well. And then defensively with some of the things we were doing — communication was really good up front, as well as in the back end. Guys were in really good position to make plays on the football in the back end. We saw that. We covered well — forced the quarterback to hold onto the ball probably more than he would have liked. Got some pressure on him, forced some errant throws which we were hopeful. And then ultimately got four turnovers, which is a huge component in any game but was a huge component in this game, especially getting four turnovers and not giving up any.
All in all it was a great night. It was awesome that a bunch of guys got to play. And for the most part when they went in they did well. I wish some of our reserves on defense would have tackled a little bit better but we’ll work on that with those guys this week. But all in all it was a good night for us, it was a good win. Short week, so we didn’t get to celebrate it that much but it was a good win for us.
(Overall impressions of Cyler Miles’ night) I thought he looked like a Pac-12 quarterback. It didn’t look new to him; he just looked comfortable. I kind of thought that against UCLA, quite honestly, outside of a couple plays late. But he prepared really well. I think he trusted his preparation. There’s a handful of plays — and he’ll be the first one to tell you — he’d love to have back. But I thought just his body language, his composure, his command of the offense, what he gave off to the rest of the team — here’s a guy out there on the field confident and believes in what he’s doing and believes in his preparation. I thought he sent a great message to the team that way. And then he performed well. I thought he used his legs effectively. He didn’t get any real big runs, but a couple first downs when he pulled the ball down and ran. Ultimately he had time to escape some pressure and make some plays. For a guy making his first career start on the road in that environment, in those conditions, I was very pleased.
(Who will be the starter for WSU?) We really don’t know, quite honestly. We’re preparing…the way we’ll do it is like last week; we’ll prepare for Cyler to be the starter, and if Keith is physically able to go where we feel confident and comfortable in what he’s able to do then Keith will be able to step in and execute the game plan. Keith’s been in this system for five years now. Obviously up–tempo this year is different but the plays remain the same. He can come in and perform, and quite honestly he was probably ready to go Saturday night, but I just felt better about our team with Cyler’s preparation and Cyler being the guy this past Saturday. So we’ll see how the week goes. It’s a very comforting situation to be in knowing you have two guys that can go in and win Pac-12 football games. Both of them are very capable of going out and playing well Friday.”
(Is it the same as last week where Keith won’t throw until later?) No. He threw some today, so he’s in much better shape this week than he was last week. He’s not 100 percent. He’s not fully recovered. That’s very clear. It’s just a matter of, as we get closer to the game, is he in a position where he can go out and perform at the level that — enough to go out and perform well against a good team, against a good defense on Friday at 12:30. That’s what we have to assess.”
(How much are you considering how many hits he can take?) That’s everything that goes into it. As we talk with our medical staff about the situation, as we talk with Keith and Keith being a fifth–year senior now, we’ve gotten to a point now where it’s not about the bravado and all that. It’s about being honest about where he’s at physically. That was part of the conversation last week as well. I would never put anybody out there — never mind it being Keith Price — to be a situation where a kid got hit he could injure himself worse. This is a pretty violent sport we’re a part of, and obviously safety of the player has become an even bigger issue recently than it’s ever been in our sport. When it comes down to dealing with a player’s safety, I wouldn’t risk doing that to him if I didn’t think he could handle taking a few hits from a defensive lineman or linebacker or something of that sort.”
(Does the way Cyler performed give you some leeway to be patient with Keith?) The biggest thing is — it’s about our team, and what’s best for our team. Cyler’s performance gives me a comfort level of knowing I have a very capable guy that can go in and perform and run our offense and command our offense. I also know I have a fifth–year senior who is working his tail off in the rehab room to get himself healthy enough to go out and perform and play and finish off his college career on a high note. As unfortunate as the situation is, it’s a good situation to be in with the circumstances that we have based on the two people.
(Thoughts on the fourth quarter of last year’s Apple Cup) It still leaves a bad taste in our mouths — I can tell you that. The players understand it, the coaches understand it. We don’t get to replay the fourth quarter; if we could have we would have already done that. You think about the magnitude…we’ve been talking all season about penalties; I believe we had eight penalties in the fourth quarter that game, seven on defense and all major fouls. And then after all of that, blowing the 18–point lead and having an opportunity to kick a field goal, a very makable field goal for Travis Coons — and then to miss it and to go to overtime and turn the ball over…it was really almost a comedy of errors for the fourth quarter and then into overtime. We can’t do anything about it but prepare really well this week and put our best foot forward at Husky Stadium at 12:30 and if it comes down to a kick again I have all the confidence in the world Travis Coons will make it. He’s had a tremendous season for us. We can control what we can control, and that’s this game.
(Does the fact that both teams have winning records add something more this year to the Apple Cup?) I think it’s great. I think it’s great for our state. I think it’s great for Northwest football that both programs are really moving in the right direction because there’s tremendous fans here in the Northwest — especially in our state. I think this rivalry is a very unique one in that so many households are split, friendships get put on hold for about three–and–a–half hours…but that’s what college football is all about. That’s what these types of rivalries are about and that’s what makes the Apple Cup so special. The better the two teams are performing, the better the environment for the game, and I’m hoping in the near future this game is deciding who is playing for the Pac-12 Championship. I think our fans — theirs and ours — deserve that. It’s a great game to be a part of, I’ve been fortunate that this is my fifth one now — they’ve all been really good games. And they’ll probably all continue to be.
(On WSU’s progress) They’re a good football team. They play hard. I think Connor Halliday, he just continues to get better and better and better. It’s one thing to work within the system. It’s another to be able to improvise and understand the system, to go kind of just outside of the system to make your plays and I think he’s doing a good job of that. Their receiving corps in my opinion has definitely upgraded. They continue to recruit good players at the wideout spot. And they’re physical up front on defense. They’ve got a senior safety in Deone Bucannon, who’s a really good player who I think provides a great deal of leadership for them. And they’ve got an opportunistic secondary who if you throw them the ball, the ball gets tipped, they intercept it and then they run it for a touchdown. So they provide a great challenge for us and they’ve made really good strides and they’re a good team.
(On Halliday and the WSU offense) I think just like anything, when you go anywhere, regardless of the system, and obviously coach (Mike) Leach has his own system, sometimes it takes a year to get things in place to really get it going, to get the belief to buy into the system. They’re moving the ball well. It’s Year 2 I think for everybody there, the offensive linemen, the running backs, the receivers, and obviously Connor, his second year in the system as well. So I think with anything comes repetition, being able to fix some of the problems that might occur. I think general, they’re performing better than they did a year ago. And I just think more so than anything, that’s a product of Year 2 for everybody involved.
(On getting Micah Hatchie healthy) Huge. Your left tackle is such a huge component to what you do. Micah’s had a great season. He probably doesn’t get enough credit. He was playing as a sophomore at left tackle last year. Took his lumps at times. Has come in this year, has gotten better and better and better. He’s gone against good players and when he’s been in there he’s performed extremely well. It’s great to have him back. Scott Crichton’s a heck of a player from Oregon State. To keep him quiet in that game is big, whether it was in the pass game or the run game. We’re going to need another really good performance out of him on Friday in the Apple Cup.
(On offensive line responding to criticism) “They’re a good group of guys. They’re a tight-knit group. I think they embody a lot of the characteristics of their coach. Danny (Cozzetto) is not the most flamboyant, out-there, outgoing guy. He’s a hard-hat, lunch-pail, blue-collar type guy and that’s how those guys perform. I don’t know if they’re the most talented group in our conference, but they play hard. They play the game the right way. There’s no secret – I think we’re averaging 500-something yards a game on offense right now. You don’t do that with a bunch of ham sandwiches blocking for you. These guys have done a good job and they’re performed well and they deserve the credit they deserve. Shoot, they’re doing a good job.”
(On season Marcus Peters is having) Marcus is a good player. Marcus, again, is a sophomore, and he has moments of greatness, which we saw last week. It’s staying consistent with that for him. It’s going to be big Friday for Washington State, because when he’s really detail-oriented, when he trusts his technique, man, he’s a playmaker. He has long arms, he gets hands on the ball. The tipped interception he gets the other night. The strip fumble he gets the other night. Those are tremendous plays. When we get him in that mode and keep him in that mode, he’s a really effective player for us. It’s going to be key for Friday, because we know they’re going to throw the ball. It’s just a matter of how many times, but they’re going to throw it. His performance is going to be key to our success.
(Peters seems salty out there?) “I think you have to have some of that. You’re a DB. You’ve got to have a short memory, you’ve got to have thick skin, you’ve got to be tough-minded. You have to be willing to play 1-on-1 football and 1-on-1 battles. I think that’s a little bit of Marcus’ makeup. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. The call probably could have went both ways with (Terron) Ward. It was a pretty late and low cut block and Marcus took exception to it. I probably would have, too, quite honestly. But he’s a really competitive kid, which is one of the real things we like about him.
(On John Ross playing defense — whose idea was that?) “Coach (Justin) Wilcox has been kind of tapping John Ross since training camp – ‘Hey, why don’t you come over. You want to do some 1-on-1s?’ What really happened was, John had been our punt returner, and he’s just not quite there yet, confidence-wise, fielding short punts. So when we put Marvin (Hall) back to return, we moved John up to be a corner to block the gunners because we wanted to get (Greg) Ducre and Marcus off the field just to save their legs. And he was really good at it. Obviously it was on the film. So we just felt like going into these last two games, we knew Oregon state was going to throw it a bunch, we know Washington state is going to throw it a bunch, to get a guy out there who’s really an exceptional athlete, quick feet, changing directions, has a natural feel for the game, to get him opportunities to go cover guys and make us better. So he’s still playing on offense, he’s doing that. He’s playing on defense, he’s returning kicks. We’re just trying to maximize a guy who has a great deal of talent and a very high football IQ.
(Did you recruit him with the thought he could play defense?) Potentially, yeah. He’s a talented kid. When the time was right and if it fit right. You don’t know kids exactly until you get them. As we went through the recruiting process and then even when we got him here, his maturity is really high for a freshman. He’s just a mature kid. He understands the process and the preparation side of it. I remember even back into training camp, we went out on an Argosy Cruise with the team, just to kind of get out and do something as a team activity. The guys were listening to music and joking and all that kind of stuff, and I went up top and he was sitting with his iPad, studying the install for the next day as a receiver. He’s just got a very mature approach to things and I think that allows him to be able to do it on both sides of the ball.
(Added importance for Bishop Sankey this week being from Spokane?) Bishop’s moved a lot in his life. I know he went to high school in Spokane but he’s moved a lot. He’s originally from Ohio. Anytime you’re from a military family I think you’re used to moving around. I think that’s a better question for him than me.. I think, just like he was today, he’s going to approach this game like he does every other game just like he does every other day.
He comes to work. He understands the game plan. He studies the blocking scheme probably better and more so than any running back I’ve been around. This game wants to know how plays are being blocked.”
He’s going to go play hard. He’s going to keep his mouth shut. He’s going to get back in the huddle or get back in his alignment and do it again. I know that he’s probably got some accolades coming his and deservedly so. He’s a tremendous player. He probably doesn’t get enough national recognition as he really deserves. But he’s a tremendous player.
(Where does Sankey rank all-time?) I don’t know. There’s been some great ones as we all well know. For decades there’s been great running backs here. He’s done something very unique in his own way, and his own style. He’s not the most physically imposing guy when he walks in the room as you guys know. But he plays big and he plays hard. And he does the little things. I’m hopeful that when the day’s done and he’s done here that he is recognized as one of the greats here because I think he deserves it. That’s not for me to decide. You guys probably have more of an influence on that than I do quite honestly.
I just know how he’s regarded in our locker room and up in our offices. This guy brings it every single day with a great mentality. You fly home from a ballgame after a late ballgame and he’s one of the few guys up studying for his midterm coming the next week or writing a paper. He’s got a great mentality about himself that I think is contiguous and rubs off on our players. The approach to practice. The approach to school. How you handle yourself on a day-to-day basis and some of those things go unseen but they really have a direct impact on our locker room and that’s saying a lot about a guy.
(Did you think Mike Leach would have this much early success at WSU?) I didn’t quite honestly put that much thought into it. I’ve known coach Leach for quite some time. We both have BYU ties. I know he was a good coach. But we have our own things that we’re working on and trying to get better at. I will just say in general about the Pac-12 because I think it gets into something that is important to note. I think what Washington State has done and the investment that they’re making in football in their coach and their facilities, what we’ve been able to do here at the University of Washington, the investment we’ve made. You look at Arizona, Arizona State. I think the conference in general is making a much bigger investment in football. As a result, I think we’re seeing a lot more parity in our conference.
I think we’re seeing good football teams. People are investing in coaches. They’re investing in facilities. They’re investing in recruiting. And in turn the product on the field is much improved across the board in our conference, and I think that’s a great thing. I’ve been in this conference now I think for almost 14 years and this is as good as it’s been. I think it’s only going to get better.
(Oregon loses. What does that say?) I’ve said since Day 1 this season. In this conference, if you don’t show up ready to play you can get beat. It doesn’t matter who lines up across from you. There’s enough talent. There’s enough good coaches. There’s enough hostile environments that you have to go into on the road. If you’re not prepared to play you can get beat. And if you’re borderline prepared to play you can get beat bad. Believe me, I know. We went down to Tempe and we weren’t ready and they got after us. The rest of our games we fought like crazy. It’s still hard to win even when you do things right. I think this conference, like I said is as good as it’s been. If you’re not prepared to play and you go on the road, man, you can get beat. It doesn’t matter who you’re going to play in this conference right now.
(OSU, WSU pass a lot. Why don’t other teams do that?) I don’t know. I can only speak on our behalf. We believe in running the football. Everybody’s got their own style. Everybody’s got their own philosophy and I think you recruit to that philosophy, you preach to that philosophy and that ultimately you play to that philosophy. If you think that whatever your philosophy is, is the formula for success for you to go win then you lean on it and you try to go do it, especially at the most adverse times, especially at the most critical moments. Those two teams, those two programs believe in throwing the ball and they have success doing it, and they lean on it, especially at the most critical moments. Why others don’t I don’t know that.
(on Sarkisian wearing beanie over his hat Saturday night?) I’m not superstitious like that. It really was… the intent was not of anything… my kids think it’s funny. The players told me I have swag because I wore a beanie over my hat so I really was just covering my ears. That really was the intent of the whole thing.
(on Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington) Bishop is so good it’s hard to take him off the field — it’s hard to say ‘Come out. You’re one of the best running backs in the country, but come out and we’re going to give these other guys opportunities.’ But when you do, and when you see other guys have success, man, it’s not only great for the individual, it’s great for the team and the morale of your team, and it speaks to the rest of the team that when you practice really well and you get rewarded with playing time and then it pays dividends and you go play well … it’s interesting to watch some of the first guys go greet those guys. Bishop’s one of the first guys to greet them because he knows how hard they work. Nights like the other night when everyone can get in there and play, I think it’s just great for team morale, quite honestly. Could Bishop have carried the ball another 10 times and rushed for a bunch of yards? Probably. But I think for our locker room and for that plane flight home, I think the best thing we ever did was playing all those guys — some linemen who haven’t had very much time that got in and performed well and to uplift their confidence, so those are big games for them and their future as they move forward.
(Where is Deontae Cooper compared to where he was when he arrived here? Is he back?) I think so. I think his confidence is really improving. If you noticed the other night, the first one was a toss sweep to get him on the perimeter. I think he’s very comfortable when the ball’s outside. The rest of the night I ran him up inside intentionally. And it’s to get him comfortable with people around him and diving at him. I got after him pretty good at the fumble — that wasn’t a fumble (after a review) — but I got after him pretty good about, ‘People are going to tackle you low. They’re going to dive at your leg. You have to be prepared for that tackle. It can’t be so surprising and you get flipped over.’ I know his arm was down when the ball came out, but that’s not OK. For him to continue to grow, for as much as I want to keep putting my arm around him and tell him, ‘Hey, this is great, you made it and you scored a couple touchdowns,’ I know he’s even better than that. But as much as anything, it’s between the ears with him. It’s not about his heart, it’s not about his physical ability, it’s the mindset of knowing he’s capable of doing it and understanding it. … I think he had 10 carries in the game, if I’m not mistaken, so his next nine carries were in between the tackles. When he really continues to build that confidence, he’s going to be a very good player because the talent’s there. He’s physically back to normal. And we saw what he’s capable of when he gets the ball in space — he can really go.
(How important is getting that eighth win, with a chance for nine?) I think it’s big … because it’s on paper. You can say, ‘They improved because the number says they improved.’ I think it’s big for the veterans on this team, the seniors, juniors … for them to walk off the field Friday after the Apple Cup, if we can get to that eighth win that they know they improved this program. Because sometimes for them, it’s quantitative, you know. They look at the stat of wins and losses. I can tell you, today we’re a better football team than we were a year ago at this time. But a win Friday, I think for so many people justifies, ‘OK, they are better.’ And maybe for our players, quite honestly. But the game Friday is not about trying to get to eight wins. The game Friday is playing our rival on national television in Husky Stadium, celebrating our seniors and trying to win our rivalry game for our fans, our players and doing it in a really classy fashion. That’s really what the game’s about Friday.
(on carry–over in preparing for Washington State after preparing for Oregon State’s passing offense) The reality of it is they both throw the ball a lot, but they do it in totally different fashion. Washington State is more of a spread operation. The offensive line has the big splits, they run a lot of routes that are read by the quarterback and the receivers and making subtle adjustments within the route as they go. Oregon State (has) a much more pro–style approach to it. Obviously Coach Riley’s history in the NFL; it’s got the Don Coryell, Ernie Zampese, Norv Turner feel to it, where they’re throwing it down the field (with) a lot of play–action pass. … Wasington State’s a lot more quick game — the ball’s getting out of their hands … looking for matchups … the one–on–one fades. So although they both throw it a lot, they’re much different approaches to throwing the football. So there’s really big differences to it.
(More prepared now with your depth on defense than, say, eight games ago?) I think so. Kevin King, I think getting him out there playing comfortably. John Ross getting him out there. I think a JoJo Mathis, getting him out there some. The depth up front — all those guys, it matter. Tre Watson’s confidence is much better than it was eight games ago. And I think Marcus Peters and Greg Ducre’s confidence is much higher today than it was eight games ago, so even your veteran guys can improve as the season goes on, and I think that’s the case.
(on Jeff Lindquist and not having him throw in mop–up duty) I looked up and it was 61–6 I think. I don’t know how you throw a pass without it being disrespectful, and I just won’t do that. He gets a lot of passes in practices, and there will be a point when he gets to throw the ball in a game. But the game just got out of hand so quickly it was just quickly to do.
(Just the experience for Lindquist … ) I think it was good for him. He pulled the ball one time and ran it and kind of got his feet wet a little bit. The majority of that stuff is just being on the field, just being in command, managing the situation. A couple games ago, he was bobbling the snap around and this week he’s in there and he’s just a little more calm, a little bit more comfortable. That’s just part of the process. Jeff has come a long way. He’s really, really improved. A lot of that work gets done in practice in individual (drills) with Marcu (Tuiasosopo), and then in the team settings he had a great week of practice last week. Cyler was getting the reps with the ones, Jeff was getting the reps with the twos now, and those are valuable reps that he’s getting that are only going to help him down the road. So we’re excited about Jeff and how far he’s come and what his potential is.