Oct. 1, 2013
I thought we made the most of our bye week. We got a lot done, got the players some rest, and got some bumps and bruises hopefully healed up. We're back today. Obviously a short week this week with the Thursday game.
UCLA, as I mentioned last week, is a tremendous football team. They are ranked 12th and 13th in the country in the respective polls. Really, they have no weaknesses right now. Offensively, they're leading the conference in total offense. They may be leading the nation in third downs -- I haven't checked. They're leading the Pac-12 for certain at 68 percent and might be leading the nation in that category. Bottom line is that it's a big challenge for us, but we'll be ready to play and we're looking forward to the game on Thursday night.
On UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley:
Well, he does everything well. He's a lot like our guy, Travis (Wilson). Their numbers are almost exact, when you compare the two in the throw game. They're within a point or two of each other in pass efficiency. Hundley runs the ball well like Travis does. There's a really good comparison between those two guys, and it's going to be an intriguing matchup. The quarterbacks are going against each other head-to-head on Thursday night. What Travis brings to the table and makes him difficult to defend, Hundley does the same thing for the Bruins.
On Thursday games:
Thursday games are good for exposure. You have the chance to be on national television. You don't want to make a habit of (Thursday games). I think that one or two a season is plenty. Academics is obviously a concern. That's right in the middle of your academic week. Coming off the bye week, it's a level playing field where both teams are in the same situation, so I don't see any advantage or disadvantage to that.
Now, back in the previous years, there have been situations where you're coming off a bye week and the other team isn't or vice-versa, which makes things a little bit different, but I don't think this is a big issue. I think we're both on the same footing.
On the secondary:
We've definitely taking steps forward in a lot of areas. The Oregon State game was a point where we gave up a bunch. Now, if you've followed Oregon State, he's doing that every week. I mean, (Sean) Mannion did it again Saturday -- he threw for over 400 yards again. It's not something that he hasn't done to everybody.
I think we've made strides. We've got four or five guys that we feel comfortable with right now. This group has really separated itself. It's become apparent as to who the guys are that are ready to play and who's not quite as ready.
On being ready to play UCLA:
Their work ethic at practice has been excellent -- their focus, their concentration. The week before is probably the best it's been in a long time, and this past week has really been similar to what we had going into the BYU game as far as the quality of practices.
There's an air of confidence about the team, and we know we've got to get things rolling in the Pac-12, but right now, we feel like we've made big steps as to who we are -- our identity, what we're good at and what we're not so good at.
On creating turnovers:
We're working on that constantly throughout the entire practice. There is no one period devoted to it. It's a constant throughout practice, stripping the ball out and getting the ball out of the air, interception-wise.
We did come up with an interception in the rivalry game. We're still way behind where we'd like to be in takeaways. But with the offense doing such a good job taking care of the football, that has not been really as magnified as it could have been if the offense wasn't doing such a great job with our ball security.
On third downs:
Defensively we're not doing bad in third downs overall for the season. Our percentile is 36.6 percent. Our goal on defense is 30 percent. If we can hold teams to 30 percent or less, we feel really good about that.
Offensively, we were actually doing pretty good on third down up until this past ball game. We were in the mid-40s, and this last game obviously hurt that percentage. On offense in order for us to move the chains, do a better job moving the chains in this past game, it was just a matter of making a few more plays. We had a couple drops, some penalties and things that negated those third down conversions.
Defensively, we've got to do a better job of keeping Hundley -- when you relate back to last year -- in the cage. He escaped far too many times, predominantly on third down, so we have got to do a better job with our pass rush and our spacing within those lanes.
On how Pac-12 play is developing:
So far the north seems to have a distinct advantage. I'm not sure what the overall head-to-head record is, but I know it's not good for the south. What that does for us is it actually helps us because the north has beat up on some people. We've got to worry about our own selves, and if we're fortunate enough to get a win, then we're right in the thick of things.
On home field advantage:
I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that the teams that are coming in here, there's a dramatic difference in a lot of the talent levels of the teams that have come in here [in the Mountain West Conference]. I will say our lack of home-field advantage is not because of lack of fan support. Our fans have been outstanding. They fill the stadium up every week. They're loud. It's a great environment. We can't thank the fans enough for the support they've given us over the last several years.
The bottom line is that we have a bunch of high-quality, top-25 teams coming through here on a regular basis.