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(Can you give us your) initial impressions about Oregon State and what they've been able to accomplish?
(My) initial impression is that we're facing this weekend one of the better teams in the conference. I think if you look around at probably the major statistical categories in the conference, they're up in the upper four in most of those categories and doing an outstanding job. So, they have right now a feeling of "they can" and they have the skill level to match it. It is a very good football team.
Are they (Oregon State) a running team or a passing team?
I would say right now they probably do both, but I would believe that the center of their football team would be (running back Ken) Simonton and his abilities, because I think that is their leader. But, I think also in (wide receiver Chad) Johnson and (wide receiver Robert) Prescott and the third receiver they have that also doubles as a return guy, that they've got some explosive guys that make big plays. You look at maybe even last week, if I'm correct, that two of those receivers might have had 100 yards in receptions. That's impressive, when you can put together a 100-yard rusher and a couple 100-yard receivers. That's pretty good.
Dealing with their team speed on the (artificial) turf up there, is that a concern?
It is always a concern, but also when you have team speed, if that is your sole focus, you also open yourself up for some other things, too. Hopefully, what we'll be able to do is find those things that kind of negate their team speed and work toward those so we can have some success. But, the key for us, again, is going to be able to play our football game (and) do the things that we're capable of doing well, and protect the football against a football team that, right now up until probably last week, may have been leading the conference or may have been pretty close to leading the country in their turnover ratio or turnover margin. When you have that working for you, you've got something going pretty good when you're leading the country.
Does (Ken) Simonton remind you of any of the backs you've faced?
No, I think he's different. I think the term that you'll probably see applied to Simonton a lot is "downhill". This young man really attacks the line of scrimmage, or shall I say the goal line. He is very determined and very good.
Coach, do you expect Randy (quarterback Randy Fasani) to play Saturday?
Right now, I don't know, and it's probably premature for me even to make that kind of statement. Because, that probably lends itself to having hope that he might play. I mean, I don't know. That would be a little early. Randy is a tremendous competitor. His will is tremendous. His attitude is extremely positive, and it's amazing when you have all that working for you how fast you can heal. But, I don't know if it's this weekend.
Even if he was in a position to be close enough to consider (playing), would the turf and the weather be a factor?
Everything is (a factor), but I think today is even a little ahead of things to even think along those lines.
Do you expect him (Randy Fasani) to be on the practice field (this week)?
That I don't know yet, either. For those of you that watched the ballgame last week, you probably saw him throw a little bit in warm-ups. His recovery so far is tremendous, and I think it has to do with his will and his positive nature. So, I won't put any limits on when or when not (he can return). I'll just patiently wait and see.
This Oregon State program is not the same old Oregon State program in the last year or two. Their guys have really turned the corner and become a major force in college football. Can you talk about the turnaround Oregon State has had in the last couple of years?
I think it's excellent. I think they've done a good job. I think Coach (Dennis) Erickson has come in and, first of all, gotten some players that are able to do some skill things on the field, and he's created an attitude. That attitude is that "we can" and maybe even that "we should". Therefore, when you have that you have a lot of things going for you. Now, what's happened is their stadium is becoming one of those unfriendly places for the enemy to walk into. They're starting to create some very nice things in their program that allow them to have success.
We've talked in the past couple weeks in particular about special teams and probably that they might be better than they have been. Can you talk in particular about (the) return team - both the punt return and the kickoff return - and what maybe more you would like to be seeing from that area than you're getting?
I think the number one thing in all of those areas is execution. Somewhere, it only takes one guy in the game of football to have you off in your execution. Right now, that one guy is showing up a lot of places for us. We've got to keep working at it. I think we have some very positive things in our system, but we've got to keep working at it where we can get the consistent execution that we need to have success in those areas.
Going back to (Ken) Simonton... A guy his size who's as much of a workhorse, carries the ball as much, and of course have the tremendous amount of success that he's having... He's just like what 5-7, 175, something like that and yet he can get the ball 20, 30 times a game. What does that tell you, like he plays bigger than what his size is listed as? Could you just talk a little bit more about Simonton. Who would you compare him to ... maybe Warrick Dunn or somebody?
No, I think he's a much different back than a Warrick Dunn. But, I think if you had to say there are similar traits that they have in common, I think the first one you'd think of would be "they're tough". I think Simonton is a tough hard-nosed football player, and when you carry that quality, I don't necessarily know it matters whether you're 6-4 or you're 5-8, or whatever size that he is. I think that's the first thing, he is a tough hard-nosed football player that has excellent athletic ability. He has quickness. He has explosiveness. He has strength, obviously. He has the combination that you're looking for.
What do you think the biggest improvement on the defense is compared to last year?
I think it's been a little bit of every place, but I think we've been so critical of our defense over the last couple of years in terms of our pass coverage, I think that's the area everyone has just screamed and shouted that if we could make some improvements there that we might have a chance to be a better defensive team. But, I think it's been a little bit of every place. I think we're starting to become a little bit solid. I think we have great leadership with Willie Howard and Riall Johnson. I think those guys have stepped up to the plate for us and been playmakers consistently, and not just one weekend here or one weekend there. I think they've been consistent playmakers for us. I think we keep getting a little better all the time. Coming out of Saturday's ballgame (at Notre Dame), once we got through really the first drive, I think our defense did some very good things. Because, you look at some of the productivity that Notre Dame had in the second half, and it was basically nothing. I'm not sure exactly, because I think they might have been in the 20's or 30's in terms of their passing yardage in the second half. And, I think they may have been even under 100 (yards) in their rushing in the second half. All across the board, there are some good things that we've improved upon.
(Inside linebacker Coy) Wire isn't even a situational linebacker anymore, is he?
Well no, right now Coy is one of those young men that you want on the field every snap if you can get him on the field. His energy level - again, you asked about (Ken) Simonton and the first thing I said was toughness - well, you think about Coy Wire. This is a tough hard-nosed explosive type football player that brings a great attitude to our defense. So, you have Coy Wire, you have Tank Williams, you have Riall Johnson, you have Willie Howard, and now you're starting to have a core of players that play with an attitude. There are some very positive things that you can build upon to help you be structurally a much better defense.
Does Coy (Wire) help the pass coverage?
I think he's helped, because he's given us even more speed at the linebacker position. So, some things that he may not even be familiar with yet, because of his speed and his athleticism, he can recover and help your defense. Yes, I think he has helped along those lines.
Expanding on the defense and its improvement, one of the things you guys seem to do well is adjust. You talk about the Notre Dame game being a glaring example of that, but throughout the season that's been something as well. I just wondered if you thought you have the ability to adjust to situations maybe more than you had in the past? If you noted that as well?
Hopefully, the first thing is that your skill level's a little bit better. Hopefully, that we've gotten better in the secondary. You're looking at (cornerback) Ryan Fernandez having another year under his belt (and) playing better. You're looking at (cornerback) Ruben Carter having a year under his belt. The thing that you have to understand about the secondary, especially, you're on an island so at some point you're going to make a mistake. Every player makes a mistake during a ballgame, but when you're a secondary guy, your mistakes are clearly visible. It doesn't take the trained eye to see the mistake in the secondary. So, therefore it's a big mistake, it's a huge mistake. Whereas, a linebacker when he makes a mistake, maybe the secondary saves him. Or the lineman, maybe the linebacker saves the lineman when he makes a mistake. But, our guys are continuing to improve. I think the adjustment portion of it, I think our defensive staff is doing a good job of recognizing what's happening to us and trying to make the corrections and changes to put our young men in the right place. That's an ongoing battle. Some days you are good at it, and some days you just miss with the adjustments that you think are correct. But, I think both players and coaches are doing a good job of adjusting and communicating to help us be a much more solid and better defensive football team. That will be challenged this weekend, because this team as you guys have mentioned, comes at you a lot of ways.
Last year, you made a few points that personnel-wise you were going to go down and distance. This year, have you been matching personnel a little bit more than you did last year as far as what personnel the (opposing) offense puts out there?
It's pretty similar (to last year), because we're always in tune with what they are doing. What does the situation call for? (We're) trying to make sure that we've got the right people on the field at the right time, and also your awareness of down and distance as well as personnel. We still try to do both. I think what Kent (defensive coordinator Kent Baer) was saying, and I don't want to speak for him, but if you remember correctly a couple of years back, we had even problems getting lined up sometimes, because we're waiting so much on personnel. I think we've used a better combination now of being aware of down and distance, going ahead and putting certain things on the field, so that we don't have to worry about those adjustments from our standpoint. But yet at the same time, that is influenced by what personnel are in the ballgame.
With the experience and knowing the system a little better, how much has the speed been a factor in helping the secondary? The individual players' speed, has that been a big deal? (Are they) faster?
I don't know if Ruben (Carter) or Ryan (Fernandez) have gotten drastically faster over the year. So, I think that one of the things that really can help you play faster is experience. When you have a tendency to see things quicker, recognize things sooner, I think that helps you play faster. So, I think sometimes speed is a mental acquisition probably in some cases more so than physical.
Oregon State's group of wide receivers - do they have as good as speed as you've faced this year?
Well, reading their bios - yes. They can run.
How will that affect your coverage plans against them (Oregon State)? Will you be more inclined to perhaps use zone?
I think, again, we have to do what we do well. What we've done well is, at times, pressure, and at times, play zone - mix and match to give us our best success. But, I think what we will start the ballgame thinking is we need to find a way to stop that runner (Ken Simonton). Limit what he can do. I don't necessarily know if you can stop him, because this is a young man that's probably got 14-to-20 (actually 17) 100-yard games under his belt at this point. Probably a young man that may be well on his way to being the first for them and maybe even the first in the conference rusher to gain 1,000 yards or more for four straight seasons. I think that is where he's pointed or targeted. This is a quality back that we're playing. I think everybody recognizes that, so we'd like to be able to limit what he does and not give them all of their options on offense.
Where's (center Luke) Quaccia (as far as his injury is concerned)?
Quaccia is out for this ballgame.
(Mike) Holman will be the starting center?
Holman would be the starting center.
Any sense of extended (time out) with Quaccia?
I would anticipate right now at probably a minimum two weeks. It could be longer. It could be a lot longer.
Is he undergoing further tests?
I don't know right now. We've done some tests on him just to make that there's nothing else there, but it looks like right now it could be from 2-4 weeks (out).
The rest of the group (for injuries) - (tight end Russell) Stewart, (tight end Matt) Wright?
Stewart is questionable. Wright was I think probable. (He) maybe even played a snap or two (last week). He might have. Basically, (tight end Brett) Pierce and (tight end Darin) Naatjes had most of it (the playing time).
So is Wright's (lack of playing time) an injury?
How about (inside linebacker/fullback Amon) Gordon?
Gordon is injured and (he is) out. That will probably be potentially season (ending).
What's the impact of losing Quaccia?
It always hurts anytime you lose a starter, and we felt obviously that he was doing some very good things this year for us. When you have to reach one position deeper, it stretches you. It stretches you all across the board, but Mike (Holman) stepped in Saturday (versus Notre Dame and) did some very nice things. We're looking forward to having him step up and take a leadership role at that position.
Is Oregon State's offense going to look like Washington State's and San Jose State's. I know those coaches had all had the same backgrounds?
I think you'll see some elements that may be similar. Week to week, they probably pick up some things that someone else has done against us that may have been successful and put it in their package. From that standpoint, you could see some things. But, they are "get the ball to (Ken) Simonton". Their run game is pretty consistent about what they're going to do there. Maybe a change here, maybe a change there, come off it with play-action to get their receivers in some big positions where they can kind of freeze you with the play-action and the run game, and then make some big plays against you.
Is that a little odd given the formations that they run?
No, because it (their formations) spreads you that you've got their two receivers in there or the three-receiver sets that they have - and you've got the single back or the four-receiver sets - it stretches you and now you've got play-action that you have to deal with. Primarily, they've done a lot of it with the tight end, the three wide receivers and the one back.
How much more difficult is that to just contain their runner when you're that spread out?
It stretches you. It really expands those lanes and those gaps. It forces you to try to walk a (line) backer to the perimeter to aid, so you're not totally out of position to play the pass. It makes it difficult, because now what you're doing is once again you've got to defend the whole field. Any time you have to defend the whole field, it begins to stretch and wear on your defense.
Do you see more teams running the spread the last few years?
I guess I have to say yes, because I think everyone does some portion of it. Almost everyone you play, as you look back at our schedule, I don't think there's a team that we've gone against that didn't have some variation of spreading the field, forcing you to play the whole field. Washington State did it. San Jose State did it, of course. Texas did it. That's not to say that they won't come with at some times two backs or things of that nature, but you're going to see people forcing you to play a more diverse football game. I think that's modern day football.