COACH SPEAK : OCTOBER 1

By Leo Haggerty

I’m trying to get as many coaches as possible in my COACH SPEAK column.  I am especially concentrating on the local Tampa Bay area teams as well as the four NCAA football squads that I picked to be in the BCS playoff.

This week we are graced with the thoughts of USF HC Willie Taggert, Cincinnati HC Tommy Tuberville, Stanford HC David Shaw, Washington HC Chris Petersen, Louisville HC Bobby Petrino, Buccaneers HC Dirk Koetter and Broncos HC Gary Kubiak.

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LH : I’ve been covering football games in Tampa since 1987 and Saturday was the hottest day I ever experienced.  I know you don’t like to make excuses but how badly did the heat effect you team?

WT : I don’t think the heat had a big effect on us.  We just didn’t do a good job overall.  Coaches or players in the game or situations that came up in the game.  I just didn’t think we played a good game.  It was our worst game that we played overall.  Need to do a better job of coaching and a better job of playing.

LH : After last years win in Tampa, do you expect Cincinnati to come out with a vengeance?

WT : I’m sure they’ll be ready to play up there.  You never know when a game like the one last year is going to happen.  Last year, we were hitting on all cylinders and it went well for us.  This year is a new year. We’re playing up there and I know they’ll be ready for us but our guys will be ready for them as well.

LH : Les Miles at LSU got fired.  He’s 114-34 and won a National Championship and competed for a second in 12 years in Baton Rouge.  Has it became, for football coaches, simply a what have you done for me lately mentality by colleges?

WT : I think we’re seeing that all over.  Not just with college football coaches but with life in this world.  If I’m going to do something in this world, you have to go out and make things happen.  I think we all realize that in this profession.  It’s still bad.  He’s a great coach.  He’s a winning coach. That’s just the way it is.

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LH : How do you prepare for the up-tempo, fast-break USF offense?

TT : Well, it seems like everybody is starting to do it.  They get a quarterback that can run.  It’s like going back to the old wishbone days.  That’s all it is.  You’re giving the quarterback the option to hand it off or run it or throw it and they do it with tempo.  You can imagine how good Oklahoma would have been years ago with their offense if they would have understood anything about the up-tempo option out of the wishbone.  That would have been devastating with the players they had.  It’s been interesting, during my career, to watch this come to fruition.  People are spreading it out and running all kinds of different formations.  Really involving the quarterback in running the football.  It’s a mix between the wing-T and the triple option.  And then, when you add to go-fast theory to it, it limits what you can do on defense.  You have to be in good shape and you have to be prepared and you have to have confidence.  We’ve seen the spread several times this year. Not that we played it very well.  You really need experience when you’re playing a team like that. 

LH : Why does the spread offense not compute to the NFL?

TT : Because of the quarterbacks.  Nobody wants their quarterbacks, who you’re going to pay $10 million dollars, to be out for the year.  They don’t want them running becasue they are so hard to find.  I think, eventually, they are going to have to come to a little bit of it.  You have Jameis Winston down in Tampa Bay.  He’s more of the running type.  You have the quarterback at Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater, that is kind of like that.  You had Johnny Manzell.  I think you’re going to see, as time goes by, the evolution of a different type of quarterback because that’s all they’re going to be able to get.  That’s all your getting to come through the high school ranks now.  Spread type of quarterbacks.  Really, what they are doing in the high school system, is putting their tailbacks there.  They’re usually their best players so their putting them at quarterback whether they can throw or not.  It’s more of a running game.  So, now, it’s moving up into the college ranks and it will, eventually, filter into the NFL I would think.  Im sure they’re going to try and fight that off.  I just don’t see a lot of quarterbacks coming up in the pro-style offenses that we used to see as prevalent in college football.

LH : Les Miles at LSU got fired today.  He’s 114-34 and won a National Championship and competed for a second in 12 years in Baton Rouge. Are college just having unrealistic expectations of their football coaches?

TT : Not just in college but everyone wants to win every game.  It’s not going to happen.  Les is a giood friend of mine.  He’s been down there a long time.  Did a good job.  It’s the situation that we live in now.  I saw the game the other night.  Sometimes , fans over the years, and you saw it last year how Les went through the end of that season, wondered is he going to be there or is he not going to be there.  Then he stays.  You know, it’s just a matter of time and everyone is looking for a reason.  That’s just sports.  Everybody hangs their hat on sports.  Not as much on politics or other things.  Seems like everyone is taking out their frustrations on sports.  Winning makes it fun for everybody and takes the pressure off.  It’s a great profession that we have but it’s also a tough profession because of all the social media and the things that go around with it.  It’s hooked up to all the coaches and players.

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LH : McCaffrey touches the ball once in your 10-play game-winning drive.  How big is it for your offense, and your team, to know they can come back to win without #5 having to carry the load?

DS : I think is was big especially with Francis being out who is a senior.  We had other guys stepping up.  Whitesides stepping up and Irwin stepping up.  Guys making big plays.  I think it was big for our quarterback to know that the game is in his hands.  He has to make great throws.  He has to make great decisions.  I think it’s great for a young offensive line, who didn’t have the best day, to pass protect with the game on the line.  We had one pressure but, the rest of the time, we kept the quarterback clean so he could make the throws.  I think it was big for everyone to know that other people can step up and make plays.

LH : On most sidelines, it’s chaos on the sideline at the end of the game with the outcome in doubt.  Your sideline looked cool and calm and business-as-usual.  Is that a correct assessment?

DS : For the most part.  We are, once again, a relatively young team.  We do have a lot of guys that have played in big games.  National Championship games.  Rose Bowl games.  We’ve been to a lot of big games so our guys have some experience.  They lean on each other.  They trust our process.  They know that the coaches are going to have faith in the people that we put on the field.  We try to let them go out and just execute.  It wasn’t panic or frantic by any stretch. 

LH : What specific problems does the Washington offense and defense pose for your team?

DS : The thing with Washington’s offense is the speed.  John Ross, obvious is so fast and so explosive.  He’s one of the fastest guys in college football both as a returner and a receiver.  They have two really, really good running backs.  Tico, #6, he can fly also.  They got guys that can run in a bunch of different places that can get after the quarterback.  They make you pay if you’re out of position.  That’s the thing.  They are so dangerous on the offensive side.  On the defensive side , they are built very smartly.  Have size and a physical nature up front.  Secondary guys are long and athletic.  Linebackers that can run and hit.  That’s a great combination especially when you throw in a budding superstar in Budda Baker.  He continues to grow and has a chance to be one of the top players in our conference.  It’s the fact of having both of these things, both of the extremes, having the speed and athleticism on the offensive side and the physical nature up front and the length and speed in the secondary on defense.  That’s how we all try to build them.   

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LH : Do you have a player on your scout team that can actually prepare your defense for everything McCaffrey does for Stanford?

CP : Well, pretty hard.  You know, he’s such a unique guy.  He’s one of the more special players in the country.  It always hard to replicate that.  He’s such a elusive, patient runner.  That’s hard to replicate, for sure.  I would just say Stanford’s style in general is hard to replicate.  How they run the ball.  Their schemes.  Using all those big lineman and all those type of things.  It’s just a combination of all those things that make those guys pretty unique. 

LH : Stanford likes up with a bunch of tackles with 80s and 90s on.  They want to get you in a street fight and just mug your defense.  How hard is that when it comes to preparation?

CP : It so different.  Nobody plays that style anymore.  I think that’s what is really unique about them and that is that you see that style, for the most part, about once a year.  And, they’re really good at it with good players.  All of those things do make it a definite challenge. 

LH : How much of an advantage is it for your team to tee it up on a Friday night on Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium?

CP : I don’t think that matters at all.  I think a short week is hard especially when you’re playing a unique offense that you don’t see much.  It only takes those guys two hours to get on a plane and come up here.  We only have so much time with our guys anyway.  We’re all under the 20-hour rule and those things.  I think the short week, in general for both sides, can be challenging.  But, because they can get on a plane and be up here in two hours, I don’t think playing at home is an advantage.  

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LH : I know stats are for losers. You’re 3-0 in the only statistic that matters but you’re giving up 127 yards a game on the ground.  Is that a concern for you?

GK : We’ve struggled with the run. The good news is we were able to get it stopped last week in the second half – it was the difference in the game. We’ve given up some big plays in the run game, which is unusual for us, compared to last year. It’s something we’ve got to continue to work on. One thing about this league – it’s always something. Everything is not perfect and there’s always things that you’ve got to go correct and give yourself a chance to get better. That’s one that we need to definitely concentrate on.

LH : Is it a help or a hindrance to come from altitude and play at seas level?

GK : I don’t know. I don’t get into that too much. We’ve got to play somewhere every week. We know it’s going to be warm, we’ve had a couple of warm games here the last two weeks. One of the things that we do here is we really try to stay focused on our preparation. We stay focused on ourselves. We don’t get too tied up in weather or who we’re playing or where we’re playing. We just try to stay focused on doing our job and playing well. That’s where I try to keep it focused.

LH : When you sit down in a meeting with John Elway, a Hall of Famer, does it ever get intimidating?

GK : It’s not intimidating. You’ve got to remember, I was his roommate.  He’s a buddy of mine. It’s about respect. Obviously for me as a coach, to walk in and talk football with him or talk about our team with him, I need to listen, because nobody knows the game better, nobody knows people better than him. His success speaks for itself. John is a very good friend of mine, but when it comes to business, we go to work and try to do the best thing that we can for the Denver Broncos.

LH : If you let an NFL quarterback threw it where he wants to and when he wants to, are you probably going to get beat?

GK : First off, you’ve got to throw it where the defense tells you to throw it. You’ve got to attack the defense. You just can’t throw it where you want to, it doesn’t work that way. It’s about attacking defenses – you know, schemes and doing your job. If you don’t get protected, you’re not going to get a chance to do your job. It’s about the team, in my opinion. It’s not about one player.”

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LH : Is the Clemson offense the closest to playing your own offense?

BP : You know, I’ve never even thought about that. They do a great job with the schemes that they have. They really do a great job running the football. Their quarterback can throw it deep and run it. So really we just are defending them. I’ve never really thought about any comparisons.

LH : What challenges does the Clemson defense pose for your offense?

BP : Well, they’re very physical up front. You know, they’ve got big guys. They’ll be the biggest defensive ends that we’ve played or probably will play the entire year, so they’re very physical. Their linebackers are smart, and they do a lot of things. They make a lot of adjustments and do a lot of things as far as defending plays and defending motions and schemes. So we have to make sure we do a good job blocking the front and take our shots and throw the ball deep.

LH : With, arguably, the two most prolific scoring offenses in the ACC meeting Saturday night at Death Valley, do you expect a high score game?

BP : You know, I don’t really know. There’s been times where you’ve expected high scoring and it’s been low scoring. There’s been times when we thought it would be low scoring and it ends up being high scoring. I really don’t know. We’re just going to go play and work hard and try to be successful in all three phases.

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LH : You started training camp with a question mark at slot receiver.  Has Adam Humphries validated your choice to make him the slot receiver?

DK : I didn’t come in with a question mark at slot, you guys all came in with a question mark at slot. There was never any question in my mind about who is going to be the slot.

LH : Is Von Miller a player that you have to account for on every play?

DK : Oh yeah. Absolutely.

LH : On Winston’s fumble against the Rams.  Was it a fundamentals error or just a great players making a great play for the Rams?

DK : The main issue on that was he was too deep in his drop. When you get a little too deep in your drop – Donovan (Smith) happened to be on the left side – or ‘Dot’ (Dotson) if it was on the right side – they’re protecting a spot and those guys, they’ve got that down to a science, exactly what angle they can kick to. And then Quinn (Rams DE) – I think going into the game it was, I don’t know the exact number – 14 strip sacks in his career, something like that. That’s his signature move, is coming around the backside and defenses call that ‘tomahawking the ball.’ James was maybe a foot and a half deeper than he should’ve been and if you step up on time, it’s okay, but right as Jameis went to step up, that’s when he got tomahawked.