Football Coaches Preview Saturday's Game
Oct. 24, 2000
CAL HEAD COACH TOM HOLMOE
How do you think the season has been going and how has the team been playing?
We started out with a good win in the opener and it kind of gave us a lot of hope for the season. We went to Illinois and almost came out with a win after a very hard-fought game. From there we kind of struggled and lost three games in a row - Fresno State, Washington and Arizona State. But we had a good win over UCLA. The offense came on pretty strong and the defense has been hanging strong. It's been kind of a down and up year - not up and down. We have a group of young kids which are playing better and gaining more confidence about themselves with each game. We have a tough four games ahead of us and we need to finish strong.
Is there something that has gone better for you in the past two games?
Without a question the offense has made improvements. They've scored points, gotten first downs and we haven't hurt ourselves in drives. In a couple of the games we lost in the losing streak, we got into the red zone but just couldn't score and couldn't move the ball effectively. The last two games, we've moved the ball well and controlled the clock when we needed to.
Quarterback Kyle Boller and his development...
Kyle is doing better lately. We've struggled and he was slumping for a little bit, but I was proud of him against UCLA. He came back strong and then played very well against Washington - perhaps his best game of his career. The good thing is that he's making improvements. Each week he's making improvements and he's feeling better about himself. The offensive team is feeling better and we've been a little bit more stable as far as personnel.
Joe Igbar is leading the team in rushing and receiving - is that by design?
He's been hot and we want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. He's our leading rusher, but I wouldn't have suspected him to be our leading receiver. The great thing about our offense is that compared to last year when we had only six receivers catch the ball, this year I think we've had 13. We have about nine kids that are really doing a good job for us.
How's the defense playing?
We had the No. 1-ranked (at least statistically) defense in the conference last year and we lost a lot of really key players off of that team. We were concerned about having some youngsters in the lineup but they've held up pretty strong and have even given us some big plays in a couple games. I'm pretty proud of the way they've been hanging in there and they've been getting better too. We have a young secondary that we were a little built apprehensive about at the beginning of the season but they seem to be playing better each week. Obviously the key to the success of our defense starts with Andre Carter and Jacob Waasdorp - two linemen that are All-Pac-10 returners from last year. I couldn't be prouder of those guys. These are two guys that just have fun playing and they inspire the team.
What is it about Nick Harris?
He's a very talented player but he also works extremely hard at his craft. I use that word ('craft') because he takes punting very seriously. Last year he was an All-Pac-10 punter, but he went out this summer and was determined to improve certain aspects of his game. He spent all summer long working on his trajectory, his balance, his distance and it's been amazing to watch him and see how many punts he can drop inside the 10. It has kept us in a lot of games and given us a great deal of momentum.
About this week's game and thoughts on USC...
This is a big game for us. I don't really want to think too much about SC and some of the issues surrounding them because we have some issues of our own. This is a game our players feel confident about, but they look at SC and see talent, they see skill, they see struggles and maybe see some of the struggles that are similar to ours. We have some young kids that make mistakes and kind of prevent us from winning a few games. We're going to approach this game like we have every other game this year. We'll prepare hard, motivate and inspire them and come down to LA hoping to finish off the season in strong fashion.
Why do you think there's more pressure for USC, even though both teams are in the same situation?
Well I think a lot of it has to do with LA. I grew up down there and USC and UCLA have had a great deal of success in my lifetime. It's hard on the people down there to see USC go through some tough times. I can see that here... we haven't had the kind of success that USC has had in the past, but our people, our fans, love the game and love the school ... they have a great deal of pride. It's tougher probably down there than it is for us because they were just in the Rose Bowl a few years ago and it's a hard thing for people to overcome.
Because of your recent success down here, do have more confidence going into this weekend?
I don't think it will make it any easier. I think our players will have more confidence going into the game knowing that we have played well against USC in the last few years. We shut out UCLA last year in LA and I know that there was carry over from that game into this year. We played Washington very well last year and this year there was a gleam in our player's eyes knowing we could win the game. Hopefully last year will give our players the confidence they need to know that they can win this game.
Regarding Jacob Waasdorp's career at Cal...
Each one of our players is unique and Jacob has some things he's overcome. I love this kid because of all the things he has achieved. When he came here, a lot of people questioned whether he was the kind of player that we should be taking at Cal. I thought `You bet he is.' He's proven that the reason that he's at Cal is that he's a great leader and a great football player. He has struggled to get through but he's going to make it. We've had our talks and our run-ins, but the last two years he's grown-up, he's matured. He knows that he was able to change things because he came to Cal. That's what we dream about as coaches, seeing these high school kids grow up. We've done a good job helping him, but he's done way more to help himself.
How do you deal with the kind of pressure Paul Hackett has been receiving?
There is a great deal of pressure in these jobs and we take the jobs totally aware of what we're getting into. Paul and I have a history together because I played for him with the 49ers. We've had success and they can never take that away from you. People try to chip away at what you've accomplished, but they can't. We have confidence in ourselves because you always go back to your core. I know him and he's going to withstand this. Not that you live in the past, but those successes have to help you and give you strength. I find a great deal of strength in some of my former coaches and teammates. When those coaches and teammates say that they've been there and that they know you can do it, then I know I can do it.
USC HEAD COACH PAUL HACKETT
Well let me begin by saying that after looking at all the tapes of the game, the way I felt after the game is exactly the way I feel now. I think it was a shame for either one of the football teams to loose that game. There's not much I can tell you after a heart-wrenching loss like that with the effort that our team gave... you just have to chalk that up to experience, move on and find a way to prevent that from ever happening again. It was a game where a lot of good things happened and all we've done is focus on the things that didn't happen. It was basically our inability in the fourth quarter to perform as a football team. Whether it was the defense, whether it was the offense, or the kicking game with the punting... we didn't come together in the fourth quarter. With as many good things as we did, you can not make those critical errors in bad times during a ball game. The bottom line is that collectively as a football team we have to perform well enough in the fourth quarter to win.
Stanford was able to convert on third downs at a very unusual percentage. They had a quarterback who just had surgery and had not played in a month, but was still able to scramble around on plays and make first downs. I'm still stunned. I think we played well at certain times but came up a little bit short. You know you get a lead and you feel like you have control of the game. You feel like you have a handle on it, emotions are running high, then we made some critical errors that cost us the game.
I couldn't be happier with our running game. Our defense played the bast they've played this year. But then you look at the punting and you look at the PAT's. At this point our goals remain the same. This is the second half of the season and we're 0-1. We have to put it behind us, we have to learn from it because we have a very stiff task this week. A team that's not unlike a lot of the other teams we've played. They're very strong on the defensive side of the ball. Carter is maybe having the best year of any defensive end in the conference. Their secondary is making plays and they played well last week against Washington. On offense, they have a young quarterback who looked a little out of sorts earlier in the year but now seems to be in the groove. He's not afraid to run, not afraid to move around, and we know he has a strong arm. I think the team is driven by the little runningback. We didn't play against Joe Igbar last year but he is on fire right now. He makes up 67 percent of Cal's offense. He's short of stature but he's got great balance, great strength and I'm just really, really impressed with him. They've had two positive games back-to-back and they come here with a great deal of confidence.
The other aspect to their game is Nick Harris. I've said it before, that I think he is by far the best punter in the country. Offenses have to start all their drives in their own territory because he's the best guy knocking the ball inside the 20. He has some incredible numbers. In 27 out of 47 punts he has left the ball inside the 20 yardline. The combination of great punting and a very strong defense makes this a very formidable opponent.
So there it is... we start practice today. It's homecoming this week so we're expecting a big crowd. It's time for us to raise the level of our play.
Do you adjust your defense to face a back that is responsible for 67 percent of their offense?
I think that with the nature of how they run the ball, he will be the natural focal point of the offense. But we've also seen what happens when you overdo it. We had that scenario with Maurice Morris - he was not going to beat us, but we saw what happened. You have to focus on Igbar, but if we go to far, then we run the risk of a very capable quarterback really hurting us. With the youth and inexperience in our secondary we have to be concerned. We can't hang them out to dry to do everything to stop Joe Igbar. We are going to have to tackle them. He is very slippery. He has great balance and quickness. He's not a real fast guy but he is an elusive guy and very powerful. He is the focal point of where we have to start.
Will the linebackers be able to handle Joe Igbar?
I think they can. I think our linebackers do a good job of that. I think we can be there. It's not like he going to out-run you, he's just going to out-maneuver you. We're going to be tested and there's no question about it.
What will you concentrate on at practice... is there any one thing?
For a team that's lost four in a row is going to have that issue. It would be really nice if I could tell you it's just one thing, but at one time I thought it was our inability to run the ball and these last two weeks have proven that that's not it. We do have things that we have to focus on. I think our kicking game, I think our punting game, I think our field goals and PAT's. You might think that PAT's are no big deal but we missed two PAT's last week and lost the game by two points. So the little things in every little area - starting on special teams - are what we have to concentrate on. We'll change practice a little bit this week and work our No. 1's against our No. 1's to get speed and tempo. This is just an ongoing process to improve our basic fundamentals. If there's just one common denominator in these last four weeks is that we fell through on basic fundamentals... taking on a block... making a tackle.
With three defensive backs out, does that change your pass defense?
We have been banged up in the secondary for about a month now. We have escalated the development of some young players who we knew were going to make an impact at USC in one or two years. They've had to play 50, 60, 70 plays a game, as opposed to 25 or 30 plays. That continues to haunt us. In other words, if you have a young guy that can play 15 plays behind a veteran guy, it gives him a chance to grow and develop and not be under that pressure when the game is on the line. If on the other hand you have injuries there's no relief in sight. The guys that we have to play. They all have to play and they all have to contribute. Simplification is probably the answer. If you simplify the package to make us a little more comfortable with what we're doing, that may be the best way to handle this. We can't make any huge changes because we don't have enough people to do so. The defense was on the field a lot against Stanford and that made it very difficult.
Does that put pressure when you're going to blitz?
Definitely. The blitzing has been good for us. It puts pressure on the quarterback, but you have to measure when you're going to pressure if you want to simplify in the secondary. Against Stanford we made a decision to not pressure the young quarterback and we got reasonable pass rush, but nothing right up in his face. We have to do more of that as you look at the youth and inexperience of our secondary.
Is it deflating to the team to get six instead of seven? Have you considered going for two instead of the PAT?
It's very, very deflating. Nothing is worse than to have that first touchdown make it 14-6 and not be able to add the extra point. Going for two is about a 50-50 proposition when you look at the percentages. I would like to think that going for one would be a higher percentage. At this point in the season, anything is possible. We need some juice to get us over the hump. At times against Stanford you could see that we were doing those things. But we have to continue to develop another holder because of Ife's injury. We feel like we have our kicker and we feel like we have our snapper. We have to keep improving and make sure that the protection is solid.
VanRaaphorst will be our primary holder. Our back-up holder was Marcell Allmond but you can see he's having a hard time getting onto the field with that cast. We have to start looking for some candidates today. I think Ife will be able to hold but we have to plan.
Is this the point in the season when you're going to start playing more young players?
Well we just talked about the secondary and we're already playing everyone that we can. The offensive line with the loss of Eric Denmon gives us one back up. At the perimeter they're all sophomores so Steve Stevenson playing more makes sense. There are not a lot of candidates in that roll. We're looking for anyone that can give us a spark. The thing that was beautiful at the Stanford game was some of the long runs by our runningbacks. Those guys are young guys who need to keep performing. We're going to give them every opportunity to do so.
The team has staunchly defended you... how does that make you feel?
I really don't think about that. I count on the vibes and the energy from them to determine what we need to do and how we need to do it. As a coach you have to do that. If you let what others think outside that room, affect how you're coaching the team then you make a real error. I think you have to give with how you feel about this team. This team has always responded to what we've asked. They've always worked hard and they've always fought all the way through. That doesn't mean that we've done everything exactly the way it should be done. We as coaches need to coach better. I need to coach better and our coaches need to coach better. And believe against Stanford we did that... we upped the level, but it wasn't enough. We're going to turn the corner at some point this year, I just don't know when.
How do you need to coach better?
I think I need to be maybe more demonstrative and a bigger part of every little phase of the game. I need to take some of the observing out of the head coaching role and being more deliberately right on top. Physically in charge of everything that is going on. As a coach, you're always looking for that little edge, what you can do and how you can shift a gear. We're down the home stretch now and we need to rev it up a little more. That's what I'm going to ask the players to do and that's what I need to do.
Is it hard to focus with all the criticism you've received?
Not really because this team is focused and this team is working hard. This team is keeping the distractions to a minimum and that's what you have to do as a coach. Coaching at USC is what it is and it is pressure packed all the time - win or lose. But the job at hand is to give everything you've got to the team. This team will catch fire. That's the nature of the game and that's the nature of USC. Everybody cares and I'm not offended by that. I'm going to do every possible thing I can to change that.