Pac-12 Football Championship Game Teleconference: Utah, Washington set to square off in Santa Clara
Here are six tidbits from Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and Washington head coach Chris Petersen from Monday’s Pac-12 Football Championship Game teleconference. The Utes and Huskies will square off for the Pac-12 title on Friday at 5 p.m. PT/6 p.m. MT at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, and the game will be televised by FOX.
Utah, head coach Kyle Whittingham
- Senior leadership is the biggest reason why Utah will be playing in Santa Clara on Friday, Whittingham proclaimed. “If you were to pinpoint one area…it’s the way our seniors operated,” he said. “Incredible quality with that group, and the leadership that they’ve displayed all season long has been incredible.”
- Speaking of leaders, linebacker Chase Hansen is the guy others look to on the Utes. “He is one of the top leaders on the team, if not the leader of the leaders,” Whittingham said. “You go all the way back to high school [when he won a state title as a quarterback]- the whole team would rally around him… Now he’s the centerpiece of the defense.” He then hammered that point home one more time – “Chase might be the leader of the leaders.”
- He might only be a redshirt freshman, but quarterback Jason Shelley is one composed player. “That stage was as big as it could be on Saturday [against rival BYU],” Whittingham said. “And he handled it very well. Even though we weren’t prolific on offense much of the game, he was poised and didn’t turn it over… One of his strongest suits is the way he conducts his business and goes about his business.”
- Losing to Washington earlier in the season (a 21-7 decision in September in Salt Lake City) is neither an advantage or disadvantage to the Utes. “It was the very first game of the Pac-12 season,” he said. “A lot has changed since then – teams have developed and evolved. I’d say that game doesn’t have any bearing on the Pac-12 title game.”
- Whittingham took some time to discuss how his program has developed over the last 10 years. In 2008, Utah went undefeated and then defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which Whittingham said was a huge reason why the Utes were able to get into the Pac-12 (along with that Fiesta Bowl victory after the 2004 season) from the Mountain West. “I think we’ve evolved quite a bit,” he said. “Back then, we were not in the Pac-12. I think getting in the Pac-12 Conference was a huge challenge – coming from a Group of Five conference to a Power Five conference was a huge challenge. It took us a few years to close that gap…Our 1-85 scholarship roster is much deeper and more talented than when we joined the Pac-12.”
- Whittingham praised the depth of the Pac-12, noting that it is a major reason why the conference will likely be shut out of the College Football Playoff for the second straight year. “We’re our own worst enemy as far as the balance is concerned,” he said. “It doesn’t really allow for anybody to go through unscathed, and that’s something that has kept us out of the playoff for a period of time.”
Washington, head coach Chris Petersen
- The Dawgs clinched a Pac-12 title game berth by beating Washington State in the Apple Cup in blizzard-like conditions, and Petersen said he hasn’t been a part of anything like that before weather wise. “It changed the game plan a little bit on both sides. That’s the first snowstorm I’ve been a part of coaching in the west,” Petersen said.
- Petersen couldn’t point out one area where he thinks his team has improved the most since the Huskies last faced Utah; he’s seen better play all over. “I just think there has been steady, slow improvement across the board. I don’t know if it’s any one thing,” he said. “I don’t think you get to a championship game staying the same.”
- Coach Petersen had a lot to say about the personality of this team and was effusive in his praise of how they have handled the ups and downs of the 2018 season. “I think they’re pretty hard-working, kind of business-like. Haven’t gotten too up or too down on any win [or loss],” he said. “They just really haven’t flinched, and that’s what I’m proud of. I don’t know how to handle this expectation thing, because expectation can be the kiss of death…I think it adds pressure on those guys. I think they’ve worked hard.” The Huskies were a preseason top-10 team but lost the opener to Auburn in one of the biggest non-conference games of the season across the country.
- The Utes will be featuring a different starting quarterback and starting running back from the last time these teams played, with Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss getting injured and being replaced by Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne. In Petersen’s eyes, it has been a pretty seamless transition for Utah. “Those are smart coaches over there. You have a system and you adapt your system a little bit to what you have,” he said. “Both of those QBs are similar, so they haven’t changed their style. Those guys are athletic quarterbacks… their running back Shyne does a nice job.”
- One reporter pointed out that this is the first time in Pac-12 Football Championship Game history that the top two statistical defenses in the Pac-12 will be squaring off. “That’s how I think of championship football,” Petersen stated. “Everybody likes to talk about offense, but I think really good football comes down to big time defense.”
- One of Washington’s most critical playmakers – Ty Jones – is a Utah native. Jones, a sophomore from Provo, leads the team with six receiving touchdowns and is second on the team with 469 receiving yards. So as you would expect, a couple of Utah-based reporters asked Petersen about the Utah kid on the Husky roster. “He’s doing a nice job. He’s a great kid. He works hard,” Petersen said. “He’s a guy you like coaching.”