Rose Bowl Diaries: Offensive Media Day
LOS ANGELES - The University of Utah Football team got in a media session to start the second day of bowl prep with the Ute offensive group meeting with local and national media to talk Rose Bowl.
After the media meet up in the morning, the Utes got back after it on the field, getting in their second practice in Los Angeles. The Utes are set to kickoff against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. PT/3 p.m. MT on ESPN.
Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Andy Ludwig
What kind of difficulty is there in preparing for a defense that's undergone a midseason change and also has hired a defensive coordinator? How much of all of this are you watching, and are you looking at any Oklahoma State stuff?
"We are not looking at any Oklahoma State film right now. We're focused on what the Buckeyes have done this past season. I know they've had a couple of changes in staff assignments and things like that, but you see the personality of the defense shine through every week. We're just preparing very hard for a high-quality opponent."
What jumps out about Ohio State when you put the tape on?
"Athleticism and size, great length on the edges, physicality. And the one thing that really sticks out to me in terms of coaching the quarterbacks, what a great job they do disguising coverage. The quarterback is really going to have to be on top of some pre-snap indicators, but they do an excellent job. Very well coached football team."
Tavion Thomas, what makes him such an effective guy for your offense?
"His physicality. He's an excellent downhill runner. He's got good vision and is deceptively fast for a big guy, but he is a load to tackle. It's going to take a couple guys to get him down on the ground. But his physicality and his presence in the offense was a big catalyst of this offense taking a jump about halfway through the season."
What's it like to be able to have three different tight ends that you can kind of depend on? How does that change your offense with all three of them?
"What we do offensively is based on the players and the program and their strengths. We are very fortunate to have three very talented tight ends. People say we've got to throw the ball to wide receivers more. We're just trying to utilize our best players. That's what gets us into a three tight end look very frequently. But you've got three distinct, different characteristics with those tight ends. With Cole Fotheringham, the line of scrimmage tight end, kind of prototype tight end. Brant Kuithe, much more of a detached move tight end. And Dalton Kincaid, kind of a nice blend of the two. But they're very talented football players with all three of them having a high degree of football intellect and do a great job preparing. That's what allows us to utilize their skills and abilities."
You've had Cameron Rising in the program for a few years now. Since he took over as the starter, where have you seen his growth the most? He's grown obviously in a lot of areas, but where have you really seen him maybe explode or grow the most?
"I think the biggest thing is the way he prepares, the way he works day in and day out in terms of film study. There's no question that his system knowledge of what we're doing is beyond reproach, more than any coach, myself included, in the program. He has great ownership, but the way that he is learning to dissect defenses, dissect opponents, and then translate it on game day. I saw this exact look on film, and there's no hesitation and no doubt in his mind. That to me has been one of the most pleasant, enjoyable things to watch with his development as a preparer for the football game."
What does the stability of Kyle Whittingham having been in Salt Lake for so long done to allow the program to kind of take advantage of the turnover elsewhere in the conference?
"I think it's such a credit to Coach Whittingham, his vision for this program and what he's been able to accomplish. I've been with him two different times. I was with him when we were in the Mountain West, and he took the transition into the Pac-12. You know there's always some growth and challenges with that. But just his clear-cut vision, his ability to communicate and motivate coaches and players, I think the results speak for themselves. I think he's an elite college football coach."
Sophomore Quarterback Cameron Rising
This is Utah's first crack at the Rose Bowl in program history. What's the feeling about being here?
"It's a great experience. I'm loving it so far right now and really enjoying being here. We've got a job to do at the end of the week, and I am just looking forward to the opportunity to do it."
What are your Rose Bowl memories maybe of growing up? It's one of those national games, it doesn't matter if you're from Maine or California or somewhere in between, you've seen this game.
"Yeah. I think the best Rose Bowl game probably ever played, USC and Texas. That was really my first experience and just kind of made me fall in love with the game. It's amazing to be here now."
When people talk about the Utah offense in Big Ten country, they say that it's a physical offense. Is that a proper description?
"Absolutely. That's what we try to make a focal point on each and every week, out-physical the other team and really make sure they feel our presence."
Is it a fun aspect of the offense to have three tight ends like you do?
"Yeah, we've got a three-headed monster in the tight end room. They do a great job controlling the game. I think they can block with the best of them really. It's like having an extension of the line at times because they do such a good job."
When you think back to your first year at Utah, in hindsight how important was the experience of being up in the box during games?
"I think it just showed me how Coach Ludwig thinks and kind of how he wants to call the game and go about the game and really how to control the ball and do all that. Just that process kind of showed me what football is more about from that standpoint and has slowed it down for me."
You've talked about how dynamic your offense is. With a guy like Tavion, what does he bring to this? Does he add any confidence when you're back there?
"Absolutely. When you can give a guy the ball and watch him go, it's always a fun time. We have a great five guys blocking for him, and it makes it easier for him. He knows how to hit those holes. It's easy when you're giving him a ball on a third and six and he can go get it and stuff like that. Just a lot of confidence there in him in whatever he's doing."
Junior Wide Receiver Britain Covey
What does the stability that Coach Whittingham, knowing he's there, what has that allowed the program to do?
"Well, I think it helps in multiple ways. One, of course, recruiting. You know, you can pitch that to recruits and say that it will be the same or a similar coaching staff when you get here. But I think more than anything, is it helps with the identity of the program. You know, I think the identity of the program kind of takes after its head coach or its coaching staff and if it's constantly changing, it's really hard to maintain that, and you can see how the program's identity is embodied by Coach Whittingham, right, and I think that's a good reason or due to the fact that he's been here for so long. So I think that helps a lot with the identity of a program."
How cool is it that you're wrapping up the Utah experience after the Rose Bowl?
"It's unbelievable. That's a big reason why I chose to just say this is my last year because I'm so content with how things have gone, and what better way to go out, right. I'm really excited to put on that Utah uniform one last time. Way emotional about it; I'm a sentimental guy, so I'm excited."
A lot of Utah fans making the trip; how awesome has the fan base been this season?
"The fan base has been huge. We haven't lost a single game at home. In my whole career, I think I've only lost two games at home and I love that they travel, and California is a great spot for Utah fans. Everyone in Utah loves to come down to California. So if we have more fans here than we do at Rice-Eccles, that's unbelievable. So I'm excited for that."
When you run on to the field in the Rose Bowl, what do you imagine that's going to be like?
"Oh, man, I haven't even thought that far into it. I just know that I'm going to be taking in every moment. You know, a lot of the times, I don't let myself indulge in the moment, but because this is my last game, I'm just going to try and feel everything. You know, go out there and appreciate how many people are there, and the atmosphere, what it's like, the history. So for me, I'm just going to be cherishing every moment and letting myself indulge in it and take it in, I guess."
What does it take to be an effective punt returner?
"Oh, well, I think the first thing it takes it courage, right, courage and confidence in catching the ball because that's the first aspect. But then there's a lot of little skills that you build, you know, just things like from the time the ball is snapped to the ball is kicked, it's about 1.8 seconds, and in that time you're looking at the whole line and who gets down the field fast. Then from the time the punter punts the ball to the time it's at its apex is about two seconds, and that's the two seconds you read where the ball lands. And then it's about 1.5 or to 2 from the apex to the point, or to the ground, and that's when you're using your peripheral -- anyway, so there's a lot of like different tricks that go along with it."
Was there one particular thing that finally got you guys on the right track?
"I think when Cam switched to quarterback, not only did he bring an energy about him, but it also helped us go back to our identity. Charlie Brewer was a great quarterback but we tried to I think mold to his style a little bit and when Cam came in, it just brought this breath of fresh air. I think the coaches have done a great job of creating an identity for our team, especially our offense and so we present challenges that not many other teams have faced all year. We run three tight ends and that's really difficult to match up against. What do you do, do you put a back in or a nickel in. Being able to have an identity on offense is a big one for us."
Junior Offensive Lineman Nick Ford
Ultimately what went into your decision to declare for the draft?
"Just looking that all I accomplished here and my future goals in life and what to accomplish, whether that's on or off the field. I felt like I've accomplished a lot here, All-Pac-12 twice, got All-American honor, got the Freddie Solomon Award for community spirit, the Morris Trophy. So there's a lot I've done at the collegiate level both on and off the field. I feel like now it's my time to start helping take care of my family and go ahead and start a new chapter in life."
Do you feel like you've succeeded in whatever expectations you had when you were 17, 18 years old?
"I didn't even expect to go to college and play football. I got a random phone call from a guy named Brian Polian, I think my junior year, going into senior year, and he was talking about a scholarship, and I didn't even know what was going on. It way more than exceeded it. I wasn't one of those kids who as soon as you get to high school starts chasing scholarships and starts doing all this. It kind of just fell in place. Then after that, talking to the coaches here and stuff, I had a lot of trust in them, and they kept their word, which a lot of coaches don't. Yeah, so I guess it exceeded in that aspect, but yeah."
How important was it for you and the rest of the guys to not opt-out, to finish what you started?
"I mean, the thing I keep saying is it's not necessarily about how you got there but the end result. I know that the start of the season didn't go too well, and as we continue on, we began to improve over the year, and now that we're here, we've got to take full advantage of that. So it's really important to not only the seniors but the underclassmen. They see how important it is. With all the adversity they faced this year with Ty and A-Lowe, I feel like it kind of matured them a little quicker than having to stay in the program two, three years. I think everyone on the team, especially those who came back, find it really important to go ahead and finish because we're here, so why not us."
Being an LA guy, being able to be a part of the Utah program's first Rose Bowl, how exciting and special is that for you?
"Yeah, it's really exciting. Growing up, you see on the news the floats being made and everything, and then you come down to the day, you see the floats, and just the game experience itself, it's going to be really fun. I've got my whole family coming out. They've got an RV and everything. It's going to be super fun. I'm not trying to focus on the overall fun aspect of the game right now. I want to focus on that afterwards so I don't get star struck or anything. But on the inside, I am enjoying it a lot, especially the experience."
What does it mean to you personally to end your career at the Rose Bowl?
"It'll be fun. It'll be fun. Like I said earlier, it's awesome. I'm enjoying the bowl game experience. I'm excited for the actual Rose Bowl itself. I'm not trying to focus too much about these roses behind me. I'm more focused on, okay, it's practice time, got to go out there and practice; weight lifting time, I've got to go weight lift. If it's time to have fun, I'll go out and have fun. And then the game itself is going to be pretty much the same thing: it's time for a game, not, oh, I'm playing in the Rose Bowl. I think I just do that personally for my mental game, but I know that after the Rose Bowl I'm going to act like a little kid."
Junior Tight End Brant Kuithe
Now that you and your team are in California, how has California been treating you?
"It's been awesome so far. Haven't been out here too much. Got to go to Disney yesterday which was fun, first time. Enjoying the trip so far. Just trying to take each day a day at a time. And just enjoying the work and also the fun also. So it's going to be a great time."
What's the sense after your team won the Pac-12 Championship, coming to the Rose Bowl, what's the sense of motivation? How excited are you personally, and how excited do you feel the team is to play in the Rose Bowl?
"As people know, it's our first time winning the Pac-12. That's a great accomplishment. But we have one goal and that's to win the Rose Bowl. And the last game, and we've got to finish this year off right. A lot of bad things have happened this year. A lot of ups and downs. So it's a great way to finish off the year, win the Rose Bowl."
Could you tell us what went into that decision to come back for another season?
"Just going out throughout the season, I was just on the border kind of the whole time. With winning the Pac-12, I just kept thinking more about it. And I still had one more year of eligibility. And I was just, like, I could really definitely come back for another year, finish it off right, and (indiscernible) back and hopefully do the same things, maybe go to the playoffs. That's a good possibility, especially with Cam coming back. And it was a thing I had to think about a lot and talk with my family, what not. And I thought it was best for me to come back and finish my last year of eligibility and see if we can do the same thing next year as we did this year."
How excited are you for Saturday's game and that ability and knowing there's going to be a lot of Utah fans at this game and running out on that field on New Year's?
"It's awesome. I've always watched it. Big memories watching Chris McCaffrey and all those guys playing in one of those games. It's awesome. Can't wait to step on the field when all the fans are there and it's going to be really exciting."
First Rose Bowl in program history. How special is this moment, and how do you try to not get caught up in the enormity of it?
"I would say for the most part just treat it as any other game. Obviously the Rose Bowl isn't any other game, but you just kind of know when to have fun, know when it's work time. Just any part where we're going -- we went to Disney yesterday. In things like that, you can have fun and enjoy the moment, take your mind off football, but anytime we're in the facility training, whatnot, it's all ball. You've got to know the difference between the two and just know that it's any other game and we just have to prepare like it."
Is the identity of the offense being physical something you feel you guys are trying to portray?
"For sure. And Coach Ludwig definitely instills it's a hardcore mentality. That's what we need to do. We establish the run game first and every single game I think we've done a good job at that. Some games a little rocky at first. But I definitely think that's the theme of our game plan. And just in general of how we play the game is a hardcore mentality. And I think we're going to show it this Saturday."
Sophomore Running Back Tavion Thomas
Did you grow up a fan of Ohio State?
"Yeah, I used to love watching Ohio State. You know, A kid from Ohio, how the Ohio State program was and stuff like that. So yeah, I grew up watching them. Braxton Miller, all of them boys. I was a Zeke fan, too. So I grew up watching Ohio State."
Are you happy with how everything has turned out now?
"Oh, yes, sir. Absolutely. Hey, I be thinking about it every day, I'm, like, Man, I'm here. I'm seeing all this, I'm here in California. So it's really amazing."
How much do you feel like you've grown over the course of this season since you got to Utah to where you are now?
"To be honest, I feel like I've grown -- I really feel like I've grown up a lot, just handling my situations way better than I was my freshman year. Just taking coaching more and just being a good teammate. So I feel like I've grown up a lot."
For you guys, as a rushing offense, what do you think makes you so successful?
"Offensive linemen. Them big boys be moving that thing upfront. I ain't going to lie to you. They be working. And we got great tight ends, too. So everybody's doing their thing. And we just see the hole, we got to hit it, you know?"
What was it like growing up in Dayton, going to Dunbar and all that?
"It shaped me to become who I am. Just going to a public school and stuff, there's a lot of stuff that goes on and stuff like that. Especially my neighborhood and stuff like that. It just made me who I am. Just the the stuff we went through, the adversity and stuff we went through, it made me, so now, when I go through something, it's like I can recover through it because I've been through all this with my city and stuff like that. So, now, it be easier for me to get over it, keep working, keep pushing, keep that strong mindset."
I heard a couple times there was just something about Utah. Why were you interested?
"The offense. I always wanted to get behind an offense that ran down hill. Because I had always been in spread. I like to run downhill and physical. So I seen that, I seen how Zack Moss was running and stuff like that. And I was, like, Yeah, I could fit in that system."