Here’s what Steve Sarkisian had to say during his weekly Monday press conference.
(Opening statement) “All in all it was great to get back in the win column as we touched on Saturday night. Thought out kids played hard. Thought we minimized the big plays from Cal which was important, unfortunately until the fourth quarter there when they had the big run. All in all we kept the ball in front of us, we tackled better, I thought offensively we created explosive plays which is a big part of what we need to do offensively to make us the complete offense that we need to be. We had some explosive plays in the run game and the passing game. Thought Bishop (Sankey) was tremendous again, just an unbelievable workhorse that he is. Thought Travis Coons had an excellent night for us in all three phases. Thought Jaydon Mickens, obviously the numbers bear it but played extremely well. I thought Hau’oli Kikaha had a tremendous game and this guy’s having a great season so far and he’s really improving as the year’s gone on. He’s got six sacks now on the year, he’s got quarterback hurries, he’s playing at a high level.
“So all in all it was good for us to get back in the win column. There’s plenty of things for us to work on in this bye week. Obviously emphasizing our young players and developing them. It is midterms for us this week so having our guys focus on school and getting that stuff done on that end of it. And then getting healthy. We’re a little bit nicked up right now, a little bit beat up, and to get ourselves fresh and ready for the fourth quarter of the season, a stretch of the season we really believe, all four winnable ballgames, but ballgames we’re going to have to prepare for extremely well and then ultimately go out and perform.”
(Timetable for Kasen Williams?) “We’ll be able to talk more specifically after the MRI and then ultimately after the surgery of where he’s at. To Kasen’s credit, hes in good spirits, he came to coach James’ service yesterday, was with the team today, and he’ll take it like a champion. He’ll do whatever we need him to do to get healthy and he’ll be back.”
(If he returns, would it only be for bowl game?) “I don’t know exactly. I would imagine so. But I’m hesitant to talk on specifics until the doctors get with me.”
(Other injuries?) “We’re just banged up. It’s nothing serious, injury wise. We’re just a banged up team right now. We had a physical run of teams that we went up against that’s taken its toll. We’ve got some quad contusions, we’ve got some shoulder bruises, we’ve got some calf strains, quad strains. We’ve just got all kind of things, the whole spectrum of injuries. I don’t really want to call them injuries, because I think if we were playing Saturday the majority of those guys could play and would play. But it’s a great time for us, based on injuries and the bumps and bruises that we have, to get healthy so we’re ready for the stretch run.”
(Bye week?) It’ll look like developing our younger players, working with those guys, focusing on a few new schemes we’re going to need to have ready for the fourth quarter, and getting fresh, getting healthy. It’s not so much different than what other bye weeks have looked like for us. It’s focusing on the young guys, continuing to develop them, making sure we’re sound in special teams, any schemes we might want to work on there. And then giving the guys time to really focus on their school work. This is a pivotal moment in their quarter with the midterms to get themselves ready for their midterms and then do well in school. There’s a lot that goes on. I think so many times we focus on just their athletic performance but they have an academic performance they do a great job with as well, and as well as their personal lives. So this is a good time to have a bye week to get re-focused and then come back energized and ready to go next Monday.”
(How do you replace Kasen Williams on special teams, too? He provided balance?) “He really did. Kasen’s a great player, don’t get me wrong. But this is a great opportunity to expand Jaydon’s role, to expand John Ross’ role, for Demore’ea Stringfellow to try to take the next step. I think what we saw from Marvin Hall in the punt return game has an opportunity to do some special things for us. So we’ve got good depth at the position. We’ll miss him because he’s a great player, but we’ve got good depth.”
(Pass to Williams a little underthrown?) “It could have gone a little further down the field but it’s a play that Kasen routinely makes. We’ve grown accustomed to him jumping up and making those plays. It was just an odd play where the defensive back landed right on the back of his leg and with all the force caused obviously the break in the leg and then the injury to the foot.”
(Keith Price taking blame for Williams injury?) “That’s just Keith. That’s just his mentality. He’s always one to take the blame and give the praise. I don’t need to talk to him so specifically that way about it. It’s his personality. That’s what makes Keith a great teammate and that’s why his teammates respect him so much. He’ll always look for the little things where he can improve, and he’s quick to take the blame when things don’t go great. He’s quick to give the praise when things do go well to other guys.
(Extra rest for Price this week?) “He’ll be the same. He looks great.”
(Running the ball?) “I’ve always had a firm belief in running the football and that comes from Pete quite honestly in our time at SC. We were always a run first team then, and we’re a run first team now. I know people always want to keep labeling me as a passing guy, but every year we sure know how to run the football pretty well and we’re doing a great job of it right now. I think for as much of the criticism the offensive line took two weeks ago after the Arizona State game, they came out and really produced some big time holes for Bishop to run through and then Bishop capitalized on it. So we’re running the football well and we’re going to need to. When you win in November in this conference, you have to be able to run the football, especially playing up here. Because the weather and the elements, you never know what you’re going to get. So you have to have a strong foundation running the ball, and we obviously have the talent to do it with the back that we have, and the offensive line. We have to make sure our schemes are correct and in order so that we can continue to do it here against good football teams down the stretch.”
(Did you know Sankey would be this good?) “We knew he was a good player. You never know in recruiting. I think Bob (Rondeau) mentioned it on the radio the other night when people asked Don James on signing day what do you think of this class and he’d say, ‘ask me in four years.’ I think that’s true with all these guys. We sign them and they have all the accolades and all the stars and all the stuff. You never really know how guys mature and how they take it all on and Bishop has been a pro since the day he got here. I think back to the dropped kick-off at Nebraska where they get the ball on the one-yard line. We didn’t give up on him and he didn’t give up on himself. Now we have a guy who arguably may be the MVP of our conference, or at least he’s in the discussion of it, and deservedly so.”
(O-line?) ”I think it’s better. I think if you ask coach (Dan) Cozzetto he’ll give you a little bit better description of how the offensive line played this weekend as opposed to last. I think that they performed well. I think more guys played. I think James Atoe got an opportunity to play, that Jake Eldrenkamp got in the ball game. So we’ve got good depth. I think that there’s always things to work on and that we will continue to because we have some pretty good defensive fronts that we’re going to be going up against here in the last month of the season that we’re going to have to perform upfront well offensively to have the production and the efficiency on the offensive side of the ball that’s going to be needed to win those games.”
(Penalties improving?) ”I’d like to give myself credit for that but unfortunately it’s just an emphasis. It’s just us talking about it and trying to learn from one another. We obviously had a couple ones on kickoff the other night that negated a touchdown and negated a long return so we have to continue to improve.”
(Offensive line improvement?) ”I just think they executed. They communicated well. They blocked the runs the way they were capable of blocking them with the right schemes and the right communication, the right technique. I think their effort was good. I think sometimes when you get some momentum, get some confidence, all of a sudden your effort gets a little bit better, you finish plays a little bit better, you finish your pass protection a little bit better, you strain to finish to allow that quarterback to get the throw off, and I think that was pivotal on a couple of the deep touchdown passes by Keith.”
(Why was Jaydon so good?) “We had some pretty favorable matchups with him one-on-one with safeties and Jaydon can really run. We saw that in the short game but he got opportunities down the field with these safeties one-on-one and Keith recognized it and got him the ball and Jaydon made his plays.”
(More looks for Austin Seferian-Jenkins with Williams out?) ”We’re going to run our offense. We never tried to get anybody the ball. We’re going to run our plays and the quarterback is going to throw it where our reads tell him to throw it. We have this discussion every week but we’re going to run our offense.”
(Bye week’s changed?) ”We’ve got more depth now. We really have the opportunity to develop our younger players and we have quite a few freshmen that are either redshirting or producing on special teams that we know are going to be players down the road for us. The emphasis on those guys has gradually increased as our bye weeks have come, where early on it was just trying to get healthy and get ready for the next week. Now, there’s a real emphasis placed on those guys and developing them to get them prepared for their playing time down the road.”
(Substituting in lopsided game?) ”You try to do it gradually. You try to get yourself in position to where you always try to expect the unexpected. A touchdown, an onside kick. Another touchdown. OK. A tipped interception. All those things can start to factor in so you gradually put guys in. You’re monitoring the rep count of your players on offense and defense of who’s been in there the most that you can get some rest time. And then who’s earning of it. Who practiced well this week that’s deserving of getting in that ballgame with seven minutes left as opposed to three minutes left in the game. You try to factor all that stuff in and just have a feel for the game.”
(So you try to avoid mass subs?) “I guess. Depending on the time of the game. It’s unfortunate we gave up a 73-yard touchdown run that I know those kids who are on the field for us on defense are capable of not allowing that to happen. Of all the plays that we critique and are critical of as a staff and with our players that was probably the most critical one and not one of those guys on the field was a starter, but we’re coaching everybody because the better we are as a team understanding that that’s not just the 22 guys who start everybody has a role on this team and when you’re number is called upon to go out there and execute.”
(Perception of program in recruiting?) ”People are excited about us. I think guys can’t wait to come up on their official visits and to see the stadium and see the facilities and be around our players and be around our coaches.”