LOGAN, Utah -
Utah State head football coach Matt Wells, along with redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Love and junior linebacker Chase Christiansen, held a press conference Monday to recap the Aggies' Senior Day victory against Hawai'i and preview their upcoming Mountain West road game against Air Force. A complete transcript of the press conference can be found below.
Head Coach Matt Wells
"Well, first of all, I'm very happy and excited for the way Saturday went for our seniors. Eighteen seniors, besides Ian (Togiai) and Tonny Lindsey Jr. who were injured, got in the game and played. Those are special moments that can't be replaced in a young man's career. I'm happy that it all worked out that way on Saturday and we were able to do that. It's been great for them for morale in the locker room. We found a way to win number six, and that's exactly what it is and that's all it is. It's number six. It was a win at home in the Mountain West in front of our home fans, which was important. That was the first one we had all year. But it was number six, and it makes us bowl eligible and that's all it is right now."
On closing the regular season at Air Force this weekend:
"The thing that is the focus this week is to find a way to get win number seven. We talked about coming off the bye week a few weeks ago, so it's not something that started this morning, that it was a two-week sprint, and we were going to do everything we could for two weeks to find a way to win two games in a row. Hawai'i happened to be step one and this week is step two. We need to find a way to go on the road and beat a really good Air Force team. This has been a really good rivalry, just for four games, really, since we've been in the Mountain West, but it's always been a good game. Actually, the last three years, it's gone down to the wire and deep into the fourth quarter. They're hard-fought games. I am very well aware of what the atmosphere is going to be like on Saturday night. Our players will be very well aware. This is a team that will fight their guts out, and we will get their very best shot. They have over 30 seniors. I just know, from coaching at an academy, when there is no bowl game coming up and that's the last game, it's very well the last game of their careers and then they're going to go to a very important step in their career, which is protecting every one of our freedoms, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that. It will be an emotional night for them. We will get their best game of the year, and I know that, and I respect that about them. We get it every game, but I just know the last game is different when you don't have a bowl game at an academy. That's Senior Day for those guys. We know what we're getting into, and we'll have to play our very best football. They're averaging over 300 yards on the ground, which is typical for an Air Force team and very normal. They run the ball over 300 yards in conference play and right at 300 yards overall for the year. They have been doing this a long time and they've been running the option for a long time. There are not many looks they haven't seen on defense, so we will have to play extremely assignment sound up front, and the back-end guys will have to play with disciplined eyes and extremely disciplined in terms of what we do in the back end, or you'll get caught, and it'll be over quick."
On the biggest factors that got the team from three wins last year to where they are now:
"I think the credit goes to the players. I've really said it all spring, and I didn't know how many games we'd win, but there's been a different vibe with this team. You look at the 18 seniors, and some of them aren't in starting roles. A lot of our leadership is a little bit more youthful. There's just been a vibe. Really, the resolve amongst the core group of guys to not have a season like last year because that December was horrible. I don't need to keep talking about it. That was a feeling like none of us want to have, or quite frankly, have had since I've been here as an assistant or a head coach. It's become an expectation for us to play in December, and I want it to always be that way. I think this group has done a nice job of not letting one game, or maybe it was two games in a row, Colorado State and Wyoming, where they just didn't let that define the season or let that completely burst us, emotionally. Quite frankly, we did last year, 0-3. We were not the same. Now, in saying that, and I said it last year, we fought our tails off all the way through the season. We had two buzzer-beater games we got beat in November and we weren't playing for anything. That shows me that's a program and a culture thing that was not broke. That makes me proud, as the head coach. It's just the vibe and the resolve to not go backward and to keep fighting every week. This is a competitive bunch. We haven't won as many games as maybe our first couple years, or don't have the chance as the 2013 and 2014 season, but this is a competitive bunch. We've already beaten four teams that were in bowls last year. I just think it's the vibe and the things I've mentioned with this team so far. And we're not done yet. We're not done."
On what he attributes the improved red zone defense to the last few games:
"We're just pretty opportunistic. We've gotten a few turnovers and a few fourth-down stops. We're playing really good on third down right now. We didn't all of a sudden start practicing in the red zone any more than we had been, or anything like that. Sometimes players and media want you to completely change something and there's a magic potion, but there's really not. Maybe we're bending too much in the middle of the field and not breaking down there. It's always been something we address. We talk about playing great in the red zone and forcing field goals. But, shoot, the last two games have been outstanding. I haven't gone back to look at stats, but it may be as good of red zone defense as we've played since I've been the head coach. The last couple of weeks it's been incredible and it really has had a huge impact in winning both the last two games."
On how he would evaluate Jordan Love's progress after a few weeks of starting at quarterback:
"It's still ongoing. He's been good. Some of the stuff he's done has been great at times, and then he's had a little bit of stuff that's not been so good. He's 3-1. That's the most important stat as a starting quarterback, is he's 3-1. The thing I've really come to appreciate about Jordan over the last month that I didn't know, but I didn't know it because he hadn't really done it, is just his preparation level has been a little more mature and further down the line than I thought it would be or anticipated it would be. That's not from a negative standpoint. He really prepares and studies. He's really hard on himself, too. He holds himself to a high standard. I have grown to appreciate that about him. He needs to be positive with himself at times, and he does some really good stuff. I think I said this a couple weeks ago, but everything for young quarterbacks like this is, it's always the first. It's your first start, your first road game, maybe your first time coming off a bye week like it was this past week. How does he handle the bye week? We talked to him before about that. Now, he's going to get his first national TV spot in a primetime game in a game we need to win on the road. He's going to have to play really well. This is a game that your best players are going to have to play their best. I talked to our captains this morning about it. They're going to have to grade out as winners and champions. Our captains and our best players are going to have to play their very best for us to win this game."
On how close Air Force is to being better than a 4-7 team:
"They're really good. You flip on the tape, and you don't think they're 4-7 because of how they play and how hard they play. I have a high respect for their coaches on both sides of the ball. I know many of them and I've competed against many of them in the last five or six years. Their guys play hard, and they play great on special teams. They're really well-coached on special teams. They just lost a few close games. I think we're better than a six-win team, but I wear Aggie blue-colored glasses sometimes. We've lost a few games, and I didn't think we should have. I assume coach (Troy) Calhoun thinks the same thing. They're a really good team."
On striking the balance between tweaking and not over-reacting after last year:
"I think it was a mix of talking to a lot of the out-going players, a lot of the key returners coming back and trusted confidants that are around the program, maybe not coaches, but some guys that have been here before coaching with me and some of my mentors in coaching, and really trying to get the best bead and pulse on what happened, why it happened, what are we going to do to change it, and how do we fix it and move forward? The more and more I looked at it and talked to many people, and you take time to digest it, I was a little, and I mean this sincerely, I was a little surprised at how much that I truly believed at the end we were doing everything absolutely correct, even though we only won three. Because they were things that I absolutely believed in, whether it was our core values, our plan to win, our recruiting, even though I tweaked it just a little bit, but not much, the nuts and bolts of our recruiting efforts were the same. The developmental, in the offseason, I think we were doing the right thing.
"Not everything needed to be changed. We had some personnel changes with the coaching staff that I think were justified, valid and instrumental in some of this turnaround. A little bit of a change of philosophy on offense, which was probably one of the bigger ones. We tweaked a little bit how we practiced and made it a whole lot more competitive. I tried to do some things individually for me, to try to be a better head coach and where I think that I needed to be better and should have been better, and I wasn't. Some of those answers were within the first few things I said in some of the changes I made. I think more than anything, I don't know, I don't have a percentage, but I'd say 75 percent, three quarters of the stuff we did, hasn't changed. I came away with more confidence, than anything, that we were spot on, but I do need to change a few things, and I need to tweak a few things. Here's kind of an analogy. If you go to a football clinic, like for us as coaches, we go to a clinic and listen to a guy speak for an hour. You sit there for an hour and you're taking notes. You're sitting there, and it may be scheme or philosophy, it doesn't matter. The whole time for an hour, you're just writing stuff down and you're nodding going, `Yep, we already do that. Yep, I do that. Yep, I do that. He's a pretty good coach. Everyone else thinks he's a good coach.' And you're getting confirmed. Then, right at the end or maybe something in the middle you go, `I like that.' We're doing the same thing, but he said it different. Or his `how' was a little bit different. How they got it done was a little bit different. You steal and you take it, and you say you're going to make your deal better because of what you just heard. That might have summed up the whole month of December for me. Something like that."
On what he knows about Air Force's quarterbacks, Nate Romine and Arion Worthman:
"We've played Romine for the last little while, and he's athletic and good and got hurt at the end of the game. Worthman did not play, and had been the starter all year. I anticipate we'll see him on Saturday."
On if the team prepared a little bit for Air Force during the bye week:
"Nope. All bye week was the University of Hawai'i. That was the most important game. And now, it's Air Force, and they are astronomically different to prepare for."
On who some of Air Force's standout playmakers are:
"Well, first off, the (Tim) McVey kid. I mean, he is good. He's really good, he's tough, he's a kickoff returner. Worthman is athletic, strong and we've seen him on tape a bunch. Their offensive line is athletic. They play low. They're very well-coached. They play with leverage. When I see Air Force, first of all, you have to take away the dive and you have to take away the fullback. But when you talk about the playmakers, the quarterback, the slot and the offensive line, I've been impressed. They have a few new guys up there, but that's a line that I think plays well together."
Redshirt Freshman Quarterback Jordan Love
On following up the bye week with a win over Hawai'i win:
"With the bye week, it was good to get a little break, but coach Wells had been talking about coming back and getting on this two-week sprint that we have. Coach (David) Yost challenged us to start fast against Hawai'i and the offense came out and started really fast. The first drive, we didn't end up scoring, but we drove the ball down, unlike the previous game against New Mexico, which ended with an interception on the first drive. This week, we drove the ball down and then the next drive, we scored, so the offense started fast.
"Against Hawai'i, the O-line had a really good game. All the running backs had a good game and we were able to move the ball in our run game really well, so that helped open up the passing game. As you can see, the tempo of our offense was getting to Hawai'i and their defense was getting tired throughout the game, especially in the second half. It's just a testament to how we practice and condition, and the entire offense being able to move the ball and get down the field fast and not get tired.
"On our first play in the second half, we scored on the run by LaJuan (Hunt), which was nice. Coach was telling us that we had to come out in the second half and end the game. It was 21-0 at halftime, so that first score making it 28-0 really broke Hawai'i's will and you could tell after that, that they were done. It was just a really good game. Everyone played really well and nobody was slacking, so it was a good game and a good win. We got that sixth win to make us bowl eligible, which is a really good feeling, especially it being our last home game on Senior Night."
On finishing the regular season at Air Force this weekend:
"We've just got to come out and have a good week of practice like we did last week, and finish the season off right with a win, our seventh win. It will be a good game."
On if he is feeling more comfortable as the starting quarterback:
"Oh yeah. Just getting more experience and more reps, you always get more comfortable. You get more comfortable with the offense and the players around you."
On comparing the Division I speed of the game to the high school speed of the game:
"It's a lot different, especially since my first playing time against Idaho State. That opened my eyes to how fast it moves, since I hadn't played in a while. But now, getting more experienced and seeing how fast the game moves, I'm getting more comfortable with it."
On how confident he is that he'll be able to make plays through the air against Air Force, barring any bad weather:
"I'm always pretty confident, especially with our O-line. They are tremendous in pass blocking and I haven't really been sacked that much; I don't even know if I have. They are playing really well, so we've just got to keep it up this week and see what we can do against Air Force."
On if he feels more confident when he is forced to scramble out of the pocket and run:
"I always feel comfortable getting out of the pocket and running when I have to. I just need to get better at not taking hits by sliding and stuff like that."
On what is different about this year's team compared to last year's, besides himself:
"Like Coach Wells says all the time, we've just got a different vibe than last year's team. We have got a lot of new players that didn't play last year, like our O-linemen. We've just got a different vibe than last year's team with a lot of new people finally getting the chance to play."
On when he got the sense that the vibe was positive:
"The first half of the Wisconsin game, we came out and we were firing and putting points up on the board at first. You could tell and we were like, `Okay, we've got a good team going right now.'"
On how much easier it makes his job when the offense can run the ball effectively:
"It makes it a lot easier when you have running backs like LaJuan getting over 100 yards a game. It opens up the pass game a lot because they are trying to fill the box with their linebackers, which opens people up on the outside. As long as we keep running the ball like that, we'll have a good passing game, too."
On how he feels when two straight running plays are called to start a series:
"I feel good. It makes it a lot easier on me knowing it is a run play. A lot of our run plays are read-option, so I have a chance to pull it. When we have plays like we had on the first play of the second half against Hawai'i and LaJuan breaks it for a touchdown run, it makes the offense easy."
On having the chance to go undefeated on the road in Mountain West play:
"It would be special, so we just have to finish it off right on the road. We've done well on the road so far this year, so we just have to finish this one off."
On if he has been thinking about a bowl game:
"Oh yeah, especially after last week getting that sixth win. It is on everybody's minds, but we have to finish this season off with Air Force, so we need to focus on them."
Junior Linebacker Chase Christiansen
On the defense pitching a shutout against Hawai'i:
"Any time you shut a team out, you're playing good defense. With that being said, there are still some things we need to clean up and the coaches have addressed it. To pitch a shutout, it's not just a group of players or a handful, every player on the defense has to play well throughout the whole game. It wasn't easy the whole time. They got down to the red zone three times, and even got down to the goal line one time. Working hard and creating a turnover on the goal line was huge to not let them score, and battling the whole game. It was a great team win as a defense."
On finishing the regular season at Air Force this weekend:
"For being a 4-7 team, they are a lot better than their record shows. They are pretty good, especially running the option. It is something we only see one other time of the year when we play New Mexico, and it's hard to prepare for. It's fast and they are efficient at it, so we need to really bring our A game and everyone has to play assignment sound if we want to win the game."
On what makes him think Air Force is better than those four wins:
"Just the way they play. When you watch the academies play in general, it's a tenacious type of football, and it's never quit, always go, no matter what they are doing. The option is an equalizer, I think, in that sense and it's hard to prepare for. If you make a mistake, they are going to gash you, so you always have to be on your toes and do your job."
On what helped get this program from three wins last year to six wins right now:
"I would say attitude. Going 3-9 last year was a wake-up call to a lot of us. The winning is never given and everything you get is earned. Our league is good, and every win you have to fight for. It's the attitude of we're going to do whatever it takes to be a better team and win as many games as we can, and not settle for anything. The attitude of our players is always positive, we want to win and we believe in each other."
On when he got the sense that the team's attitude was different and better:
"That's kind of hard to say. In a way, you always kind of feel that way. At least I always have, and you believe in your teammates. When you work so hard with a group of people, it's hard not to appreciate them and the work that they do, but also, to trust in them. A lot of the stuff that we do is never seen by anyone, and when you are working that hard with a bunch of guys, you really come together. You can just feel a difference."
On how much of the struggles against Boise State re-invigorated the defense:
"The Boise State game was embarrassing. We've always played great defense here, at least since I've been here. That's what our team has been, is great defensively. Last year, and then the Boise State game, was really just a wake-up call. We have to bring it every game and you can't go to sleep, or else you'll get gashed."
On how much confidence the defense gained by defending New Mexico's option well:
"It's nice to have a game against an option team before you go and play Air Force. With the option, sometimes that's going to happen and they are going to get you. The way the offense is designed, it's to make you pay whenever you make a mistake, so it is our job to make as few of mistakes as possible. Having played an option before helps now as we prepare for Air Force."
On how hungry it makes the defense knowing Air Force has given up a lot of turnovers this season:
"We preach turnovers a lot here. The games that we have won, we created turnovers. When you look at a team that has given up the ball, we see opportunities to keep trying to get the ball and get it back to our offense so they can score some points. They have been playing well right now."
On if there are any team leaders that have done anything instrumental this season to help the attitude of the program:
"You see Dallin (Leavitt) a lot, but as a whole, it's hard to point out one guy. There are a lot of leaders on the team. Every position group has a guy or two that are good leaders, so a lot of it I don't even see because I'm with the linebackers. You see it in the play of other guys. When you come to a Wednesday practice and sometimes people don't want to be there, other guys are leading by example and that is one of the bigger changes that we've seen this year that has really improved us."
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