Dana Holgorsen's pre-Cactus Bowl press conference

Written by Craig Meyer on .


Opening Statement

Welcome everybody. We are in preparation for the Cactus Bowl down in Phoenix. I want to get started by familiarizing you with our opponent Arizona State, as far as who they are and what they do well. We don’t have a lot of familiarity with them, because it’s the Pac-12. They are a long way away. It is an east coast, west coast matchup. We don’t have any common opponents. I guess the closest common opponent would be Texas A&M from our bowl game last year to their opening game this year. That would be the closest common opponent that we can have some familiarity with. With that said, I think it’s kind of neat. That’s what bowl games are about. You want to have teams that don’t have a lot of familiarity with each other, and to be able to go somewhere like Scottsdale is awesome. Our guys will look at this and will be excited about being there.

They are now excited about being there, traveling, and staying in the Scottsdale area. The facilities that we are going to be at are first class. I know the practice site that we go to is a first class one. Then going to Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play is going to be a great fan experience. I am always curious at how a football field fits into a baseball stadium. It’s always a little tight, but nonetheless, it’s a great facility. Obviously, the relationship with (owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks) Ken Kendrick is important. I know the fan experience is going to be good. This bowl brings people. This will be an exciting game, and it will be exciting matchup. A lot of people in that area are going to want to come to the game, whether they are Mountaineer fans or Sun Devils fans. There are still going to be a lot of people that want to come, so we are expecting a full crowd, in a great atmosphere, at a quality place. Everything should be pretty neat. Our guys are pretty excited about it.

Arizona State is a very dangerous team. They were picked by a lot of people in the preseason to be in the College Football Playoffs. They had a lot of people coming back. They have a quality coaching staff. I have a lot of respect for (Arizona State head coach) Todd Graham and where he has been. We have crossed paths a bunch. He always puts a good product on the field. All three phases of the ball are going to be coached up well. They have great players. Their recruiting base is as good as anywhere. You talk about the Scottsdale and Phoenix area, and that is something that kids are very attracted too. They have done a good job at recruiting junior college players here lately, but they have always recruited from the west coast that has a lot of good players to choose from.

Offensively, I know they lost their coordinator (Mike Norvell), but from my experience, they can’t change a whole lot based on what they do with the film that we have. To me, they are very up-tempo. They have an efficient offense. They are very balanced, and they are right down the middle as far as the run-pass aspect of it. They are going to try and establish the run. They have a dual threat quarterback. (Redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici) No. 2 can sling it around a little bit, but he is gritty. He is competitive. He can do some things in the run game. We have to account for him. They have great skill at wide out. (Senior wide receiver) D.J. Foster is one of the best in the country. They have the transfer (redshirt senior wide receiver Devin Lucien) from UCLA I believe. That guy has made a bunch of plays as well. They are averaging 5.8 yards a play. They are moving the ball, and they are not turning the ball over. They run a lot of plays, so we are going to have to defend a lot of plays. They are good on critical downs as well. It allows them to stay out there on the field and move the ball. It will be a challenge for us defensively. We have seen this kind of an offense before. Clearly, in the Big 12 you are facing up-tempo offenses. You are facing balanced offenses with good wide outs, so our guys are used to that. They know that if they relax against an opponent like this they are going to blow right by us.

Offensively, for us, (Arizona State) coach (Todd) Graham is a defensive guy. They are talented on defense. They put pressure on you every single time you snap the football. They are as good as anyone in the country with forcing negative plays, whether its sacks or tackles for loss. They are getting you behind the chains at least nine to 10 times a game. They are really good at creating havoc up front. They blitz. On video, it seems like they blitz 100 percent of the time. It is as much as I have seen, and they are really good at it. They are great against the run, and that’s because they are big. They can tackle. Their backers can go lateral, and they also can fill the gaps and get you behind the line of scrimmage. They blitz to get you behind the chains. It’s what they do. They are as good as I have seen this year at getting you behind the chains. They give up some plays in the pass game, because that is their mentality. When you put so much pressure on trying to stop the run upfront, they are going to give up plays in the pass game. That’s kind of how that works. It’s a good matchup for them. Obviously, we are a run first team. We work hard at trying to get the ball in (junior running back) Wendell (Smallwood) and (redshirt junior running back) Rushel’s (Shell) hands. If they take that away, we have to be efficient and effective in the pass game, and we have been working hard at that for the last couple of weeks.

Special teams, their kicker and punter have great legs. It takes some pressure off their coverage units, because teams are only getting returns about 20 percent of the time. Their kickoff guy booms it into the end zone a bunch. The same guy is their place kicker. He has a good leg. He’s efficient, and he is as good as I have seen this year. He does a nice job. Their punter booms it, and their coverage gets down there. They have given up a couple of returns, but it’s a matter of trying to get the return. They have done a really good job at kicking that thing down field. The return game, as you would expect with an offense that has skills, they also have guys that can return as well. They average about 25 yards a kick return and about 10 yards a punt return. As you can imagine, they pressure the punt just like they do defensively. They pressure the punt more and effectively than anyone we have seen this year. We had one nicked against Kansas State, so that opened our eyes up a little bit from an upfront perspective. We don’t see a lot of blocked looks from the punt return. That opened our kids’ eyes a little bit, and it allowed us to focus on protecting first, before we cover. They do a nice job at scheming things up. (Associate head coach/special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach) Shawn Slocum is their special team’s coordinator. I have a lot of experience with him, and he has been doing this for a long time.

They are a quality opponent, and our guys are going to be excited about the bowl experience and being out there which is step one. We had good preparation here for the last couple days, and we will continue that for the next two or three days. We will give them a little break over Christmas, and then we will fly out on the 29th. We will have a full week to game prep once we get there as well. We will be schematically prepared for the game, and I think our guys will be in a good place when it comes to playing the game. I expect a fun and exciting game out in Arizona. With that said, I will take some questions.

On the advantages of defensive coordinator (linebackers/defensive special teams) Keith Patterson knowing his personnel

I don’t know how much that helps either one of us to be honest. (Defensive coordinator/linebackers/defensive special teams) Keith (Patterson) is a good coach, and he has good ideas. If you start talking about coaching familiarity, then you will have that same conversation virtually every game that we play. There is so much crossover in the Big 12, and we deal with it every day. If he knows me and how I think, then I guess I know him and how he thinks. He calls it defensively, and I call it offensively. It should be a lot of fun.

On how he treats the practices before the bowl game

We will have 15. That used to be a rule, but it’s not a rule. You can wear them out as much as you want to. We had a couple developmental practices prior to finals. You have to give them time to study and go to school. We gave them about four days off to do that. We could have practiced late at night, but from my experience, we want to let them be students for a few days and focus on that. We had a couple more developmental practices, and then you run out of time, and you have to start prepping for the game. For what it’s worth, we put in four developmental practices in where we didn’t talk about Arizona State. We treated it like a spring practice, and we went offense and defense. We let some of the older guys rest up, because they are banged up 12 weeks into it. You get nicked up and tired, so you let those guys rest up and heal. You have to put them in the weight room and training room. Then you have to start focusing on the game. That is the most important thing. Yes, development practices are important, but prepping for the game is more important than that. We practiced, and then we will take a break and have another full week of game preparation once we get down there.

On if they are going to practice at night in Arizona

No. Here is the problem with that. We talked about it. You can practice later in the day, but there are bowl activities that you have to go to. There are dinners and functions. If we let them sleep to 11 a.m. or 12 p.m., which sounds late, but it’s really not. If you let them sleep to 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., it will be noon here. Then you let them go to the pool for six hours or go buy a t-shirt and walk around, then you practice later in the day from 6-9 p.m., then your day is done. We will be as late as we can. If we are not practicing, then these kids are going to probably walk around until whenever curfew is anyways. That is all about getting their body clock to stay up that late. I think that is overrated to be honest with you.

On if he received stuff back for academics

No report.

On the health of the team

Yeah, we let them heal up. We just walked out of our meeting, and I have good news. Nobody is in red. Nobody is in green jerseys. Nobody is in red jerseys. Everyone is in a normal jersey. That means we should practice hard. We should be in good shape.

On if any paper work has been sent on anyone to the draft advisory

Yeah, we started talking about some guys. It’s funny. The NFL is making a big push for kids to stay in school. They are encouraging kids to stay in school, and there are a lot of advantages for that. However, they are getting a record number of those papers back, so they are starting to put a limit. Every kid wants to know their draft status. I have bad news for a lot of these guys. They are not going to get drafted, so they have to stay in school, play their tail off and enjoy their college experience. They have to help their team win and receive a degree. (Senior safety) Karl Joseph is a prime example of this. Everyone asks what happens if they get hurt. What happens if you get hurt? There is still a commitment level to your team. (Senior safety) Karl (Joseph) played five games, and he played his tail off. He impacted those games that he played in. The NFL has clearly seen that he was a dominating player in his senior year. His knee is going to be 100 percent healthy by April. This kid just received his degree three days ago. I was over there in the Coliseum, and I gave him a big hug for accomplishing that. He’s leaving here accomplishing everything that he came here to accomplish. To me, that is pretty important. A lot of these guys say that they have the tools physically to do it. There are a lot of people that are like that. That might be true, but mentally, they are not in the place to handle that. It is a tough question that they have to accept. We will submit a few. I can tell you what they are all going to say, but we will wait until they come back.

On the number of quarterbacks transferring this year and if he has interest

That’s a good question. I don’t know why. It comes down to that there are more quarterbacks playing now than there ever has been. Guys get their feet wet, and they play. They have experience, and they might not be the guy where they are at, but they can be that guy somewhere else. That is my guess. Every kid has a different situation. Obviously, I can’t talk about the specifics on any of those guys, but I am always interested in a good player, whether it is a quarterback, running back or o-line.

On if there is a different dynamic playing in a baseball stadium

No. You have to walk the field and see where the walls are. We will just go up to the indoor and pretend it is a baseball stadium. If you have some close walls and if you sense yourself getting close to the line then you might want to brace yourself. If it wasn’t a good place to play, then they obviously wouldn’t do it. I have been to Chase Field. It is a great stadium. It is going to be a first class fan experience. Everyone wants to play in a 100,000 seat stadium, but from a bowl perspective, it is about the four or five days prior to the game more than anything. That’s the bowl experience, and then you get tired of the bowl experience, and you can’t wait to play in the game if you do it right. We can play in a parking lot. It’s on national TV, and it is the last game being played. I would imagine that you would get pretty fired up to play regardless of where it is at. I am always curious about the turf. That’s what I’m always curious about. That was a nightmare out there in New York because of the weather. The new turf and the weather. They have assured us out there in Phoenix that they do a good job with their turf, and I think they are going to close it in. It will be a sterile environment, which will be good.

On graduating 17 players this past Saturday

Having 17 of them is a pretty healthy number. Some of them won’t be playing their last game, but most of them will be playing their last game with a degree. We are proud of that. Obviously, it happens with older guys. We have been talking a lot about fourth- and fifth-year seniors. If they maintain eligibility, I don’t know how fourth- and fifth-year seniors leave here without two degrees with as many opportunities as they have. A lot of those guys are in grad school right now. That is something we are definitely proud of. You pick a university to go play some ball and get a degree. How many times have we talked about these seniors? It’s a special class, because so many came here to get a degree. There are even three or four that came in with guys that aren’t here anymore, and they have their degree. The high percentage of those signing classes four or five years ago are leaving here accomplishing what they want to accomplish. They want to leave with a win, so that’s what we are focusing on now.

On what works and what doesn’t work with curfews at the bowl site

You have to have one, and we will, especially in a place like Scottsdale. In a bowl setting, there are so many people involved with it. We will have a couple of police officers with us. The bowl site will have a couple of police officers with them. You tell them to do it the right way and have fun. You give them a couple of days to experience the places that they allow you to go. There are going to be some places that you can go, and there are going to be some places that you can’t go. You have to monitor it and let them have fun. Night one is a little later, and then night two is a little earlier. Then night three and night four, they won’t leave the grounds. They have will fun for a day or two, and then it is time to play.

On redshirt senior linebacker Shaq Petteway

He is resilient. He was another kid that walked across the stage two days ago with his degree. You are going to have setbacks in life, and he was a guy that didn’t give up, so he is going to be successful in life. He played early. He played in the Orange Bowl. (Redshirt senior linebacker Jared) Barber is the same kid. He was injured, and he had to sit out for a year. He was determined to not give up. He handled his job academically, so both of them graduated and came back. They have been very good players for us as seniors. It is refreshing to see guys like that do what they came here to do. What we ask them to do is hard. Then there are guys that it is too hard for, and they end up peacing out and never come back. Watching those guys hang in there and finish what they want to accomplish is rewarding for a coach.

On how important it is to end the season with a win

It’s not do or die, but it’s important. It puts a smile on your face. I want it for the kids. We can accomplish what our guys were six or seven weeks ago. We can finish with eight wins. No West Virginia University Big 12 team has done that. We can win a bowl game, and that is something to be proud of. If you finish 8-5 and win a bowl game against a quality opponent, it puts a smile on your face. You feel good about it. That gives you a big boost heading into the offseason, and we talk about it every day.


Craig Meyer: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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