Countdown to Kickoff
Coach Mike Shula Press Conference: Utah State Game


Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Coach Mike Shula
Coach Mike Shula

Transcript of Opening Statement and 1st Five Questions


"It's good to see everybody back. This is the time of year (where) it's very exciting for our football team and around campus. Our players are really looking forward to the start of the season. They've worked hard; I've said it all along throughout the course of the off-season, spring ball. They came in during the summer, worked out and now through fall practice and all just to get themselves ready for the season.

"I feel like our team is in very good shape conditioning-wise. It seems like a long time since the end of last year. I feel like this team already, even though we haven't played a game, is a different team from last year's team. We all know each other a lot better. The guys feel more comfortable with what we're doing, and, especially in the last few days, you see a lot more leadership from the older guys. I think they're sensing, especially some of these guys like Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis, that this is their last go-round and they want to go out with a bang. They're motivated by what we went through last year. They're motivated by having a chance to go to a bowl game.

"Those are all things that we've talked about, but the most important thing that we've stressed, coaches and players, is getting ourselves ready for the opener against Utah State. We need three to have three more good days this week. Utah State coming in here is improved tremendously from last year defensively. They do a real nice job on defense playing the run. They're aggressive. Statistically I think they moved up 50 spots from the year before. Offensively they spread the ball around three and four wide receiver sets, mix up a lot of formations, shifting, will run some option. Special teams the same thing. We're going to get a lot of looks from them special-teams-wise, whether it's their punt team or some of their return teams. We're working hard this week just to continue to build on our fundamentals from training camp and get to know these guys. We haven't played this guys obviously--get to know them as well as we can where we go out there Saturday and reacting and not thinking. We try to prepare them in knowing there are going to be some looks we can't give them. But when they do get those looks they react in a way we want them to react in a way that's going to help them win football games.

"Our depth chart, you know we made the decision to make Marc (Guillon) the number two quarterback. I think that was the focal point at least a few days ago... With the receivers, with the young receivers, all those young guys are going to play. And they're all young. (Tyrone) Prothro and (Matt) Caddell could start. Then the other guys will play. D.J. Hall, Keith Brown, Ezekial Knight will all play because that's where we're at. We lost a lot of guys last year and we feel comfortable with these guys.

"It's going to be exciting for us to see how these young guys perform. Hopefully they'll perform like we've seem them in scrimmages, like you've seen them in scrimmages. We feel like they've done a nice job and yet we know they've got a lot to learn. They haven't played their first game in front of a big crowd or against another opponent, so it's exciting for us and yet we've still got some work to do these next three days and hopefully we'll get some good work and feel real good about our preparation going into Saturday night.

"The last thing I open up before questions, regarding any questions on Freddie Roach, we really don't have any comment on that right now. As soon as we have more information, then we'll be glad to make a comment on Freddie."

In the opener last year against South Florida, you guys struggled early in the game. How does what they do offensively compare as far as what South Florida did by spreading the ball out the way they do? Are they similar in that regard?

"They're similar. South Florida was a little more four wide receivers. They use three wide receivers and a tight end. But they will spread the ball around a little bit. They're not afraid to throw it deep. They're not afraid to take chances or what we call shots that way down the field. And, maybe more so than South Florida, they will shift a lot more and use different formations."

Will Freddie Roach play this Saturday?

"Yes, we plan on Freddie playing Saturday unless there's any other comment that we'll make later."

Coach, with such a young team and such a lack of depth, how nerve-wracking is it for you to know that you're going to have to depend on so many young kids so early on?

"For sure, it's a little nerve-wracking. I can think back to when, as freshmen, we first got on the field and what it was like for us. Now all of a sudden this class has been talked about for a lot of reasons. One, we feel like it's a pretty good class. Two, it's in a situation where, depth-wise, they're almost forced to play. But the one thing we wanted to do is create competition on this football team, and these freshmen coming in here have done that and some of them have competed and have earned the right for a lot of playing time. The thing that's been good to see so far is that when we put them in scrimmages and situations as close to game-type-situations as possible, a lot of them have responded in a good way. Hopefully we'll see that Saturday night. But, for example, our receivers are going up against a veteran and a very aggressive secondary. These guys, defensively, you look at all the things that they've done in their scrimmages and they've done a nice job. Everyone's talking about their defense when you listen to what's being said out of their program."

Mike, as a follow-up, looking at the depth chart at the second offensive line I don't see anybody who has taken a snap. Ever. Do you put those guys in, do you work them in, do you say we're going to play the second offensive line? How do you handle that?

"Last year we came into a situation where we weren't really sure what our depth was like. We didn't play as many guys as we thought we'd play really the whole year and especially early. It's still a learning process for me. We think in certain situations, especially in the skilled positions that we're going to mix those guys in there because they're going to play in every game just to give other guys a break from being winded or what have you. The offense and defensive line are positions that, me personally, I'm not used to substituting as much. And yet we've got to get some guys some experience. The number one thing is we've got to win football games, and that's what our number one focus is. And we've got to do whatever it takes to win this football game. If that means mixing in some of these twos--we won't do it for sure as a whole group. And I know a lot of teams, we did that when I was here before, where we'd mix in, regardless of what time of the game it was, your second team would go in. We probably won't see that on the offensive line. We may see it more on the defensive line just to keep those guys fresh. Offensive line, we'd like to get those guys experience, it possibly could be there, but whether or not for sure, I couldn't tell you."

Coach, if you could, just talk a little bit about how you and your staff have progressed since last year, especially with Coach (Dave) Rader and Coach (Joe) Kines.

"Just knowing each other a lot better, knowing there's a lot less thinking on decisions that we make because we've been around each other we're more comfortable. Offensively speaking, with Dave, he just understands a lot more and picked things up extremely fast last year, and when he and I talk about things it just goes a lot faster. He kind of knows what I'd like and I kind of know what he likes and some of the ideas that he brings and that's going extremely smoothly. Defensively Joe has done a nice job with our whole defensive staff and our whole defensive football team. We didn't have a year that we wanted to have last year defensively. And sometimes we played very well in early games where we struggled offensively. But it just seems like right now our guys have a new attitude. We want to be aggressive. That doesn't necessarily mean we're going to blitz all the time but mix things up and challenge guys. And I think that mind set has been instilled by Joe. We'll see--you don't know until you go out there Saturday night. But the communication thing is much better with all of us."