Petersen on Jake Browning: "He's won a bunch of games. His teammates really love him. We love him. And I don't know what there is else to say about him."
PASADENA, Calif. — Before the Huskies’ official team photo, Chris Petersen and his assistant coaches posed for pictures of their own in front of the iconic Rose Bowl sign here Sunday.
Petersen smiled, flashed a “W” and pointed at the camera phone.
Two days before the Huskies’ first appearance in the Rose Bowl Game, the mood was light, the smiles abundant for the media day event out side the stadium.
“We’ve had a good week,” Petersen said. “Been really focused being down here. And the Rose Bowl has been tremendous in terms of the events we got to be a part of. Everything just completely first class. And it’s very apparent why everybody raves about being at this bowl game. It’s been a really good week.”
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A few minutes after Petersen’s side photos with assistant coaches, his players neatly filed into a set of bleachers. They wore white jerseys and purple pants, which they’ll wear with their traditional gold helmets for Tuesday’s game against Ohio State (2:10 p.m., ESPN).
Looking toward the sun, Washington players and coaches squinted for about a dozen shots from the official Rose Bowl photographer. Myles Gaskin, sitting between Jake Browning and JoJo McIntosh, flashed his own “W” sign.
Petersen, in a purple polo, sat front and center, with senior offensive lineman Kaleb McGary on his right and senior linebacker Matt Preston on his left.
Here’s a Q&A with Petersen from his media day interview:
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Ohio State and what you’ve seen from them both offense and defense?
CHRIS PETERSEN: One of the elite programs in the country, without question. They throw for a bunch of yards, but I think the thing that makes them so special on offense is how balanced they really are.
And so with really good players, excellent scheme. Coached well. And on defense, I think they — I think they’re physical. They’re athletic. Do enough stuff to keep you off balance blitz-wise. And we knew from the start even without putting the tape on what we probably were getting ourselves into.
And Urban does a great job with that whole program.
Q. Oregon and Cal, couple of tough losses, downturn in this season, but came back strong. Does Oregon and Cal make you stronger?
CHRIS PETERSEN: The season’s always — there’s always struggles during the season. I’ve been a part of undefeated seasons — there’s hard things that go through any season. And certainly any good season.
We try to prepare our guys for that. And so this one’s really been no different. We did have a couple of tough losses, frustrating losses. And I say this all the time: If you don’t play your best in this league, you’re going to get beat. You’re going to get exposed in a hurry. And the kids played hard in those games. We probably didn’t play our very best. And if you don’t, that’s what happens.
So I’m proud of the guys in terms of — they never flinched. We just went back to work, one week, one day at a time mentality. And that’s really what they did. And here we are.
Q. What can you say about Urban Meyer and any interaction you’ve had with him, crossing paths and things as far as coaching?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think, first and foremost, his record speaks for itself wherever he’s been. He just knows how to win. He knows how to run a program his way, his style, does a great job with it.
And then I have had a chance to kind of interact with him over the years. And I think he’s really on top of it. Just in terms of like what he tries to do with his program culturally and with some of his coaches and those type of things. And the different speakers that he’s had, real Life Wednesdays all those different types of things. That’s what college is all about. I mean, that is — you’re talking our language all the way.
He’s done some really nice things along the way and at Ohio State with those things that I’ve got bits and pieces from.
That’s kind of how you do it as a coach. I mean, we’re not making this stuff up. There’s been a lot of smarter people than me going before and doing these things. And so what makes sense to me in our program I try to take bits and pieces from. Certainly learned that from Urban.
Q. Any team you’ve faced this year that compares to Ohio State?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I mean, I think when you go through the course of the season, you’ll see some teams that line up similar to — there’s only so many ways you can line up. There haven’t been too many teams where we say we’ve never seen this before.
But everybody has wrinkles to keep you off balance, the different blitzes and stems and those type of things. Everybody has a little uniqueness to them, and certainly Ohio State does.
I think you couple that with the players that they have, you know, certainly makes this a unique defense and a unique team that we haven’t seen before.
Q. (Question regarding Haskins.)
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I think he’s just obviously one of the top QBs in the country. And he’s mobile enough to keep you off balance, to bide time.
I think he sees the field really well and the ball comes out quickly. I think he as a real good cast around him. Starts on the lines and he has an experienced group of receivers sprinkled around, and those guys are playmakers.
Q. Any part of coaching (indiscernible) bringing kids down, the mystique of the size of the Rose Bowl, the fact that other team will leave it all on the field? Have you had to calm down the kids?
CHRIS PETERSEN: We don’t ever worry about the opponent. This is always about us. We just — we take care of what we can control and making sure that our energy is right and not too high, not too low, that we prepared right, that we go out and try to put our best foot forward. To us it’s never about the other guys, it’s always about us doing what we can do.
Q. What’s it mean to you to play the Rose Bowl, coach in the Rose Bowl?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I’ve had an opportunity to go to a lot of different bowl games. And I’ve never been to this one. But this is the one I did watch as a kid growing up. This is the one. And we’ve been close a couple times in my career, really close. And we have not got here.
So, again, kind of alluding to one of the questions: It means a lot. Because how hard it is to get here, some of the hard things that we went through this season to get here, my hat’s really off to these kids for making this happen.
Q. What is it about the matchup on Tuesday that should prompt people to watch this game?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, I think it’s — I know Ohio State’s one of those elite programs, and I think when we are playing like we’re capable of playing, we can play some pretty good football, too. I just think this game and the teams that are in it might be an intriguing matchup.
Q. What makes it (indiscernible) just two good teams?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think that. I always think the Rose Bowl is intriguing. You’re not going to have bad teams in the Rose Bowl. And just everything that surrounds it. The pageantry of college football, that’s kind of what I really think about this bowl game. And it’s always going to be two good teams that are here and kids playing really hard.
Q. The historic aspects of it, the oldest of the bowls, “The Granddaddy of Them All,” does it — I know rotation this year, every rotation, what does it mean to be in this Rose Bowl Game?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, I mean, from where I come from, there’s nothing bigger, nothing better. And I mean that from where I grew up. And I mean that in Seattle as well. Because so many of the long-time Huskies, this is how they grew up. This is what they want in Washington at all times, and now there’s the playoffs.
But this is what everybody talks about. It’s awesome to be here.
Q. Mark Richt announced his retirement today. What’s your initial reactions to that news?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think there’s always surprise and twists and turns in this job and football. I think he does a heck of a job throughout his career. And I don’t know him personally, but I followed him and seems like a wonderful person and tries to do right by the kids and all those type of things.
I think anytime you see a really good guy getting out of it, you’re a little bit bummed about it. But who knows, sometimes the guys just need a break and catch their breath, and you never know what the future holds.
Q. Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to give up big, huge plays, especially in the running game. I know you’re not going to give any secrets, et cetera, but what do you notice about them from a defensive standpoint? What do you think has led to that?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I don’t know. I think it’s kids making plays. I always say this. Like everybody — everybody we play has good coaches and players too. They’re going to make plays.
And so at the end of the day it’s about winning the game. Ohio State’s won a heck of a lot of games in convincing fashion.
I’ve always said, it’s hard to just lose one game. And you see very few that have lost no games. But those guys I’ve talked about, they can be in that playoff system. And so it’s never going to be perfect. I mean, that’s what I think. But I think they’ve got a heck of a defense.
Q. Down the road, should there be a playoff system that includes every — I think you talked about this before, but every Power 5 champion, what is your thought about it now as you’ve seen like the Big Ten, two straight years the conference champion hasn’t been in it, you guys.
CHRIS PETERSEN: I don’t know. I think most want it expanded. I mean, I think that would be really cool for college football. There’s a lot of logistics to work out and politics to plow through without question. And that’s all hard.
But I think in the big, grand scheme of things, I think a lot of people would like to see some more teams. Now, whether it’s the conference champions, I don’t know about all that. Those are details that could be worked out. But I think it’s intriguing, how this thing would shake down with more teams.
Q. You talked before, you’ve coached eight teams. Everybody talks about three extra games, it’s only three extra games with two teams?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Right. It is for only two teams. And so you can expand it. We’re the only division who doesn’t play a big expanded tournament. Now, one thing we probably have to do if you put a bunch of teams in there, this is probably the sticking point, you probably have to cut down a regular season game.
But everything comes down to money. Who are we — what are we kidding ourselves? Right? It’s what it comes down to. You play a big tournament like that, there’s going to be enough money for everybody to cut the pie the same way, now maybe you get some of the matchups you want to see. I don’t know.
Q. You talk about a big pot of money. Do you think players have a right to any of that, should it come to that?
CHRIS PETERSEN: That’s always an interesting topic. I think that’s what pro football is for. I think we try to treat these guys as well as we can. I think we pay for their education. We make sure these kids aren’t going to college and living in poverty.
I know it’s changed in the last handful of years, we can feed them how we need to feed them. That’s a huge thing. That’s all these guys do is eat. Couldn’t feed them like we needed to do. And the cost of living and those kinds of things. Some of that stuff, I think, is still to be debated and talked about.
Q. When you say it’s for pro football, what do you think the downside would be if these guys got an extra 15-, 20,000? It’s not life-changing, but for them it would be significant?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think there’s certain programs that could maybe afford to do some of that stuff. And I think there’s certain programs that you might just change the playing field.
Q. It would be a competitive equity thing within the sport more than anything else?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I think that’s probably — I’ve spent about as much time thinking about this as your question coming to me, because that’s for somebody with a higher pay grade than me. So I’m just kind of talking out loud here.
Q. There’s quite a few stars headed for the NFL, opted not to play. I think all your guys are playing, right?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah.
Q. But what’s just your opinion of that, of guys opting to sit it down from the jeopardy standpoint?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I’d like to see them — it’s football, and, yeah, anything can happen, but you’re going to play a lot of football in the future. And I think the risk/reward thing is so small that you go out with your team, but that’s just my opinion.
Q. Did you have to sit down with any of your guys and have that discussion this year?
CHRIS PETERSEN: No.
Q. Our audience are young people, what would be your keys to success for young people? We try to inspire them to stay off of drugs and out of gangs.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, there’s no question about that. We see the drug culture changing lives even where we are on college campuses.
We spend a ton of time talking about that. I mean, it’s in everybody’s face. It doesn’t matter where you are, on the streets, in colleges, in work. And, I mean, all you have to do is pay attention to the research and it ruins lives in the snap of the fingers. It all starts small and all of a sudden you end up — how did I end up in this place?
So I think that’s probably a good place to start. But I think you’ve got to — a lot of these kids just need to have a vision and some hope and some mentors around them that encourage them.
And I think one of the main things is guys trying to figure out what they really want to do in life, which is one of the hardest things our guys have to figure out. I think it’s one of the hardest things that anybody has to figure out.
Very passionate about football and those type of things, but what about life after football, which is going to be for most of these guys, in the snap of a finger. And so those are some of the things we try to talk about all the time in our program.
Q. Urban Meyer has talked about his friendship with you. Could you kind of explain where that’s evolved and what you think of him?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, just way back, like he had just got to Utah and I think I bumped into him at a high school. And didn’t know him from anybody. And kind of enjoyed our conversation, and then watched him at Utah. We’ve always kind of crossed paths.
Then I got a chance to go back there, spend a couple days when I first actually came to Washington. And I think there’s some really interesting things he does with his program, culturally. And he’s trying to help these kids besides the football part of things that I thought was really intriguing and really appreciated his mindset on it.
Q. What do you think is his legacy; assuming he does retire and doesn’t come back, what has he meant to college football?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I mean, I think his record speaks for itself. I mean, the guy knows how to win. He’s got his way of doing things. I always say this: There’s a bunch of ways to skin the cat, but you’ve got to have your way and know the strengths and weaknesses and incorporate it into your style, your personality. And he’s done that.
And it has worked at an elite level.
Q. Do you think the quarterback gets a bad rap because everybody’s looking ahead to the scout team quarterback who transferred in, trying to compare him to two years ago, kind of seems like from fans in the media that he’s not getting his due?
CHRIS PETERSEN: You know, I think unfortunately it’s the world we live in. It’s always what’s the next thing. That is social media. That is the media world — it’s like what’s the next best thing. Everything’s blown out of proportion. For the most part. Expectations are out of whack. We live in the “too much, too soon” syndrome. And it messes kids up, these expectations and so much success so early, and guys haven’t had to persevere and work through hard things; it can always be better.
To me that’s almost fantasy land. That’s not the world we live in. So I don’t know about that. I just know that we appreciate Jake as much as anybody. The kid does everything right. There’s no harder worker on our team, there’s nobody been through more and persevered and stayed steady. He’s done it the way it’s supposed to do.
And life is hard like football is hard. He hasn’t flinched. He’s won a bunch of games. His teammates really love him. We love him. And I don’t know what there is else to say about him.
But we talk to our guys all the time, paying attention to that outside noise, that’s just noise to us. And we make our own opinions. We talk to one another, and if it’s good enough, awesome; if it’s not, we try to make corrections and go forward.
But everybody — a lot easier from the outside having a lot of answers when you’re not in the fight every day.
Q. How much, too, is it just your offense the past couple of years has evolved? You had a couple of game-breaking receivers in Ross and Pettis, and now with Myles and what he’s been able to do with the running game and the balance?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, so, you know, if you’re not scoring the points that you want, there’s always a few — your guns are going to be pointed in certain directions, the head coach. The coordinators. The quarterback always is going to — you know, a lot of times when it’s all good, you’re going to get too much credit. When it’s not really good, you’re going to get too much blame. There’s a lot of guys around him that have to do the right things.
We’ve done some really good things this year on offense. We probably just — the most important thing that’s been frustrating, I think, to all of us is haven’t scored the points that we think we’re capable of scoring.
Q. Boise State-Oklahoma, do you want that game back on Tuesday, or do you want more of a spread in points?
CHRIS PETERSEN: Heck, it doesn’t matter. However you can play your best football, that’s how we want it.