Hamdan on Chris Petersen, Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin, trick plays and more.
LOS ANGELES — The first of four Rose Bowl week news conferences was held Thursday morning, featuring select members of the Ohio State defense and Washington’s offense.
Here’s what first-year Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan had to say Thursday:
This year you’ve had a lot of success pounding the ball, sticking with the ground game, and Ohio State has sort of switched up high-scoring offense, and the defense has been a little (indiscernible). What are you looking to do in this game to exploit some of those vulnerabilities? Yeah, I think it’s certainly sticking to what got you here, your identity of running the football. But obviously very talented defense when they put it together. So we’ll have to create as many mismatches as we can to be successful. And, again, it’s kind of that combination of sticking to what got you here but also showing enough wrinkles with the time we’ve had to prepare.
As seniors in this program, what kind of impact have guys like Browning and Myles Gaskin had on the team? Tremendous. I think if you look at a group of seniors, probably have done as much for a university as any current maybe has ever done. When they came here and had to play early in leadership roles to where they’ve gotten the team now, expected to be in this game and expected to be competing for national titles, they’ll be remembered for a long time.
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What’s the biggest challenge that the Ohio State defense is going to give you guys in the Rose Bowl? I think their athleticism, top to bottom. Their front seven. Got elite pass rushers, which is expected in a game like this. And so top to bottom, their athleticism is tremendous.
How would you describe the impact that Jake and Myles have had on the Washington program from the day they came in to now? Tremendous. I think — I don’t know if any two guys or really the group of seniors have impacted a place as much as these guys ever have. I think as they came in, taking a leadership role early in the process to now taking a program that expects to compete for national titles year in, year out and games like this, so I think their legacy will be that where they took this program and we hope to stay atop.
First team that really paid a lot of attention to Chris Petersen was when they played Oklahoma. What does it say about a coach willing to — and you guys willing to call plays like that, whatever it takes, so to speak, as he was saying to me at Disneyland? What does it speak to his approach to the game? A lot of guys are afraid to do that. I think there’s probably an aggressive nature there. There’s a nature of sometimes having to do some things to create some explosive plays.
So whether it’s been his creativity, whether it’s being aggressive in these kinds of games, set the tempo. Sometimes it’s more just about our team saying we’re willing to call those things and the nature of them needing to cut it loose in these games.
What makes him special from your vantage point of working with him as a head coach? Why has he been successful in your opinion? It’s probably an easy one. I’ve been with him for so long. He creates this culture where everybody’s held accountable — staff members, players included. You got a job to do, and you better be striving to do it to the best of your ability but also having a very comfortable environment where guys enjoy coming to work every day, and it’s been that balance that’s been as good as anywhere I’ve been around.
How do you all come around calling a gadget play, a trick play? Is it spur of the moment? Is it you know you’re going to do? I know you’re not going to give me any tips for the game, but is it you just go in, is part of the arsenal just like off tackle? I think so. I think generally you may want to go into a game and say, hey, we want to call one a half. Again, like any other play, it’s probably called two weeks in advance. You’ve got to have the right look. You’ve got to have the right hash, if you will.
But I think, just like anything else, you want to be aggressive with it, if it’s the right situation, the right look, gotta call it just like any other play.
Urban Meyer’s coaching his last game in this game, won three national titles. Chris Petersen is as accomplished as any college football coach around. Do you think like most — I think the answer is yes, but does the average college football fan know how good Chris Petersen is? You’ve been in the playoffs and won titles. Do you think they know, or do you think maybe he’s not as appreciated as some coaches? I think sometimes we get lost where we’re located in Seattle. I think from an exposure standpoint, they probably maybe don’t — you don’t get to see him as much and whatnot, but I think he would agree the people that matter, the people he works with every day and know how fortunate we are to be around him, and it’s truly been an unbelievable ride for 10-plus years.
Do you think what Chris does would work anywhere? Talked to folks over the years about a fit with a coach and the programs. Is there something about Boise and Washington that would create perfect situations for him, or would Chris Petersen translate in all 50 states? You never know. When the magic happens, it’s about the right fit, the right coach, the right place. I know it’s really important for Coach P. to be able to bring in the type of people he wants, both coaches and players. And I think Boise and Washington have allowed him to do so.
How did you impress him? What is it that makes Chris Petersen like somebody, want to hire somebody, want them around? You know what I mean? What kind of person or worker do you have to be to succeed with Chris Petersen? I don’t know. That’s kind of hard. I think there’s — I think personality-wise with any head coach he probably hires people very similar to him. But I think overall you’ve got to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
He’s got to genuinely believe that you care more about the players off the field than you do on the field, and there’s got to be the itching desire to be the best. And regardless of where you’re at, that never-stop-learning process taking it one day at a time.
We asked you what’s your favorite national monument, and you said Statue of Liberty, and then you were — No, no, no, that play probably had been on the board for about two years and got called.
It is amazing what puts you on the map, isn’t it? It is. It is hard. I think for me, being an East Coast person, I think for three, four years playing at Boise we were a Top 25 team. People probably didn’t even know we were Division I, and then a game like that gives you the kind of exposure.
Amazing when you look at it because I think we might have been up three, four touchdowns in that game and that became very close at the end. And looking back on that, I don’t know if we were to receive the same amount of attention unless it ended the way it did.
Offensively this year what’s been sort of the challenge, for want of another word, to get things on a consistent basis, and do you feel like — obviously the Pac-12 game is so offensive — but go ahead? I think it’s certainly been good, like any coach would tell you, you get all the pieces back and healthy, going at the same time. We’ve certainly been a little bit of a mixed bag at times, especially on the perimeter, getting Myles back. Missing Myles for two, three games was obviously critical.
But we’re excited to go. We think we’ve had a couple of really good weeks of practice. And the guys are ready to go and excited about the game.
Where have you seen Jake grow the most in his time at Washington? It’s a hard — he’s a hard one on that. From the day he got there, he handled himself like a professional football player. And I think that’s been such a strength of his — never too high, never too low, that consistent mentality. I think his growth comes from learning an offense and feeling more familiar there. He’s so well beyond his years from a maturity standpoint that we’ve really relied on that, his whole time here and especially from here.
How does that trickle down to the rest of the team? I think — I don’t know if I’ve been a part of a team that’s dealt with as much adversity maybe as this team has. And I think really the reason we’re in a game like this is because of Jake Browning. There’s been times other teams have been around that you lose a game, and you start going in a different direction. I think him coming, coming to practice every single day, up, down, staying as consistent as he’s been has really propelled his team.
How have you guys been in making big plays on offense this year? They’ve given up some big plays this year. How have you guys been hitting those? I think up and down we’ve created a lot of explosives, what we call. We need to continue to turn those explosives into even bigger plays. So for us it’s 12 yards and 16 yards for a pass. And, again, the opportunity for us to create even more of an explosive play there is game-changing for our offense.
Two years ago Washington and Ohio State were the two teams that lost in the playoffs semifinals. That experience for this program, you’re in the final four, you’re where everybody wants to be, the four teams that have a shot at it, but you went down and scored, and the rest of the game didn’t go as you wanted it to. What does an experience like that do for a team or a program? Is it rough when you lose — you end a great season on a loss and maybe you weren’t as competitive in the end as you wanted to be, or is it all positive, or like, hey, this is how good we are, we know what the standard is to win a national championship, to have to be this good? What did that do for Washington? I think it’s twofold in that, for the team always changes, so however many seniors you have on that team, they move on. But for the program I think it’s critical. To be in an experience like that, especially to travel to Atlanta and know what the environment’s like. I think from an experience standpoint, maturity standpoint, those guys know what those games feel like and what needs to get done.
And as a coach, when you prepared for a team like Alabama, now when you’re in a game like this, whether it’s Pac-12 Championship game preparing for Ohio State like this, does it help you in prep when you’re on the national stage against the best of the best? Do you learn anything about that? Yeah, I certainly think you do. I think more than anything it’s trusting what’s got you here. And I think you can get all this time to prep, and the issue we normally have is just having too much, and so I think in a way it’s got to be your best plan of the year. You’ve had the most time to do it.
But that doesn’t necessarily always mean more. And so I think it goes back to the same fundamental principles I think that got you here. Putting the players in the right situations. Making sure we’re fundamentally sound. Taking care of the football. I think those are all lessons you learn from a game like that.
And there’s a lot of coaches that remember the losses more than you remember the wins. You’ve been part of so many wins, but when you think about that Alabama game, are there things that you still think about, if we would have done this or this would have happened? Or how do you look back on that game? I think certainly one of the more — maybe the most talented team we maybe ever played. But I think in any game, I think what our defense did in that game and kept the thing close. Again, the turnovers certainly hurt us. So we’ll remember that one for a while. But it has been two years. So we’re certainly ready to move on.
You’ve been around some of the biggest games, whether it’s the College Football Playoff, NFL playoffs. What is it about this game? Is there any extra type of forum because it’s the Rose Bowl? I think so. I think growing up as an East Coast kid, I remember waking up on the morning of the 1st and seeing the sun and not even knowing where this game was.
So I just think — I don’t care where you’re from, this one is as special as they come.
Do you have any thoughts of what it’s going to be like when you step foot on the field you get to look up see the stadium half red and half purple? I don’t know. You just want to make sure you’re staying as focused as you can for the game but enjoying the experience. That’s something we’ve preached to our players and something that I’ll hold true to this week.
This is a special one, a special feeling. I think you need to take a time to count your blessings for being a part of this game. And then go cut it loose.
How have you seen Jake progress from the freshman year to now? It’s a question we get a lot. I think the biggest thing about Jake that’s important to know is the day he stepped on campus, his maturity level was that of an NFL-type player. And so I think the consistency he’s had is how maybe I’d more describe it over the last four years of never too high, never too low.
Teammates can rely on this guy. I think naturally, just like any quarterback, the game develops from game to game and year to year. But it’s been his consistency through the whole course of his time that’s been most impressive.
Is there a game you can point to where that’s like when Jake figured it out? It’s hard. I mean in 2016, you know, there were certainly a lot of explosive plays and we were able to do a lot of things with the personnel around him. But I think sometimes at times when I get that feeling when things are not going well it always — it may be a drive, another drive, but he always bounces back. From game to game his resiliency is off the charts. One of the best I’ve ever been around. And I’ll always remember him for that.
What are your thoughts on Ohio State’s D-line, probably the strongest part of the defense and especially with the pass rush itself? Yeah, extremely, extremely talented, I think both across the board, Young will pose some issues in the pass game for sure, knowing where he is at all times, Jones is as talented as a guy we’ve played all year.
Certainly, it’s what you would expect in a game like this. It’s what you would expect from an Ohio State team that we’ve followed for a long time, and it will be a really good challenge for our guys.
Of course you don’t want to give away anything, but there’s some running backs who have been pretty explosive against the Ohio State defense. Any thoughts on that? Yeah, I just think that naturally, too, I think from the style of their offense you know you’re going to get maybe more plays than you do in the other game, I think it puts pressure on the defense. But, again, I think they’ve played as well as anybody this year. We know they’re every bit as good to be on the Final Four and fortunate to play these guys.
Wanted to ask about the Ohio State defense and the biggest thing they say is the athleticism. What can you say about the athletes they have? Impressive. Seeing them walk around Disney, you say: That’s a good-looking guy. I hope he’s on offense. But, again, it’s what you would expect of being in a game like this. Ohio State’s going to be, year in, year out, a team that recruits atop the country and certainly have plenty of players on defense.
Talk to me about some of the things you have in your pocket. Is there a level of trust you have to have in the offense in order to put those plays in? Yeah, I think those certainly can be — as a coordinator, you think about if things aren’t going so well, what’s something that can get you back to where you need to be, back to there, and those trick plays can certainly bring a certain amount of energy that other plays don’t bring.
So I think you have them in your back pocket. If it looks right, you call them and you be aggressive with them.
The guys said they have fun with it. Is it fun for you when you get a chance — No, no, it’s always nerve-racking, because it’s not like a loss of 2 or a gain of 2. It’s either a big one or a bad one. But, again, it’s good. I think it forces you as a coordinator, too, to take that mentality, whatever it takes, to create explosive plays.
Myles and Jake Browning, how rare is it to have that kind of combination for four years? It’s extremely rare. I look at what maybe two guys have done over the course of four years being more influential to a university than any other combo maybe in a long time. And so I think the unique thing was probably where they started from the standpoint of doing whatever it took to just try to get us to bowl eligibility and now where they’ve taken this program, those are two guys we’re going to miss in a big, big way.
Talking about Jake, he actually said there’s a ‘Jake-lash’ because he’s been there so long, J.T. Barrett for so many years, is there something about familiarity does breed contempt — too strong a word, but that idea he’s been there so long people are ready for the next big thing? I think naturally when you take a place from being a six-win team to a 10-, 11-win team, expected to compete for national titles, expected to be in games like this, they forget about what those days before were like. So I’ve said this many times, we’re going to miss this guy in a big, big-time way. His professionalism, his consistency, his attitude has been second to none.
What’s the most impressive thing about him? I would say that. I don’t know if there’s been any sports figure like in the Seattle area that’s been through as much as him in four years. And I think certainly he was given every opportunity to kind of take another path and he kept fighting through, great attitude, did whatever it took to continue to put this team on his back and get us to where we’ve gotten.
Obviously two years ago he was like the talk of the country for a time, and last two years hasn’t been quite that. How would you kind of assess the last couple of years? Yeah, again, I think in 2016 it was a matchable year for us offensively and the players we had and whatnot. I keep going back to the consistency. I think he’s just battled and battled and through ups and downs stayed Jake, the guy we’ll always remember him for and put this team in situations to be successful.
When you say stay Jake, what does that mean? A lot of people will ask you how he’s matured over the years. The reality is the day he got to Washington we’re like, OK, this guy acts like a starting quarterback. I don’t see him necessarily as a guy that’s made this huge jump from a maturity standpoint. He kind of came in knowing what the position entailed, never too high, never too low. Put his teammates first and I’ll always remember him for that.
And it takes a special person to deal with that criticism? In this day and age, absolutely. I think the amount of pressure on these guys, social media. Every single throw is being criticized, and so I just — I think it takes a true football-type guy that loves the game, understands the ups and downs of playing the position, accepts the challenge. This guy is as big time as I’ll ever coach.
Is he better now than he was then? Yes. Yes. He is. I think he’s gotten better every year. Again, the biggest thing for me is just to make sure that he’s just continuing to just enjoy it. I think this experience can challenge a quarterback, I think it really can, and challenge all these players in what they go through. But not forgetting why they started playing this game and the opportunities that it’s provided for them. But these opportunities will not be there forever.
How do you know when to call a trick play? Every question has been on trick plays. We always have — we probably always go into a game with at least one or two of them. Again, they’re as much for us as they are for trying to surprise the defense. I think our players enjoy practicing them, they enjoy the energy it creates. But similar to other plays, it’s got to be on the right hash, the right situation, the right look just go from there.
What do you see about Ohio State on film? Super athletic. It’s not surprising, we’ve played in these games, it’s what you expect from a New Year’s Six game. Just extremely athletic up front. Certainly gotta be aware of their defensive line, where they are at all times, handling the pass rush and really, really good defense.
When you see a team that’s given up so many big plays, does that change at all how you approach things? I assume you want to get big plays in every game anyway, but do you just kind of go into it doing what you want to do, or do you try to attack more? Yeah, I think it’s a mixture of doing what got you here but also having enough creativity and the time you do have, the more time you have to prepare to add some wrinkles to the plan. But we think — we know the type of defense these guys have been playing for a long time, and we feel these guys are as good as anyone.
Do you feel like having some time off gives them some chances to smooth off some of those rough edges and stuff like that? I think it does for everybody, gives you a second to take a deep breath, analyze what you’ve been doing. Sometimes those weeks go so fast that you need to do some self-scout, if you will, on your own offense or defense. And I think everybody will be better for that.
How do you describe what you guys tried to do offensively? We certainly have relied on the run game, and we want to play as complementary of football as we can. We’ve been able to control the clock and start with the physicality thing. So certainly going to have create more explosive plays in this game with how their offense plays, and we’re aware of that.