Petersen on preparing for No. 1 Alabama: "It kind of seems business as usual."

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ATLANTA — Washington coach Chris Petersen took the main stage inside the Georgia Dome for Peach Bowl Media Day on Thursday morning. Here’s what he had to say:

CHRIS PETERSEN: I think all the games are the same. I don’t feel one bit more pressure, less pressure we play in these games. I mean, I really don’t, ever. I never have since the second — the first game I ever coached. When I was a JV coach at UC Davis playing in front of 50 people, it honestly feels the same for me. You try to do your best. You prepare as hard as you can. And I think our kids’ mindset, for the most part, is the same.

I think it’s important that we, you know, keep it all in perspective. It’s the same game. Our kids have played in front of a lot of kids or people, fans before. And so, you know, I just like the way our guys have always prepared. So, I mean, we know it’s a big game. We got this far. But it’s the same game.

Q. A lot’s been made about trick plays. Is too much being made about trick plays? Your program has always been based on fundamental football.

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CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I don’t know, because I really don’t watch what’s being said out there. I really don’t. So I don’t know. If everybody’s talking about them all the time, probably. It’s hard for me to answer that one, because I don’t really know what’s being said.

Q. How much do the kids enjoy it, the trick plays in practice?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Oh, yeah. You know, it’s such a small part of anything we do that I think they enjoy it. But if we run one a game, which we don’t, so that kind of tells you right there how much time we spend on them. But they have fun with it.

Q. It’s 5 o’clock in the morning in Washington. You’ve had a few days here. Have you noticed any kind of hang over?

CHRIS PETERSEN: No. We’ve been here — we’ve been here four days now. So it doesn’t feel like 5:00 to me. And I think we’re fine.

Q. On players’ mindset, keeping things in perspective this week.

CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah. They’ve been great. I mean, it kind of seems business as usual. Practicing in a different spot, but, you know, they kind of know the routine. Our practices really don’t change a whole lot in terms of the drills and all that. So it’s been good.

Q. Coach, what’s the biggest challenge at this stage?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Playing the best team we’ve played so far. I mean, that’s it. There’s not any one challenge. It’s just a complete team we’re playing, so we’ll have to be a complete team to answer.

Q. What’s surprised you most?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll have to play the game to see. I mean, I don’t know if anything’s been surprising. I think when you get here and play, you know, when you look at the top teams or whatever, you know they’re going to be all real good teams and that’s what you see on tape.

Q. At what point did you know that you wanted to offer Taylor Rapp a scholarship?

CHRIS PETERSEN: It’s a good question. You know, we studied Taylor for a long time, like we do all of our guys. I can’t remember exactly when. When we decided to, then we watched him play more. I think we had him in our camp, so we really liked how he moved around for sure. And then, you know, we watched him — I think we’d offered him — he might have even been committed at that point and then watched him play some his senior year. He played everything.

And we really liked that. He’s playing a lot of quarterback, which we really didn’t think he was that. But you always got to like it when those guys play quarterback at that position. It kind of tells you something about a guy.

But I always say you never really know what you get until you get them with you, and you throw them into — I think by the end of spring ball, when he came early, we were kind of like, wow, you know. And it probably wasn’t even the end of spring ball when we were going wow, this is pretty impressive halfway through. He wasn’t confused. He wasn’t confused. That was probably the biggest thing. Wasn’t confused with what we were doing at all. I think Coach Lake had even moved him around a little bit from one safety to the other safety. He still was not missing a beat. All that was pretty impressive.

Q. What did he prove to you?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah. You know, I think when those things happen, it is kind of a big deal. Your first day in college football, now all of a sudden you’re kind of, you’re one-handed. It’s hard enough, you know, having everything healthy. He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t make a big deal. He kept practicing. All those little things kind of add up to, wow, this guy’s pretty impressive.

Q. What’s the single biggest thing (no microphone)?

CHRIS PETERSEN: He’s going to have to be great in the pocket. You don’t have a lot of time to stand in there and look at a lot of things. So he’s going to have to be good with guys breathing on him, and he’s going to have to throw it on time. Yeah, I think that. I think it’s pocket awareness.

Q. Is there one quality that stands out about Nick Saban?

CHRIS PETERSEN: You know, the quality is probably all of it. To me, it’s the recruiting process. I mean, to me, it’s just, you know, he’s got the best of the best coming his way most every year. And, you know, I think everybody that’s in coaching really loves coaching. And there’s a lot of really good coaches out there, Xs and Os, teach fundamentals, techniques. That’s kind of what we love to do. And so I see a lot of that out there.

But not everybody can — not everybody recruits. It’s different, it’s a little bit different than the NFL when you got to draft right in the NFL. But for him to — those guys to be able to get that type of talent year in and year out.

Q. The perception is if you’re the best team in the country, the program can recruit itself. Is that a fallacy?

CHRIS PETERSEN: I do think that. I do. I think, you know, it’s going to help you. And I think if you’re doing it year after year, the flywheel really gets spinning and that creates a lot of things. But you don’t keep doing it year after year with having a tremendous system, evaluation system, you know, everything, the marketing. I mean, it’s second to none.

Q. Is there anything specifically that you’ve taken from him and applied it to coaching?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, I will say this, way back when we were in Boise, we hired a then-intern that came out and was part of our recruiting staff who we gave him his first full-time job. Then he went to Louisville, we came to Washington, I brought him back. And he’s now back home in Georgia. He’s from Georgia. But, you know, he came from Coach Saban’s system and all those things. So it’s impressive what he does.

Q. Talk about just the personality of the secondary, the energy that they bring. I guess how significant of an impact do they have on the team?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Well, you know, they’re good. So that certainly has a, you know, an impact. I think the really good thing about, you know, not only that secondary but, you know, whatever — I mean, these are kids that are — and you talk to them today, they’re great kids. They’re just, they really are. They’re humble kids. They really are into football. They’re really into the right things.

I think that’s the thing that probably jumps out the most. You just really like being around them.

Q. One of the things yesterday, speaking to them about the competition, these guys seem to really go after each other in a good way in practice. What is that like?

CHRIS PETERSEN: You like that. You like to be able to have that type of depth where guys can compete, and young guys, you know, kind of see how you’re supposed to practice and challenge each other and if the young guys don’t step up, the older guys are going to kind of look at them, like huh.

And when they do step up, they really support them and they’re really happy for them, like whether it’s in the game or practice. I mean, they will celebrate with them. And so it’s really, to me, how it should be.

Q. How do you define that? It seems like it makes sense to you guys, but it’s a little bit vague to us.

CHRIS PETERSEN: I think it’s vague to everybody. I really do. And I think, you know, I think sometimes it can even be to the players from the outside, because it’s really how we recruit, you know. I mean, basically, it’s a good gig that a lot of people like, not just as football coach but as English teacher and, you know, the security guard at school.

And I’m serious about that. I mean, we walk in and that’s the guy we’re talking about. Hey, tell me about Jimmy. Sometimes we won’t even say anything. We’ll say hey, we’re here to see so and so. They tell you so much. Really, it has to do with a guy that people like to be around, but it’s a big-time player. We always say you can’t be an OKG, being one and not the other. That’s just not that to us.

Q. Was that at Boise?

CHRIS PETERSEN: It was. It’s gone back a long time. It’s helped us in the recruiting process for our coaches. Because you put a tape on and you’re like, yeah, he’s good. We got to figure out sometimes more the OKGs, a wiring part of things and that’s the hard part. It’s pretty easy to put a tape on to see if a guy’s a good player. But what’s his makeup in terms of, you know, the type of person and type of mentality he has for football.

Q. (No microphone.)

CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s awesome. I mean, I haven’t really reflected like, you know, oh, we’re here or anything like that. It’s just still work in progress.

I’ve said this before. When we came to Washington, we expected to be good. I mean, the kids who came to Washington expect to be good. And took us a minute to get there, but, you know, it’s not like — there’s no feeling like, wow, we made it. It’s just still work in progress. This is kind of how we expect to compete at a high level, whatever that means.

Some years, it’s not this. You got to have some luck along the way to stay healthy and guys got to pan out elemental-wise and all those things. So we kind of get that. I just kind of think about it like this is kind of, I think, how everybody envisioned just to be at — compete at a high level.

Q. When you have a team in ’06 or ’09 that probably could compete for a national championship if given a chance, at those times, I guess, what was the feeling like?

CHRIS PETERSEN: Not frustration, because we don’t worry about that. I don’t worry about that at all. Those aren’t just words. I never worry about what we can’t control. And, you know, and there’s a lot of debate. Maybe you don’t deserve to be — you know, there’s not. That’s the great thing about having a tournament. At least you get four teams in and you kind of settings it there. And at that time, you know, there wasn’t that.

And so, you know, for us to play in a big-time bowl game against a really good team, all that was good and special. So all the politics that kind of surround the stuff, I’ve never gotten caught up in it.

Q. Maybe not frustration, but I guess how badly would you have liked the opportunities? In ’09, you could have potentially played Alabama.

CHRIS PETERSEN: You know, again, that’s just not how I think. We didn’t talk one time about going to BCS games when that was the rage at Boise. Never at one time did we say this was our goal. I didn’t come to Washington saying we got to go win a national championship.

Like it’s all about just doing high quality work, working with kids and helping them not only football-wise. We’re trying to recruit and develop NFL-type players and play at a high level, but there’s a lot more that goes with this in terms of kind of our philosophy on helping these kids be built for life.

There’s so much more. It’s just about operating at the best, highest level we can. And however that works out, you know when it’s feeling right. But for us to say we have to get to this game or we have to — that’s not — you know, I think everybody gets we’re doing the best we can. We’re trying to win all of our games. So we don’t really talk about that.