In preparation for the BYU/Air Force game on Saturday, Coach Gary Crowton addressed local media in the weekly Tucanos BYU Coaches Luncheon. Following are excerpts from his opening statement and the ensuing question and answer session.
OPENING STATEMENT -- Gary Crowton, BYU head coach
"It feels good to be up here again, 6-0. It wasn't easy. We had great play from the players and I was excited about how they were able to overcome a couple of obstacles, with Luke not being able to play and Brian (McDonald-Ashford) was out. I thought Ned Stearns did a very good job coming in there, especially in protection. He pass protected very well. I was very impressed with the play of Jernaro Gilford, with his two interceptions and three in the last two games. He is playing very well and very confident. We still have some areas we need to work on and we have addressed them. We have fumbled too much in the last little while. We've been working on some drills and some things in our practice to keep us from fumbling on offense. We haven't lost very many, but we have fumbled a lot in our last three games. We are working on doing a better job of working up front against the inside run. I have been happy about our secondary play. It's getting better and it should help us so we can do a little more up front. Hopefully we will do well in the secondary again this week. Air Force hurt us last year on some play-action passes and got a couple big plays for touchdowns. We are relatively healthy. We had some decent news on Rod Wilkerson; it might be two weeks instead of three. When they got into the knee it wasn't as bad as they thought. We should get him back quickly. He is one of our fastest guys, so it will be good to get him back. Brian McDonald-Ashford practiced yesterday. I don't know how much he will play this week. It should get better every day and he should be back in two weeks."
Q: Tell us about your preparation for Air Force, they can run it, they can throw it. It seems like they can do a lot of things.
A: Air Force has a very unique offense, running the true option the way they do. They do a very good job of trying get your defensive lineman on the ground. The cut back and pitch it out on the edge. It's hard if you are an offense on the side and defensively it grinds you. In the past BYU's defense has done very well, as well as anyone else against Air Force. We have a couple of wrinkles we've added this year defensively. Hopefully they will help us in certain areas. In preparation, what we do differently this week, is we don't do anything together, everything is separate. The defense is all on one field, the offense is on another. We won't do anything together at all. I just think we need the whole week defensively to prepare for that.
Q: You said your secondary has played well. Can you give us some examples of what that allows you to do up front against an option offense?
A: When the secondary plays well it gives you a chance to move another guy up in the box. That takes some pressure off your front seven and gives you eighth man up there. Hopefully we will be able to do that more and more.
Q: What is your take on Air Force quarterback Keith Boyea?
A: He is a very physical player and he plays hard. He is tough. He gets tackled and hit and he keeps playing. We just need to keep hitting him and string him out and let the help come. We have to keep sound with our assignments so we don't let guys run free in the secondary. Everybody has to do their jobs and do them well. We will be sound in what we do, as far as who has the quarterback, who has the pitchman, who has the inside run and then who has the receivers on the outside. Our coverage is sound now we just have to execute our technique.
Q: What are you doing to cut down on the fumbles?
A: We are just doing a lot of strip drills. What we are doing in practice is we are trying to get them to cover up when they get into the crowd and not always fight for the extra yard. When they do, they need to put two hands on the ball. We have gone over the technique of how to hold and where to grip it and how to keep it up against your body. I don't want to yell at the player and get mad at them because then it becomes a subconscious thing and it gets worse. I just want to get them back to the basics, talk about the basics and then make them practice the basics. If they do that they will get better in that area.
Q: Are we going to see any wrinkles, stunts or blitzes?
A: We are running a stunt on about every play. We have been stunting inside and outside. We have been blitzing and zone blitzing, we've been doing a lot. As far as an all out blitz where we are just letting them go, we haven't seen a lot of that. As far as stunts and blitzes and zone blitzes we've done a lot. What we haven't done is just all out blitz. In doing that we haven't given big plays over the top. We still want to be careful not to give up the big plays over the top, because we don't feel like we need to always to win. When we need to get a stop defensively we are getting it in the fourth quarter and second half. The thing that we have not been doing this year that we did last year is giving up the big plays other than that long play in the Tulane game. There was a play in the UNLV game for about 13 yards up the middle where they scored.
Q: BYU has been great on fourth down conversions. How much of that is attributed to your confidence in the offensive line?
A: I don't want to be going for it on fourth down a lot, I would rather make it on third. If I have a play that I'm confident in, it makes it easier to make the decision. If we have a chance to make a play on fourth down and keep out momentum going, then I will do that. I trust Brandon Doman too. If its not the look that we want then I have given him the ok to call a timeout and come back and let the punter kick. I have a lot of confidence in Brandon to make good decision and the line to block and confidence in the offense in general to make the play. That's why I have been able to make some of these tough calls without hesitating.
Q: Coach, when you were a kid watching football and it was fourth down with a yard to go, would you say, "Why don't they just go for it?"
A: When I was with the Bears we went for it on fourth and a couple and didn't get them. So the next time that's an easy decision, but here we are getting them. We have a pretty good package on fourth and short and I am kind of an aggressive person by nature. I talked to one of my coaches at Snow College he said I coach just like I play -- all out. If we were continually putting our defense in a bind, that's a different story. I think I did that one time, and on the very next play Jernaro had an interception so it worked out. You have to be smart about it. The direction of our offense is what gives me the confidence to make the call.
Q: Can you talk about the importance of this conference game, as far as both teams being 2-0?
A: Air Force is always one of the better teams in this conference. They are very consistent in what they do. They are 2-0 and 4-1 and there only loss is to Oklahoma who is No. 2 in the country, so you know they are a good team. The thing of it is, we are 2-0 if we play like I hope we do and win this game, that means there is one team other than us in the conference without a conference loss and that is Utah. This is a big game because it is our next game and because it is a conference game. We feel like there are going to be a lot of big games down the road, so I don't want them to feel like it is easy sailing. I just want to take them one game at a time.
Q: How much did you miss Luke over the weekend and how happy are you to have him back?
A: I'm extremely happy to have him back. I thought Ned Stearns did a good job. The way it happened, knowing about it late Friday and not even for sure until Saturday morning, there was no time to adjust our game plan to what Ned's strengths are. Ned can do the things that Luke can do but just not to the same magnitude. I think Ned's strengths are a little different. Going into it we had the game plan tooled to Luke's strengths and thinking if something happened, Ned would just carry over to it. If I would have had it to do over again, knowing what I knew at the end of the week, I would have changed. Our run-hit holes would have been more inside and I would have done a little bit different things with him in the pass game. We would have used Reno in a different way, even though he was a little beat up. I think this was a blessing in disguise. I think Luke looks as good as he has all year in practice because he has had two weeks to heal up. His shoulders aren't tired from getting hit all the time and he had a calf strain that was bothering him a little bit. Those things have healed up and I think it's going to help us in that academic area, so it won't happen again. The team knows that they can rise up to challenges. I think of it as a positive thing.