PROVO -- Prior to the Mountain West Conference clash between BYU and Utah this weekend, BYU head coach Gary Crowton addressed media at the Tucanos BYU Coaches Luncheon Weddnesday afternoon. Following are excerpts from his comments as well as from the question and answer session, beginning with a story from coach Crowton's days at Boston College.
"When I was at Boston College, we were playing Notre Dame, who was ranked No. 1 in the country. We had won seven straight and they had just beaten Florida State. Florida State was supposed to be the team of the 90's there with Charlie Ward and the Heisman Trophy and all that. When Notre Dame beat them, they were No. 1 in the country and this was the 11th game of the season. The score was 39-38 Notre Dame, we had the ball and we were driving. We got into field goal range, called a timeout and put our field goal kicker in there. I looked over at the Notre Dame side and they were all kneeling down praying on their sideline. I look at the Boston College side and we're all holding hands and kneeling down and praying and I started thinking 'what's going on?' I said the Lord's not here, He's at the BYU-Utah game. Anyway, we made the field goal. I say that in jest obviously. It's a real big game out here, I know that."
"I don't know if any of you want to hear about the Wyoming game. Anyway, we're happy to beat Wyoming. They played well and we were happy to win that game. Now we're moving forward to this Utah game. We're excited about the Utah game. Our players are excited and are looking forward to coming back home. We know this is a rivalry. I remember this as a youngster. We used to talk about this in the household. I'm sure that's what is going on around the state. I think Utah is an outstanding team. They've played well. I've voted for them in the top 20 for the last three weeks, maybe even longer. I think they are a very good football team, but I think we are an outstanding football team too. I'm excited about our team and the direction we've gone and how well they've fought in every game and how they've found a way to win. We're going to have to play well this week, but I like our chances. The guys are preparing well and they're anxious to get there on Saturday."
Q: The home losing streak, is that like a monkey on your back?
A: "I haven't even worried about the home losing streak because I wasn't here for any of those. So this is a new era, this is a new start. Right now, I haven't lost any to them and I haven't beaten them either. It's just 0-0 to me. Right now I'm not going to worry about that because it's a totally different situation."
Q: Can you explain something like that though, where two teams are going back and forth winning on each other's field?
A: "Anytime it's a rivalry, anything can happen. I don't know why it happened the way it did before, but we're looking at it with a new, fresh approach."
Q: What do you remember about the rivalry when you were growing up?
A: "Everybody gets all riled up. Neighbors are throwing flags up. Utah fans are talking about their team. BYU fans are talking about their team. That's college football. I love the rivalries."
Q: Was your house a BYU house?
A: "Absolutely. I couldn't sleep or eat or drink going into that game and I was just a kid. BYU had to win and that's the way I wanted it. It didn't always happen, but it happened a lot as I was growing up."
Q: When was the last BYU-Utah game you were at?
A: "It was a long time ago. It's got to be over 15-16 years. I can't remember. Let me tell you a story. When I was at Boston College, we were playing Notre Dame, who was ranked No. 1 in the country. We had won seven straight and they had just beaten Florida State. Florida State was supposed to be the team of the 90's there with Charlie Ward and the Heisman Trophy and all that. When Notre Dame beat them, they were No. 1 in the country and this was the 11th game of the season. The score was 39-38 Notre Dame, we had the ball and we were driving. We got into field goal range, called a timeout and put our field goal kicker in there. I looked over at the Notre Dame side and they were all kneeling down praying on their sideline. I look at the Boston College side and we're all holding hands and kneeling down and praying and I started thinking 'what's going on?' I said the Lord's not here, He's at the BYU-Utah game. Anyway, we made the field goal. I say that in jest obviously. It's a real big game out here, I know that."
Q: Do you prepare hoping that Reno Mahe will play even just to have him out there as a presence that Utah will have to contend with?
A: If Reno plays, he'll be 100 percent. He didn't practice yesterday. With that kind of injury, at least talking to the doctors, he may be a little weak. It has nothing to do with his legs or his feet or his extremities or anything like that, it's an internal tiring injury. The next few days will really tell, but we're doing everything as if he's not going to play. If he plays, it's a bonus for us because he's an outstanding player. The other guys have practiced very well and I've been very happy with that. You practice with who you have. Those are the guys who have to get prepared. You can't go in thinking he's going to be there. If he plays, it's going to be because I think he's ready to go and he's 100 percent. The other guys have been practicing pretty good."
Q: Can you talk about how Utah has the ability to eat up the clock?
A: "We're not on the field very much anyway. Our defense has been out there a long time. There are a lot of teams in our conference that are trying to run the clock, but none of them have been as good as Utah. We're down at the bottom in terms of time of possession, we've been able to score quickly. Hopefully, we'll be able to do that again. We just have to make the most of our opportunities. If it takes a long five or six or seven minute drive, then great. If we can do it with quick drives and big plays, then that's good too. We've been able to win all our games with the least amount of time possession in the conference. I don't know what will happen this game, but I think that if we play the way we've been playing, we'll have some success. They're probably saying the same thing because they're playing pretty good right now."
Q: You are averaging around 60 points a game at home, will it take that to win?
A: "No. The game won't be that high scoring. The style and tempo of play of Utah will shorten the game. That's what they like to do anyway. I can't foresee the score going up like that. It would be nice if we score that many points, but I just don't think the style of game will let it. It could be a very close game, like a 7-3 game. The way we're playing, it could be the other way. It's one of those things that could go either direction. We'll just have to wait and see. I'm kind of excited about it."
Q: What concerns you most about Utah?
A: "Defensively, they play very well and cover well with eight guys in the box. They're able to get an extra man in there to take away the run and still cover in the pass. That's been something that we've been looking at. Offensively, they wear you down. We just want to make sure we're in good physical condition, which I think we are. We've really played well later in the game of all our games. We take pride in that."
Q: You've had a ton of big games in your coaching career, with the BCS and the undefeated season and the conference on the line and the BYU-Utah rivalry, where does this game rank?
A: "We've always tried to look at each game one at a time. We haven't been worried about the BCS, because the BCS happens at the end of the year. I know if you lose one game, you're out of the BCS, period. So you can't look ahead. The Wyoming game was a huge game for us because we needed to win that game. We've already won a piece of the conference championship, but we want more. Utah still has two conference games, and this is our last conference game. Once we finish this conference, then we can start thinking about those other things. But right now, we are trying to win the conference. To me, we've put our team in a position to win the conference outright. That's exactly where we wanted to be. So this is the most important game we have. All the games are important to put us in this position. This is the position that we wanted to be in at the end of the year. If we win this game, they have no chance at the conference championship. If we don't, they still have to win their game at Air Force to share it, and we don't want to have to think about that. We want to play our best game and win it outright, that's what we're thinking about."
Q: You're level headed as the coach, do you worry about the players getting too hyped or excited?
A: "I worry about me getting too hyped. I'm an excited little guy. I think our focus has been good. We've talked about what needs to be done. The players and I met on Monday. We've gone over it. Sometimes you have to give them a shot in the arm motivationally so that they prepare well, and I was impressed with our preparation. There has to be a sense of urgency with the preparation. It's in the preparation, it's not in the game. The game, that will be there. But if that sense of urgency is there in preparation, then you are prepared, so when you get excited in the game, you're prepared for it."
Q: How important now is Luke Staley to your offense?
A: "Luke's always been important. Reno's been hurt in three of the games, he could hardly run, we just didn't tell anybody. He had really bad leg contusions. He played but he wasn't a factor in those games. He'll be healthier if he plays this week than he was in those other games. Your tailback is always a big factor. Their two tailbacks are big factors in this game as well. Luke will get a lot of carries. He's pretty healthy right now. We're excited about that."
Q: Luke's just been a great running back this year, what's been the secret to his success this season?
A: "I think Luke has always had the potential to be a great running back. He had injuries that he was always coming back from. He never had a chance to condition. This is the first year that he's been able to condition totally. So his whole body is physically fit so he's maintained his play throughout the season. In doing so, he's gaining confidence and gaining experience. He's not coming off the field nicked up all the time like he has in the past."
Q: Your red zone statistics on the season are still remarkable, are you still adding plays?
A: "We added about three today. I don't know if we'll use them. We just look at the film and see what they give you and try to take advantage of what they give you. We don't just have a set package. There's some carryover obviously, we as a staff talk about it and spend a lot of time with it. We spend probably four or five hours on the red are alone."
Q: You said Luke will get a lot of carries, will it be more than the 31 he had last week?
A: "Whatever it takes. It took 31 last week, I think what they tried to do last week gave us the opportunity to give Luke the ball. These guys will play a little bit different. I don't think he'll carry it that many times. He could and he's very capable. He actually felt better this week after the game than he did before with a lot less carries. That was encouraging to us."
Q: With 26 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards rushing, are you surprised Luke Staley isn't getting more attention from the media for the Heisman Trophy?
A: "Sometimes the Heisman is a situation that takes some time. They have to get to know you a little bit, there needs to be a build up first. There was really not a lot of buildup for Luke and he's doing that now. I'm sure he'll be one of the tops next year. He wasn't even on the Doak Walker award list, now he's on there and he's one of the semi-finalists. He's earning his mark, which I think is important. It shows that the guy is doing it not off of publicity, but he's doing it off of effort. He's a pretty good player. That's probably an understatement. He's an outstanding player, but he's a very humble person too. He keeps on working hard and is always complimenting the other players. Everything he gets he desrves, but I don't want him to worry about that. I just want him to focus on this game and I think that's what he's doing."
Q: Have you given your defense a number to try and hold Utah to?
A: "No. I want them to do the best they can. How many stops does it take? How many points does it take? I don't like to give numbers. Anything can happen. Like I said this game could be a 7-3 or 3-0 game. On the other hand it could be a 55 to something game. It could go either direction, especially with the two types of teams going into this game. I suspect it will be somewhere in the middle of that. If you give them numbers then all of a sudden the numbers are exceeded, it has a demoralizing effect on the players. We haven't talked about that. I like our plan defensively. If they execute it well, I think it will be a very strong plan. Offensively I'm excited about it too. I know they're pretty good. I said that right up front, they're pretty good. We'll have to do well."
Q: How big of a factor could the crowd be in this game?
A: The crowd is a big factor. When the crowd is noisy in certain areas, it's hard to make audibles and it causes teams to make mistakes. When we're in the red area, I want everybody to be quiet so we don't make any mistakes. When they have the ball, I want them to be as loud as they can be so that's it hard to hear. Our crowd is actually getting pretty good at that. When we first started, they were screaming when we had the ball in the red area trying to cheer us on. But now they're quieter when we're out there and when the other team is there, they're screaming. It's fun to play at home now. We've done well on the road, but we've done great at home. It's nice to be back here."
Q: Everybody believes this team's achilles heel has been the run defense. Why do you think your defense will step up this weekend?
A: "I don't think they're as bad as you think they are. That's why. I'm not as worried as you are. I see what's happening. I know that Ifo Pili's going to do a great job, you wait. He's going to keep his shoulders square, he's going to get off the blocks and he's going to make plays. I'm not even worried about it. I thought the guys did better last week. I think Keisel's healthier now. I've got a lot of confidence in them. This is a team that lost three all-conference defensive linemen last year. These are young guys and it's late in the season with a young team, they get better down the road."
Q: What would you consider a great job by the defense?
A: "Us winning as a team."
Q: With your offensive excellence and their defensive excellence, is it possible for both to live up their expectations?
A: "It can't. Something's got to go. They can't play great defense and us play great offensively. It doesn't work like that. I think it's going to be somewhere in between. It will be a hard-fought game. I think it will be a close game. I do."
Q: How well do you know Coach McBride?
A: "I'm getting to know him. I like him. He does a good job. He's a good motivator and a good recruiter. He does a good job. I know Craig VerSteeg a little bit, I think he's bright and a good coach. He's done a great job in his first year here. I give them lots of compliments. I give them a lot of credit because they've done a great job. But that's why both of us are playing for the conference championship."
Q: Do you think Utah is underrated nationally?
A: "I think the whole conference is underrated nationally. I think the whole conference is much better than people give it credit for. You go out and seek for conference approval, like Air Force, they open up with Oklahoma, the No. 1 team in the country. They lose, but all their teams in their conference are losing to Oklahoma too. Our conference won three bowl games last year. We beat an SEC team, we beat Fresno St., which is a WAC team and we also beat a Conference USA team. I believe the conference is good."
Q: You talked generically about the Utah running backs, but with Tate and Hunter, what do you see in them?
A: "They are big, strong and physical players. They have the ability to score too. They're very big and physical. They have some quicks to them too. I think they're very good."
Q: How has closing practice to the media affected practice?
A: Just being peaceful. Even last week, there were people coming up and talking to players on the sidelines in the middle of practice. It just gets distracting. It's been nice not to have anybody out there, except for the coaches and the players and they just practice. I think that the focus just needs to be there. When you're playing well, everyone wants to come and be a part of it, which is fine, but there is a time when you just have to get to work. It's been a real good work time for us."
Q: How has Scukanec been?
A: "He's going to try and practice today. He didn't practice yesterday, he's going to try and go today. I suspect he'll do good. It's about the same as it was before when he played in the game, and I think he'll do fine."
Q: How important is it for Rod Wilkerson to be healthy?
A: "He's healthy and he had a good practice yesterday. He's a good player and with Reno missing practice, it's nice to have him. He actually practiced last week, but he wasn't quite 100 percent. It looks like he's about 100 percent this week. I liked his practice yesterday."