Yesterday I had the great privilege to attend the Cal-Utah press conference as well as the Poinsettia Bowl Luncheon. I'll cover the press conference here and post luncheon photos and Poinsettia Bowl gameday events sometime in the near future. And keep your eyes on the CGB twitter this afternoon and evening. I'll provide updates from the press box as well as from the post-game press conference.
(Click each image for a larger version)
After the jump we'll get down to business, with various photos and comments from Utah coach Kyle Wittingham as well as Tedford's comments.
I arrived at San Diego's Omni Hotel around 8:30am and picked up my golden ticket:
I wandered around in some miserable wind for a while before deciding it would be a better idea to wait around in the press room until the conference started.
Not surprisingly, there were Poinsettias everywhere.
Are those red things leaves or petals? They look like leaves to me.
Over on a table (with some Poinsettias, of course) were the Cal and Utah media guides.
Utah had some high-quality brochures
Cal's brochures looked similarly impressive, definitely a step up from the stapled sheets of copy paper they gave out at Pac-10 media day.
Unfortunately, once you open it up, it's the same old copy paper. Why budget cuts, whyyyy?
Each team had a nice, shiny helmet on its respective table.
Anyway, enough with the helmets, brochures, and poinsettias. But hey, it's what I had to do to fill my time as I waited around in the room before the press conference started. Various writers slowly trickled in. Ted Lee of BearInsider.com noticed my credentials and complimented CGB. He said we have a high-quality site. We chatted for a bit. Before that I was talking to an entertaining photographer for AP. He was afraid that if Tedford and Wittingham (and everyone else) didn't show up on time, I'd have to go up there and put on a helmet and give some sound bites. No one would know the difference anyway, right?
The press conference began with Poinsettia Bowl Executive Director Mark Neville telling us the bowl is expecting about 30-33k to turn out...in a stadium that holds 71k.
Next up were the coaches. In addition to recapping my own notes, I've added in some quotes recorded by Ted Lee.
Kyle Wittingham was given the chance to speak first. He said his team has been practicing since the week after they played BYU (aka a LONG time ago) and is excited to be hitting someone besides their own teammates this week. He especially praised his freshman qb Jordan Wynn, whose maturity he says is beyond his years. A native of Oceanside, CA (just up the road from San Diego), Wynn is excited to play in front of friends and family. He has played in the Q several times before during various high school championship games, so the big stage will not be intimidating for him. Comparing Wynn to Masoli (whom Utah played against earlier in the season), Wittingham says Wynn is more of a drop-back passer than Masoli. Though Utah and Oregon employ similar schemes out of the spread, the 190 lb Wynn doesn't yet have the build for running the ball.
Asked how he has prepared his team to take on the inconsistent Cal, Wittingham says he prepared his team for the offensive and defensive schemes Cal utilizes. Whether Cal plays well or poorly, Utah will at least be prepared for what Cal is going to do.
Wittingham says his teams' key to success in bowl games (evidenced by the 8-game winning streak) is the players' mentality. He prepares them mentally as well as physically and emphasizes a 25-75 rule. 25% of performance is what you do and 75% is how you do it. Ultimately, it appears that hard work is behind Wittingham's teams' solid bowl performances.
"At the same time, it's an opportunity to win another football game. They handle that very well, their mentality, their work habits, their practice, their focus, their film study is all very good. That more than anything else, we don't have some secret way to practice there's no secret model. It's our guys' mentality and way they've committed themselves to working hard."
Tedford was up next and immediately talked about how pleased he and the team are to be back in San Diego for a bowl (third time in six years). He said the team had some struggles with balancing finals and practice, but he is pleased with the team's preparation for the game.
Tedford said his main concerns heading into this game are the usual concerns: winning the turnover battle, converting third downs, and preventing Utah from gaining good field position. He emphasized the kicking game, calling it a key to Cal's performance.
At this point, the press conference ended, but the coaches remained available to questions. I headed over to the crowd around Tedford and absorbed some more tidbits of information.
He said the team is motivated to play together one last time and said he and some of the seniors get a little sentimental this time of year.
"You look at these guys every day and they've been here for a long time and you care about them and they've done a lot for the program. There's no question there's a lot of being sentimental when you see some of the last things that they do. I think they feel good about playing together as a team I think they're gong to take a lot of pride in playing together one more time as this year's team."
After the faceplant against Oregon's spread offense, Tedford does not believe the same thing will happen against Utah's offense. What particularly caught Tedford and Gregory by surprise is that Oregon used a lateral running game in its first three games, but focused heavily on downhill running against Cal. This, obviously, was a tough scheme to adjust to.
"Oregon played differently against us then they had been playing," said Tedford. "They were a lateral run team and they came and ran downhill against us. I don't know we were prepared for that scheme that day. Another thing was that Masoli got hot, hopefully we can keep this quarterback from getting hot. Masoli can do a lot of things. He can run and throw. He adds a dimension that's very different, same as Locker he gets rolling and he 's thorwing and running the ball. I'm not sure who's going to play quarterback for Utah but the key is to contain that guy and not let him make plays."
In injury news, Tedford said MSG will be out, but that Brian Schwenke will get some playing time tomorrow. Tedford had plenty of praise for Schwenke, saying he has a great future ahead of him. Tedford is very happy with how Schwenke has played. Tedford said Syd is still day-to-day, but seemed cautiously optimistic that he'll be able to play. When I saw Syd throughout the day, he didn't seem to have any sort of limp or any noticeable impairment. We'll see how he does on the field today, however.
In an amusing note, Tedford said Riley was bragging about being the fastest QB in yesterday's go-kart races.
One final note that really stood out to me was Tedford's emphasis of the experience of participating in the entire bowl week beyond the bowl game itself. Tedford says he likes the team to maintain a balance of fun and work during the bowl week. He embraces the opportunity for the team to have fun at a variety of events (at a zoo, a race track, and an aircraft carrier, for example). Though having his starting QB race around a track a 45mph might make him a little nervous, he really seems to enjoy letting the guys have some fun.
"If you do a good job of creating some balance where they can have some fun, they can enjoy themselves, and have a great experience but then focusing on when its time to work and practice and have meetings. I feel like our kids have been able to do that during bowl preparations."
That about wraps up the press conference. After this I headed over to the USS Midway where I attended the luncheon and took some pictures of the battle of the bands event and the players' self-guided tours around the Midway. Tune in later this week for that.