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September 15, 2008
"The bye-week will afford us the opportunity to focus on a couple of things. Number one is always the health of our team. We come into the bye-week fairly healthy - the next issue will be getting all of our areas better. We want to focus on getting some of our young guys opportunities to improve and grow. It is unique this year because so many of our young guys have played and they are already getting the most valuable experience you can get and that is playing the game. But there are still some young guys who can get experience and the best way is to scrimmage them and play them."
Willingham was asked if there are any positives that can be taken out of the 55-14 loss against Oklahoma?
"The biggest thing is we can walk away knowing we played some of the best football teams in the country. Hopefully that will be a measure of growth in its self. But we can't just rely on that and we need to get better in all areas. I'm talking about the run-game, getting the pass-game more productive; defensively we have to put together some stops, which means we have to improve our third-down play and also our tackling. If we can do those things I think we have a chance to be the team we think we can be." He later continued about the positives, "One is that we have seen our team offensive move the ball against a very good football team and we just became our own worst enemy. From the defense I saw an ability to get some stops early and if we just eliminate some of the mental mistakes and physical mistakes like missed tackles we will be in a much better position then we have shown. Please understand we have not done all of the things we need to do defensively - but if we do some of those things we will be much better."
How is the team bouncing back from so many difficult losses?
"First of all it starts with the leadership of the coaches and I think the coaches are doing a great job of setting the pace for our guys. I think our guys are following and the leadership is doing their job. The biggest thing I tell our guys is that obstacles are the things you see when you take your eyes off the prize. We still have prize out there and we are only three games into the season with nine games yet to go. If we can string together a good run we will find ourselves to be a good football team at the end of the year. Hopefully playing such a tough schedule early will help us - but we have to continue to grow and have the right approach to it because if we don't nothing good will happen."
The Pac-10 had a miserable weekend - what are Willingham's thoughts on the outcome?
"It kind of spelled out what I knew, that the best team in our league right now is USC and that is pretty clear to everyone. But the rest of the teams we a chance against if we get our act together and start to do the things we need to do. That is easily said and on Saturday afternoons it's much harder to do."
Is this buy week coming at a great time?
"The break we are getting is at a great time. With some of the knocks and bruises we have taken it will allow us to both heal mentally and physically. I'm seeing some of the same things in our freshman that I saw out of rookies in pro football. You would go through four or five pre-season games then three or four games into the season then they would hit a wall. Maybe some of our younger guys are hitting their wall and this is a great time to refresh them and get them back on pace to do the things we think they can do."
With Michael Gottlieb returning to health can they balance out the playing time and not stunt the growth of freshman sensation Kavario Middleton.
"I think Kavario has shown himself very well early on. But obviously there is still some growing and learning that he needs to do. There are enough snaps that we can get both involved and help our football team, without retarding his [Kavario Middleton's] growth."
The defense has shifted between defensive sets and that probably will continue.
"A lot of it will depend on what we are seeing from certain teams. One thing the 3-4 gives us is more athletes on the field opposed to the big guys. When you're playing teams that do a lot of options maybe that is a better package for us. We will use the flexibility to give us the best chance of being successful. So if we play a more downhill team you may see us run the 4-3 a little bit more then the 3-4."