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What Mario Cristobal said about Oregon’s win over Oregon State, Pac-12 Championship game rematch with Utah

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 11/30/2021 James Crepea, oregonlive.com

EUGENE — No. 10 Oregon (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) takes on No. 16 Utah (9-3, 8-1) in the Pac-12 Conference championship game on Friday (5 p.m., ABC).

Ducks coach Mario Cristobal held his game week news conference Monday afternoon to recap Oregon’s win over Oregon State and preview the rematch with the Utes.

Below is a transcript from Cristobal’s press conference.

MARIO CRISTOBAL

Alright guys, good afternoon, everybody. I appreciate everybody being here. Certainly coming off of Saturday I really appreciate the way our guys came out and played hard and proud of the way they got it done against our in-state and biggest rival. The fans were awesome. Great to have Autzen close it out that way for the seniors for the home schedule as well. Immediately got refocused on our next opportunity. It was important to earn this opportunity and now again, preparations began immediately for our opponent this coming Friday.

On takeaways from Utah game that carryover to this week:

They’re a big, physical, disciplined football team that plays hard. They play with physicality, violence, very assignment conscious, technique and fundamentally sound. Explosive players on special teams, offense and defense. They create negative plays, issues in protection, just a really complete football team. Excellent football team.

On status of injured players:

Noah (Sewell) and Mykael (Wright) and DJ (Johnson) are all good to go for this week. Keith Brown will be a game-time decision. It’s going to be close.

On playing for third straight Pac-12 championship and trajectory for program:

Again, credit to the players, credit to the coaches because regardless whether it was a coordinator change position, position coach change, new players in new roles, it validates all the things that we message (and) that we say. We don’t ever go out and proclaim an opportunity earned without earning it. I think it’s important to get to this part of the season when you’re playing meaningful football, championship football, that it validates a lot of hard work and it also inspires guys to be more motivated and hungrier to continue accomplishing some of our top goals that we start off the entire offseason with. So all this has been in play and in the works since January to get here and earn this opportunity to go out there and play our very best. So everyone in the program, everyone in the organization is looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity.

On his message to team leading up to the Pac-12 championship game?

We keep most of our messaging behind closed doors. It’s pretty intense. We get after it pretty good. But you know as the season went on, it’s like a lot of teams that get to this point in time, I’m not sure the numbers, a very small number of teams are actually playing this weekend and playing for a conference championship both at the Group of Five and the Power Five level. What you’ll find is like many teams the strength of our team is the actual team itself; the resiliency, the togetherness, the ability to fight through adversity, to replace guys that have gone down with season-ending injuries and continue forging forward, to overcome some bad quarters of football and play really good quarters of football and to just keep moving forward. So all that I think is really important mention because we do feel that is a strength of our team and playing together and playing with really intense physicality, focus and concentration is always going to play a big role in a game like this.

On if it’s beneficial to play Utah 13 days later:

I think as the year goes on every week there’s always, whether it be a fair amount or just a tinge of carryover from week to week, as it relates to people playing you. I mean sometimes it’s drastically different. When you watch Oregon State or Washington State, and all the stunts and line movements that they have. That’s different. But there’s a significant amount of pressure from Utah on first and second down, as well third down. Some great, exotic looks on third down that are hard to block. I think there’s always carryover. There is always retention. But it is a brand new game with coaches that are working on both sides because everybody wants it, right? Everybody wants it and wants it bad. So there’s always going to be something extra, right? There’s going to be a wrinkle. There’s going to be an adjustment. There’s going to be a different look. There’s going to be different play a scheme, whatever it may be. The preparation, yeah there is some, but you have to prepare for what you see. You have to probably spend a lot of times self-scouting to see how people have attacked you throughout the entire season because whatever has hurt you is bound to show up in a championship game, right? Whatever has affected you and what you do and what is your staple is bound to show up. So all the combination of all those things are things that we prepare for. We had a great day of practice today. So we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

Chance of Bennett Williams playing again?

He’s getting better. He won’t be available for this game, but we do see him available for after this game. Him, a lot of guys are looking really, really good. I wish off the top of my head I could remember, we’ve had a lot of injuries this year, guys have been out for a while. We feel like there’s a handful of guys that can play in about three weeks.

On importance of guys who have played in previous two Pac-12 championship games:

Well the most important thing in locker room is making sure that our very best players have our best week of practice that challenge themselves, challenge their teammates to have the very best week of preparation. And then on game day, to make sure that it’s all poured into them, their execution, doing their job and doing it really, really well. There’s a big difference in just doing it and doing it really, really well. I mean, championship football is - there’s a big gap between this and the next game, right? So I think everyone around the country that has this opportunity coming up this weekend, they’re gonna find a way to bring out their very best. Certainly that relates to Kayvon (Thibodeaux), that relates to Jamal Hill, that relates to Steven Jones, and you could go right down the list. There are guys that have played in in some of big games and they get bigger. Right now, this is the biggest game we’ve played in because it’s the next game. And it just so happens this game is for the Pac-12 championship for two teams that have worked really hard to earn the opportunity. And really honored to be in this situation and extremely fired up for the opportunity.

On recruiting process around title game:

I think it was mentioned earlier, I think that we’ve shown that we’re a consistent program, consistent in what we say that we’re going to do, consistent in the way we validate our goals, consistent in the way our players are developing and going on to the NFL, up for some really impressive accolades: Thorpe Award candidates, Nagurski candidates. We’ve had Outland winners, Morris Trophy winners. Those things, just they speak really loudly. We really believe that in substance. This is a program that is built on hard work, toughness, physicality, and doing it right. When you do it right, and have the right people, those things become a reality. So recruiting continues, the upward trajectory continues. We expect another strong finish in recruiting. We work at it relentlessly and we have a lot of great young players as well. So we’re excited for the present time, we’re excited for the future, proud of the past, but all eyes and every ounce of focus is really on this team and every ounce of preparation that goes into it.

On what practices were like after loss at Utah:


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Like we talked about before ‚we’re just very real with it. When the exact timing was of delivery, I can’t remember. We don’t shoot from the hip, we’re just very real. So we kept our normal schedule. The best way I can say it is that it’s right between the eyes, man. Messaging that’s real and truthful and honest. I wish I had a better answer for you. Timeline-wise, when and exact delivery I can’t think of the moment. We do keep very diligent files on all of those things because those are learning lessons, those are teaching moments that you can lean on sometime later on. I know that I’ve leaned on several instances or experiences at other places that somehow show up again as we go forward. I apologize for not having a great answer there buddy.

On Kayvon Thibodeaux’s 2019 Pac-12 championship game and how he takes over a game now:

Well I think back then he didn’t have the attention that he’s getting now from offenses. Now you see a chip block. You see the line sorting that way. You see a back come and also you know tight ends and running back chips, which make it a little bit more difficult. He’s just continued to grow and even though I think people always are concerned about statistics and sacks, I think if you watch him the way he affects the quarterback is just as important than the sack itself. Forcing a ball out early, a quarterback hit, a pressure that now makes the other team slide their protection (to) account for him, change what they do depending on what hash they are, because they feel he might be to the field, be might be to the boundary, he might line up in the middle. Because he continues to grow from a football IQ standpoint, we do a lot more things with him. He’s as good as it gets in the country. Wants to always work hard, wants to win. As the games go on, you see more and more production from him a lot of different ways. It’s time for him and it’s time for the entire team to play its best football.

On Keyon Ware-Hudson’s availability:

I don’t know if he’ll be able to come back for this game. I don’t think he will.

On how they defended Oregon State tight ends and how they can better defend Utah’s Brant Kuithe:

We’re not going to get into schematics on a call, but obviously that’s what they do, and we’ve got to do a better job.

On passing game improvements from Utah to Oregon State:

I think there’s been steady improvement and some dips along the way throughout the season. How does it carry over? Different schemes. The game plans are different. I think the repetitions of a Kris Hutson of a Dont’e Thornton, a Troy Franklin, Devon Williams, the tight ends, all of them getting reps with Anthony Brown on a consistent basis, I think that showed up. I think that will continue to improve and show up. There’s just a ton of focus. Like today for example, a ton of focus on technique and fundamentals because at this time of year those things typically deteriorate, and that they show up. I’m talking about the simplicity of the stance of a receiver, his release, his escape. Because if the timing is not there and that ball now is a little behind or in front and that receiver reaches and tips it, now it’s a pick and it goes the other way. I think you’re seeing repetitions take their course and resulting in the betterment of the offense in the passing game. Protection was certainly better. That’s always a big part of it as well. I think all those things combined made for a better passing day and continued improvement going forward.

On the Oregon State onside kick:

We could’ve been aligned better and we could’ve reacted better too, a combination of both. They were both part of the game plan. We’ve got to do a better job. Don’t blame the players. Blame it on the coaches.

On Verone McKinley III’s nickname of The General:

It’s a good name for him. It really fits well. Would make a great T-shirt. The guy is real. He’s what you want. He’s what you want as a team leader, a son, a player, a teammate, a future father. He was raised right and he gets it. He’s one of those guys. He’s smart, physical, tough, resilient, relentless, you know? Man, he’s a special dude. He’s a special dude playing at a high level, and certainly a critical part of the success of the program.

On Jackson LaDuke:

A great football player and a great competitor. He just has had some unfortunate injuries since his arrival. For him to recover as fast as he did, and he marked on the calendar. He said ‘Coach, I’ll be a little bit ahead of schedule and come my birthday I’m going to be ready to be playing towards the end of the year in week 11′. He did that. He practiced really well. I thought had some really, some good play last week as well. Knowing you’ve all been away that long, you’ve got shake off the rest of a little bit. I think he did that. I think he provided some valuable and physical reps for us. Smart, tough, excellent tackler. He’s got a huge future here at Oregon. So we are we’re thrilled to have him back.

On what they need from Popo Aumavae and Brandon Dorlus:

Nothing but their very best. Against an offensive line like that, a running game like that, a team that is that heavily invested in play-action and they can drop back as good as anybody in the country, you have to have your best. Proud of those guys and the way they’ve played. They have thrown it around. They have fougth through nicks and bumps and injuries. They just kept coming. They have been invaluable in the improvement of our run defense, which has improved dramatically from last year to this year. Proud of them. I lean on them. I press them. I challenge them. I push them. I’m sure they’re tired of me, but that’s alright. Credit to the scout team too, those guys really do a good job trying to get after them and they get bounced around by those two big bodies and they still keep coming and throwing it around in there. So all in all, just fired up and proud of those guys.

On Jamal Hill:

To give you an indication of the type of leadership he’s demonstrated, his teammates wanted him to be on the leadership council. The members of the leadership council, I should say, wanted him on there along with Steven Jones and Jordan Happle. They were added last week. It’s because of time invested, his heart. He cares. Super high care factor. Phenomenal teammate and hard worker. Excellent football player. And I think you’re right, as the seasons gone, he’s getting more back and back. He’s gotten into form and has played really well. His best football is now in front of him. He had a great practice today. I know he was all over the field. We expect him to have a great day.

On how they emphasize physicality in practice during Week 14:

It’s like you mentioned right there, you got to emphasize the physicality and you can’t tackle to the ground. Like all teams around the country, we go thud and thuds got to be real, you got to thud up the ball carrier. By that means that everything except going to the ground. So near leg, near shoulder, making sure that hat placement is correct, shooting hands wrapping up and then making sure you’re running your feet through contact because their runners are contact-plus-three type guys. You see a lot of times there might be a collision two yards off the line of scrimmage but it’s second and five or second and four because they run their feet in contact and they’re big guys. Their O-line does a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, so there’s no penetration. so they don’t stop their feet, those running backs are coming full head of steam before they break the plane of the line of scrimmage and get into the second level of your defense, that’s when the issues happen. So if you don’t practice it, if you don’t practice with physicality, and we’re on a short week so there are some modifications to make sure that we get to the game as fresh as we can but also prepared. But if you don’t take care of the line of scrimmage and if you don’t play physical football then you’re playing right into your opponents’ hands.

On Lincoln Riley joining the conference:

I mean that’s again USC’s hire, congratulations for them, but all of our focus is completely on Utah and our game on Friday.

On keeping team focused when coaches are being targeted for other jobs:

Well I think it’s the nature of the sport since forever. I think the noise comes out a million miles per hour and you’re just always upfront and honest with them. You always tell exactly like it is and if there’s ever anything that does come up you go to them and you tell them. When there’s nothing to report you make sure you tell them there’s nothing to report. It’s that simple. We got good coaches, we have a good staff, we’ve had success, naturally people are going to come and try to poach our people. I think it’s a compliment. It’s a pain in the neck because year after year you got to replace guys but we’re systematic. And we’re systematic from a cultural standpoint as well. We do things a certain way. When you come here to Oregon you have to do things our way. We tweak schemes, we make adjustments, we make advances, we progress but we do things a certain way. For us and our players, they know us, we’re honest with them, there are no concerns.

On T.J. Bass:

Really athletic guy. Really athletic guy at almost 6-6, he’s about 320 pounds. You saw it in junior college, the guy was really impressive, really light on his feet but heavy-handed. Played with a lot of power, he really did. Now he was humongous, he’ll probably hate me for saying it, he was like 360 pounds so we had to trim him down and all those guys come in here 360, some up to 400 pounds. I mean our place here is truly dedicated to the trenches. I know that’s heavy talk at a lot of places but when it comes to the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball here it’s real, always has been and it shows in the way guys are getting drafted and developed. TJ jumped into this regimen like full head of steam and attacked it. And what he demonstrated right away was No. 1: super high football IQ. Secondly: tremendous power and then balance and body control. So he could come off the ball and knock you back but at the same time recover. He played tackle in junior college, so as smart as he was, as light on his feet, as athletic as he was, it was a natural progression for him to be able to get some reps outside as well. Whenever we felt certain matchups dictated that. So he did it. He’s great, very patient with his hands, understands the timing because the timing outside is very different than the timing inside. The spacing is very different as well. Special player and he just buckles up and goes up and goes to work every day. Not much talk, not much anything. He just wants to play hard, wants to work with his teammates, he wants to win, and wants to do the best he can by Oregon.

On how his mother, Clara, is doing:

She’s fighting. I appreciate everybody’s thoughts and prayers that sent them my way. I wish I could respond to every single person but I do appreciate it. She’s fighting, that’s the best way to say it, and that’s exactly what I expected to see out of her. We’re going to go day-by-day. For me it’s been it’s been focus. There’s a lot of people, we depend on each other here and I was raised that way. So when there is a job to do, then nothing can compromise that. So that’s the approach and it’s been really, really good and really focused.

On how he’s compartmentalized doing the job and personal life the last few days:

I think they’re trying to get like my sentimental side out here. I appreciate you man. … I appreciate you saying that. I think it goes back to it’s exactly what we tell our players; it’s like we train a certain way so when things happen, you respond a certain way. I appreciate your question. I just had my father, may he rest in peace, and my mom, who is fighting, they just raised my brother and I a certain way, they really did. If she was able to tell me, she would have told me ‘you better turn that plane around and get right back to work, don’t waste any time here.’ That’s how it is and I respect that. I do, 100%. I still at 51, make sure I do exactly what is expected to me by how I was raised. So that’s where it comes into play. I think that’s a good human trait. It’s not trying to be a tough guy. It’s not trying to shield everybody out, block them away. It’s just being real respectful of the way I was raised and understanding exactly what is at stake. All the people that depend on each other and it’s right. It feels right. So it’s all good. I appreciate everybody, because people have reach ed out relentlessly. It’s hard to express the amount of appreciation but I’m good, and I’m ready.

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