bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Utah State game? Your team was able to bounce back from the three previous performances and was able to compete for four quarters, something you had talked about wanting to see in this final game.
DeWayne Walker: Yeah, it's good. You play LA Tech, really the only WAC team that we didn't compete against. Then you look at the Georgia game and the BYU game, those were really the three games that were not competitive. The thing I liked about our kids coming back from the game against LA Tech, they competed. When you look at the games that we probably could have had a chance to win, Utah State, UTEP, maybe even San Jose State and maybe even Nevada. Those are four games that you would have loved to have just gotten a couple of those games. We're improving but you feel bad that there's probably a couple games out there that you wish you had.
bc.net: When you're evaluating the season overall, when you went into the season the goal was to be more competitive this year and you accomplished that. Do you look at this season from the perspective that you were able to get four wins you got a big win over Minnesota, a big win over Fresno State or do you look at it from the perspective that this really could have been a six or seven win season?
DW: I think you have to look at it both ways. I think that's why it was a bittersweet season for us. We definitely improved and we accomplished the part of it that we went into the season trying to accomplish. We were more competitive. But then you look and shoot, there were games we let slip through the cracks and maybe that's a telltale that we're just not quite there yet but we're on our way and if we just keep working and improving our football team, we're knocking at the door.
bc.net: When you look at the offense, defense and special teams and you're evaluating things as you go into the offseason, what things stick out to you that were a surprise that you were better at than maybe you thought you would be going into the season and what were some things that you weren't as good at that you thought you'd be better at?
DW: I think you can just look at it collectively with the individual performances. You look at guys like Donyae Coleman, Taveon Rogers, Andrew Manley before he got hurt, even Matt Christian when he took over, Kenny Turner, Davonte Wallace, Jonte Green, David Niumatalolo. When you look at those guys, wow, these guys had performances that you probably didn't think that you would get after the 2010 season ended.
But I know offensively we got better, we still have a little ways to go in terms of being elite. Defensively I don't think we played as well as I thought even though we were playing without three defensive linemen that probably would have started for us so we knew going in it was going to be a battle but I thought we would play a little better defensively. Our special teams didn't play as well as we had the last two years. If we can just keep improving on offense and really be one of the better offenses in the conference in terms of total offense and scoring offense and try to fix this defense a little more in the offseason and hopefully with that, that'll definitely improve our special teams.
bc.net: You mentioned losing three potential starters before you even take the first snap of the ball. The defense played well enough to keep you in a lot of the games and when you look at it from a pressure standpoint, you finished with 21 sacks this year which was 10 more than you had last year. You were working with a bit of a short deck all season including losing Alex LaVoy for a few games. I thought the defense played pretty well considering the circumstances.
DW: Yeah, if you look at it from that standpoint I think you're right but when you look at the hardcore facts statistically we still have a ways to go. I do want to be one of the better defenses in our conference and hopefully we can get those guys back and we can spend some time trying to improve overall from a talent level and some other areas that we need to continue to get better.
bc.net: This is a big offseason for you defensively, obviously starting with hiring a couple of coaches on that side of the ball. What are some things you're looking to working on in the offseason, what are the things that need to get better either from a talent standpoint or a scheme standpoint or level of plays from the guys that are here?
DW: First we've gotta get to recruiting. We've gotta get some more players. We lost two pretty good players in the secondary with Donyae Coleman and Jonte Green but I think we have guys coming back like Darien Johnson, Jeremy Harris, George Callendar, Justin Smith, those guys are going to have great off seasons. But we've got to go get those guys some help too. I think linebacker wise we have some guys coming back, LaVoy and Bonilla particularly, so I think we're going to have to get some help at linebacker. Defensive ends we've got Savage and Meredith and we've got Agaafa coming back. Walton will be back, Tommy Stuart will be back so there's some pieces on that d-line but we just need some more bodies. We've got to do a good job recruiting defense.
Whatever coordinator I hire, we just want to be more creative, kind of getting back to doing things we did my first year in terms of more pressure and just having more of a variety of schemes to make it a little bit more fun for our guys and run around and these guys can make more plays.
bc.net: What are you looking for in terms of improvement from your defensive line?
DW: Even thought we got better from a confidence standpoint we still have a ways to go to try to catch the best. I just want more chemistry with that group, being able to create more depth so we can play a little bit more relentless. That's the area that I would love to be the most improved group defensively this next season because it starts up front.
bc.net: What are you looking for in terms of your defensive coordinator as far as experience and scheme and formations that they use?
DW: We'd like to have a guy that has some energy and has some presence where the kids are going to run through a wall for him. Also, a guy that understands the X's and O's part of it and be creative and giving our kids a chance to be successful week in and week out.
bc.net: On the offensive side of the ball you have a lot of guys coming back, you do lose some key players in Matt Christian and Taveon Rogers and a couple other wide receivers. This will also be the first year that you have the same offensive coordinator going into the next season. What continued growth are you looking for from that group?
DW: Yeah, boy that's a godsend and hopefully we can keep him and so far so good. The offensive line, I just think we've got to get where we can run the ball downhill. I know in our game against Utah State we had a lot of third-and-one situations and we couldn't run downhill and get first downs so I want to be able to put two backs in the backfield and line up and let's go. Just more of a physical running attack because I think we're going to have to get more physical running the ball and continue to get more bodies on the offensive line. We need more running backs because Kenny Turner, we don't want to just wear him out. You want to have a couple backs.
Receiver-wise, I think we've got some good guys coming back with Austin Franklin, my son Kevan, he'll be eligible to play this next year, I also look at we've got to get a speed guy. We also have some young receivers that didn't play a lot so you would think that they would develop. We've got a kid named Marcus Williams, he's a big receiver that can go up and take the ball away from smaller DBs. There's pieces at the receiver position but we've got to get a speed guy, we've got to get a game breaker like we had with Taveon.
The quarterback position, obviously getting Andrew Manley back and with Travaun, we're probably going to try to go recruit a JC quarterback and we've got a commitment from a high school kid already so we definitely want to try to stack that position as much as we can.
bc.net: How is the health of Andrew Manley and how is his recovery and rehab going? You also took him on all the road trips and he was there helping out on the sideline. How much did that help his growth just from a mental standpoint, obviously not being able to go out there play but being able to stay involved with the game?
DW: I think it was great for him just to watch and see. He's a junkie so I'm sure he put himself in a lot of situations of, "What would I do here." I thought he was real good for the guys, he was always encouraging and always being a team player. I know he's recovered pretty good, I'm going to try to talk our trainers into letting him go this spring. If we've gotta put a pink jersey on him then we'll get him a pink jersey but whatever we've gotta do to make sure people don't touch him. That's something we've got to hope we can get done with him this spring.
bc.net: Going into the offseason you have a very similar situation to what you had last year with Andrew being more of a drop back quarterback and Travaughn who's a lot like Matt Christian who is more of a mobile quarterback. What are your plans for the offseason and how do you approach having two different styles of quarterback?
DW: Well we want to also recruit another quarterback, hopefully we can get another kid who can get here in the spring and create competition at that position. I just think with Andrew we have to get a running game for him. We have to get backs who can run downhill where our playaction makes sense. I think with Travaughn it'll probably be a similar offense to what we had with Matt. I think those offenses are in, those schemes are in so whichever quarterback we have to play, we can look at the style of quarterback and wrap that scheme around that particular quarterback.
bc.net: In terms of replacing the offensive line coach, what are you looking for in an offensive line coach, what is Coach Martin looking for in an offensive line coach and how much input will Coach Martin have into that hire?
DW: He'll definitely have a hand in it. We'll sit down and we'll look at resumes. I'm actually going to bring in a candidate next weekend. I have my first coordinator candidate and my first offensive line candidate. I hope these guys hit a home run so we can get these guys hired and get going. We want a guy that will get their guys to play hard for them, in terms of an offensive line coach, a guy that understands schemes and techniques. Jason was a good o-line coach but I think there's good o-line coaches out there and it's my job to find those guys and get them in to help us continue to improve.
bc.net: When you're putting together your plan and finalizing your recruiting, what are the big areas, what are the big keys that you really want to hit with this next class?
DW: I think you have to look at all your positions. Whether you're recruiting the position for starters or whether you're recruiting the position for depth. I think all areas, even the punter. We've got to get us a big-time punter. We've got a punter right now that we're recruiting that's money. You really just want to recruit all the positions and figure out where you need more players and where you can get by with the players that you have. We're really scanning the whole football team in terms of where we need to plug guys in.
bc.net: Midway through last season you relinquished your defensive play calling duties, now that you've had an entire year of just being the head coach and not play calling, what are some things that you learned from having a full year of just focusing on being the head coach?
DW: Really just being father hen. Being able to just look at the coaches, the players, from an academic standpoint, from a conduct standpoint, from a chemistry standpoint, from a structure standpoint, it's given me a chance to be a CEO. No matter whether its secretaries, equipment guys, trainers, it just gave me a chance to keep my thumb on the whole program and with that I think it's really going to help me this offseason fix some things that I really think need to be fixed as a whole program.
bc.net: When you take a look back at the wins you had year, I know it's hard to place a value on wins, when you look at the Minnesota win and the Fresno State win, which of those two do you think was a bigger win this year?
DW: I think you've always gotta look at your conference wins even though we just really got one more conference win than we've had the last couple of years, but to beat a Fresno State was great for us and having a chance to beat Utah State, Nevada, playing all these other teams, beating Idaho, I think that says a lot about how we're getting from a conference standpoint. But I tell you what, beating a BCS team is beating a BCS team. They pay you money and you beat them, I think that's good for your whole program. I just thought that was a special win for our whole university, something that hasn't been done in a long time and especially a Big 10 team.
bc.net: What does next year's non-conference schedule look like?
DW: We play Sac State which is an FCS school, we haven't played an FCS school since my first year, then you have UTEP, UNM, Ohio, BYU and Auburn. Non-conference, if you can win half your non-conference games and win half your conference games, that's going to make us bowl eligible, at least that's how I look at it as it stands. These teams are going to get better so we can't get left behind, we've got to improve.
bc.net: The goal for this past season was to be more competitive and obviously you did that. What's the goal for the 2012 season?
DW: I told the team, "Either bowl or bust." I'm gonna stick my neck out there a little bit. I think it's time. We want to be able to be bowl eligible. That's the bar we want to set and once we can start being bowl eligible then I think you start talking WAC championships. Those are the things we're going to talk a lot about this offseason and even through this recruiting season to get the players that can help us get to the next level.