Before I talk about the game I want to talk about Tyler Stehling. He has a knee injury and he’s done for the season. We don’t know yet if he will require surgery. I want to talk about this young man and his courage. He’s a one-year starter. He started through eight different starting lineups on the offensive line. All he did was show great courage in standing there, delivering the football. When receivers would get hurt, he’d stay out there and throw with the receivers. He never complained. He just kept working. He’s an amazing young man and this football team will miss his play. But more importantly, we’ll miss his leadership. He’s an inspiration to me on how he handled this season with such dignity. All he did was work. He never complained and it’s a tribute to that young man.
It was really amazing last Wednesday. He had to leave practice early to take a test and J.T. Granato was sick and not practicing. So the only quarterback we had left was Jackson Tyner. He got every rep with the first team and every rep with the second team. From the tragedy of Tyler Stehling getting hurt, Jackson Tyner stepped in and did an incredible job. You look at how he started the game. The first drive he fumbles. The defense steps up and holds (UTEP) to a field goal. The second drive he leads us down for a touchdown. It was a great, great effort by him. He had an interception, but he made wise decisions with the football.
I think having the same offensive line three weeks in a row has really helped this football team. They protected him well. They opened up some big holes for the running backs. They’re communication well up there. You see the receivers stepping up and blocking physically. Number one has been Kylen Granson with his ability to catch the ball and with his size. He also carried the ball four times and averaged over ten yards a carry.
The special thing we did offensively, I thought, was that Cameron Decell as a senior caught a touchdown. Jowan Davis got a touchdown and Darik Dillard scored a touchdown. It was great to get those seniors in the end zone.
Defensively, I think it was the finest defensive performance that I’ve seen maybe since I’ve been here. They locked them down in the first quarter for only 42 yards. Their running back (Aaron) Jones had been averaging right at 150 yards a game and for us to hold him to nearly half his season average; it was really a nice defensive effort. We only had four missed tackles on the day so we tackled exceptionally well.
Getting J.T. Blasingame back was big for us. He challenged every route. Having J.T. Ibe, Cole Thomas, V.J Banks and Destri White; that was good for us in the secondary. Once again, Emmanuel Ellerbe steps up and has 10 tackles so he’s over 100 on the year. Alex Lyons was solid. But I was very pleased with the defensive line as they were able to maintain their gap responsibility throughout the game. Brian Womac had another fine performance with his sack that was a minus-12. We kept getting constant pressure and quarterback hurries. All of those young men up there. When Destri stepped up and got our first defensive touchdown of the year to give us 28 points in the second quarter and really start to pull away. The defense had only given up three points.
It was an outstanding performance on offense and defense. Jack Fox’ punting was incredible. (He had a) 47 yard average and put one inside the 20-yard line. He leads the conference in punts inside the 20. But, our field goal unit has got to improve. We’ve got to get trajectory on the ball. We’ve got to protect better. We’re getting knocked back too far. A lot of that is technique. You can’t take any plays off and that’s something that has to improve. We will get that done.
We’re heading to Stanford. They’re an amazing football team. Coach (David) Shaw is just incredible with the culture that he’s generated and kept there. They have really fine players. Defensively, they’re as solid as you’re going to see at everything they do. They make you earn every yard. They’re big up front. Of course, (Christian McCaffrey) just rushed for 284 yards. It’s quite a challenge for us to go to Palo Alto and play Stanford. It’s why you play the game. We’re going to play hard and give it our best effort.”
On if Jackson Tyner will start:
“I would say right now (he will). They will both get a lot of reps this week. But, based on his performance, I would say he would.”
If it was a blessing in disguise that Jackson Tyner played:
“You hate to phrase it that way because it was not a blessing to lose Stehling. But it was a blessing that Jackson got all the reps in practice on Wednesday.”
On what the key for the defense has been the last three weeks:
“You go back to the Florida Atlantic game where you didn’t have J.T. Ibe, you didn’t have Cole Thomas, and you didn’t have J.T Blasingame. You get those guys back. J.T. Blasingame’s a senior and that was his third full game that he’s played in this year. It just makes a difference. We’re an improved defense with J.T. Blasingame on the field. He challenged every route. He had pass breakups. He tackled well. The entire defense tackled so well. It was one of the big differences defensively.”
On Stanford running back Christian McCaffery:
“We better tackle well this week. He’s an amazing back. We’ve all seen him on TV. He’s not just an amazing back. He catches the ball well. Everything he does he’s incredible at. Kick returns, punt returns; he can do it all. All the accolades he has, he’s deserved every one of them.”
On the defensive line’s performance considering three of four starters are out:
“That’s been the difference. Preston Gordon is still a sophomore. But you have Roe Wilkins, a redshirt freshman who has really stepped up. Myles Adams has really stepped up. They’re not having huge production but they are doing their 1/11th and maintaining their gap control. So I’m pleased with how they’ve come together. Graysen Schantz, Brian Womac and Blain Padgett. Blain’s a sophomore but he’s had a lot of reps now. So they just continue to get better every time they step on the field.”
On Tyler Stehling:
“It breaks your heart because you know that for four years he waited his turn. You watched him each week get a little better and get a little better. He got better through a lot of adversity and through all of those different lineups. He got better through all of those difference receivers. All he did was work. Every time you looked at him throughout the season you admired him more for how he handled the adversity. He just kept working through it. He never complains. He just works. When things would happen he’d go in and watch more video. He took it upon himself to play as good as he could play this year. You just look back on the Charlotte game and what he did. That was probably his finest performance. It hurts your heart more because he is such a fine young man. But he has a bigtime future in whatever it is in. But the way he fought through this year and the way he’s responded; he’ll respond well to this injury and great things are going to happen to him.”
If there was a common thread in each of the wins:
“It’s like I said, I think it’s just the character of these young men. We’ve had some fine seniors who didn’t let anyone throw pity parties. We came out here every day and we practiced like we were undefeated. They had a great, great attitude. That’s a tribute to the seniors and a tribute to the character that this football team has that we’re able to pull it together and get some wins.”