The New Years Day after bowls wrap up tonight with the 2012 Fiesta Bowl featuring Stanford and Oklahoma State. At post time the Rose Bowl still has nearly a quarter of football left to play as we've got some pretty insane scoring going on in this game. There are still some quality bowl games remaining, but tonight's game could be one of the more intriguing offensive battles of the bowl season. The teams average a combined 92.8 points per game and put up 1,037.9 yards of offense per game. The defenses will have some say in this, but this should be an entertaining offensive battle.
The game features some serious draft talent, primarily on the offensive side of the ball. Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon are the two biggest names with Luck currently sitting as the likely number one pick and Blackmon looking at a possible top-ten selection. Draft boards can change dramatically over the next four months and today's overhaul of the Colts front office opens the door for all sorts of possibilities.
Beyond Luck and Blackmon, tonight's game features some impressive offensive line talent for Stanford in the likes of G David DeCastro and OT Jonathan Martin, as well as Oklahoma State OT Levy Adcock. Stanford's recent success has been aided to a certain extent by strong offensive line play as they set up a dominant rushing attack and excellent pass protection. Both teams do a good job keeping their QB upright.
Although Luck is the big name QB in this game, Brandon Weeden is an intriguing QB prospect. I honestly have no idea what the 49ers will do at the quarterback position, but quality QB play is at least fun to watch. I say I'm not sure what the 49ers will do because it was a bit unpredictable to see them go with Smith, Kaepernick and Tolzien, without even a third string veteran. Obviously it played out fine, but it shows how difficult it is to predict the 49ers plans in the coming offseason. Maybe they stick with those three, maybe there are changes on the depth chart.
One of the intriguing battles will be how Oklahoma State covers the Stanford tight ends. Coby Fleener is among the nation's leaders in yards per catch and will be a frequent target for Andrew Luck. Zach Ertz and Levin Toilolo are also going to see some targets, with Ertz looking to bounce back from a month-long absence following a knee injury. He returned in the finale against Notre Dame but he was fairly limited and now has had another month to get healthy.
For those that are not quite as excited about the Fiesta Bowl, I've posted Coach Harbaugh's
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - January 2, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
How much advance will you do on the three potential teams that you could face on January 14th?
"We'll do quite a bit. The teams that we haven't seen, especially. Just have to watch the tape on them. So, New Orleans, Atlanta, and the Giants."
The way the game ended yesterday, can that be a coaching point that you want to emphasize to the guys? About the lapse that allowed them to score 14 points in 13 seconds?
"You call it a lapse. I'm not calling it a lapse."
What would you call it?
"Things can happen fast. Things can happen fast in this game. There's no question. You're up 21 with 4:57, and then you're up seven, 20-30 seconds later. Pretty much illustrates just how fast something like that can happen in basically three plays. It's not what you want to have happen. Winning the ball game felt better by the hour. Proud of the football team. They found ways to win games all through the season. When you look through the body of work, the evidence is there. The team should be proud of that. I think one of the great things about this 2011 team is their ability to find ways to win; finish games. The evidence is there. And it's good to win in different ways. When you have a team that can win games by outscoring. Scoring four touchdowns by the offense. Score with the special teams. Different ways than maybe had been our formula in a lot of the other games that we won. I think that's the sign of a good team."
You mentioned you felt better by the hour. Yesterday, you said you weren't sad. How were you after that game? Were you disappointed with what happened late in the fourth quarter? How would you describe it?
"Like I told you, I'm never going to apologize for a win. Not yesterday, probably not ever. The team did what they had to do. Found a way to win. Proud of them for that."
As you get through that game now and look forward, how big of an advantage is it to have this week to prepare and heal and all that, going forward?
"It feels like an advantage. How big? We'll see. I know this; that it's important that we're not going to treat it like a vacation. It's not, in my view, a mid-season bye, where you can afford to come back in midseason form. We'll treat it as such. We'll get the players some well-deserved rest. Coaches will work hard on game-planning and familiarizing ourselves with potential opponents. Look forward to two good days of practice this week."
What's the update on TE Delanie Walker?
"He'll be seen on Wednesday."
Does getting the bye buy you some extra time to make a decision on him going forward?
You always hear about playoff experience. This team kind of reminds me of the 1981 Super Bowl team: 13-3, you've got a bye, virtually no experience on the roster in the playoffs. Underrated or overrated, playoff experience?
"I think it's good to have experience. It's good to have been there before. I'm not overrating it or underrating it."
Were you satisfied with the way WRs Brett Swain and Joe Hastings played yesterday?
"Yeah, they did some good things. They did some things that we have to coach. It gives us an opportunity to get those things coached and gives them some valuable experience. Just like our whole ball club. You have the luxury of winning the game and have things to coach."
Will practices, aside from games and rest, remain the same? Do you add additional practices or keep things like they've been during the regular season?
"Do we add additional practices? Some things in the practice will change from a regular season; this week, especially. We don't know what opponent we're playing, so there will be some periods in the practice where it will be 49ers versus 49ers. Us against us. You don't see that in the regular season. You see it in training camp. A chance to practice good football."
G Adam Snyder said. "We can't afford to leave town." Certain guys leave town in a bye week. Does that go back to what you were saying about this is not like the bye week in the middle of the season? Do you expect some guys will be out of town?
"Yes, I do. I expect some guys will be out of town. The mentality is that this is not a vacation."
Your brother is in the same situation. Have you guys communicated? Compared notes on what the best way of handling having the number two seed and the first round bye? Is that you guys see as each situation is different?
"I think each situation is different."
Have you talked to him about his schedule?
"I have talked to him."
Anything you'd like to share?
"Each situation is different. There are some similarities, there are some differences. Their situation is similar in some ways, and different in others. We're each going to handle it accordingly."
Any things you guys will do the same?
"Yeah, there will be some similar things. Basically, we're on a similar schedule. Some things, like I said, we both have a bye this week. Compared notes, some things are the same, some are different."
Late in the season, your team had been on a three for 20 slump in the red zone. You're 6-8 in scoring touchdowns in the last three games. Is that encouraging going in to this playoff game?
"It is. We had hit a little bit of a slump there, three or four weeks back. But, I think it's been improving and that's encouraging."
You talked about 49ers versus 49ers. Is that something that... You guys have a very good red zone defense, will there be some of that competition going on to sharpen both sides?
"Yeah, it's actually something we've incorporated the last three weeks - going against our defense in the red zone. It's been good for us. We'll continue to build on that, especially this week, probably more than we have. Because we have the opportunity to."
You're known to be a fan of history, but are you necessarily a fan of the team's history to bring up motivation for players regarding the 49ers history in the playoffs at all or just let this team find its own way?
"Some of both. When it's applicable."
Will any of the former 49ers greats come in here next couple weeks to talk to you guys?
"Nothing is planned, but we'd be receptive to that."
Will you make an invitation or is that on them to come by? How does that work?
"I don't know how that works."
What's RB Frank Gore's status? Did it help him to not play a full game yesterday and how does he look going forward?
"Same as he's been. Frank's good."
Outside of Delanie, are you expecting everybody else to be fully available for this next game?
WR Kyle Williams says he's good to go. Do you believe that he's going to be on the regular schedule?
"Yes, I think he's progressed well. He'll be back out there the next time we're out there."
Same with WR Ted Ginn Jr.?
"We'll see. I think so. It's just hard for me to predict these things. I tell you one thing and then you come back and say that wasn't what you said before. I just don't know. They're progressing well. I think they're going to be there. But you don't know. They workout today; you see how they respond tomorrow. They work out tomorrow; you see how they respond the next day. So, you don't know."
Are you back on the field tomorrow as a group? Full group?
"No, but guys are getting treatment. See how they respond."
When's your first practice back on the field?
"First practice will be Thursday. We'll have a workout on Wednesday. And there are some guys working out today."
Given the number of injuries at wide receiver, do you feel like you need to put any contingency plays in action yet or are youcomfortable with the way the guys played yesterday and Kyle's progress?
"What do you mean contingencies?"
If guys don't progress enough, do you feel like you need to bring in any wide receivers or are you comfortable at that spot?
"I feel like we wouldn't have to bring anybody in."
Was the pass defense, was it anything that you're concerned about yesterday - giving up some chunk plays and a big pass interference?
"Let's note the two great interceptions by [CB Tarell] T. Brown. They were fantastic plays by him. First, on the half back pass. Diagnosing that. That was a pretty good throw that (Norwood) made to the quarterback. That would have been right on the money, right over our linebacker's head. Tarell did a great job recognizing, went up and made the catch and got the return. The second interception he got in the red zone was a phenomenal break on the ball. That was a great hands play by him. He got his hands on a couple other balls. Had two really nice PBUs and almost had a third interception. There were some good PBUs. [S] Dashon Goldson had a couple really nice plays. There was some good and they hit a few, too. That happens. I'm not overly concerned with that. I think our guys are playing well. Misjudged a ball ... that happens."
Did you guys expect trick plays, like the half back option, against a team that really has nothing to lose in that game?
"Yeah, we sure did. It's like we talked about, we said that during the week. You've got to be alert for trickeration."
Was that one of them, though? That particular play? Seemed like...
"More in general. Alert for all sorts of those kinds of plays. Also in the special teams as well. You expect more blitz from the defense."
Is there really a word "trickeration?" Or did you just make that up? You said trickeration. I just loved it and just wondered if you made it up?
"I heard it before. I didn't think of it. I didn't make it up. I'm repeating a word that I heard. I don't know if it's a real word."
Do teams styles tend to stay the same from the regular season into the postseason? A high scoring team, do you tend to expect to see the same thing from that team, going in to the post-season? Maybe that sounds basic but I'm just curious.
"For the most part. I think teams are going to do what got them there. I don't think there are going to be wholesale changes from the end of the regular season into the playoffs. There definitely could be new wrinkles to an offensive scheme, but not drastic change of identity."
Even though the playoffs aren't the regular season, so as you prepare your team I know you'd like to probably keep the same mindset, but when you were playing was there a coach who prepared his team particularly well for the playoffs and you're kind of taking that to coach your team this way, or is it your own style?
"I think I'm just going to be myself, and that is probably a combination of a lot of the coaches that I've worked for, or played for."
Could you describe a little bit of what that would be?
"The same, really the same. Not changing. Improving. But, we'll just keep doing what we're doing. Trying to do it better, but I would like to say a couple positive things more about the team than we really didn't talk about the game that much. Again offensively, I just want to compliment our players on the job that they're doing taking care of the football. I think it's 22 quarters now without a turnover. And that is outstanding. Again the body of work for the regular season. Only 10 turnovers and you get 38 takeaways. That is outstanding. Also, I want to congratulate [P] Andy Lee, [K] David Akers. Both, I believe this is a true statement, they've both set records for the history of the National Football League. Boy, whenever you can do that, when you can break a record for the history of the game, I just think it should be highlighted. And Andy, again, in that ballgame yesterday, did an incredible job punting the football. Down and inside the five, at the two, at the one, just had an amazing season. David Akers, the things he's done, really speaks volumes. Then he throws a touchdown pass yesterday. I thought that was huge. I really kind of asked him, what was going through your mind? OK, you see [WR Michael] Crabtree standing out there wide open. It's a hard thing to do, hit a wide open guy, sometimes. And he just said, ‘I wasn't trying to overthrow it and I wasn't trying to under-throw it.' OK, all right. You got it there. And a great play design, well-executed by our players, and [Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator] Brad Seely, again, all the credit goes to him for the play design and picking the right time to call it. It had a few factors that made it the perfect time and we sure needed it as it turned out. Again, you find ways to win a football game, and different ways than in some cases than we had been winning football games. That bodes well for us, when you're a team that can find different ways to win a game."
Did that play come about at the beginning of the season, or with the struggles in the red zone, did that develop later in the season?
"Brad's been running that play for years, yes."
Were you aware your offense tied a couple of records with the-
And also the fewest interceptions.
"Yeah, is that right? Fewest interceptions in a season?"
Yeah, with five other teams the record was five.
"Wow. I didn't know that one. That's great. In the history of the league?"
You mentioned Crabtree making the catch. And he's had an interesting season. He broke his foot and now has just become, really it seems like, QB Alex Smith's go-to guy a lot of the time. Just talk about what he's done, just sort of the toughness he's shown this year.
"Yeah, I think that's a great observation. We've been talking about it for weeks now that his play just keeps getting better and better. And then a lot of things that you don't see when it comes to the physical nature, the way he blocks and getting the second block on a play. It's been really good. But he's making the great catch. He's turning short catches into yards after the catch and yesterday made a great play. That was a great play with the catch and run for the touchdown. And I feel like Michael's having more fun too. To see the smile and he's communicating, he's suggesting things. There's good dialogue with the coaches and that's a real positive. I'm pleased the way that's progressing for Michael and for our team."
He's been sort of known as a shy guy. Did you have to bring him out of his shell a little bit?
"No, I think it's something that's just developed. I think there's trust that's been built up and getting to know somebody. Some guys make fast friends. Some guys are more cautious and want to really get to know somebody. I guess would be a better way to say it. But I think that's all developed, developing."
Did you sense that he was sizing you up?
"I'm not saying me. I'm just saying all of us in general, just as a team. You're talking about teamwork. You're talking about team, 50, 60 guys, coaches, staff, organization. There's a lot of moving parts there. There's a lot of trust to be had and a lot of that can be ephemeral in relationship building. So, it's been a positive and I see it growing. The other thing too is Alex Smith had a heck of a day. The throw to [TE] Vernon [Davis] was, both throws. Throwing the deep ball, which you saw yesterday, with the great throw down the sideline to Vernon. And then threw the deep crossing route to Vernon again, which was a heck of a throw. Just dropped it right in over the linebacker. First touchdown we got, everybody was covered. They had a better defensive call than we had play called and he made a great, evasive move to get out of the pocket, which he has done the entire year. The slipperiness, which he has shown in the pocket and to avoid and to evade and then stick that ball in the end zone was outstanding. He had a great block from [RB] Frank [Gore] and I believe it was [TE] Justin Peele, two really, two really fine cut blocks downfield to get that ball into the end zone. So, he had another really good ball game. Any time a quarterback can play 16 games for you, start and play every down pretty much the entire season, that is a man-sized job. That is hard to do. And you don't see many guys do it because it's really hard. And he's been mentally tough. He's been physically tough the entire year, and he's in good shape right now coming out of this last ball game."
He made a play late in the game, where I am sure quarterbacks are taught to throw the ball away and avoid the sack, where he held on to the ball for the sack to keep the clock going and make the Rams burn a timeout. Is that something that, can you remind a guy to do that or does he just do that on his own?
"Well, we didn't remind him to do that before the play started. You don't want to plant that seed. You're kind of planting a negative right before the play starts. But we talk about that in training camp, we talk about that in film study when we're watching other players in the same situation and he retains all of that. He's experienced enough now to know those things. It's just situational football to him. He's rarely going to have a lapse in that phase of the game. I know we've talked about that before, how good he is, in terms of understanding situational plays in football. Even as they are occurring in split second real time. That was a smart decision. He makes a lot of those kind of plays. And again we have talked about that before, that those don't show up in the yards statistics or the touchdown statistics when you start comparing him to the other quarterbacks, but it's there."
A week or so ago, you said you consider Alex your guy going forward beyond this season. Have you made that same verbal commitment to Alex? "Hey Alex, we plan on having you around here?" Or is this now not the right time?
"I've told Alex that, of course."
Is that similar to what...
"I wouldn't tell you something I didn't tell Alex, probably."
Is there sort of a verbal agreement, almost like what you guys had before the lockout lifted? "Hey we're going to move forward."
"No, no. I don't know exactly what verbal agreement you're referreing to."
Well he had your playbook, that's all.
"I told Alex I wanted him. Hey, we're going to want you to come back here next year. He's focused on the season and that's where his mindset wants to be. I totally respect that. We'll talk about it and address it when the season is over, the way I understand it right now."
Coach has your rookies exceeded your expectations this season?
"Yes, they have. I really thought it would be extremely difficult for all rookies in football with no offseason, no mini camps. The idea in my head was that they were at a real disadvantage going into training camp. That veteran players who knew the routine, knew the new systems, had played in other systems etcetera, would be way ahead. Like they are in a normal training camp. It would take the rookies longer to show that they were NFL caliber players right before that light turns on. We were going to be diligent to give them some extra time. In the case of our rookies, the ones that have been contributing all year and that are on this football team, really, they showed early that they belong and they've adapted really well to these uncharted waters from this season. Then to be able to perform the way that they have, body of work they have put together this season, and in so many cases, has been just outstanding."
How much credit is that to General Manager Trent Baalke for finding those guys, FB Bruce Miller, and converting them. And to you and your staff for helping those guys?
"Well a lot, a lot of credit to Trent, to our scouts and our coaches and our organization. That whole arm of finding players and finding talent, I think has been really good, really exceptional this year. [RB] Kendall Hunter had a terrific game yesterday is another example of a rookie player that has continued to contribute greatly to our football team. Not to single out every single one of them, but just a as group, the way you asked the question, they have been outstanding."