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December 28, 2016
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now, we've got defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and safety Budda Baker. We'll start with opening statements. Coach, if you can just open us up with kind of comments on how the Bowl Week experience has gone for you so far and preparations leading into the game.
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: I know me and the staff and all these guys are excited to be here. It's a great opportunity. Bowl Week's been going great. Practice has been awesome, good energy. Guys chomping at the bit to go out there and, you know, compete.
THE MODERATOR: Budda, I'll ask you about what did you think of your experience at the Martin Luther King Center last night?
BUDDA BAKER: For me, it was a great experience to even be in the same company as people that were friends with Martin Luther King and all that type of stuff. It was great to hear their stories and all the stuff that they said.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks. We'll go ahead and open it up.
Q. For both of you, Taylor Rapp has had an incredible freshman season. Why do you think that is, and did it surprise you guys that he was able to do everything he could?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: Coming out of high school, Taylor was a guy that played on a team that didn't have a great record, but did everything for them. So he ran the ball, he played quarterback, played DB, played linebacker. So you were able to see what he was able to do athletically. So he graduated early and was able to come in and hit the ground running in spring ball and you could see what he could do as a football player.
And then for young guys coming in, the big learning curve is always how they're going to handle the change of intensity, all the defensive terminology and stuff they have to learn. And then they have school.
So he was able to handle all that great, so got a trial run with him through spring ball and then he had a great summer. He came in in the fall and just kept getting better and better and better, and he got more opportunities and he made the most of those opportunities. And he is where he is now.
So to answer the question, looking back on it, no. Just the way he handled himself through all that, that whole growth process and learning process of this year.
BUDDA BAKER: For me, no either. I'm from Seattle, Washington, as well. And we don't really know a lot about Bellingham, Washington. That's where Taylor Rapp's from. So we saw this freshman, he came in while we were doing our player practices. Big already, like 200 pounds, like 6'0". Doing the DB drills, he looked flawless. He looked like one of us the first time he came out there. So for me, it was like okay, this guy's good. He's going to play.
He, you know, takes in instructive criticism and all that type of stuff. So, you know, when I saw that, I knew that he was going to play.
Q. This is for Budda. Couple days ago, Nick Saban said your secondary was very Seattle Seahawk-like. What are your thoughts on that comment and do you compare yourselves to the Seahawks?
BUDDA BAKER: That's cool (Laughter). We don't really, you know, think of any -- we watch NFL defenses and all that type of stuff and, you know, see our defense as a great defense, but we feel like we're Washington defense-like. So that's it.
Q. Budda, just your comments on being here after the season that you guys have had, a big championship game in the Pac-12 too and just the feeling around here this week and what it's like here in Atlanta for you guys.
BUDDA BAKER: For us, it's a great opportunity. We're glad we got accepted to be in the College Football Playoff and we're here to win. So, for us, we're all Alabama, no social media, just all thinking about Alabama.
Q. For both of you, who do you put in the category of the best quarterbacks you've faced this season, and where does Jalen Hurts fall among them and what have you seen from him?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: Well, he's up there at the top. Anybody that plays quarterback for a team that's gone 13-0 and has been as dominant as Alabama's been all year is a very good player.
So looking back on the season, our only blemish is SC. And Sam did a really good job of keeping plays alive and was accurate with the ball and didn't make a lot of mistakes that a freshman would make. So I would say probably Sam Darnold.
BUDDA BAKER: I'll go with coach as well. Sam Darnold is a great quarterback. Watching film, we knew he was going to be a problem. He can run, he can throw beautiful balls.
Same thing with Alabama's quarterback. He can throw when he's on it. He can definitely run. So he's definitely in our, you know, defensive package.
Q. Budda, what's your favorite Taylor Rapp interception this year? Which one do you think was the most impressive? Does it, like, kill you that a freshman has the most as a veteran?
BUDDA BAKER: We always talk about, you know, we have a pick board. And Sid, Sidney's been the one to get it two years in a row. So this freshman comes in, and he's winning right now. So we're all trying to one-up him. He has four. I think the closest is Sid with two. So, you know, we got to catch up to him.
What was the other question?
Q. Which one was your favorite?
BUDDA BAKER: Oh, my favorite pick is probably his pick six, going into the third quarter of the Pac-12 championship, close game. Pick six, we knew we took the crowd away and we saw all the players' heads go down and, you know, that was probably the best moment.
Q. Coach, what's unique about Alabama's passing game? And then for Budda, what is the receiver you'd least like to guard, Alabama's receivers?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: Yeah, so Alabama, everything starts with the run so they do a good job with that. And then their pass game comes off of that, play action pass, RPOs. So, you know, everything starts with the run, being able to establish that, whether it's the quarterback or those running backs.
Then like to take their shots and RPO game.
BUDDA BAKER: I don't feel like there's a least receiver I would want to guard. I mean, we just take it in as a great opportunity. We talk about separations in the preparation. They've got tremendous wide receivers, 3, 13, 11, 88, tight end.
They just got, they got great passing threats. So we just love to watch film and then, you know, get ready to go against them.
Q. Your defense all season's been focused on getting turnovers and winning that way. What do you guys see on film in Alabama's offense that you think helps you the most with the turnovers, like what do you think you can get them from?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: We're always looking at ball security, those type of things, how the running backs, receivers hold the ball when they run with it. And we work it a lot in the off-season, through the season, emphasizing turnovers.
Really, it comes back to these guys talking amongst themselves, emphasizing amongst themselves, and then just going out there and just continually trying to rip at the ball. If the ball's in the air, make plays on the ball.
For whatever reason, every coach in America does what I'm talking about, but teams gel at it.
Q. Budda, for the last six years, the winner of the Bowl Cup Challenge belt has won the game. Does that mean anything to you now that you guys are ahead, and who stood out last night in hoops and who was the scariest driver the night before?
BUDDA BAKER: No, we don't pay attention to -- I mean, we think that's a cool event for, you know, the Peach Bowl and everything. But we love to compete and everything so we'd like to win in everything.
Your question was on the driving? Probably me, you know. My go cart was slow. I'm blaming it only my go cart. So I was going slow while everybody else was passing me up and I was trying to cut them off so people wouldn't pass me up.
Q. Budda, there's been a lot written and said about the importance of your decision to attend Washington and what that meant for other players coming and stay in the state. Do you take special pride in that? And can you talk about just being a Seattle guy, seeing this program rise to prominence, what it means to you?
BUDDA BAKER: I mean, I don't want to think that just me committing made other players want to go to Washington. But I mean that's a cool thing, the hometown guys coming to state of Washington, you know, me trying to recruit those guys and trying to get them to stay. And I feel like, you know, it's been great. Coach Pete, you know, great recruiter. All these coaches, great recruiters.
Just be real with the players and tell them that if you work hard and all that type of stuff, then maybe you'll have a chance to play. But at the end of the day, it's all about school as well and Washington's a great school.
Q. I want to get both you guys to comment on the nickname for this defense, Death Row. That's a very impressive nickname. How much pride do you take in kind of upholding that standard?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: I will defer to Budda on that one, because that's more of a player driven deal.
BUDDA BAKER: My freshman year, Shack, Timu and that class, those guys, they made up the name Death Row. A lot of those guys are from Cali, too. I don't know if it's from Cali.
Keishawn might have a better understanding of it. But when I think of it, I think of just a team that's smart, physical, that's going to come after you each play, not be stupid with their penalties and all that type of stuff, personal fouls.
I think of just a smart team that's going to come after you each down. So that's what I think.
Q. This is for Coach. And Budda, if you could respond. How do you balance everything that comes with a game like this, all the bowl activities throughout the week and then, of course, keeping the focus on the game and the mental preparation that goes into a big game like this?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: Yeah, obviously we talk about it a lot and with the guys. You know, we're here for a reason, to play a game. At the same time, we don't want to -- we want these guys to enjoy it and so it's a balance of trying to get these guys dialed in in the meetings and on the practice field.
And when we're not doing football, they're enjoying their time in Atlanta and the events they're doing. Yeah, it's easier said than done when you've got 105 guys.
But these are good kids, and it started with these guys three years ago. So everything that we talk about and how our culture is in our program, these guys have been being prepared for this type of situation and handling the distractions that come with playing college football.
BUDDA BAKER: Yeah. We talk about how this isn't like a vacation. It's a business trip. So at the end of the day, we're here to play a football game, and, you know, all the activities are a plus.
So we have fun during the activities, walk around Atlanta. A lot of guys -- I haven't been here before. A lot of guys haven't seen it. But at the end of the day, we want to watch film, do all that type of stuff to prepare for the game.
Q. For Pete and Budda. Just was curious, I've talked to a number of players and coaches. They seem to think the seeds for the season were really sown last year, in terms of some of the things you guys went through. Can you guys talk about what happened last year and why do you feel like maybe the trials and tribulations that you went through kind of formed what happened this year for you guys?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: Defensively, it started after our first year. We had a bunch of talented guys on the defense that ended up going to the NFL. And we had a lot of guys coming back that hadn't played a lot. So I think Budda was a true freshman and a lot of these guys were, you know, hadn't played and so it was an opportunity for these guys to show what they could do, what kind of competitors they are. So getting them to take the coaching and practice hard and all the things that come with becoming a good football player, and a lot of it's between the ears, it started there.
And then last year, our success on defense, the confidence grew. And then as a team last year, we weren't able to finish games that we could have won. And so I know these guys took that to heart and that was a big issue in the off-season. Even at the end of last year, you know, the way we finished, these guys could feel and understand what it took to seal the deal, and they carried it over into the off-season with Coach Saha and the guys and played one game at a time and this is where we're at.
BUDDA BAKER: I feel the same as Coach. All the losses, nobody likes to lose. All the losses keeps getting to you, and you just got to, you know, dig in and just, like, say I hate to lose and just go on each day, one day at a time, on trying to get better.
And, you know, all the stuff Coach Pete preaches, taking each opportunity one at a time, each day one at a time, each lift one at a time when it was summertime. And then, you know, everything else will take care of itself. And that's what we did.
Q. Budda, how big of a step would it be for this program, for this league to beat the number one team in the nation Saturday?
BUDDA BAKER: I mean, it would be a big step. You know, Alabama's been, you know, Alabama for years. And it would be a big step to win. But you also got to -- we also got to know and realize, like, there's two more games left. So you beat Alabama, you still got another game to play. So it's not no celebration, you know, pop out the cans of soda and all that type of stuff. Like we got another game to play the next week.
So we'll celebrate that night if we win, and then the next week we have a game. So it will be a great, great big step if, though. Alabama, they're a great offense, tremendous defense, special teams great. You know, no weaknesses.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, did you want to address that as well, knocking off the number one team?
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: Oh, yeah, it would be quite an accomplishment and it's a big-time challenge. But we would -- yeah, that would be a great feeling. But like, echo what Budda said, we would have another one right behind it so we wouldn't be able to celebrate that too long.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, gentlemen.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports