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CFB on FOX Q&A: Utah's Travis Wilson

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Coy Wire

Coy Wire is a FOX college football analyst and appears weekly in studio on FOX Sports 1's pregame show, FOX College Saturday, and other programs. He played football at Stanford, where he earned a sociology degree with a focus in philosophy and religion, before spending nine years in the NFL with Buffalo and Atlanta. Wire is also an author, motivational speaker and sits on the board of directors for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He resides in Atlanta with his wife and kids.

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Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, Utah welcomes No. 12 UCLA to Salt Lake City in a big Pac-12 matchup.

I caught up with Utah quarterback to talk about the game, how he's improved, playing in memory of his late friend (and Bruin) Nick Pasquale and more.

Coy Wire: Will this be an emotional game for you because your best friend, Nick Pasquale, was playing for UCLA just a few weeks ago before he passed away?

Travis Wilson: It’s a huge game. First of all, they’re ranked 14th in nation. They are very good on both sides of the ball, so it’s a huge challenge. It will be emotional because of that. Nick -- he’s always on my mind, but I know he’s going to be watching us. I’m playing for him. His family is coming out to watch, and I’m playing for them too.

You’ve learned from many teachers, coaches, etc. Is there anything that someone told you or taught you that has impacted your life or shaped the Travis we see today?

Recently with my friend, Nick, passing away, I’ve realize that life is short. I want to make every opportunity count.

I want to give it my all in everything I do. Life is too short not to.

You’re a huge dude playing QB, an anomaly. Who were your inspirations at the position? I’m assuming you’re not going to say any lil’ fella like Drew Brees.

Actually, I grew up watching Tom Brady. I think he’s amazing. What he does on the field is incredible to watch.

Whenever he’s on TV, I’m watching.

Watching film of you, you run like your hair’s on fire and it’s easy to see that you're a fierce competitor. Where does that desire come from, that hunger to conquer the down and the situation?

When I’m running I really just run as fast as I can. I always pretend that someone’s right on my heels. But making it to the NFL is my main motivation.

That’s what drives me to succeed. Ever since I was little that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

Last year, Utah had only 37 plays of 20-plus yards. Through only four games this year, your offense already has 28 plays of 20-plus yards. What in the world has changed this year with the offense’s ability get the big play?

Last year we didn’t make big plays, but every game this year we’ve made progress. I think it has a lot to do with having trust in the wide receivers and knowing what they’re going to do.

We have a great group who knows how to get open. We definitely try to establish the run first. It helps to open up the passing game. Establish the run, definitely.

Also, we try to always make sure the defense doesn’t know what we’re going to do. We keep the same plays, but we change our personnel and put playmakers at different positions from play to play.

You look like a different guy out there this year. How has new co-offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson, helped you?

He has definitely been a great help. He’s made the offense so much more simple, especially with certain pass concepts that we run.

He really helped me know where I’m supposed to go with the football, so I’m much more comfortable.

Has coach Erickson done or said anything to motivate you? Does he have a mantra or any particular saying that resonates with you the most?

He doesn’t have a particular saying, but the whole time he’s been here he’s been a great person to talk to outside of football. He was really there for me when my friend, Nick, passed away.

I know he’s somebody I trust and can go talk to whenever I need it.

When UCLA played Nebraska, it did a phenomenal job of containing QB Taylor Martinez. You're a mobile quarterback, and UCLA has enough speed to contrain the edges. When you look at this UCLA defense on film, do you think you’ll be able to run?

Definitely. They’re going to be tough, and I know that they’re aware of my running abilities.

But I know that there will be opportunities throughout the game, so I need to take advantage of them when I see them. I need to pull the ball and run it whenever I can.

Oregon State put some pressure on you early but then, all of the sudden, you started to take off running. You rushed for 142 and 3 TDs that game. What changed in that game?

I started recognizing the opportunities to pull ball and run. I’ll be looking for those same opportunities against UCLA.

When I see them, I need to take advantage and make good runs -- long runs.

UCLA’s defensive coordinator Lou Spanos learned his system from the defensive mastermind that I also had the great privilege of learning from, Dick LeBeau. UCLA utilizes some of the elaborate and aggressive blitzing philosophies that LeBeau is known to use in Pittsburgh. How do you combat that chaotic attack?

Anthony Barr is always moving around and lining up in different places, just like Kyle Van Noy did when we faced BYU.

I believe that UCLA will do that to us too, and we need to recognize it. I need to be great at recognizing it and setting the protection.

(Football Knowledge Bomb: “Setting the protection” is what the QB does before the snap on pass plays to put his offensive line in the best blocking scheme to pick up any blitzes. Usually, you will see the quarterback point to a player -- most often a linebacker-- call out his number and then say something like, “52 is the Mike!” The 'M' in “Mike” stands for middle. It is towards that player that the offensive linemen will “slide." All blocking assignments are based off of the “Mike” to whom the QB sets the protection. If the QB has set the correct protection -- and each of the linemen executes his assignment -- he will have time to throw the ball. If the defense is bringing more rushers than the offensive players are able to block, the QB will know which defender will be the unblocked man or “free rusher” based on the protection he has set, and he can be sure to throw the ball or scramble away before that man sacks him.)

The last time UCLA's defense really got exposed was against Baylor last year. Baylor was able to get good mismatches in space. How, or with whom, do you think you guys can attack them?

I’m really confident in our wide receivers right now. Dres Anderson, Sean Fitzgerald, Anthony Denham. They’re doing a great job of finding me.

I expect that they’re going to have good games. And our tight end, Jake Murphy, has been great, and I think he’ll have a good game too.

RAPID FIRE

What sound or noise do you love?

Any good ol’ fashioned classic rock!

What is your power animal?

A super-powered Giraffe with turbo boosters.

What is your favorite word?

Faith.

What is your least favorite word?

Losing.

Favorite book?

Bible.

If you could play another position for the rest year, not your own, and be really good at it, what position would you pick?

I’d play wide receiver. I love catching the ball.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see play the lead role?

I’ll say Jerry McGuire because I kind of look like him.

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your one superpower to be?

To fly.

Three words to describe yourself?

Tall, athletic, smart.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not, living or not, real or fictional, with whom would it be?

My best friend that passed away a few weeks ago, Nick Pasquale, to see what Heaven’s like.

Tagged: UCLA, Utah, Brigham Young, Kyle Van Noy

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