CFB on FOX Q&A: Utah’s Travis Wilson

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.