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Gekko Chats: Q&A with TNT Husky Beat Writer Christian Caple

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Christian Caple is back in the pound for a little Q&A with yours truly. We hit on the Apple Cup, his first season with Petersen and the biggest question left unasked.

This man uses a Dell ... with pride!
This man uses a Dell ... with pride!

Christian Caple just finished his first year covering Chris Petersen for the Tacoma News Tribune.  He had a great first year manning the Huskies Insiders Blog and covering the team.  Both Ryan and I have made liberal use of his YouTube page where where posts all of his player and coach interview videos.  He returns to the 'Pound today in the 'Pound to talk about how the season went down and what it was like covering the newest iteration of your Washington Huskies..

Welcome, Christian Caple

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Christian, welcome back to the 'Pound.  The "hot" news right now is just how well the Huskies played in that frigid Apple Cup. Was it hard to summon up the intestinal fortitude to continue your career as a beat writer when confronted with such conditions?

Christian Caple:  You know, that was the coldest game I've ever covered, but it wasn't the coldest I've ever been while covering a game. That was a 2B state semifinal game between Colfax and Waitsburg-Prescott at Martin Stadium in 2010. It had been rescheduled from earlier in the week because the weather was so bad that nobody could get to Pullman. I don't remember the exact temperature on gameday, but there was no electricity in the press box and I lost all the feeling in my face after about five minutes on the field conducting interviews. Took a little while afterward for my fingers to thaw out so I could type. Compared to that, any game in a heated press box is pretty easy. I was more worried about road conditions last weekend than anything, but that didn't end up being an issue.

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In all seriousness, in what ways did the cold affect game play on either side? Was there anything about style of play on either side of the ball that gave the Cougs or the Huskies any kind of advantage?

CC:  Aside from maybe needing to jump up and down a little more on the sidelines and in between plays and all that, I don't think the temperature really impacted the way either team approached the game. The Huskies threw the ball more than they had in any game this season, which you wouldn't think would be the case if guys had unbearably cold hands or had trouble running their routes due to slippage or something. And WSU pretty much did what it always does. You could say the Cougars had a harder time holding onto the ball -- they did have some crucial drops, including what would have been a touchdown to Dom Williams -- but it's obviously hard to determine whether any of that was due to the cold. UW's play on the defensive and offensive lines, and its ability to force turnovers and get stops on fourth-down, probably had a lot more to do with the outcome than the weather did.

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Ask the typical fan and they'd tell you that 8-5 is a bit of a letdown, especially given that the Huskies failed to beat a team with a winning record. That said, most would also agree with the idea that the team finished the regular season on an upswing. If you could crawl inside the heads of the coaching staff, how do you think they would assess the season relative to whatever expectations they may have originally held?

CC:  I think the easy "what-if" scenarios are the Arizona game (should they have found a creative way take a few knees in the final 1:28? How about a timeout with 30 seconds left?) and the Stanford game (fake punt). It's hard to have a game more in hand than the Huskies did in Tucson. And against Stanford, if they had simply punted and pinned the Cardinal deep in its own territory midway through the fourth quarter instead of trying a fake on 4th-and-9 from the 47, that game could have had a different outcome, too (though the Huskies still would have had to score at some point, which seemed nearly impossible at the time). I know that's not necessarily an analysis of what the coach's preseason expectations might have been. My guess (and it's only a guess) is this: the staff might have expected a little more out of the offense, but they've been around long enough to know that first-year starting quarterbacks are going to need some time to develop. I think the defense was, for the most part, what they thought it could be (with maybe a few more defensive touchdowns than they expected). I doubt Petersen and his staff had a national championship on their minds, but it's probably safe to assume they believed they could win more games than they have. And they'll certainly be able to point out at least one game, and possibly two, that were within their grasp and got away.

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What was the hardest question you had to put to Chris Petersen or any of the coaches during the regular season? Were you satisfied with the answer?

CC:  There were some important questions to ask after the Arizona game, but I don't know that I'd call any of them "tough." Just obvious questions that fans made clear they wanted answered. It's always a little trickier when asking about player arrests, discipline, dismissals and the like, and there was obviously some of that in the last year. If there was one story that might have warranted a little bit more explanation on the coaches' part, it was probably Marcus Peters' dismissal. It's just not something you see all the time -- a star player getting kicked off the team midseason for attitude reasons -- and I think people would have appreciated a little more insight into why that decision was made. But it's certainly understandable that a program would want to keep that kind of stuff in-house. Everybody else does.

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What was the hardest question you feel went unasked during the season? Is it too late to ask it now?

CC:  That's a hard one to answer, because if any kind of essential question comes to mind, it gets asked at some point. I'm sure there are always more important/interesting/difficult questions that could be asked each season, but the reason they aren't asked is simply because nobody has thought to ask them. Any suggestions?

One question I wish I'd asked was why the Huskies were running the ball instead of taking a knee in the final two minutes of the Eastern Washington game, simply to hear the explanation. But that's not really relevant to anything now.

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Beyond the Arizona game, the greatest unanswered question in my mind is why it took Chris Strausser so long to get Mike Criste inserted into the lineup at all, much less at C. The O-Line was a completely different unit once he got in there. What is your take on why it took half the season to get Criste playing?

CC:  The biggest reason is probably that they really, really like Colin Tanigawa. He took hold of the No. 1 center spot during camp and never let go, and Strausser and Petersen frequently complimented him as one of the most consistent performers on the offensive line. So I think they figured they would try to fix the snapping issue before moving Tanigawa away from a position he'd played really well at all season, aside from the shotgun misfires. Mike Criste had been at guard, so maybe that had something to do with it, too. Anyway, you make a good point -- the offensive line was at its best in the final few games, the last two of those with Criste at center and Tanigawa at guard. Maybe they should have gone to that combination sooner, sliding James Atoe out to tackle to replace the injured Ben Riva from the get-go. Hindsight's always 20-20.

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When you talk to a coach every week, you start to pick up on body language and verbal cues that indicate they may just be going through the motions. What were Chris Petersen's? How do you, as a beat writer, try to change your tactics when you detect those things?

CC:  As with anyone, you start to figure out over time what kind of questions he responds well to, and which he'll shut down straight away. I think as long as a reporter is direct, respectful and has done his or her homework, most coaches will acknowledge that and try to be helpful. Petersen is no different. And it never hurts to lighten the mood by posing an off-beat question from time to time that requires a little more thought.

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Last question: did you have fun this year? What was the high point from the perspective of a writer?

CC:  I really did. We all got into this business because it's fun. There are always challenges and recurring annoyances associated with our day-to-day duties (just like in every profession), but the fulfillment of doing something you love for a living outweighs all of that. Every college football team is a blend of different personalities, different backgrounds and different stories, and documenting all that is pretty cool (like writing about a first-round nose tackle teaching a university community class to freshmen). The drama of gameday always makes for fun writing, too. That Arizona game, for example, was pretty zany, and the challenge of synthesizing everything clearly and concisely in print is always interesting. After the bowl game, it's on to basketball season.

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Thanks to Christian Caple for making a return trip to the 'Pound.  Don't forget to  check out Christian's work on his blog and to give him a follow on Twitter.

Go Dawgs!