SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Fiesta Bowl media availability kicked off on Saturday with the UCF offense press conference featuring offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe and selected players.
Taaffe, who has coached at UCF since 2009, fielded the typical questions about his philosophy and offensive style but also about his quarterback Blake Bortles, who has parlayed a standout redshirt junior season into possible first-round NFL Draft status, should he decide to leave early.
Below is a transcription of a portion of Taaffe's interview, provided by Fiesta Bowl Media Relations.
Q. Tell us about your offense.
COACH TAAFFE: Home base is a two‑back approach. We haven't been in that formation that much this year. We've been more of a one‑back set with one tight end and three receivers or no tight end and four receivers. We're traditional in that sense of a pro‑style huddling.
We're probably under center half the time, shotgun the rest of the time. We're not a real up‑tempo type, obviously like Baylor is. A little different style there. We do at times go to a no‑huddle as a change‑up.
Pretty even balanced between the pass and the run. I think we're maybe a little more pass this year in terms of the statistical breakdown. But I feel like you need to do both in today's football to be successful. I don't think you can line up and be one‑dimensional, either heavy run or heavy pass. You have to have balance.
We feel we have pretty good speed at wide receiver. Blake has really blossomed this year in his second year as a starter at quarterback. We have an outstanding running back in Storm Johnson, and William Stanback, who has played a lot of football this year. We try to spread it around. We don't have one receiver that caught 100 balls, but pretty even distribution there.
Our passing game is based on defensive reads, reactions. Blake puts the ball where his read tells him to go. We have four receivers I think that have 30 or more catches. So that's kind of who we are.
We try to take what the defense gives you, try to do both, have some balance in our offense. They're either going to load the box and stop the run or they're going to expand and play cover. We try to work our game plan based on what the defense does.
Q. What has allowed Blake to become a national player this year?
COACH TAAFFE: I just think he's grown, matured. Obviously he has great size, perfect size for a quarterback. Usually guys that big, you don't think they're very mobile. But Blake is a very good athlete. He has mobility. He has the ability to extend plays when the pocket breaks down. He can create, take off with the ball. He's an effective runner.
We do run some of the zone read, spread option type of stuff that's popular in college football today. He does that well. He's a threat as a runner. A lot of his runs come off of called passes where he breaks on pressure. A lot of his biggest pass plays have come from that as well.
He's a guy that is a threat. You have to defend him as a runner as well as a passer. He's matured. A student of the game. Smart football IQ. Works hard at it. He has all the physical tools that you want in a quarterback. It's just been a growth process in his development over three years.
Q. What's the one thing that makes him a great quarterback?
COACH TAAFFE: He has the sixth sense. He has the sense of knowing when he has to get rid of the football. His escape‑ability. Like all the good ones have, he just knows where to go with the football. It's on time most of the time. He has that great sense of when the pocket is breaking down, he can escape and make plays.
Q. Do you think grinding out the clock a little bit more than Baylor does, do you think that is an important component to this game?
COACH TAAFFE: We've kind of been that kind of team philosophically. Coach O'Leary keeps a statistic over the entire time he's been at UCF. When we win the time of possession, our winning statistic is good.
They score a ton of points. It's not as relevant certainly for them. But we have to make first downs. Whether we control the possession time or not, obviously we have to stay on the field and score points. So whatever that equates to.
But they're a prolific offensive football team, and we have to certainly do our part to help out.
Q. You have been really good on third downs.
COACH TAAFFE: Yeah.
Q. Top 25 in the country. What is the key to that success this year?
COACH TAAFFE: Well, again, when you have a quarterback like Blake, our third‑and‑long percentage is high. The national average on third‑and‑11‑plus is probably in the high teens. Third‑and‑seven‑to‑10s, 20%. We're up there in the 40s.
That's when your guys have to make plays. He's been superb on third down. We use our athletes and let them make plays. Fortunately we've been able to convert at a pretty high percentage.
Q. As an offensive guy, you mentioned Baylor, how explosive they have been. But from afar, how impressive has it been to see the point totals they've been putting up this year?
COACH TAAFFE: It really is. As a veteran offensive coach, I always like to study. Football is trendy like everything else. They're not real complicated in what they do; it's how they do it. Those receiver splits. They're split about as wide as the field will allow. They're outside the numbers to the wide side of the field. I don't know how they get the ball to those guys, but they do.
They're a really, really good offensive football team.
Q. For big guys, you've been so good winning these close games.
COACH TAAFFE: It's stress level (laughter).
Q. Does it come down to Blake's leadership?
COACH TAAFFE: Our guys are pretty resilient. They're tough kids. Our program is based on that. Coach O'Leary runs an accountable program. Guys are under the gun all the time. We practice with that kind of intensity.
We don't have a lot of seniors. Usually the best teams I've been around, you have a lot of seniors, great senior leadership, junior/senior‑dominated football teams. We only have like eight total seniors on our entire football team.
They're a resilient group. They have great confidence and faith. We've come back in maybe six or seven games where we were down but not quite out. We came back and found a way to win the football game.
It's mental toughness and belief, confidence. The kids, they play hard and together. They just never seem like they're out of the game, so...
We've had plenty of opportunities to prove that this year.
Q. It's got to be a fun ride coming all the way here.
COACH TAAFFE: We come out of Conference USA, which is a good football conference, but doesn't get the national notoriety. As things would have it, the last year of the BCS as we know it. Getting in an automatic‑qualifying conference, being able to win the conference in our first year, be able to be sitting here right now, it's been a great ride, been fun. Just a lot of hard work, a lot of close games.
It's been very satisfying for our entire football operation to kind of hit jackpot in that first year and last year of the BCS, the AQ qualifying. To make it to a BCS bowl is fantastic for our entire football program.
Q. (Questions regarding getting longer drives.)
COACH TAAFFE: We've had long drives all season, as you know. That's kind of who we are. We have some explosive players. We've had our share of explosive plays this season.
I was just asked about the time of possession. I don't think Baylor cares too much about that. They just score at such a prolific rate.
But I think from an offensive standpoint, I think it's important in this game, as important as it's been all year, that we have the ability to stay on the field, make first downs. If we hit some big plays and score, great. But we have to make those first downs and stay on the field and try to possess the ball, hopefully maybe limit some of their opportunities.
Q. For those of us who don't see Blake on a weekly basis, what has he done to make himself talked about as a first‑round pick?
COACH TAAFFE: I actually recruited him, coached him his entire time. I told him when he was a freshman, Blake, you got the ability to play at the highest level of football. What you do over the course of your time here will determine whether you realize that dream or not.
He's really a low‑key guy. It took me a while to really get to know him and his personality. It was almost like, Are you listening to what I'm saying? He's kind of a nonchalant type of guy.
He's really grown. We redshirted him as a freshman. I don't know if you know the story or not, but the other kid was a freshman that came in, Jeff Godfrey. Started as a freshman, took us to the Liberty Bowl, beat Georgia, was the conference Player of the Year. Blake was like, I don't even know if I'm going to get to play.
But the next year, he played. It was apparent he was the guy that could run our offense at the level that we're at. He just grew up. He's committed himself to the film room. All the great quarterbacks that I've had to coach, I coached pro football in Canada, the ones who had the great careers were the ones that had the work ethic, the study habits. And Blake has done that.
He's really blossomed this year. Couldn't be happier for him to see the results of his work. He's got a high football IQ. We run more of a pro‑style offense. He identifies all the defensive keys, calls the plays. It's a little different style. But he's got all the tools.
Q. Did you wonder how his quiet nature would transfer in terms of leadership?
COACH TAAFFE: Yeah, I think he has to be himself. He is a leader. The players really respect him I think more than anything because of his toughness. He'll pull the ball down, go. He won't run out of bounds. He'll try to run over guys. His teammates respect that and they respect him.
He's just one of the toughest guys I've been around. I think that transcends to the team. He's not real vocal, Let's go, get in your face. But when he says something, they listen.
Q. (Question regarding recruiting Blake.)
COACH TAAFFE: He played in a wing‑T type that didn't really feature him. A lot of people recruited him as a tight end, thinking he might grow into a tight end. We knew more about him because he's local. A couple of our coaches at the time, their kids had grown up with him through the youth leagues in the local area. They knew what kind of athlete he was. He was a great baseball player, too.
We probably had a little more insight. I got to see him in his junior year in spring practice, watched him throw. I said, This guy, he can definitely be a quarterback. If he couldn't make it, he'd probably be a tight end for us (laughter). But he's a quarterback, so...
Q. How great is it to see all the players enjoy this trip after all the hard work they put in?
COACH TAAFFE: I think for our entire program, I won't say it's the culmination, but we're kind of an up‑start, younger program. Each victory and each bowl game that we go to, this one obviously is the highest level bowl UCF ever played in, just to be part of this...
The guys see the facilities, the place we're staying in, the largeness of this bowl, just happy for those guys because of all they put into it. They've really elevated our program. To see that reward for that, obviously the game will be the ultimate. But just to see them enjoying all this has been special.
Q. How important is balance in this game?
COACH TAAFFE: We're a run‑first team, though our stats say a little bit differently. We're probably a little higher percentage throwing. I think most teams that win consistently are teams that can run. That's big for us, to be able to do that.
We played against a couple good defenses earlier in the season. Rutgers was tough against the run. We didn't run the ball well, but we threw for over 400 yards.
You have to be able to do both and take what the defense gives you. But philosophical we're a run‑first team.
Q. (Question regarding William Stanback.)
COACH TAAFFE: He was actually going to go to Syracuse. When Doug left to take the Buffalo Bills job, he said, Hey, we got this kid in New York City you ought to take a look at. Coach O'Leary has a lot of contacts in the New York, Long Island area. Not noted for Texas, outstanding football. If this kid played high school football in Florida, he would probably get 50, 75 offers. He can run, has track speed.
We knew about him, but not to the extent that he could come in as a true freshman and make the impact he has. He's a really good back.
Q. From day one, when he got to campus, you knew he was going to play?
COACH TAAFFE: First time he put pads on, he ran over about three guys. Hmm, he's got a chance to play (laughter).
He's done that. He made a couple of the ESPN highlight things, running over a guy right in front of our bench. But he's got the size, power, legit speed.
Q. What do you know about Coach Bennett? Does this look like one of his defenses?
COACH TAAFFE: Yes. His scheme is pretty much the same as it's been. They've obviously recruited well. They have very good team speed. No. 5 jumped out at me real quick. He's a heck of a player. No. 8. Sound team. They do a lot of line movements, which their style, a little different than some of the teams we've seen.
I know their offense gets all the attention, being as prolific as Baylor has been, but I think they're a very good defensive football team. I've known Phil for a long time. He does a good job.