Secondary Coach Bill Lewis
Would you talk a little bit about Leo Ferrine and how he has progressed this year?"Leo, if you remember, injured himself in the very first drill of the very first day of practice. He pulled a hamstring, a rather significant pull, and he missed about six or seven weeks with it. So we were well into the season before he was able to come back, and he is just now working his way back into our rotation. He played almost all of the game in our nickel package this week against Army and is working in the same capacity as we prepare for SC."
How important is it to get him back?"It's important to get any player back who can contribute and Leo contributed this past Saturday, and we would anticipate being able to do it anytime that you can create depth when you start to use five defensive backs at the same time. It's important to have depth so you have some flexibility as to people being on the field and it's good to have him back and good to have him where he can be productive for us in our secondary package."
USC seems to be very proficient in third-down situations; is this correct?"One of the most challenging things for a defensive team is, first of all, to get the ball back. That's what defense is all about. Simply go and get the ball back. You would like to get it back by turnover; that's one of the better things you can do. If you can turn it over and score with it or put it in good field position, that's even better. If nothing else, you want to get the ball back and you'd like to do it after three downs. We talk about third down being the money down. In other words, that's where you have a chance; either they convert and keep a drive going or we get off the field by stopping the drive. If you get teams in a long yardage situation, it's even more frustrating when they convert. SC is one of the better third-down conversion teams. You look at their percentage of third downs; they're somewhere close to 50 percent which is staggering if they can do that. They spread the field, they get match-ups and try to attack individual match-ups much more than say, ‘Hey, let's throw this route down the field and look to see who comes open.' They're specifically looking to get certain match-ups based on how they evaluated your personnel."
With Reggie Bush gone, do they still have the speed to stretch the field?"There's speed collectively at wide receiver, they can stretch the field. That's the first thing you can see. They've got a tight end #83 that can vertically stretch the field. He came to SC as a wide receiver and outgrew the position and now what they are doing is working their young backs. They are taking on a bigger role. No one is going to replace Reggie Bush immediately. That takes time. But as the season has progressed, you've seen young backs as we look at them because we studied Reggie for two years and all of a sudden we are saying, that's what they did with Reggie Bush. You are starting to see more of that which makes it that much more dangerous. Anytime you get a true passing threat coming out of the backfield; that just creates more problems for us on defense."
Has John David Booty's development been the result of the great offensive line that he has because they don't let anyone near him?"I think it is a combination. When you talk about being good at anything, in this case we're talking about him being good in the passing game, it's not any one player, it's not any one position, it's all got to work together. You can have a great quarterback with great receivers, but if you don't protect, you're going to have problems. You can have great protection, but if you don't have a quarterback who can throw the ball to great receivers, you are going to have guys open. So what they have done, and it is something that they have done over the years as they built that program, is that they have got a good offensive line coach. They lost several players, but they had good players that replaced them. Their wide receivers as a group seem to be bringing more and more talent there to stretch the field. You look at their tight end with the ability to run the field like a wide receiver, and in Booty's case, he is very accurate and can make all the throws as you watch him, and they give him time. And when you have a quarterback who has time to sit and understand what he is looking for, be patient and give those receivers time to work open, then you've got some problems. They have an outstanding passing game in sense of protection and it starts there. They have a quarterback who knows what he is doing; he is a great manager of the game and he has good skills. Then you have speed at the receiver position, at multiple receiver positions, so they can use every inch of the field."
What was it that made Matt Leinart so special and do you see the same qualities in John David Booty?"I think it's doing it over a long period of time and I think that's what Leinart did a good job of. I only had the opportunity to study him for two years; the year before, we went back and studied him in the previous year and then of course all the games leading up to our game last year. And like the real top players, he did it over a real long time. Booty is doing a good job at this point in his career. Will he do it over a long period of time? Only time will answer that question and I think that's why you don't want to compare somebody who has had a long illustrious career with somebody who really has been in the program several years but this is his first run at it and he is doing an awfully good job at this point."
What do you think SC is doing differently since about the second half of the Oregon State game?"I don't know if there is an answer to that, but I'll tell you what I think happens. I think what they are doing is, you have a lot of new personalities playing together on that football team. You have several people on the offensive line of scrimmage because they have several players they lost there. They've got a new quarterback and I think it takes time for everybody to get a feel of the quarterback right from the coaches on down. Hey, what can this guy do? What are his strengths when he gets into competition and so forth? And then receivers and quarterback working together, and I think all that we are seeing now is time together. They are getting better; they have improved as the season has gone on to where they are playing their best football obviously now the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we didn't play them back in October (laughing); we play here at the end. I think that's a logical way to look at it. They have good players playing together over a period of time and they are getting better doing it as a group."
Could you talk about Terrail Lambert's season with the ups and downs he has had?"I think Terrail certainly has improved going way back to the start of the season and I think it's a tribute to him because I think he has worked hard. I'm really proud of what he has done at this point. You say there are some ups and downs and when you play in the secondary, it amazes me each week as you see the better teams play at our level and you see the amount of passing yardage that's being thrown all over the country, then you watch the game that's played on Sundays and they're supposed to be the best DB's in the world, really they are the best at what they are doing, and you still see 300-yard games and 400-yard games so that's the game in the world we live in. As secondary coaches and defensive backs and guys that are playing pass defense, we have to understand that there are going to be challenges every week. There's more speed on the field and people spreading the field more. There are better quarterbacks than there have ever been in the game as far as their ability to throw and catch the ball, so it's a challenge to us. So when a guy has an up and down day, he has to understand, hey, that's the world I live in; I've got to go back; I have to look at what I have done and improve to get better, because you know there is going to be another group coming in next weekend. In Terrail's case, I think he has matured and I think he is improved and I am very proud of what he has been able to accomplish."
What improvement have you seen in the secondary since the beginning of the season and what do they still need to improve upon?"It starts with denying big plays. People are going to get their completions but what you want to do is deny the big play. You want to deny the easy touchdown passes and so forth. I think that is something that all secondaries in all programs have to be constantly working at because those offensive coaches over there are scheming trying to figure out a way that they can get them and I think that is the area as we mature in what we are doing. Hopefully we can improve in that area."
Senior Defensive Lineman Trevor Laws
Do you think there is something special for guys like Chris Frome and other California players going home to play in front of family and friends, especially against a team they've never beaten?"Yeah definitely, it's huge. I know when Victor (Abiamiri) went back to Baltimore, he had a great time bringing all his friends and family there. He said it made him play a lot harder and it was great to play at home. I know it has always been my dream to get Minnesota on the schedule sometime, but I know we weren't able to. I know Frome and the others really want to get a win for the first time since we've been here over this team and hopefully they'll go home and play well in front of friends and family."
How important is it for you to get a win over SC as you play them every year; it's time isn't it?"It would be nice; it would be nice, that's for sure."
With John David Booty replacing Matt Leinart, they don't seem to have missed a beat. How much credit do you think goes to the offensive line?"Their o-line has been playing great. They have a lot of great athletes on the o-line and they have a lot of great schemes to protect with and they give him a lot of time and they make a lot of big plays. It seems like when he has been under a little duress; he hasn't been making as many plays as when he has time. The majority of the time, he has that time and he has been playing well."
Do you see any difference in this year's o-line compared to last year's o-line?"There are new bodies in there, but it's the same great schemes and the same great protection. So there are a few little differences here and there, but the SC o-line is always going to be good."
USC has been on a roll the last few years, how do you think they are able to reload all the time?"It is crazy they have had such a great run and it's the players. They just have so many great athletes. Pete Carroll went in there and really turned the program around and brought in so many great guys and they just keep coming in there. Each year they have some new guy step up that's really good. It's hard to explain, but they do it."
Senior Defensive Lineman Derek Landri
You seem to be in a groove right now and playing your best ball. What do you attribute that to?"The style of football I'm playing right now with my size and speed, I'm just kind of putting it together and trying to get better every week. And I think I've put a couple good games back to back and hopefully will have another one this week."
It's got to be a boost for your confidence the way you are playing right now, doesn't it?"Oh, definitely, I kind of started a little slow and not the games I really wanted. But I'm starting to put it together now and confidence-wise it definitely has built up."
Is it difficult for an offensive line to handle both you and (Trevor) Laws now that you are playing at such a high level?"Definitely, they are going to have to single one of us. And if they don't do that, they are going to have to single Vic (Abiamiri) or (Chris) Frome on either side. So there are three of us in there and one guy is going to be singled no matter what. We have confidence in all four of our guys that he's going to beat that one on one."
Are they singling you more than Trevor or is it about equal?"It depends upon the team and their offense, but for the most part, it's kind of even. It just depends upon where they are sliding and who they are bringing down, and it just depends upon their scheme, really."
How much did you have to change your weight and what kind of changes have you noticed?"It was 20 pounds and in my strength, I'm able to get a lot more out of my bull rushes and anchoring down on double teams and that type of thing."
On the pro level, you're still considered undersized. Do you kind of see your breaking the mold a little bit as Coach Weis said he still thinks you'll be able to find your way onto an NFL roster?"I don't look too much into that. I just enjoy playing and whatever happens, happens."
Growing up were you a fan of the California teams or did you root for Notre Dame?"As I got older, I knew more guys that played at Cal but I was always a Notre Dame fan so I always watched Notre Dame and their games. But rivalry-wise, it never struck me that I had to watch this game. I never knew or could understand that. I never got a full grasp of that until I got here."
Junior Defensive Back Terrail Lambert
How do the SC receivers compare to some of the other teams you have played against, say like Michigan?"They all have playmakers and I would say the only thing that makes them different is really their schemes offensively and their roles in the offense. The Michigan receivers' corps has a select group of guys that are designated playmakers while SC it's like everybody is a product of the system. They will probably try to nickel and dime us as an offensive game plan but you really don't know what to expect in this game. You just have to come out and play smart fundamental football."
How would you evaluate your season right now?"It's definitely a roller coaster and in retrospect looking at it, I would say a major goal of mine, long term, is to go more and more consistent as I continue to play the game."
Is Mike Richardson a good role model for that as he seems to be consistent game-in and game-out?"He definitely has been our most consistent corner in the secondary. That is something I definitely try to model myself after as far as consistency. Consistency is a true measure of performance. Anybody can make a play on a given play, but if you can do it week-in and week-out, that's where you separate yourself."
Are you going to have to get yourself settled down this week because of the nature of the game and returning home?"I'm just going to try and keep everything in perspective. It's a big game no doubt, but still it's another game and you can't add any more importance to any other game we've played this season."
Were you an SC fan growing up?"Actually, I was a Florida State fan (laughing). I became a Notre Dame fan when I signed on the dotted line."
Growing up did you ever visualize beating SC in a big game?"I wouldn't say playing SC particularly but I know growing up, one of the things I visualized was being on a big stage like this and being able to make big plays for my team."
Coach told us he played that SC song for you guys. What was that like sitting here in that meeting on Sunday?"It brought back a lot of memories, mixed ones."
Talk about the challenge you guys face this week?"They have an excellent passing attack. They are very diverse as far as play-calling and schemes. Really it will just come down to playing smart fundamental football because you really have no idea how they are going to come at you."