Jan. 1, 2006
An Interview With:
COACH GENE CHIZIK ROBERT KILLEBREW and FRANK OKAM
GENE CHIZIK: Well, it's certainly a very exciting time for Texas football. Defensively, we've certainly got our work cut out for us. It's going to be a fun game, it's going to be an exciting night. We've been working really hard, and I think we're getting to the point now where they're tired of practicing and we're getting to the point where we're getting ready to play.
It's going to be exciting, and we're really looking forward to the challenge.
Q. Gene, when you talk about most offenses, most coaches say, well, if we take this away, if we take that away, we'll be in good shape. What do you do with these guys?
GENE CHIZIK: Well, as everybody in the room knows, they're very explosive in so many different ways. I think just philosophically speaking, the first thing you ever have to do is try to stop the running game. You know, with USC it's a little different amble because their passing game is such an unbelievable threat, as well. We've really worked at trying to contain the running game with two great running backs.
You know, if you can't start there, then your chances of winning a football game are really slim if you can't stop the run. So they're just so potent in so many ways, I don't think that you can say for the whole football game we're going to load up nine guys around the ball the whole time because then you're going to leave your corners exposed out there, and what a great football team they have and so many great receivers.
We're just going to be balanced and try to mix in and out of things and obviously start with the running game, and just kind of see how the game unfolds and see what some of their ideas are.
Q. Yesterday Coach Carroll talked about having to use three guys to simulate what Vince can do. How have you guys simulated what Bush can do?
GENE CHIZIK: Well, we've been really lucky. A lot of our guys are very unselfish, so we've actually taken Ramonce Taylor and Jamaal Charles and every day really for the last couple of weeks we've put them in practice and tried to simulate Reggie, a lot of his runs that wind back and cut back. It's about angles and how you approach the football and things of that nature with trying to stop No.5.
We've kind of ad libbed a little bit with those guys and gotten them to run around and make cuts and change directions and things like that. It's hard to do, but we did that hoping we could get the best look possible.
Q. Gene, a twopart question for you. Obviously without giving away the family secrets, just in general, what's your philosophy on using a spy is the first question in terms of Reggie?
GENE CHIZIK: Well, philosophically what I've found is a lot of times if the guy is that good that you're spying him, he's probably better than your spy guy. You know, we've got to have 11 guys spying this guy. I mean, he's that good. I don't think you can ever take one guy and put him in a position to just spy and track and things of that nature. You certainly can't do that with a team like USC because there's so many other threats out there. The quarterback and the receivers, they've just got a complete game all the way around on offense.
Obviously we want to be able to be in the best positions to be able to stop their running game, you know, and I think the other thing is everybody talks so much about Reggie Bush, but LenDale White, he's a whole other issue in his own right. You're looking at 235pound backs.
For you to sit there playing against this football team and really try to concentrate on one area is really hard to do because there's so many areas that are really good.
Q. That brings me to the second part of that. When Reggie is in open space, is it almost a lost cause to think that one guy can make a tackle on him?
GENE CHIZIK: Well, we're relying on a lot of help from our friends, I can tell you that. He's hard to tackle in the open field with one guy or two guys or three guys, and again, that's what we've talked about for the last month is how are we going to corral this offense as a team. It's going to be very important we stay alive. People are getting off blocks, there's people approaching the football at the right angles, and if you miss, you've got to miss in the right direction because if you miss in the wrong direction, there's nobody there to help. It's going to be a touchdown.
Just philosophically that's kind of where we are with trying to corral him because they do a great job of trying to get mismatches in open space, and when they get those mismatches in open space, that's when you see things really turn for the worse.
Q. For the players, and I saw Robert kind of nodding his head when they were talking about LenDale. Is there a possibility you can because the USC offense is so potent and you hear so many great things about them, are you at all worried that you take a little bit of a defeatist attitude into this game? Do you have to try to keep up that confidence, that not only can we be good but we can still be great, we can play as well as we played against any other team?
ROBERT KILLEBREW: Yes. Any time we play against any team, you have to go in and think that you have an opportunity and a chance to win. SC is a great team. They won two National Championships, 34 games in a row. They don't do that by accident.
But at the same time you have to be confident and know that your ability to play the game is what got you here, and that's what we're going to try and do, just play our game.
Q. Frank, could you talk about what you see in USC's offensive line, and if you feel like going against your offensive line in practice every day has prepared you to face them?
FRANK OKAM: I think they bring a different style of blocking that our offensive line represents. They're very athletic. It might be similar to Ohio State and Oklahoma. The center is very athletic, one of the quickest centers I'll probably face all year. And the two guards are very powerful, especially the combo blocks. They've got Reggie, LenDale, and when Reggie and LenDale go back and they're running and doing their thing, I think a lot of keys of the success for Bush and White is because of the offensive line when you have holes two miles wide, you get those mismatches.
Q. Could you talk about the two games you coached against USC when you were at Auburn, what you took away from those games and how it could help you this game?
GENE CHIZIK: Well, just reflecting back on those years, you know, the thing that dawned on me when we got done playing those games was, first of all, how physical USC was, and as everybody knows, how athletic they are. There's a lot of carryover with what they're doing on offense now as to what they did then. I don't think that they try to reinvent the wheel at all. They do a great job of, like I said earlier, getting mismatches.
It all comes down to there's a lot of power football. You can't get there are a lot of oneback issues and things, but it's still a power running game. You see these guys break out on the corners and you see them get on the perimeter a lot, but still, it's smashmouth football when it comes to running the football.
I think that, you know, a lot of people are aware of how athletic they are, but they're very physical, as well. I think they play that way as a team. On defense, they play the same way.
But just what I took away from those games was understanding how physical as well as athletic this football team is, and they try to establish the line of scrimmage. Like Frank said, they're very physical up front. They've got some great athletes in the front five, very athletic tight ends. So they've got the whole package.
You know, I just think that, again, if you're not playing physical football, if we're not playing physical football on defense, it could be a long night. That's one of the things that we've stressed since day one is we have to play our brand of football, and we have to play physical on that night. There's no way you can beat USC without playing physical because that's what they are.
Q. Gene, could you talk about the streak you've been involved with? Kind of unusual over the span of two different schools to be part of 28 straight.
GENE CHIZIK: Well, it's really unique. I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have been able to make the move to the University of Texas and continue a streak. You know, it's been fun. I don't think about it a whole bunch. Obviously it would be nice to continue that streak, I can assure you that. But it's been fun, and like I said, I've been very blessed, but more so I've been blessed because I've been able to come to the University of Texas and continue this, and it's been fun, especially with these guys.
This football team is different. They're just different. They've got something about them. They've got some chemistry and some great things that it's hard to pinpoint the things that make champions, but this team has got that in them. I think that's why we're sitting in the position that we're in.
Q. Gene, when Matt Leinart has gotten off to some slow starts this year, is that anything with him mechanically that the defense is doing, and can you talk about his adjustments during a game?
GENE CHIZIK: Yeah, they do a great job. You know, one thing offensively that you can see in some of the games that have been close, you can see offensively they just take the games over. The great thing with Matt is that if he does have a slow start, he's got so many other counterpunches in there to be able to take pressure off of him. I think people make a little bit more out of slow starts than they should with him. He's a quarterback that's going to hit a lot of big ones. He's going to miss if he doesn't come out and go 13 for 14 then people think it's a slow start. I think that's a little bit of a misnomer.
I think when USC's offense in the games they've been in trouble and they decided to take the game over, they take it over, and Leinart has got a huge part in that. You don't play Notre Dame on 4th and 10 with everything on the line and throw a perfect strike in there for a 60, 70yard game to put yourself in position to win the game. That was Matt Leinart, too. But I think their adjustments are really good. I think they wait to see what different teams are doing.
Second half is like in the Arizona State game and some other games, they take the game over, whether it's with their running game or the passing game. It's usually a good mixture of both. But their adjustments at halftime or whatever they do is really they're really good at it. You know, obviously they've come back three or four times, I think, during the year to be able to rally and win games. Basically they've taken it over on offense is what's happened.
Q. This is for Frank. You guys haven't been underdogs very much at all this year. You come in as 7, 8 point underdogs. Does it bother you at all?
FRANK OKAM: No. Two National Championships and a 34game winning streak, I guess you can say they deserve to be No.1 and maybe we do deserve to be underdogs right now. As you say, all things are easily taken care of on game day, so you can't worry about things until the game is over, I guess.
Q. Frank, against Ohio State you guys were able to put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks, got a few sacks, and that was a factor in that game. How much of that was generated just by the defensive line, or did you do a lot of blitzing with other people?
FRANK OKAM: Coach usually does a great job of just mixing things up. But this year he wanted to try to get a lot of pressure just with the front four. I think especially you can see the tremendous change from last year to this year, the number of sacks and pressures we've gotten. So a lot of that pressure was generated by the defensive line, and some of that was from blitzes, as well.
Q. Gene, if you have a fairly quick defense, do you find it more difficult to contend with offenses that are quick or more poweroriented?
GENE CHIZIK: Really it just depends. It depends on the team. You know, when you have a lot of speed on defense, I think the thing that you've really got to guard against is overpursuit. I think that goes back to us continually harping on angles, how we approach the football, who's leveraging the ball to whom, things of that nature. Having a quick defense certainly is not a negative to a power game at all because if you're going to be quick on defense, you always have to be powerful, as well.
But I think the thing, again, that you guard against the most when you have a very fast football team is approaching the football the wrong way and not using very good angles. I think that's what gets you in the most trouble, especially when you're playing a very athletic football team, as well.
Obviously that's what USC is, and again, that goes back to how much of an emphasis we're putting on trying to approach the ball the right way. We know that somebody is going to miss a tackle, we know that somebody is going to break a run. What we're trying to do is make sure we tackle it and live for another down. We're going to try and make sure that we don't turn any running plays into huge, gigantic plays. Again, just bring the ball down and let's live for another down.
Q. Gene, is this the ultimate challenge for you as a defensive coordinator and also your football team?
GENE CHIZIK: I think it is, for two reasons. One, obviously the venue. You work your whole career and these guys can play four or five years in college and go on and play 12 or 15 years in the NFL and you're never guaranteed to be on a stage as this, and that's very unique and that's very exciting, and certainly these guys really deserve that.
And two, obviously when you're playing a team that has in some arenas been tagged as one of the best football teams in college football history, that makes it fun. That makes it really exciting. It's going to be a great challenge and one that I may do this another 20 years and never get a shot to do this, and they may play for another 20 years and never get a shot at doing this again. For those two reasons I think it's something you hold onto for a long time, so we're looking forward to it.
Q. The whole spy thing, I don't know how many USC defenses opponents tried to spy on Reggie Bush this year. Do you get guys like Frank wanting to be the spy, people volunteering to be the spy?
GENE CHIZIK: Yeah, we talked to Frank long and hard about spying (laughter) Reggie, and if he just places it out there, Frank, go out and cover him and stuff. It just didn't pan out (laughter). Frank was just a step slow (laughter), but it was a good thought. It was his thought, too.
Again, I just think it's hard. You know, I think it's hard for somebody to spy Vince Young. You spy Vince Young, he outruns your spy. Again, it's a team thing. And defense usually is. Defense is a team thing; it's not about one guy, it's about 11. That's what I think our guys have evolved into.
Q. Have you seen other opponents do it?
GENE CHIZIK: Not really. I think what people try to do is they try to stay out of mismatches the best they can, but USC does a great job of getting some of those mismatches by formationing. So they'll hide Reggie now; he'll be all over the place, he won't just be at running back. They'll move him around. So it's a catchmeifyoucan deal, and they do a great job of that.
Q. It's been a while since you guys have played and there's been a lot of talk about how great USC's offense is. How tough has it been just hearing about all that and just waiting to finally get a chance to play against them?
ROBERT KILLEBREW: It's just been tough wanting to play, sitting out for almost a month. If you're any kind of competitor, you just want to play and get a chance to play against any kind of team. So that was the hardest thing, just sitting out and going to practice and keeping it against ourselves, keeping it Texas guys. That just kind of gets old after a while.
I look forward to just playing again, just playing against somebody else, and like coach said and is always saying, against the greatest offense, the greatest team in college football history, that just makes it even a little better. But I just want to play again.
Q. Frank, who's the best bowler on the team?
FRANK OKAM: Usually it goes back and forth every week. I hate to say it, but last time we played, Mr.Wright won. I've been hearing about it for a month, so I'm kind of ready to get back out there and show him up a little bit.
GENE CHIZIK: Frank is going to spy him (laughter).
Q. Gene, maybe this is just a semantics sort of thing, but throughout the years Pete has been asked a number of times about adjustments. You yourself mentioned the Arizona State game. I think that was the game where they went run heavy in the second half. Am I correct on that?
GENE CHIZIK: That is correct.
Q. He says, we don't adjust, we just keep doing what we're doing. Maybe it's a semantics thing. Do they adjust and actually change things or do they find what's working and go to that?
GENE CHIZIK: I think it's more of the second, the latter part. They don't change what they do; they run the same plays. What they do is they really find out what you're doing to try to stop them and then they'll give you a heavy dose of what they do is the best thing to counter whatever you're in. They don't change their offense, they just do a good job of kind of piecing everything together and running and throwing against the things that you're basically whatever you're trying to defend, they're going to do the opposite. They don't change their offense, no, they're not going to do that.
Q. If I could just follow that up. The first say five minutes of the third quarter, will that be the most intriguing and challenging portion for you?
GENE CHIZIK: Absolutely. The first five minutes I would say the first two to three series of the football game and the first two to three series of the third quarter could be really interesting.
An Interview With:
COACH STEVE SARKISIAN REGGIE BUSH TAITISU LUTUI and DWAYNE JARRETT
COACH STEVE SARKISIAN: Well, it's obviously very exciting time for us, you know, to be back at the Rose Bowl here. We were here two years ago, and to be back playing a Texas team that is a very good football team with an extremely talented defense, one that is loaded from the front end all the way to the back end, is a great challenge for us offensively. I think our kids have prepared extremely well. They see the challenge, they realize the challenge. This isn't something that they think, oh, we're going to go through the motions and it's just going to happen for us offensively.
I think our kids have prepared extremely well. It's going to be a lot of fun to be a part of and to match up against this defense from the front end to the back end with Wright and Huff in the back end, I think it's going to be great for these guys from Dwayne and Deuce and Reggie and Matt and LenDale and the rest of the guys to match up with one of the best defenses in the country, and we're excited about it, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun for these guys.
Q. Steve, what's allowed the sort of unique pairing of you and Lane Kiffin to work well?
COACH STEVE SARKISIAN: We're young no, I think that we've got a unique relationship in the fact that we've almost grown up in the coaching business together. I think we've developed a style of preparation and work ethic and trying to create plays. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't work, but we've found a way to almost work together and have the same mentality.
When I was able to come back and was offered the job from Coach Carroll to come back, that was one of the keys, that Lane was still going to be here to do this thing together because it's obviously a huge task to come in and try to run an offense, especially with the talent on this team.
I think, as I said before, we grew up in this profession together, and we have similar work ethic and similar styles. We also have a lot of fun, which is key.
Q. Reggie, has anyone to your knowledge ever successfully put a spy on you and that worked out well, and do you sort of look at it when they put a spy on you and lick your chops a little bit like, oh, I'm going to beat the spy?
REGGIE BUSH: Well, they have. A great example of that was last year in the Oklahoma game. I don't think they just had one spy, they had about three or four spies. We were able to hurt them through the air and the receivers did a great job and had a great game, and Leinart just went crazy that game. So I've seen teams do a great job of focusing on the running game or on me in particular, but other people are going to be open.
Q. Deuce, can you talk about the pride you guys take on the offensive line to buy time for Leinart and open holes for Reggie and LenDale?
TAITUSI LUTUI: We take big pride in having those two golden childs behind us. It's just something we protect as offensive line unit, covering the ball wherever they are. You'll see offensive line.
Q. Dwayne, how has that 4th and 9 play become part of your life since then, people referring to it, people sending you thank you notes or anything?
DWAYNE JARRETT: Yeah, definitely got a lot of thank you notes. That 4th and 9 play, I think it was just a tremendous play that Matt checked out of. The offensive line gave us enough time to execute the play, and I just ran my pattern and things worked out for the best. Matt threw the ball where it needed to be and I just turned my body slightly and made the play.
Q. Reggie, you look at the Texas defense on film, what's your biggest concern?
REGGIE BUSH: I'm not concerned at all, but the fact that they're a great defense, obviously we can't overlook them. We've got to maximize our opportunity. Every practice is crucial for us. We've got to continue to compete every day and keep our level of competitiveness up. Obviously if we get complacent, then that can hurt us. And like I said, we've just got to be prepared for a great game and prepare for anything, really.
Q. To follow up on that, have you guys faced a defense with that much speed this year at all?
REGGIE BUSH: Well, we don't know because obviously we see how great they are on film, but you can never really tell until you get into that game type of situation, until you're actually playing against that team on the field. We've played some really good defense this year, like Oregon, Arizona State, and some of those teams, Notre Dame has done a great job. So some of those teams may not have a lot of speed but they played their schemes well and did a great job against us.
Q. Dwayne, given the way you guys were able to throw the ball against Oklahoma, a team that spied Reggie, are you hoping Texas spies Reggie?
DWAYNE JARRETT: Yeah, I hope so. That's going to leave us open more as receivers. If they decide to do that, it's definitely going to be a lot of other people. You just can't key in on one player. We have a talented bunch of guys. If you just try and kill one player, someone else is going to make the play. I'm pretty sure they're going to come with a different defensive scheme when we're out there playing with them, but we'll just take that and we'll just adjust to it.
Q. I know you don't like yourself getting caught up too much in it, but I think the city of Houston right now is thinking about the Reggie Bush sweepstakes, and I think maybe San Francisco is, too. Even though you haven't declared what your intentions are, how do you deal with the knowledge that you could be the first pick of the draft if you decide to come out, and if so, do you allow yourself to think, I could go here or I could go there, and which one would you prefer?
REGGIE BUSH: This whole thing, I was just talking about it to some other reporters, how the media has kind of made the decision for me, not given me the option. They've sort of told me I'm going pro. It's fine. Like I said all year, I won't make my decision until after the season.
As of right now, we've got a task to complete to finish the season, but the fact that obviously I could be the No.1 draft pick will obviously be a dream come true. But like I said, at the same time, I'm not going to worry myself about it. Like I said, I've got to focus on this game and helping my team win this next game.
Q. Do you have a favorite NFL team, somebody that you grew up watching?
REGGIE BUSH: It's funny, it just so happened to be the 49ers growing up. That was my favorite team. That's when they had Jerry Rice and Steve Young and a lot of great players on the team, and Ken Norton. I used to love watching them growing up. But that doesn't mean that that's where I want to play next year.
Q. Are you going to watch the game today?
REGGIE BUSH: If we get a chance to. We've got a practice coming up, so I don't know, I may not have a chance to. I'll see the highlights on ESPN if I don't get a chance to.
Q. Speaking of ESPN, all over the TV, all over the different newspapers people are writing this is the greatest offense in the history of college football and saying that. Have you heard that stuff, Reggie, and what do you think?
REGGIE BUSH: I have heard that. I've seen the stories that they do on us competing against some of the best teams over the years. Obviously that's respect for us, that people recognize what we're doing and we're in the midst of making something special happen here. Like I say, this is a special team for us all right now. I think it's a fair statement that we could possibly compete as one of the greatest offenses, greatest teams in college football ever.
Q. How is this USC team compared to last year's team?
REGGIE BUSH: I don't know. You know, it's weird because we lost so many defensive players last year. We lost so many leaders last year, but at the same time, we're still competing, we're right back competing for another National Championship. Obviously offensively, it doesn't differ at all. We had everybody returning this year. As far as defensively, I just don't see why people continue to overlook our defense because we've won every game this year, so obviously they're doing something right.
For me, just facing them every day is making us better, and that's why we're so great right now, why we're so good offensively right now is because we're facing those guys day in and day out and they're forcing us to compete and be on our best game.
Q. Reggie, I know you've talked about your friendship with LaDainian Tomlinson. Can you talk about how that came about and what are some of the greatest things you've learned from him?
REGGIE BUSH: I got a chance to work out with LT over the summer, and we had been friends for a while. We really hooked up my senior year in high school, so we have been friends for a while and I got a chance to finally work out with him over the summer, and that really just gave me an opportunity to see what it takes to not only be the best running back but just the best player in football, period. And working out with him, I threw up like three times or something like that, but it was a tough workout.
Like I said, it just gave me an opportunity to see what it takes to get to that next level and be the best player in football.
Q. So he was tough on you?
REGGIE BUSH: Yeah, he was tough on me. He's had nothing but great advice to give me, all throughout my career in college.
Q. I know you can't say, but do you know how to stop you?
REGGIE BUSH: Yeah, you can put three or four guys on me, but that's not going to do you much justice because then other guys on the team are going to be open. Like I said, I'm not superman. Obviously you put three or four guys on me, you can stop anybody. But at the same time, that's just going to open up plays for other guys like Dwayne, Dominique Byrd, Steve, LenDale, and I welcome teams with open arms to put that many defenders on me.
Q. Deuce, the offensive line started out as being a work in progress, a lot of young guys and a lot of changes to this year being now talked about as one of the greatest offensive lines ever. What has that transition been like, you guys kind of growing together and learning, and how have some of the guys, yourself and some of the other guys, progressed?
TAITUSI LUTUI: Yeah, I said this earlier. I think one of the things to our success that's really working good with each other is being good friends off the field, just our relationship and stuff helps us communicating, and the calls and stuff we make on the offensive line, we just can read each other very well being real good friends.
Q. Coach, will you know pretty early on Wednesday how they're going to try to deal with Reggie? How quick do you get a gauge on what Texas will try to do?
COACH STEVE SARKISIAN: Well, we need to find out extremely early. I don't think it's all about how they're stopping Reggie; it's the overall scheme of things and what their objective is in the game. It's a big factor for us. Any time you give coaches a month to prepare, there's a lot of different things they can do, and they're a great coaching staff. It's going to be a big challenge for us to not only figure out what they're doing with Reggie but what they're doing up front, what they're doing in the back end.
It's a big challenge so we can get the proper calls made and Matt can have a good understanding of what we're trying to do from that point on. I'm sure they'll have a variety of looks for us and it's going to be a big challenge for us and extremely challenging for Matt, as well, so he's seeing what's happening.
Q. Reggie, do you feel curious about who will win this humongous Texans49ers game today and what it will do to the bottom of the league standings?
REGGIE BUSH: I'm curious about it. I would like to see what happens. I'm a fan of football in general. You know, whatever happens in this game, it won't have any effect on me. Obviously it'll just mean who gets the first pick in the NFL draft.
Like I said, from day one, I won't be worried about it until after the season. My main focus right now is to be a leader and help my team these next couple of days in preparing for this game.
Q. This goes for all, just your thoughts about putting your stamp on college football, possible history here with three straight National Championships.
COACH STEVE SARKISIAN: I think more importantly than putting a stamp on I think is trying to put a stamp on this game and coming out and executing and performing and playing at a high level, which is what we're trying to achieve daily.
These guys know how to compete, they know how to work, they know how to prepare. They've done a great job of it all year. So the key for us is not to worry about history or greatest offense or greatest teams. The key for us is to go out and play how we play every day, and to go out and to perform at a high level come Wednesday at 5:22 or whatever that kickoff is.
After that, then we can worry about stamps and histories and greatest offenses, but the key for us, as Reggie just said, I think he said it extremely well, we need to maximize our opportunities here for the next three, four days so that we are extremely prepared to play at a high level come Wednesday.
Q. Any other followup to it?
REGGIE BUSH: I think Coach Sark has pretty much summed it up. We can't worry about the possible history that's going to play into this game. We've got to take it as another football game, and I think that's it. We've got to focus on this game, not get caught up in the hype and all that plays into the National Championship. We've got to focus on this team and this team alone. Like I said, Coach Sark pretty much summed it up. We've just got to maximize our opportunity day in and day out. These next few days are going to be crucial for us, and that's about it.
TAITUSI LUTUI: Yeah, they pretty much said it all.
DWAYNE JARRETT: Basically they pretty much summed it all up. You know, we just have to stay focused and just prepare and just go out there and execute our plays and worry about the history stuff after the game, like Coach Sark said. You know, all of that doesn't even matter if we don't prepare for this game and we don't go out there and win. Like all three of these guys said up here, we just have to stay focused and maximize these last couple of days of practice that we have to go out there and play the best game.
Q. I hear a lot of the players refer to Pete Carroll as both a coach and a friend. How do you think it works that he could be that and still keep a consistency to win 34 in a row?
DWAYNE JARRETT: For me, I think it's mostly because he's like a father. You know, he has kids and he knows what it's like to be a dad and at the same time being straight, sticking by his word. I know, I think he carries that over to us as a football team.
You know, he's our head coach, but at the same time he really cares about us, and he does the greatest job ever, just to make sure we're having fun, doing everything, and at the same time we're working hard. I think that's the best thing about Coach Carroll. He's a players' coach, and he's out there with us throwing the ball, running around, tackling people, and a lot of college coaches, they don't do that.
Once you have that and the players see that, you want to go out there and bust your butt for that coach and just work hard and do everything that he asks of you to do. I think he definitely plays a big role in us just going out there and us playing for him and he's just having fun with it.
An Interview With:
COACH LANE KIFFIN MATT LEINART and LENDALE WHITE
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Obviously we're extremely excited about this matchup. The defense poses a lot of issues for us, by far the best defense we've seen all year. In the five years I've been here probably the best defense right there with Oklahoma last year, extremely fast, and on film people have not had very much success with them. We'll try to find a way to make a couple 1st downs.
Q. Lane, do you feel like you stepped into a nowin situation in this job following Norm Chow?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: No, not really. Coach Sark and myself are extremely excited about the opportunity to come in, obviously great players to work with. Two of them are up here right now. I did not feel that way at all.
Q. LenDale, Mack Brown says that you are the forgotten man in this USC offense. Your thoughts about that?
LENDALE WHITE: Well, I honestly don't feel like I'm forgotten at all. As long as my coaching staff and my teammates know the hard work that I put in, that's all that matters really. I'm not worried about the accolades or anything like that. As long as my teammates know that I'm there for them to help them win the game, that's all that really counts.
Q. Matt, you've had so many great experiences, the Heisman, the championships. Is there anything in the college football experience that you feel you missed that you would have liked to have happened or that hasn't happened yet?
MATT LEINART: Not really. Like you said, I've been through a lot and I've seen the ups and the downs in my career. I've been here for five years. Just the most important thing to me is just being able to be with these guys for this last year coming back, just having fun. Right now we're right where I hoped we were going to be when I made my decision. I want to help this team to win in any way I can.
But I feel like this has been the best time of my life, these last four or five years, and Wednesday is kind of the culmination, so I just want to go out with a bang and play like I know how to play for them.
Q. Matt, Texas's defensive coordinator was at Auburn when you made your first start and talked about how well you managed that first game. What do you remember from that day playing down there, and how big was that for you to start your career that way?
MATT LEINART: It was huge. That was probably the most hostile environment you can go into, and being a first year quarterback the first game against some magazines had them No.1 in the preseason polls and they had two big linebackers that were everything. They didn't ask me to do a whole lot. I went in and threw some slants, threw a couple of stick routes, whatever, and just kind of managed the game, didn't turn the ball over. Our defense really stepped up obviously and we ran the ball a little bit. But yeah, their D coordinator, obviously that was a couple years back and he's been at Texas this year, and things are different.
As far as that game, that was just about me just kind of maturing as the season went along and bringing me along slowly. That game definitely helped my career, I think, just starting in that environment, a first year, a lot of questions about a new quarterback. I think I answered them that game and as my career has gone along, but it's kind of nice to go against him again.
Q. Lane, could you discuss your experiences with Jeff Tedford at Fresno and what was it like coaching against him this year?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, first of all, I played under him. He was my offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. I think that people don't look into that very much like as they watch about coaching. That's four to five years that you're starting really coaching because it's the first thing you're seeing a lot of times as a player. It was a great experience. He's obviously a great coach, has done a marvelous job with a number of quarterbacks and offenses, and I was very fortunate my last year he encouraged me to be a student assistant, coach with them and sit in all the meetings and be around everything. That was a great experience.
And then playing this year, really it doesn't mean anything different. The game starts and you're calling plays and you don't know who you're playing against. None of that matters. There really wasn't much to that.
Q. Any funny experiences where he taught you something or said, hey, kid, this is the way we do it?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Yeah, there's some really good experiences like making the coffee every morning (laughter), picking up his newspaper and then taking his clothes to the drycleaner, all those things. He was tough, but it was a great experience.
Q. It's all over the newspapers and the TVs and everywhere else, I know all three of you guys have heard this and I want to get some reactions, USC, the greatest offense in the history of college football. Even the Texas guys were referring to the offense as the greatest in the history of college football. Any thoughts?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, I think that these guys would probably agree that there's no way to prove that. Obviously it's fun for you guys to write about, the stories and comparisons and SportsCenter and all that, so there's no way to know. We don't worry about it. It has nothing to do with what we're doing, whether we're the greatest ever. We're just trying to win the next game. Really that's the truth.
LENDALE WHITE: Coach Kiff calls the plays. Naturally they're going to be good calls and we're going to execute to the fullest, but I don't know about being the greatest offense in the world. To think about all the great teams that have played, Michael Vick and his Virginia Tech squad, Miami, there's a lot of teams that have played before that have been great. We do have a lot of great players, and I just think we execute real well. I don't know about being the greatest.
Q. Matt, what's the difference in the confidence level when you get in the huddle and you look around that your teammates have in you compared to that first start you made against Auburn? What was that like when you looked in your teammates' eyes?
MATT LEINART: Obviously from my first year to this point now, they expect me to know everything, they expect me, being the quarterback, being the general on the football field that it's my job to get everybody in the right position, it's my job to if they have a question, tell them what to do or who to block or what routes to run, anything like that. Obviously our guys know just that I'm the guy who needs to know everything. I take it pretty seriously, the mental part of the game, to really understand what's going on with our players and when Coach Kiff calls the plays what I'm supposed to do. When I get in the huddle, they know, just like I know LenDale and Reggie and our whole line is going to do their job. We just have that confidence in each other, and I think that's what successful teams have.
Maybe there's some teams out there who lack confidence, but we're a team that has a lot of confidence and we have fun on the football field. We're in the huddle joking around. We're in the huddle against Notre Dame 4th and 9 and we're probably as relaxed as you can be. It's tense, it's a tense moment, but we're just like, we can go out and play, if we don't get it, we don't get it, and if we do, we do.
Obviously it starts with myself. They've got to look in my eyes and be able to know even if I'm having one of my bad games or whatever, UCLA kind of got off to a bad start but my guys were there behind me saying we believe in you, we know you'll get the job done. That's really important. That gives me confidence, too, as well.
Q. Matt, LenDale, you're on the brink of possibly getting a threepeat at this point. Have you all talked about it, and what would it mean to you to achieve it?
MATT LEINART: We don't talk about that, really. This is obviously a big football game, but we're just approaching it like it's any other game. We realize that it is the National Championship game, but what we've done in the past and what we can do or have a chance to do, it doesn't come up in our conversations. We have a job to do, and we're pretty serious about that. We have a game in a few days, and that's how we're approaching it.
Q. I was wondering, LenDale and Matt, could you guys talk about your offensive line and what they mean to you, giving you room to go through your plays?
LENDALE WHITE: Well, I think that from last year to this year, they improved so much. I think they became a family within a family. They do everything together. They said early in the year, they're going to work the hardest, they're going to be there at 6:00 a.m. and they were going to get the job done. I think for me honestly just playing behind this line has done wonders. As soon as you get the hole, it's there, and you don't have to worry about waiting. There are gaping holes and all you've got to do is run through it.
They deserve all the credit because that's where it starts and that's where it finishes. Without them, I don't think me, Reggie or Matt and Dwayne and those guys, we wouldn't have the type of season that we have and the success with all those guys, because that's where it starts.
MATT LEINART: I think just like LenDale says, that's where it all starts and finishes. Those guys up front are unbelievable. The process of last year to this year, how much they've matured and come together as a unit has been unbelievable. I think they're the best offensive line in college football, and I believe in that. Those guys are just they work hard, they're so tight, just off the field, as well. They're always around each other, laughing, joking, and I think it shows on the football field in their chemistry. They're great, and those holes, Reggie and LenDale, they rushed for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns, but the offensive line is what gets them there and the offensive line is what protects me to throw the football and give me all day to get the receivers the ball.
Those guys, they don't get a lot of credit, but they know how important they are to our team and our offense.
Q. Matt, you look at the Texas defense on film, what do you see and what's your biggest concern?
MATT LEINART: I just see very, very solid defense, very fast defense. They're very good tacklers. They don't miss a lot of tackles, don't give up a lot of big plays, athletic, big, fast. I mean, you name it, that's what I think of them. They're a great football team, great defense, and don't have a lot of concerns. I think it's going to be a challenge for us, but we've been in these games before where we've played against some good defenses, but they do offer a great challenge for us. We've been preparing well and practicing well, and we're just going to go out there and execute our game plan.
Q. Have you guys gone online and voted for yourselves?
MATT LEINART: For what?
Q. For the greatest offense, beating all these teams?
MATT LEINART: No. I didn't know you can. I haven't been on the Internet in a long time.
Q. How do you think these things are decided? It's people who go online and vote. Lane, you have not, either?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: No, I didn't know what you were talking about, either.
Q. A lot of people talk about how you get your team in the right play, Matt. Is it easy to do that because you have so many options and so many weapons, or is it hard to do it because you have so many options?
MATT LEINART: I think to me it's easy because first of all, it starts upstairs with Coach Kiff and then Sark and them figuring out what we're going to do. It's all in preparation. There's some games where we might get out a lot of plays. There's some games where we might not work a lot of plays at all. That's preparation, that's also great play calling, that's also me preparing and knowing that if we do have to get out, making the right decisions at the line of scrimmage.
There's always been a question, we have so many superstar guys and one football and stuff, but I think things would be a lot different if we had selfish players on our football team. I don't know if we'd be where we were today and the last couple years. We have a lot of guys who obviously want the ball. Some guys maybe want it more, but we're willing to sacrifice that for the team to win football games and to win championships. That's what Reggie and LenDale who are two of the best backs have split carries the last two or three years. If there was one of them, they might be getting 2,000 or 3,000 yards easy. That's just the bottom line. We've got a lot of guys who want the team to win and guys who have great statistics, as well. The first and foremost, most important thing for us is the team and doing it for the team.
Q. Can I just follow up on that? The 4th and 9 against Notre Dame, what was the play supposed to be and what happened?
MATT LEINART: I don't remember exactly the play, but it was more of a dropback pass with some protection stuff, and Sark told me before we went out, if you see a pressure look, get to this play and to just kind of maximize Dwayne on the corner. I don't know if it was much of a pressure look, but the situation, I was just like, all right, so checked out and all the guys up front got the check, and somehow we just found a way to do it, and Dwayne the guy actually had great coverage, the ball just kind of fit in there perfectly, and the rest is history.
Q. This goes for all three. Just peaking at the right time of the year coming off the UCLA win after Texas won 703, how important was that?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, I think if you look back at Coach Carroll's teams ever since we've been here have finished great. Coach has never lost in November, and we've always gone into Bowl games at our best, and that obviously goes all the way back to these guys in the offseason with Chris Carlisle and workouts and finishing. The teams have done a great job of that. So yeah, that's extremely important for us to finish the way we finished again this year, but none of it means anything if we don't finish this game.
LENDALE WHITE: Like Coach Kiff says, it kind of starts from the offseason on. We're taught to finish every play. We're running our sprints in the summer. If we don't finish all the way through, we've got to go back and run it all over again. And then going to Coach Carroll, he's a great leader. He knows exactly what to do to put us in great situations to succeed. I feel like just playing with those guys is great. He knows exactly what to do at the end of the season or during the season to keep us in it at all times.
MATT LEINART: We've always been a great finishing team, even in my first year where we finished 6 and 6 but we won four of our last five games. Just like Kiff said and LenDale White, midway of the season and on is where we really start turning it on, and it does go to the off season. It sounds like I'm repeating everybody, but that's really what it's all about, offseason workouts where we're prepared and we finish so hard to have that stamina and endurance throughout the season so the 4th quarter it feels like the 1st quarter where we can just play four quarters and still play again if we wanted to. It's all preparation and how we prepare in the offseason.
Beating UCLA like that, it was a great feeling just to kind of not even make a statement just for ourselves, go out there and beat our rival who was top ten at the time and beat them pretty good. It gives us a good feeling, but all that, it really doesn't matter anymore.
Q. Matt, you admittedly became very emotional in your final game at The Coliseum. I'm just wondering, do you have any plans to try to this is going to be the last game of your career here. Are you going to battle some of that again?
MATT LEINART: Kiff doesn't want me to be like that, but I have a little different mindset. Obviously last game of my career in college, it's going to be emotional, but I think I'm mature enough and understand how I'm going to approach this game. UCLA, it was just a lot of things, Senior Day, UCLA, The Coliseum, all kinds of stuff built up, and it really kind of hit me that week. Right now I'm focused more on trying to win this game and trying to be a leader for this football team on Wednesday night. I'm sure it's going to be a little emotional, but I'm definitely kind of looking at it differently, taking a different approach and just trying to soak it all in and be happy about it and smile and stuff.
Q. Matt, I suppose you're not known for your running ability, but I wonder after seeing the Texas A & M tape about whether you've gotten any funny ideas about running for 100 yards on Wednesday?
MATT LEINART: My goal for the season was to get positive yards. I wanted to get 150, and I've got about 20 right now, so I don't think it's going to happen (laughter). I think in all seriousness, I think this year I feel a lot more mobile than I've ever been. I'm always a guy who's going to look to throw first and sit back, maybe take some hits. I think this year I've made some plays running the ball that have helped keep us in drives and scoring a few touchdowns and stuff. Everyone jokes about it and even I joke about it because I know I can't run that well, but I think moving the sticks, picking up 3rd downs with my feet is really vital for a team. It's like Vince Young running. It's tough to stop him and he can throw. But no, I don't plan on I just plan on trying to make plays. That's all I do.
Q. Matt, for both players, Texas makes it a point to keep it light at practice. It seems like they like to have a good time and that seems to have the attitude you guys have, as well. How important is that, to kind of put everything in perspective and enjoy it while you're practicing?
LENDALE WHITE: Well, like we said, Coach Carroll does a great job of knowing how to keep us in it at all times. I think for you to be a successful team, you have to kind of know when to turn it on and when to turn it off. For us to be out there and be relaxed but as soon as the whistle blows it's time for preparation and be ready for the game, I just think we know how to stay focused and know exactly like when the game time is and when it's play time. Like I said, Coach Carroll is a great guy and doing stuff like that, like with the Halloween tricks and stuff like that.
Q. I was wondering if there's anything with the success that you had the previous two years, if there was anything that you did this year to kind of keep things fresh during the week and challenge yourself and those sort of things?
MATT LEINART: I think at one point during the season, I don't know what it was, but I kind of was like feeling the pressure, felt like the world was on my shoulders. The first two games we come out smoking, 70 points, then it started getting harder, Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, and I was not on the top of my game a few of those games and other guys had to step up obviously. There was a point where I was just a little bit I was just like, I don't know what's going on here. It's like not fun, or what is it, what's going on.
And then I was having fun, but it was kind of getting harder. I actually sat down with Sark for about an hour after the Notre Dame game and just kind of vented and talked and told him how I was feeling, outside, all the demands, and then I took a deep breath and said, you know, this is what I came back to do, to have fun and be a part of this and know that all this stuff is for good, for a good cause.
But I've been pretty loose. I'm not a guy that gets tense or nervous or anything like that. I think everything was kind of building up. I think I've been doing a pretty good job of kind of handling everything the past couple of years. I finally kind of just like oh, man, I felt like there was so much weight on my shoulders. And guys, my teammates were there to back me up when I wasn't doing so well, and the coaches, and then I just started getting the rhythm again, playing football again, having fun. There wasn't really anything different I don't think. This year more than any other year was more mental. The offseason obviously I had to rehab to get better and stronger, but mentally I think I've grown a lot more this year than I ever have my last two years.
Q. Lane, what's the division of labor with you and Steve in terms of running the offense? In any way do you think you guys have put your imprint on the offense?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, we do everything together throughout the week as far as game planning, 1st down, 2nd down, 3rd down, red zone, all that stuff. It's worked out great, not the production and any of that, but just from the standpoint of I don't know that other people can do this without having the background together and being very close that we've been for the last five years. He left for one of them, but we were together for four years.
I think that that would be hard to do if you brought two people from different places, if Pete would have brought in a guy from this school and this school and said, okay, here, I want you guys to make this work. Growing up here under Coach and knowing what he wants and all the things that if you take a job you don't usually know over the course of four or five years that happen, we know what he wants without him having to tell us all the time. I think that's why it works so well with our background together.
You know, he does an unbelievable job on the field feeling the players, knowing when it's time, we've got to get Matt going with this or LenDale or Reggie, and he has a great sense for that on the field. I think that that really benefits us, to have a guy in the press box that can be away from all that, behind the closed window, and really being able to concentrate without all that going on, and then a guy that's down there with all that going on to get a feel for what is going on down there.
In the press box you're just watching, you can't feel what the players are feeling like down there or some things that you feel close to you. Sometimes your guys come out a little slow that you don't know up there. I think it's a great situation to have a guy up there and a guy down here trying to work together.
Q. Did you guys try to put any wrinkles in this year?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Sure, every off season we've always tried to improve. We never want to stay the same. We imagine people are always trying to catch up to us, especially in the conference in the offseason doing studies because we're No.1 in the conference. That's the way it works in coaching. We're always trying to change and stay above everybody else.
Q. This is for Matt and for LenDale: Last year in the National Championship game, one of the first plays in the game Reggie went in motion and Oklahoma sent two guys with him. Do you guys remember what went through your mind when you saw that and what it did for the offense to know that they were going to put that much emphasis on him?
MATT LEINART: I don't really remember exactly when that was, but, I mean, I don't doubt it obviously because we've seen that a bunch of times. I think some teams, and maybe Oklahoma did, they want to know where No.5 is on the football field because he's such a threat receiving the ball, running the ball and specials, everything. Maybe you want to double him or maybe you want to inandout him as linebackers. I don't know how defenses approach him, I just know how we use him and we try to get him involved in as many ways as we can. I don't really remember or recall what I thought about it.
LENDALE WHITE: I just remember like one particular play, it was like kind of close to the goal line and he went in motion, and I think three or four people went with him, and we got Steve wide open in the end zone for a touchdown, Steve Smith. When you've got a player like Reggie Bush, you've definitely got to account for him and see where he is on the field. He's a Heisman Trophy winner so that speaks for his greatness. I know they're going to be ready to game plan for him probably as well as myself. We're just going to stay focused and do the game plan.
Q. I know your role has changed a little, but do you recall any conversation last year when you guys realized how much they were going to focus in on Reggie, how that was going to affect what you guys were going to do?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Yeah, like LenDale said, the play you were talking about was down on the 5 yard line. We actually scored on the exact same play twice. Steve Smith scored twice where Reggie motioned for him from a weak set to a strong set and three guys went running over with him.
The thing about Reggie that probably you guys don't understand is he helps us so much when he's not getting the ball because defenses totally it's not just they double team him; that's not how it works. That happens sometimes, but it makes the defensive coordinator only have so many calls when he's in the game.
We'll go sometimes where we know when Reggie is in the game plan, they don't play any man coverage because they're not going to put a guy on Reggie. Every time you put Reggie in, not lined up as a receiver, every time he's in your huddle, you're limiting the calls that that defensive coordinator can make. He helps us in so many ways that you guys cannot even imagine.