Sunday Call with Neuheisel

Coach Neuheisel talks about the strength of USC, the play of Andrew Abbott this year, Johnathan Franklin's fumbling issues, and the question of uniforms...

Q: When you got here in 08, you said the model was USC and that was the program you needed to aspire to. How much ground do you think you've gained on that?

A: In my mind, from my vantage point, I see lots of progress. I understand the frustrated fan out there may not be able to see it because he doesn't come to all the practices and doesn't sit there where I sit. But I do see lots of progress and obviously it's progress that now has to show up on the field. So games like this are important to show that you are making those strides.

Q: Is it fair to say that there's still a good opportunity given their scholarship restrictions the next couple of years to make up ground?

A: I don't ever factor that in. I really don't. SC has a great brand and certainly is going to be formidable regardless of circumstances. But if we take care of what we can do and we do the things that we're capable of doing, whether it be on or off the field, we can be a formidable entity as well. And I am hell bent to get that accomplished.

Q: Are you surprised how quickly USC has come together this year?

A: Not really. They've got an experienced quarterback which is such a huge place to start. He's had a magnificent year and they have some real talent to throw to. They've certainly had some holes to fill in respect to their offensive line, but they've done that well. The offense is on all cylinders, especially with the quarterback being as efficient as he's been. Defensively, they've got a great tactician in Monte Kiffin. They've put some players that might not have been recruited to play the positions they're playing but they've recruited them because they're good athletes. And that was a great effort last night, especially in the final drive to get Oregon stopped.

Q: How does Matt Barkley compare to Andrew Luck?

A: I think they're very very comparable. The only thing Andrew has over Matt is he's a little bit more mobile. Matt doesn't try to run or take off as often. But he's almost maybe more dangerous because there's a play I'm watching against Colorado where he starts to run, could probably have run for 10 or 15, (instead) he kind of stops, goes down the line and throws a touchdown pass.

Q: What can you do going into homes with recruiting with a victory over USC? And vice versa in this city?

A: You're always wanting to point to progress. And the fact that we're going to get to go to a bowl game this year is certainly an indication of progress. Obviously if we were able to knock off our crosstown rival and win the south division, that would be great evidence of progress. But you don't have to say anything. The people who are in the living room are well aware of what took place. If anything, it gets you in more living rooms.

Q: That SC's won 11 of 12- is that a hard thing to recruit against?

A: We're not talking about the past 12 years when we're in a living room. We're talking about the next four. What you want to do is point to signs that indicate that this thing is changing. Obviously on the field play is the easiest indicator but there's lots of others.

Q: How bout the last three. Do you ever have to deal with the fact that they've won the three since you've been here?

A: I'm sure that people pay attention. Year 1 when Pete Carroll was here, that was a really really good team we played, as evidenced by all the guys who went high in the draft. In years 2 and 3, we've been very competitive with them. We haven't gotten it done, and at the end of the day that's what it's all about. But we've been very competitive with them and need to be competitive again against them this weekend. We need to find a way to play our best.

Q: There's been a little bit of chatter out there- what color uniform are you guys going to wear this week?

A: No one's told me anything. We're blue and gold as far as I know.

Q: What would you think of them wearing black and you guys wearing white?

A: I have no idea about them wearing black and I have no idea about us wearing white. When I got back here, Pete and I talked about going back to the old days of wearing the home uniforms so that's what is on my mind. I've heard the rumor but I have no indication of that.

Q: Do you like the idea of just the home uniforms?

A: I do. I love the home uniforms. I think it's one of the classic games in college football.

Q: Why would people want to mess with that then?

A: Who knows?

Q: How has Johnathan Franklin improved as a runner this year?

A: I think that Johnathan, you study him over the course of the year, as we get more adept in this offense and learn more things about it, then certainly we can find more ways to get him the ball. Johnathan is a very talented young man, but his biggest asset is his ability to get to top speed in a very quick time. It doesn't take him very much to go from 0 to 60.

Q: Have you noticed in the last year or so becoming more of a runner than a sprinter?

A: I think that's probably fair. Obviously as he's gotten more carries and gained more experience, certainly that has started to become the case. How many yards does he have right now?

Q: 857.

A: So he's got a chance for another thousand, huh?

Q: He fumbled again last night, is that any kind of concern for you?

A: Yeah, I don't want it to become something mental for him, but there's no question that in games like this, as has been borne out over the last couple of years, turnovers are huge. Both games we've given up a huge turnover that results in a defensive touchdown that kind of turns the course of the game. And so we've got to make sure we do a good job of taking care of the ball.

Q: Last week you were talking about the penalties and harsh comments made about them, and you guys still had 101 yards of penalties. What's not sinking in with these guys that these mistakes keep happening?

A: We just have to continue to emphasize it. I'll tell you that we've looked at the tape and we're coaching it as hard as we can about it. In last night's game, there were some questionable judgment issues. We've just got to keep ourselves more clean.

Q: Questionable judgment issues by the players?

A: No, no, no. Well, I guess that is a fair statement as well. They're judgment calls by the official that you can call it that way, so we just have to be clean so that there's no way that we can be considered in violation of the rule.

Q: Ever had a team that had two penalties on the punt like that?

A: No, that was unusual. And in watching in the tape it's one of those ones that I'll turn in because I'm still confused by it.

Q: Turn in just to get an answer on it?

A: Yeah, I just want to get the clarification.

Q: Nick Crissman came in at the end of the game- was there any thought of putting Richard Brehaut in, or is he not ready?

A: Richard could play now, but he's not at full speed, and I didn't want to put him out there and have him limping around. When he's fully healthy we'll get him going again. But this was an opportunity to get Nick Crissman an opportunity to play and it was fun to see him in there.

Q: Do you think Richard could play this week if you needed him?

A: I think he's getting closer to being able to play. Whether or not he's ready this week, we'll have to wait and see.

Q: In terms of progress, with USC coming off a big win, and UCLA with the opportunity to punch its ticket for the Pac-12 championship game, is this what you kind of envisioned with respect to the rivalry game?

A: Absolutely. I was asked this last nigh at the press conference. I think the question was "Is this a distraction?" and shoot, no. You want these games to be for high stakes. The winner of this game is going to be the winner of the south division. And SC unfortunately can't represent the south division in the playoff game because of their situation. But the winner is going to be able to say, "We won the south division." That's how hopefully this game is for years and years to come.

Q: Would you say it's a must win?

A: Well, as much as games are. At the end of the day, they're games. We'd certainly like to be on the right end of it.

Q: You were a field goal away from having the division sewn up last night- do you prefer this scenario, as a way to help keep your players focused?

A: That's a hypothetical and probably a great question, but it doesn't need an answer. We want to win this championship by going through the front door, and we certainly aren't going to surprise anyone by showing up this Saturday night.

Q: You haven't really mentioned the race recently, but is this the week that you talk about the Pac-12 south championship with your players?

A: Absolutely, because we're playing for it. It's in this game. Now, if you want to win it, you'd better concentrate about the game, and being where you're supposed to be and keeping things clean so that we don't get those penalties that have plagued us for the last couple of weeks. And taking care of the ball, and all the good things that good teams do. We've shown we're capable of it, now we just have to show we're consistent about doing it and now we have to do it in the biggest of stages.

Q: Can you talk about Andrew Abbott, not only his performance last night but his performance this year?

A: He's a great story. He's a former walk on, a kid that has kind of risen up and proven that he belongs. You always admire guys who do that. It's a great tribute to Andrew and his perseverance and his toughness and all those different things. But at the core, he's a pretty darn good player. He really is. He's got great instincts and certainly has great ball skills.

Q: SC has a young defense, is there a chance that you can take advantage of that?

A: They're very well coached. I think you always look for opportunities where you can create mismatches and advantages, but at days end you've gotta go execute. This is not going to be a game where we're going to try a bunch of new stuff. We're going to do what we do, and see what we can do well against them. And I expect them to do the same. We've got a lot of young players in our defense as well. So it'll be an interesting ball game and one that the players are going to be excited to be involved in.

Q: You ever take a trip down to Serra high school- how does SC seem to get all the good players out of there?

A: I don't know, you might have to do a story. You might have to go dig deep for that, Ramona.

Q: Did you make a run at those guys, or…what happened?

A: We absolutely made a run at them. They were as good as anyone out there. But we were not fortunate enough to get them. We did sign Paul Richardson from Serra but that didn't work out so well. I think that obviously those guys are gifted players.

Q: Have you ever seen a guy have the freshman season that Marquise Lee has had? The only other person might be Robert Woods, right?

A: Yeah, they've had back to back superstar freshman years. There's no question about it. And Matt Barkley has been the big benefactor. He's had two bona fide great ones to throw to.

Q: Has he gotten better throughout the year? Have you seen that on tape yet?

A: That Matt Barkley's gotten better? There's no question. He's playing at a very high level right now.

Q: Any injury updates from last night?

A: Isaiah Bowens has a slight concussion as well.

Q: Are he and Sean Westgate possible for the game?

A: I'm counting on it. But with those injuries you have to let them take their course.

Q: What's Westgate's status?

A: He had a concussion.

Q: Is he expected to play.

A: I expect him to play. His senior year, I think he'll do everything he can. But obviously you've got to be safety first.

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