Head Coach Karl Dorrell's post-practice comments:
"It was a good practice today. We got a lot of good work in. It was the first time doing a normal Tuesday-style practice with heavy contact work, and we got some good work in. The players were excited about getting back to the heavy load and doing some work like that today. We'll do another day like that tomorrow and then start tapering back from then on. It was a good overall day and we'll be a little bit better tomorrow."
How is Maurice Drew?
"He tweaked his ankle again in practice. That was one of the unfortunate things that happened. We'll have to see how he responds in the next few days. He was the only one (injured)."
Dorrell's Press Conference:
"Good afternoon everyone. Finally, we're in game week. With the three week lay off, for us, there was some benefit in doing so. The injured players that we had, those players have reasonable good health right now. Maurice Drew, for example, was about 90% with his ankle injury. Marcedes Lewis is 100%. Jarrad Page had a slight hamstring injury and he's close to 100% as well. We feel good about going into this week. We had some time off to really work on our details and fundamentals in our first week. Then in our second week we started our game-planning and those issues before Thanksgiving break. After the break, this week we're in now, we'll hone in on really cleaning up on getting our timing and execution down to a level it should be for us to have the success we need this Saturday. We're excited that the week is finally here. The anticipation for us to play again, with the break that we had, it's nice to have that break, but now it's time to get down to playing some football."
How does USC compare to last year?
"They're solid in all areas. They're good offensively. A great quarterback, who is arguably the best quarterback in our conference. He has a high percentage completion rating, doesn't throw many interceptions, and he does a great deal of things with his decision-making, and he has excellent skill players to work with, with receivers, backs and tight ends, in distributing balls to those guys in the throwing game. They do a great job offensively. Defensively, they have a very strong, experienced defensive line that has done a great job all season long. It's a tremendous challenge for our team both offensively and defensively. They have a lot of experience, a lot like our defensive line was a year ago, that's what their defensive line is now. We have a young defensive line that is matched up with a pretty good offensive line, even though they're fairly young in a lot of areas, but it will be a good matchup for them. The issues will be the skill. We'll have to match up with their skill, and try to contain the big plays they make offensively."
How is it coaching across town from a program like USC, one so successful, being in the same city?
"I haven't really been concerned about being in the same city with them. We have a lot of issues that we need to work on ourselves with UCLA. Our concerns are UCLA, and trying to get ourselves in the position that it should be. We've made that progress all season long. We've had some bumps in the road, and this team has responded and done some great things along the course of our season this year. We're not at the place they're at right now. But we're working to get ourselves in that position here fairly soon."
Talk about the downside of having so much time off...
"The downside is the timing. The rhythm of your season, the timing of practicing three or four practices and playing a game every week. The rhythm of the season, that's always an issue you guard against as a coach. To have three weeks without playing a game, it's an issue. This week, in working on our timing and execution, we have to get it to where it was before the Oregon game."
Is there an upside of being able to break down more film of USC?
"That's always an upside. It gives you more time to prepare. But you really, at your 11th game of the season, not going to change your offense or your defense. You might throw in a few wrinkles here or there that we think might be scheme play or special plays. But other than that you're going to do the same things that have gotten you to this point. We're a very balanced offense. We're going to try to run the ball and throw the ball with balance. Defensively, that's an area that's been an issue for us all season long. We'll continue to work on getting those young players to play at the level they're capable of playing. They played a very good game against Oregon our last time out. There is a lot of momentum after that game. There had been a lot of great things accomplished in that week. Now, this is the best team in the country. We're going to have to raise the bar, and raise the level of play, better than what we did against Oregon, for us to have the opportunity to win this football game."
With the way your defense has performed, do you think your offense can score enough points to win?
"I don't think there's a magic number. 'Yeah, we need this threshold to win this football game.' We're going to have to play football. We're going to have to play great football. We're going to have to play great defense. We're going to have to put some points on the board offensively. The team that makes the most plays wins the game. That's the one thing I will predict."
There is a national discussion about who should be the #1 team in the country. You say they are. Why?
"They started the season ranked #1 and no one has beaten them. I think they're still #1. Think of it from their perspective. They've been #1 from the beginning. Every team for ten weeks had been out to get them. They're going to play their best game against them, and still they've won every game. You have to take all of that into account. Why would they not be #1? You're getting into things like BCS points and all that stuff. That's not real popular among coaches. We're into 'Well, did we win? Well, yes.' And they stay at the stature that they should be. Football is really simple in our eyes."
How do you convince your team that you'll be the different team, the team to beat them?
"They're a good football team. Teams have been in games with them. You study those teams and you study your team and you're going to do the things necessary to keep your team in the football game. That's the bottom line with any great team that you play. A year ago we played Oklahoma and USC. For the first half of the Oklahoma game we were right where we wanted to be. Then we had some punt returns that we're the difference in the football game. In the USC game, it was a number of things that were factors toward the end of our season last year. So it's a number of things you have to draw from your experience when you play a great team like USC or Oklahoma. This year teams have been in games with them. They've played very well against them. They haven't been able to sustain it. USC, to their credit, has done a great job in the second half in making adjustments and pulling away in games. We know that. We're going to have to guard hard against that, and make sure we do the adjustments that are necessary for us. We've been a good second-half football team as well. So it's a great challenge. It's an exciting challenge our players are excited about. I'm also excited, because we're playing our crosstown rival that is #1 in the country. How can you not be excited about this game, with everything that is on the line?"
What makes this rivalry as good as others around the country, like Alabama/Auburn or Michigan/Ohio State?
"I think it's unique because we're 20 minutes apart. I think that's tremendous, to be in one city, 20 minutes apart, and two great programs. The pageantry of this rivalry, for all the years, that's why it's really special."
Are the schools' personalities different from each other?
"I don't know. I've never coached over there, so I really couldn't tell you. T.J. (Simers) may tell you what it would be. You know, it's football. There have been ebbs and flows in both programs. We've been on top, they've been on top. They're on top now. We have work to do. That's the bottom line. We have to get ourselves in position of where we think we should be. That's why I'm here, and I'm going to put my best effort to doing so. It's a great rivalry, an exciting opportunity and an exciting game and a big week this week."
Many teams that have faced USC have done some things that were surprises, to try to catch USC off-guard in the first half. You're saying you can't do that?
"You can't. Pete (Carroll) is a good coach. He does a great job of making the changes that are necessary at halftime. We can't expect to have the same type of success from the first half in the second half with the same things. You have to be able to do some things to keep them off-balance. That's part of any good offense or defense. They do the same things on their team from the first half to the second half. That's what good teams do. And we have to make sure we're doing it as well."
Do coaches really make big adjustments at halftime? Is there too much made of that?
"There are a lot of adjustments that need to be made. Sometimes you see a certain defensive look that you didn't prepare against so you have to make adjustments, and the same thing offensively, there might be some formations our defense hasn't practiced against. You have to defend it properly and have the right matchups where they need to be. There are always adjustments like that in the course of any game."
Do you invite recruits to this game?
"Yes we do."
How many will you have?
"There is a large number that will be there. Most of them from Southern California."
No fear in inviting them to watch the #1 team in the nation?
"No. They've seen the #1 team in the nation. And they've seen us play. And they're excited about seeing how it's going to stack up. There are a lot of positives going in our program. There are a lot of great things happening in our program that young kids are excited about. We're excited about it as well. We're excited about the opportunity. It's a great opportunity. I mean, wow. How often is your crosstown rival the #1 team in the country?"
I would hope you wouldn't wish that all the time.
"You're right, I wouldn't. But it's something that you don't see it year in and year out. So this is one of those opportunities. You have to take advantage of it. You have to put your best foot forward. You have to do a great job preparing this football team to play its best football. And we will."
It seems like teams get mentally and physically worn down against USC. Are you confident your guys are mentally and physically sound enough?
"We are mentally and physically well to that, because we're well rested. The biggest key for us is to work on our timing this week. And be in relation to where we were in our last football game. If you ask any coach across the country, no one wants three weeks to play a football game. That's too much time off. But we've made the best of it, with the time that we had. It's all about getting our timing and rhythm, and making sure we don't have the rustiness of having that type of lay-off. The guys know that, we've talked about it, we've worked hard at trying to make sure those things become an issue for us, but you still have to continue to stress those things this week. What a great week."
Do you think the time off has taken away some of the excitement of the rivalry week?
"I don't think so. It's an exciting week. We've been waiting for this week. We're the underdog, for sure. And we're excited about being in the position we're in. You've seen a number of teams in games over the last couple of weeks that were rivalry games and a lot of different outcomes. A lot of things happen. And we're preparing for good things to happen on Saturday."
You keep saying you're excited about being in the position you're in, which isn't a very good position. You're a 21-point underdog.
"You have to start somewhere. You have to disprove the doubters at some point."
Evaluate where your quarterback, Drew Olson, is at this point.
"In his last game, he played his best football game. He made good decision in that game, made some plays with his legs in taking off and running the football. He did not throw one potential interception ball. I thought he played a solid football game. That's what's going to be needed this week against USC. He's made the progress necessary for us to have the success we need this weekend. He understands. He played in this game last year. He understands the speed of this game. He understands the defensive line that will try to attack him every time he drops back. He understands a lot of those things that he's built from experience from a year ago."
What offensive player from USC are you most concerned about?
"Really, Matt Leinart. He's the one. If you watch their last game, they'll start the game with seven or eight straight passes. It's not really their running game. They use their running game to offset all of the great things they do offensively. Norm Chow does a great job of mixing things up. If we go into a game thinking we have to stop their run, and then they have 400 yards throwing, that's not helping it. You're going to have play a great game of awareness, of picking up on your keys. Those are the things we really worked on in the last couple of weeks. They have certain tendencies they do when they're doing either one. And we have to be sharp when we see those keys, in operating our offense and defense."
In close games USC has had this year, it seems that Reggie Bush has had a big play that blew open the game. Can you shadow him?
"You can try to shadow him. But he's one of a number of players that are very good on that team. He is a player that makes the critical play that sparks the engine. He has done that. What you try to do is contain him. If he makes the 20-yard play, then give him the 20-yard play. But don't give him the 80-yard touchdown. That's what you have to be able to do in the scheme of your defense. Unfortunately we don't have NFL time to put in an NFL defense and put in a nickel/dime package to try to control him. He's a very good football player, and they have a number of good players on their football team."
Will you kick to him?
"We will kick to him, and we won't kick to him. We'll mix it up. We're not going to kick it to him all the time."
Some say Notre Dame is USC's bigger rival. Is this rivalry bigger to you than it is to them?
"You'd have to ask them. It's important to me. That's what I grew up with when I was here as a player. Notre Dame and USC have played football longer than UCLA has. So there's a little more history. But as far as I'm concerned, this is a big-ass game. We're excited about it. And we're going to put our best foot forward."
How far down your list of priorities is wrecking the BCS?
"I couldn't care less about the BCS. It's just this game. That's what I'm worried about. Getting our players to play this game and play it the best they can."