"It's obviously a big one. It's exciting. It's the best rivalry in college football, in my opinion. I look at USC and I told you guys last week, this is the best USC team that I've seen since I've been at UCLA. It might be the best team that we've played since I've been at UCLA. And I'm talking about as a head coach and as an assistant, nine years now. They're ranked seventh in the country and have lost two real tough football games by a touchdown to Kansas State and a field goal to Washington State in overtime. You look at their team, and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now. Their defense is outstanding. They have a lot of athleticism. They do a great job of putting people in certain positions to do a good job. Their offense as been as balanced as they've ever been. They've always thrown the ball well, now they're running the football. So, you get Carson Palmer, who's playing the best he's been playing since he's been there, a Heisman Trophy candidate, going to break passing records in the conference, and he's very efficient with the football. You can see he's really matured, and he shows his experience. You look at his receivers, he has a lot of playmakers. They do a good job of running with the ball after they catch it. The thing that has been really impressive now is that they're able to run the football. They have several good runners. Justin Fargas, Malaefou MacKenzie, and Sultan McCullough. They do a great job. Then you look at their punter, he's leading the Pac-10 in punting. So I think it's going to be a great football game. It's going to be a great atmosphere. It's a great week for college football, and I'm just excited to a part of it."
Do you still think about last year's game?
"I don't want to talk much about it. Yeah, it was a tough football game. There were a lot of things that had an effect on that game that I really don't want to deal with. I kind of want to look forward to this year."
Will Manuel White have an increased role in this game?
"I think he's healthier than he's been since he was hurt. So, yeah, I think it will be a little bigger than it was against Arizona."
Do you think the last three games have prepared your freshman quarterbacks for the environment of this game? Has playing on the road prepared them?
"They were in the Stanford game, they were in the Arizona game, and the big thing – they were in the Washington game. That's a really difficult atmosphere. But we're playing at home. Hopefully our fans can get behind us. But I think there's a lot of things. It's a big game. It's the game that will be mentioned all week. There are a lot of distractions. They have to become very focused this week. Having the bye week last week helped us. It gave us a little jumpstart on the game plan. Gave us a chance to kind of feel our way through some of those things. It's a big, big game. No matter how you cut it, it's a big, big rivalry game. I think what compounds it, like I said, is that USC is outstanding. You talk about the quarterbacks, they'll have to face a defense that's ranked two in every category in the Pac-10. They're going to face some athletes that are outstanding. Their team does a great job of scheming, putting guys in positions to keep you off balance. It's hard to zero in – where Troy Polamalu is, for example. Or where the other players are lined up. He does a great job with the defense. The quarterbacks will have a hard time. They'll get pressured, they'll get hit and they'll get sacked. We just have to hope that they don't do anything to beat us."
Will you be limited by what you can put in to the offense this week?
"You have to look at it scheme-wise and personnel-wise, and you have to try to take advantage of a few things. So, to answer the question, yes, there are some things that we're putting in, that we're doing, to hopefully take advantage. But there are other things we'd like to put in that we can't. We have to back off a little. We can't put it all in. They can't handle it all right now. It'd be too much and overwhelming. There are a few things that we'll do to hopefully take advantage of the things that we see, and then hope that they happen. They still have to execute."
But the offense will be simplified?
"Anytime you have a younger player it's simplified. Yet, we have to do some things to try to make some plays. It's not so simple that we're going to have our hands tied. We're going to try to give our quarterback the opportunity to make some plays. They (USC) have something to say about it, too, though".
What are some of the biggest factors in the game?
"It gets back to the run game. Stopping the run and being able to run. That's always an important thing. And then we have to put pressure on Palmer, like they're going to pressure our quarterbacks. We have to try to get him out of his rhythm. You can't give up big plays, and somehow we have to make some big plays. The kicking game will be big. Those are 20-25 plays during the course of the game, and you have to try to win that battle."
USC has won three in a row, and then UCLA, before that, eight in a row. What's it like being on both ends of a streak?
"It's always difficult. Knowing what it must have felt like to lose eight in a row. We've lost three and I don't like it. I can't imagine how bad it was with eight in a row. I was part of that eight in a row. That was good. And it will turn again sometime, hopefully this year. I think it's really difficult for one team to monopolize it. Eventually it will go back and forth."
Why do you think this is the biggest rivalary in college football?
"I think the proximity of the two schools. People work together who are Bruins and Trojans. People are married. One is a Bruin, one is a Trojan. We've had players from both schools room together. Keyshawn Johnson and Karim Abdul-Jabbar. It's just so close. There are so many of their players that have played against ours. It's closer. In Texas, it was Austin and little College Station. And in Oregon, it was Corvallis and Eugene. It's different. We're so close. It's an inner-city rivalry and a big-time rivalry."
Would winning this game make it a good season for you?
"I think we've had a pretty good season already. I think this would just help to add to it."
How do you offset Polamalu?
"The thing about him is he lines up in so many different positions, you just have to be aware of him. You still have to run your game plan. You have to attack defenses, but you have to be kind of aware of where he's at. He loves to blitz. He's an aggressive football player. He's a playmaker. You have to be aware of him. But, yeah, that doesn't mean to say we're going to run away from him on every play. He's going to find the ball carrier anyway. He's just a great player."
How do you stop USC's passing game?
"I think it's probably the toughest challenge because they have the three receivers, they throw to the backs out of the backfield, they're hitting the tight ends. And Palmer has really matured into the position. He knows where people are, he knows where to get rid of the football, he knows when to check off, he's playing so well. And they've done a great job of protecting him. I'd say it's our biggest challenge. But if we just had to stop the pass, it'd be less of a challenge. But we also have to stop the running game now, too. Their offense is hitting on all cyilnders at this point in the year."
Why is Sean Phillips starting at defensive tackle?
"He's a senior, fifth-year guy from out of state that's worked extremely hard. We felt that it's so close in that position that he deserves a chance to start. He's played both spots."
Will Matt Ware matchup with USC's Mike Williams most of the time?
"I would say most of the time, yeah. You talk about matchups and size. So Ware would draw him most of the time. He's a heck of a player. He's a great player. He should declare for the NFL draft next year. I'd ante up a little money to get him going."
Mike Williams is from Florida, as was Freddie Mitchell. Is there a trend getting out-of-state players in the Pac-10?
"Some of the people can do that in the conference, and some really can't. Some recruit nationally and not everyone really does. There has to be something out there that makes you want to do it, and some schools don't want to waste a lot of time and money going all over the country. They'd rather come in to California and get all of our players."
How do you keep your team focused despite all the distractions this week?
"You just have to keep it all in perspective. When you go out on the field you have to be under control. You have to be business-like, and focus on what you have to be doing in practice. And then when you're off the field it's fun to talk about, but you have to remain focus. Once you take the field, it all goes away. If you've practiced hard, if you've prepared hard, are you ready for this game, then you have to have the discipline because it's an emotional game sometimes you do things that you haven't done all year that are bad. On the other hand, there is always a player that emerges in a game like this because of the emotion and excitement, and how huge the game is. A guy ends up being a star player in this game that hasn't done anything all year."
Have you sensed a different feeling around campus today (Monday)?
They're beating up a car out there [at a rally, students beat a red and gold car with sledgehammers], and I had to check that it wasn't mine. I saw the bear is hibernating right now outside my office window. Outside of that, I haven't seen much. I've been in the film room most of the time."
Do you want to keep your players sequested a bit, to keep them focused?
"This is one of the reasons you come to UCLA, or go to USC. This is a big game. To treat it any different way would be wrong. It's so exciting. You come down that tunnel. People are yelling and screaming. The end zones are filled. It's an exciting time. That's one of the reasons you play football."