Trojans have a happy football Christmas

USC finishes up its Holiday Bowl prep work on an actual holiday in San Diego and Steve Sarkisian talks about how it's going.

No other place would Steve Sarkisian rather be, he said Thursday after practice, than on the road somewhere "in a hotel room," as he said he told his Trojans team.

"All in all, and I just said it to them, there's nothing better for a football coach than to be in a hotel room Christmas Day after practicing with his team."

As to the shorts, shells and helmets practice, "a typical Thursday for us," Sark said. "I thought the guys were really good again today." And sounding like they knew it, as one non-USC media person opened the questioning with a comment about all the laughing that could be heard outside the San Diego State practice field.

"The guys are in great spirits as you can probably tell," Sark said after a practice he called "real crisp, good tempo, a good sense of urgency but we're confident, when you have this much time to prepare. We've built on it, enjoying and embracing the opportunity." So he doesn't mind the laughter.

"It's Christmas Day," Sark said, "we should be in good spirits, that's how it's supposed to go. We've got a team dinner tonight and some performances to be had whether it's karaoke or what so there's a little laughter about that."

So it's Christmas Day -- and also game-week Thursday. You just have to figure out how to fit them together. Sark thinks this bowl prep has done just that going into the Holiday Bowl Saturday (5 p.m., ESPN) against Nebraska. "We're grateful, thankful to be here with these guys and looking forward to doing it once more Saturday night."

And yes, his first USC season has gone by very fast, Sark said. "It's unbelievable and I've said this before, it hasn't been perfect but some of the things that haven't gone our way have given us some of our best teachable moments that we can build upon going forward. Without a doubt, we've laid a solid foundation. "

Now that he knows them better, he can say "I love these guys, they've done everything I've asked of them on and off the field. We still have so much room to grow and so much to get better at but all in all thankful that they just bring it, they do everything they have to do, they bring it, they like being around one another."

But the best part of what Sark had to say was still to come. And it represents growth and maturity. Listen up. This is more than bowl prep talk.

"One of the challenges is not chasing ghosts and trying to prepare for everything and do everything," Sark said, in an approach that will stand any USC coach in good stead. "You go over the details of what you want to do . . . I think we're confident in what we're doing but there's a fine line preparing for Nebraska and focusing on ourselves because ultimately we're going to control what we do Saturday. It's about our execution. That's always the goal whether it's a bowl game or the regular season."

Bingo. Exactly.

Looking at Nebraska

Asked what to expect from Nebraska, Sark said it's not that easy to always know. "What you always figure going into a bowl game is you'll see things you haven't seen and you have to adjust. Hopefully we'll jump on their toes too with some of the things we're doing in all three phases but that's part of bowl games -- everybody runs the trick plays, the ones they've been practicing all year and haven't called yet. You just have to prepare for the unexpected I guess. I think we just have to prepare for it."

They'll also have to prepare for a Nebraska team that dismssed Bo Pelini and his coaching staff after a nine-win season. "I think there is the understanding those guys are going to go and play for one another. These guys [USC] were in that boat last year. It can serve as a real rallying cry and bring a team together. We know that we're going to get Nebraska's best shot, fired-up and emotional and all that stuff."

But here's that talk again from Sark: "We have to leave that over here and make sure we're in the right frame of mind for ourselves to do what we have to do."


No "Ghost Notes" from Thursday's closed practice with no players available to the media afterward so we're doing much of this from home courtesy of the USC Ripsit Blog's video of Sark's postpractice interview . . . Trojans were heading to Sea World after practice then to a team Christmas dinner . . . they'll have a walkthrough Friday afternoon at Qualcomm that is also closed after a luncheon on the USS Essex with the Nebraska team at the San Diego Naval Base . . . Sark and NU interim coach Barney Cotton will do a combined press conference at 10 Friday at the Omni International Hotel . . . Asked again what new underclassmen have shown up in the bowl practices, Sark said that was what the Trojans did the first six workouts and the trio he named again were Rashead Johnson, Lamont Simmons and Jalen Greene.

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