Harvey Levine/FOS

McSorley, Barkley talk Rose Bowl, USC

Penn State offensive players talk about their championship season, the Rose Bowl and USC.

Seven Penn State offensive players led by Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley share their insights on the upcoming Rose Bowl, on their Big Ten title season and on USC. They're probably not as detailed in their knowledge of USC as the Trojans are of Penn State right now having just started their prep work and with a commitment to focus on themselves the first couple of days before they get into game prep stuff. Although one Nittany Lion brings up a specific USC name that makes him sound like a Trojan. It's one we've heard many times from players who ended up at USC. See if you can catch it.

-- Dan

SAQUON BARKLEY | RB | So./So. | #26

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about what it means to this group to be playing in the Rose Bowl?

A: It’s special. It’s the Rose Bowl, you know, you’ve been watching it since you were a little kid; it’s the Granddaddy of them all. Being able to play in a Rose Bowl is spectacular. One of our goals was to win the Big Ten Championship and play for a National Championship, and we came short of that, but the Rose Bowl is not a bad second option to be honest.

Q: What are your memories of watching Rose Bowls growing up?

A: I don’t know really, that’s a good question. I don’t know, the Rose Bowl is just a great bowl game and there have been spectacular players that have played and great teams. I don’t have like a specific highlight in my head, just growing up watching college football and just watching football in general you always hear about the Rose Bowl and how special it is.

Q: You mentioned it being a great option, was there a little disappointment over not making the final four, and when you heard you were in the Rose Bowl did that take some of that away?

A: I wouldn’t say that it was a disappointment. Obviously we’re all competitors in our locker room and you want to compete for a National Championship, but you can only control what you can control. We did what we were able to do, we won the Big Ten Championship, and the committees felt that they made the right decision to put us at No. 5. So, we’re fortunate enough to still play in the Rose Bowl and we’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.

Q: Being the last team out of the playoff and USC, just like you guys, one of the hottest teams in the country, does that create any incentive in saying we were deserving to compete for a National Championship?

A: We felt that we deserved to compete for a National Championship, and we felt that we are on that level, we’re a caliber of team that can [compete for a national title]. But like I said, we weren’t fortunate enough to get in there, so you can’t really worry or stress about something that you can’t control. You can’t focus on “we didn’t make it to the playoffs so we’ve got to be upset,” we have to try to make a statement in the Rose Bowl. We’re going to take it as another game, treat it as another Super Bowl game for us and we just have to come out and execute. Like you said, USC has been really hot. I don’t know how many they’ve won in a row but they’ve beaten teams like Washington and played teams like Stanford, they’re a really good team over there, so we have to come prepared.

Q: What have you sensed is the buzz around the community and the campus and has that changed significantly since you started to go on this winning streak?

A: I wouldn’t really say that it changed significantly. But, you can tell it’s different. It’s Penn State football, Penn State football is becoming a winning football team again. It’s going back to the old tradition and that’s what the school is used to, that’s what this community is used to, and they’re loving it, and we’re loving it.

RYAN BATES  |  So.  |  G/C | #52

Q: How has the time off felt?

A: Some time off is nice. Everyone is getting their body ready, we’ve got some bumps and bruises so everyone is recuperating.

Q: How difficult a transition was it to go from guard to tackle mid- season?

A: I haven’t had as much opportunity as I would have hoped to work at tackle. I kind of just got thrown in there but I think I held my own. Most of my life I was at tackle and I think I’m doing pretty well so far. I think coach is happy with me. 

Q: Coach Franklin just said that left tackle and corner are two of the most difficult positions to play athletically, would you find that? What kind of athletes do you face when you expect to face them at tackle?

A: Tackle is a tough position. I’m playing guys like T.J. Watt and those defensive end, outside linebacker-type guys. They’re athletic and strong and they have versatility where they can hit you with a speed rush or a power move. 

Q: How would you describe the way the offensive line has gone throughout the season, you were 2-2 and now you’ve won nine in a row?

A: I think we have a lot more chemistry now than we did at the beginning of the season and going through camp. I think we’re a lot closer as a unit and that’s really helped. 

Q: Do you remember going back to the day after the championship game, your initial reaction after finding you weren’t going to the playoff but instead going to the Rose Bowl?

A: Not making the playoff [was tough] and some people say we might have gotten gypped, but that’s not our decision. We have to control the controllables and that’s what we did.  Ever since I was younger I’ve imagined playing in the Rose Bowl, it’s the Granddaddy of them all. It’s an honor to be playing in the Rose Bowl.

Q: What is halftime like with you guys, and how do those adjustments make differences in playing in the second half?

A: coming in from the first half and transitioning to the second half, we talk about what changes we can make, what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right. We make good coaching decisions. Trace [McSorley] and DaeSean [Hamilton] both get up and talk and give good halftime speeches. Then we go out there and do our thing. I think it helps us get more comfortable in how we’re playing and how they’re playing.

BRIAN GAIA | G/C | Gs./Sr. | #72

Q: Did you anticipate discussing the Rose Bowl when this season started?

A: No, but I’ glad we are here. It’s awesome.

Q: You had a chance to get into the College Football Playoff, what was your reaction when you found out you weren’t, but then also what was the feeling when you knew you were going to the Rose Bowl.

A: I think we were just thankful that we are able to continue our season. I mean the Rose Bowl has a great tradition so we’re really happy we got to that.

Q: About your matchup with USC, you’ve still got a long way to go before you face them. What did you learn waiting for the TaxSlayer Bowl last year that you can use leading up to the Rose Bowl?

A: I think we just need to take advantage of all the practices, the extra time we have out on the field and work on all the things we’ve had problems with all year. I think it’s a good opportunity for us. 

Q: What’s the buzz around town been like since you guys found out that you’re going to the Rose Bowl?

A: I mean all the students, and staff, and faculty have all been super supportive of us and so happy for us and everything we’ve accomplished this year. Right now it’s not too much because it’s finals week so everyone’s kind of locked in on that, but it was awesome when we first got back.

Q: You guys have had this magical season, you won the Big Ten, but to cap it off with the Rose Bowl, what would that mean to you and your teammates?

A: I think it would just be, you know, it’s the ultimate goal at the end of the year. It would be awesome for us to finish with a win streak, going from 2-2 to not losing the rest of the year. I think it would just be the ultimate culmination for us.

Q: You guys have been a second half team all season, why is that?

A: I think the coaches talk before they come in and talk to us and I think they make little scheme changes, play calling wise, but there’s no magic powder they sprinkle on us or anything. We just have to go back out there, and for some reason we play like a different team the second half.

MIKE GESICKI  |  Jr.  | TE | #88

Q: Have you been able to digest it yet that you’re the Big Ten Champions?

A: All season it’s been one of our goals but not many people outside of our locker room believed in us or thought that would happen. It’s been one of our goals and when it happened it was exciting. Sitting here a few weeks removed from it, I think we definitely deserved it and it’s an awesome accomplishment for all of us.

Q: You had, statistically, one of the biggest transformations in the nation, what do you owe that to?

A: I think in everyone’s career, you go through tough times and face adversity. I’m appreciative of everything I’ve gone through and how it’s shaped me into being who I am today. I also credit it to the hard work and dedication we put in during the offseason. I put it on myself to work as hard as I could. During the summer time when I’d be lying in bed at night, I would be afraid that someone was out-working me or doing something I wasn’t at that time. So I would go next door and ask if anyone would want to go throw and catch with me. I just didn’t want an opportunity to pass me by because you don’t get this game forever. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and I think I was able to do so. My coaches and the guys around me believed in me and were there for me and I’m really appreciative of that. 

Q: Is there a catch this year that stands out to you as one you’ll always look back on?

A: The one-handed one against Temple was one that got people’s heads turning. One of my favorites was the touchdown against Michigan State. That was always something I did in high school and it never really translated to college and I was always waiting to be able to go up against somebody and make a touchdown. There was definitely a few plays that stuck out to me. It’s been an unbelievable season but it’s not done yet. 

Q: What would a Rose Bowl victory mean to you?

A: Obviously that’s the ultimate goal here, to win the last game of the season in one of the most prestigious bowl games in all of college football. We’re going to go out there and our coaches are going to put us in the position to be successful. We’re going to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself and if that’s going out there and coming back with a win, then that would obviously be ending the season on a high note. 

Q: You guys have said since the beginning of the season that you were confident this offense would be really good and explosive this season, how cool is it to see something you believed in become fact?

A: From the day Coach Moorhead got here, he said “We’re going to be one of the best offenses in the Big Ten, we’re going to win the Big Ten Championship and we’re going to average 35 points or more.” Now, at the end of the season with one more game to go and he comes up to the coaches and myself and said, “You guys thought I was crazy when I said all of that stuff!” We just bought into what he was saying and his system. We’re very appreciative of all of the opportunities he’s given the offense and myself this season. We just have to go out and execute our game plan every week and in a few weeks, it’s the final task for us.

CHRIS GODWIN | WR | Jr. | #12

Q: You guys have expressed as an offense that you would be a team capable of making big plays. How great is it to see something that was a belief turn into a truth?

A: It’s awesome when the things that you believe internally grow to fruition. It didn’t happen overnight. We knew that we had the talent in the room. It took a lot of hard work, the right scheme, the right time and it took everybody buying in. We’re happy with where we are, but we’re not satisfied with it. We have a lot of work to do and we’re looking forward growing more as we move forward.

Q: What was it like taking some time off after the season?

A:  I think it’s huge for us after playing 13 games in 14 weeks. It’s been a long season so it felt good to get a chance to recharge mentally and physically. It’s going to be good for us moving forward.

Q: With the group coming back next year, how easy does it make it going through the off season?

A: It definitely makes big difference. We have a big opportunity to set ourselves up for next season with a strong finish to this season. Obviously, that’s further down the road. Our only focus right now is USC.

Q: Can you reflect on your first year and bowl prep?

A: Bowl prep is a very important time. Obviously, you have a lot of extra time to prepare. Not only for the game ahead, but to just go back to focus on the little fundamentals that you don’t really have time to focus on during the season. I think for myself, my freshman year of bowl prep was crucial. I was able to have a good bowl game my freshman year and It catapulted me to where I am today.

DAESEAN HAMILTON | WR | Jr. | #5

Q: Do you have any memories of watching the Rose Bowl growing up?

A: I used to watch the Rose Bowl all the time. Especially when I was younger, I used to be a USC fan because of Reggie Bush. It was really fun to watch back when I was a little kid, and now that I’m getting the chance to play in it, it’s like a dream come true.

Q: You’ve been in a lot of big fourth quarters this year: Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin. What is it that has made Penn State so effective in the final quarter?

A: Like we’ve been saying the whole time, we don’t want to be that kind of team. Basically, being a strong second half team; but, that’s just how things have played out. I guess we just know that our backs are against the wall, we know that we have to get the job done, and we’ll do whatever it takes.

Q: What have you noticed about the coaches this year compared to past years and how they have been able to adjust at halftime?

A: It comes down to individual players. The coaches really aren’t telling us to do anything different. We know our jobs, we know exactly what needs to be done and it’s the players that are really taking it upon themselves and making it their job to go out there a get the win at the end of the day.

Q: You did well against a pretty good secondary at the Big Ten title game. How does that help you guys going forward against this team again that is going to bring it in the secondary?

A: We just worry about ourselves. As long as we are taking care of ourselves, capitalizing on our opportunities and not allowing anybody to feel like they can guard us as a whole. it’s not how good anybody is against us, it’s just us taking care of our jobs.

TRACE MCSORLEY  |  Jr.  | QB | #9

Q: You did pretty well against a pretty good secondary in the Big Ten title game, now you’re going to be up again another challenging secondary. How does that experience against Wisconsin help going forward?

A: We have to treat it as if it’s a different team. Obviously they have a different kind of athlete at USC, but we do have that experience of going against a top secondary like Wisconsin. Knowing how [USC] will try to play us and being able to take that in and using that experience for our preparation for USC is still big for us. 

Q: Why were you so successful throwing the ball against Wisconsin?

A: I think our guys on the outside were just making plays. We liked our matchups one-on-one and they were winning outside. Saeed [Blacknall], DaeSean [Hamilton], Chris [Godwin], Mike [Gesicki] and all those guys were winning their matchups and it made my job easier.

Q: What would it mean to you to cap off this magical season with a Rose Bowl title?

A: It would mean so much if we could finish the season off winning the Rose Bowl. It’s the last game of the year and it’s what we’ve been building for this entire year. It’s everything we wanted at the beginning of the year so now we just have to do everything we can throughout these next few weeks to give us the best opportunity to win on January 2. 

Q: When you look at DaeSean’s season and career, what stands out about his ability to show up every game, focused and strong?

A: He’s really consistent. It doesn’t matter if he’s having a good or bad day, he still gives 100% of what he has and gets better every day. That’s been his approach over the last three years of knowing him. He knows what he does well but works to improve in areas that he does need improvement. If there’s ever a guy you want to go to when you have to make a play, you know he is going to be there and can make the play.

Q: Have you had a chance to reflect on how this was your first season as a starting quarterback and you’re heading to the Rose Bowl at the end of the season?

A: Not really. I never really looked at it like that, I just try to take it one step at a time. I’ve been here for three years so it doesn’t really feel like it’s my first year. I’m comfortable with everything and with all the guys. I just don’t try to look at it like that and take it one game at a time. 

Q: This is probably the most explosive offense you’ve gone up against this year, does that change anything for you in terms of scoring? Maybe going for more touchdowns than field goals?

A: No, I don’t think so. Every time we step on the field, we’re trying to score a touchdown. We trust the defense to do what they need to do and our job on offense is to just score one more point than they do. If that means we have to score 70 points or 3 points, whatever it is we just have to get the job done.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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