Harvey Levine/FOS

Nittany defenders talk Rose Bowl, USC

Penn State defenders, including linebacker Brandon Bell (above) talk about the Rose Bowl and USC.

The Nittany Lions' improbable run to a Big Ten championship and a matchup with USC in the Rose Bowl is the focus of five Penn State defensive players in this weekend presser. As Penn State coach James Franklin described previously, his team has yet to focus completely on USC so the players' references to the Trojans may not be as specific and detailed as those of USC players about Penn State. 

BRANDON BELL | LB | Sr./Sr. | #11

Q: When you heard you weren’t in the final four, what were the initial thoughts there? Then when you heard you were in the Rose Bowl did it change those thoughts?

A: We kind of knew if we weren’t [in the College Football Playoff] that we were going to be in the Rose Bowl. So, obviously we wanted an opportunity to play in the playoff, but we still have one more opportunity to play together as a team this year so we’re just thankful for that.

Q: To get a team like USC who has also been playing very well, how much of a bonus is that?

A: Oh, it’s fun. It should be an exciting game. We always look for great competition. Nobody on this team has ever played against USC, so we’re all looking forward to it.

Q: Was the Rose Bowl something you watched as a kid growing up? What are your memories of that?

A: Definitely. It’s kind of hard to watch all the bowl games, but I definitely remember the Rose Bowl. You always remember The Coliseum. I remember watching the 2008 game; I wasn’t really a fan of Penn State or USC, to be honest, I was just a fan of football. I remember watching it and there were a lot of great players in that game.

Q: This is a game that kind of stands alone as the marquee game of that day, does that make it more special for you guys?

A: We wouldn’t want to have it any other way. The spotlight is on us and we’ve always kind of liked that. So, we’re looking forward to it.

Q: What has Koa [Farmer] told you about California?

A: He says it’s a great place and that it is the best state in the country. I’m from New Jersey so, trying to combat those two – New Jersey and California – we’ll find out.

Q: California is known for its L.A./Hollywood endings, are you guys going to wait for the second half to make it dramatic again?

A: I don’t know. I really couldn’t tell you. As long as we come out on the winning end, it doesn’t matter to me.

Q: Are you focusing though on a better start, how have you guys focused on maybe changing the way the pace of the game has gone?

A: Really, it is just kind of a mentality thing. We have to come off the ball hot and fired up as we always are, but we are not focusing on the hype, we are focused on execution.

Q: When you had a chance to think about winning the Big Ten, what was going through your mind about what kind of year it was and what you guys achieved?

A: Honestly, it’s been great. It hasn’t hit me in full yet, we’ll see when that’ll happen. It’s just a spectacular season, as we all know. One of the things I’m most proud of is probably going undefeated at home during my senior season, my last hoorah, I think that was big time.

JASON CABINDA | LB | Jr. | #40

Q:  In the past week how did you balance relaxing with diving into the USC stuff?

A:  It’s different not having practice. We are basically just lifting, watching film and mentally getting a good feel for the team and those kinds of things. Also, relaxing and having the chance to get your body back.

Q:  You guys have especially dominated the final two quarters, especially the fourth quarter. Why is it?

A: I’m not sure why it’s been that way. To be honest, I think those first halves we’re just getting a feel for the teams and we come in and make adjustments and we execute better in that second half. But I can’t tell you exactly why that happens. That’s just how it’s been. We’ve won a lot of games that way so no one is complaining.

Q: Can a bowl game be an exclamation point on this season as much as a springboard for everyone that’s coming back next year?

A:  Yeah, that’s what we’re looking to do. Come out and win this game to put the icing on the cake to end the season. At the same time, use it to propel us forward through the off season to prepare us for any goals we want to achieve next season.

Q: Is it exciting when the team for the most part is going be the same people as it is this year?

A: It’s definitely exiting to see guys grow up and see guys mature. To finally have a larger bunch of juniors and seniors on the team compared to what we have had since I’ve been on the team. When you have that maturity, and guys with that kind of experience on the team, it definitely helps across the board.

GRANT HALEY | CB | Jr. | 15

Q: What have you seen on film from Sam Darnold?

A: He may be a young quarterback, but he’s really stepped into his role as the leader of their team. He has a strong arm and is very accurate. I think as an offense right now they’re really clicking and they trust in him playing that position and they’re one of the hottest teams in the country.

Q: What can you tell is difficult about covering JuJu Smith-Schuster?

A: I think both receivers, JuJu and [Darreus Rogers], are big, strong and physical receivers. They both have speed and all of their receivers have different skill sets. The slot receivers come in and have a little more speed, but then they like to take their shots. They’re going to run a lot of mesh routes and try to confuse you and get the ball out into open space and use their athleticism. 

Q: After the Big Ten Championship game, how long did it take you guys to look away from the rearview mirror and start focusing on USC?

A: I think the difference between the Big Ten Championship game and the regular season is that you can reflect on [that game] a little bit longer, but I think that’s passed us now. Probably last week was when we really began focusing on USC. A lot of guys came together to watch film after workouts and just started getting ready to go out and have a successful bowl game.

Q: What have you seen with this success to the community, fans and the whole spirit here? What has the resurgence meant to everybody?

A: It has meant a great deal. To the players it’s awesome for us to go out and win each week. I know for the fans and alumni it’s more than that. It’s the resurgence of not what Penn State was, but what Penn State is and getting back to the culture of what everyone’s identity of Penn State is.

JOHN REIDL CB | So. | 29

Q: With awards, especially on the defensive side, people thought more of you guys would have been recognized, what are your thoughts on that?

A: I don’t think there’s been much talk among us. We just go out and control what we can control and play the best game we possibly can. We play hard and we’ve never been a team that really worries about the accolades. We’re a humble and hungry team and that’s how we go about our day.

Q: What has the break been like for you, has it been needed from a player’s perspective?

A: I think it as been good because we get to go home and see our families and get a lot of time to watch film. There’s not that pounding on your body that you get during the regular season. Coaches try and pull that back a little bit so that you’re not taking as many hits in practice, but a lot of it is necessary to prepare for a game. Now with finals week over we have a lot more time to study our opponent as opposed to doing school work during the week, so that’s a big deal for everyone.

Q: You watch a lot of tape so when you watch USC what do you see?

A: A very athletic football team. They have shown great success executing what they want to do.Their quarterback has started [a lot of games] now and they have playmakers which is always the thing with USC. You have to have respect for JuJu’s game, but he’s not the only receiver so you have to make sure you know everybody all the way through.

Q: What’s it like going against the one receivers and having that one-versus-one matchup?

A: I feel like everybody is good at certain things and I feel like we have a complete receiving corps in that we have possession guys, most of the guys here are great at high pointing the ball and we have fast guys so we’re guarding a little bit of everything throughout practice. I feel like that has helped improve our game tremendously because a lot of times you’ll go up against guys that are one dimensional. We have a lot of receivers that are good at multiple things so I feel like it’s been a good challenge for us and has made us better defensively. It’s always competitive in practice and that’s always important.

EVAN SCHWAN | DE | Sr. | #94

Q: What were your first thoughts when you heard that you were going to the Rose Bowl?

A: Honestly, it was a dream come true. To be able to play in such a prestigious and historic Bowl game is a huge honor for the team and the entire Penn State community.

Q: Do you have any memories of watching that game growing up?

A: I went to the 2001 Rose Bowl when Purdue played Washington. Drew Brees was the quarterback, and my dad played at Purdue so there was that whole connection. Having some of the memories of being with my family there and getting the chance to go back 16 years later is exciting and a huge honor.

Q: Do you look at this game as reward for what the team has been through?

A:  In some senses I think it is. As a team, we worked so hard preparing for this year and the entire season. I think to be able to play in such a prestigious bowl game is definitely a very rewarding gift.

Q: Is it going to be hard to get back at it after having that kind of time off?

A:  I definitely think that we’ll pick it right back up at practice. We have meetings today and I honestly can’t wait to get back on the field. I haven’t been able to hit anyone since that last game so I can’t wait for practice today.

Q: You mentioned that this is an opportunity to prove that Penn State is back. What would winning the Rose Bowl do to the message?

A:  It would prove everyone that doubted us through the entire process. It’ll show what togetherness and love can do for a group of people.

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

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