Tee Martin talks Penn State

USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin speaks to the media at the StubHub Center as the Trojans prepare for Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

Here are quotes from Tee Martin:

So, Tee, how did you approach the last two weeks of game plan to keep it fresh for the guys?

Yeah, we treated it pretty much like we were going to play Saturday. Just from early week schedule, our lifting schedule, our meeting schedule, practice schedule, we tried to keep it as much the same as we could, so we didn't change too much for the players.

And for us as an offense game plan, we did the same thing; our same normal routine of when the run game went in, when third downs went in, when the red zone went in, we kept the same schedule.

How do you keep it fresh?

Well, yeah, the thing that I tried to do is put a little bit in at a time. Not just the whole deal. We knew as coaches, the whole package, but you try to sprinkle it in a little bit of time for the players. Avoid the monotony. I remember as a player having a month before the next game, it can get monotonous a little bit. But we also, too, have fun at practice. We were competitive. We let the young players after practice have some periods where they got competitive, and the older players got a chance to stay there, cheer them on and coach them up, and that was fun.

What have you seen out of Jalen in the last couple of weeks?

Jalen has been getting the two reps. He's a player who came in as a quarterback who was really in a close quarterback battle at one point, then decided to play wide receiver. So we've always known his ability to play quarterback. And just the way that it happened with Max leaving, he's forced back into the back-up role. But it was pretty cool to see him just get back in there and get the signals and go through progressions and really be effective. So I'm excited about seeing him.

And then Matt, not wanting to blow his red-shirt, but he got the third reps with offense and did a really good job. He's coming along fine.


Is there a younger guy with all the work that you've been getting that maybe we haven't seen a lot of that has really come on in the last few weeks?

Really, excited about Roy Hemsley on the offensive line. He has some really good days of practice. Really excited about him and his opportunity to compete when we get to spring. Excited about Tyler Vaughns as a wide receiver, Josh Imatorbhebhe, those young wideouts and offensive linemen got a lot of reps during this time. And I thought Coach Helton did a great job of scheduling practice in a way that the young players get a lot of plays and a lot of reps and competitive reps. A lot of times when you're being red-shirted, they're on the other field. We're on offense, they're on the defensive field. You don't get a chance to see them. I thought it was really cool for them to perform in front of the rest of the team for not only their benefit, but for the older players to get their respect for them and how hard they've been working all season.

Some of them got incorporated into the second team?

Yeah, second team reps, and we really just scheduled a period at the end of practice for them to just go; 10, 15 minutes of one-on-ones, of nine on seven. Very, very competitive, high-level type reps, and put them in pressure situations, let them compete some. Taking the score on one side or the other. Again, like you said earlier, just trying to make it fun and competitive at the same time.

Can you tell the attitude of all the players, of all of them that are here?

Oh, yes. So, offensive guys with Sam and Zach, they've got Darreus Rogers, JuJu and Justin Davis, very experienced group of guys, all but Sam in terms of how long they've been in the program. Talking about seniors, a junior that's played ever since his true freshman year, and a red-shirt senior. A very experienced group of guys. I'm so proud of them. You know, guys that in recruiting, as well as first class of recruits that we had as a staff that came in and said we're in sanctions, have an opportunity to come and help us get back to where we want to be. And to get them to, number one, buy into that and then the Sun Bowl, the Vegas Bowl, two years of Holiday Bowl, and to see this group of young men here in the Rose Bowl Game is phenomenal. I'm so, so happy for them, sticking with the program, sticking with the plan and getting us to where we are today.


With Sam, he's kind of – off the field he's kind of quiet and shy even. Were you surprised how assertive he was when he stepped in?

Sam, just being around him last year, he has that quiet confidence and very stern, direct leadership quality that a lot of guys have that win a lot of games. You look at the Bradys and the Aaron Rodgers type of guys, they're kind of cool customers. They're not the rah-rah guys all the time, but when they say something, the players know that they mean it. That's how Sam is. He doesn't say a whole lot, but I remember before he was even a starter, I think JuJu ran a route some way, and JuJu was trying to explain to him what he wanted, and Sam goes, no, here's what I want. But it just goes to show he's a very confident leader. He doesn't feel like he has to say a lot, but when he does say something, the guys respect it.

That's not something you can really teach.

No, I just think that's how he is, and it's effective. Guys lead different. I think the way that he leads is really effective. But, overall, I think the biggest thing about him that makes him most respectable is the way he plays. I think guys saw him from the day he stepped on campus make plays and really be a playmaker, if you will, with the ball in his hands. Ultimately, that's what wins your teammates over.

What do you think Penn State does best?

Pressure. They do a great job in terms of scheme to pressure offenses. Then when they're not scheming to pressure, they have great pass rushers. So we're going to have to be efficient. We're getting the ball out and protecting our quarterback. Great with our protections and where guys are coming from, things like that, being able to identify and get the ball out. But it's not one of those defenses where you can just sit back and hold the ball and take your time in the pocket. Have a plan for it. They're really good and excited about the opportunity.

But the fact that you go in all these match-ups, you always felt like the Big Ten came, in terms of defending the pass, maybe you haven't seen it enough, it was not going to be something that they could really rely on. What do you see now? Is the Big Ten in general Penn State?

These guys are athletic. You really look at them, and some of their bigger games this year, I thought Ohio State was one of the most athletic teams in the Big Ten, and they were just stride for stride with their receivers, running backs. I think gave up one huge play for a touchdown in the run game against Ohio State. Other than that, it was a grind-it-out. And they kept up with their their DBs. Their DBs kept up with the receivers and so on and so forth. It's going to be a challenge. I don't think it's the proverbial slow Big Ten versus fast Pac-12 match-up. I think these guys are very athletic, they're fast, they have size, and they're a good team. You look at offensively special teams and how they play together on defense, this is a good football team.

As a player and now as a coach that's been in bowl games, what is the biggest challenge or difficulty for an offense playing after a month off?

To not lose your rhythm. A lot of offense is about rhythm and timing, and you just don't want to lose that. That's the one thing that always concerned me as a quarterback was, you know, you're going, for us, eight, nine straight weeks of playing and guys are on the money and guys are on time, guys are coming off after the break sometimes, because you know Saturday you have to play, and then you have a month off and things will slow down just a tad bit. But this week, for us, we're going to ramp it back up to get that game-type speed and intensity back to where we need it before game time. But that's always the concern is the rhythm of things from an offensive standpoint with the time off.

Can you talk about the running back tandem that you guys have?

No question about it, with Justin Davis, glad to see him back and healthy. The last couple games, finally get back. You can tell he's about 85%, but he made some cuts at bowl practice up to this point that he made us go, okay, Justin is back. He's one of the better cutter/assignment running backs I've been around. And then Ronald Jones and Aca'Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis, those guys are doing a great job. And they all bring something different to the table, which is good. Pretty much calling the same plays, but the outcomes can be different based on who is in the game.


How excited are the local athletes to play in this ballgame?

You can just hear them talking around each other. Just always growing up watching the Rose Bowl Game, and some of them have been there as a spectator, some of them have never been there, in the actual Rose Bowl Game except the game itself, and they're all pumped about it. Number one, for SC. The majority of them grew up SC fans and wanting to play at USC. Seeing the greats in the past make some of their career moments in the Rose Bowl game, I think it's huge for them. It's big for me too. You know, I can't believe it. But I'm happy for them to get this experience.

What do you tell a guy like Sam? You've played in big games and coached in big games, and he's clearly grown up around it and excited about this one, but to not try too hard but still play with the swagger we've seen him play with?

Yeah, you've said the right thing. Play within the system and do what you've been doing. You don't have to make things up and you don't give up opportunities to make those plays. And when those plays come, make those plays. But other than that, keep doing what you've been doing. He's been doing a great job of distributing the ball to different people, whether it's receivers, tight ends, running backs. Adoree', when he comes over, he does a great job of keeping everyone involved. And I think that's what's made us successful as an offense. And just continue to do those things.

JuJu said he's sleeping with roses, he couldn't be more excited to get in this ballgame?

JuJu's a huge, huge USC fan, and this is a moment for him. I can imagine this is probably on the top of his list of having an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl Game.

Do you guys want your athletes to embrace all the good stuff and celebrate all that stuff and trust it when it comes to game time? They're not going to try too hard?

They've earned it. I would be less of a coach if I wouldn't let them enjoy this. There are times when I think back and I'm talking to some of my former college teammates and we're just talking. It's about the bowl experience and what we did at that bowl game and the actual game itself. And the season is great, but ultimately this is what you play the season for, just to get to these bowl games. So many memories that you don't ever forget.

A couple years ago you guys had less than 50 scholarship athletes and you're on that staff. To get back to the level that fans are expecting to see from the Trojans, games like the Rose Bowl Game, what's that like for you? Have you had a chance to reflect upon that?

Yeah, I thought about it. When we got the Rose Bowl Game bid, it was surreal for me because so many years you're sitting in that living room selling players on getting back to this point. So just we don't have the scholarship, but we need you to come and help us get back to where we want to be and be an integral part of it and come in and play as a freshman.

Because with those numbers being taken away, you couldn't afford to red-shirt a lot of guys. So you were recruiting an 18-year-old and telling them we're going to throw you right into the fire, that's good and bad. Some worked out and some didn't. But to see Sun Bowl, Vegas Bowl, Holiday twice, and now Rose, it's just a gradual climbing up the mountain, if you will, as a program and our players. Just to see them appreciate that they're in the Rose Bowl. Guys like Adoree' Jackson, JuJu, those guys that could have gone other places that would have been here before this, but decided to come to USC and help us get to this point. I'm just so proud of our program, so proud of our players for sticking through it, our head coach, all we've gone through with so many different head coaches and then now for him to have the opportunity to be the head coach that leads us to a Rose Bowl is a storybook type of season.


What do you think is maybe one of the keys of getting you from where you were a year ago to where you are now?

I think camaraderie and chemistry is something that has to naturally happen. I think as coaches we can create the environment for that to happen, but ultimately leadership and players decide that that's what they're going to do. I think it started, number one, with the hiring as the head coach. It was a familiar face. It wasn't someone coming in and changing what we had been doing and building, someone familiar with the recruits that we had signed. I think it started there. And then the kind man that he is and what Coach Helton preaches, it just kind of permeates through our program.

Then the spring was a physical, tough, grind-it-out spring. And it built a lot of what we're about, you know, stopping the run and running the football and letting skill players make their plays and coming into training camp knowing that you're going to be tested right off the bat against Alabama. I think all of those things were set up to build the character that this team now has.

When you're tested, in my opinion, the best defense in college football, you're tested right off the bat against a team like that, you don't play great, you lose that game, and then you go into a spin of 1-3, and what are we going to do. Only character pulls you out of that type of situation. Only leadership pulls you out of that situation. Whether it's the head coach, coaching staff or player leadership.

To see where we were after the Utah game to where we are now is just a testament to the program's character. That's what I think it's all about. It can't be forced. It has to be natural. I think that's what happened to this team this year.

The winning streak that you guys are on is the longest in eight years. I know you have experience with that as a player and now as a coach. What is the difference between winning seven, eight in a row and winning two in a row?

You just focus on the next one, and you're so mad about the mistakes you made in the last one. When you focus on things like that, then it's pretty simple. You don't focus about streaks. You don't think about all of that. You don't read the clippings. You pretty much say, man, we won by ten, if we had made these plays here, we would have won by this. So what happened? Because we know how crazy college football can be. A play here, a play there, made or not made, can change the outcome of the game.

And we've been fortunate this year to make the majority of these plays during this win streak. But I focus on the mistakes more than I focus on the positives. I think the offense thinks I'm crazy, we'll do something amazing to the outside, and they get in on Monday and I'm ripping them. But never satisfied until the end of the season.

When you self-scouted yourself, even within this streak as a play caller, what's it been like for you being as critical as you are?

First of all, all good teams have tendencies, and defenses are going to know it. Just like good defenses, we're going to know what they're going to do. It just comes down to how well can your players execute what other teams know what you're going to do, first of all, and there are just some things that we're going to do, and we have to be good at it.

Other than that, you have your tendency of breaking things, you have tendencies that you aren't aware of, that just by the nature of maybe it's trying to get someone the ball, maybe it's a match-up that brought you to that tendency, so not only looking at the tendency but looking at what brought us to that tendency. Was it a match-up? Was it the same type of defensive scheme that was the case?

But the cool thing about tendencies that show up on film is that no one saw what the call had on it. So for me as a call play caller, they saw that, but we practice a lot of this and it's good stuff, you have an opportunity to pull out some of those things. So I think our staff did a great job of self-scouting their individual positions as well and then ultimately the whole total offense. We may do some tendency-breaking things, but we have to do what we have to do and do it well and execute what we do.


Does diversity minimize some of the tendencies compared to a typical quarterback?

At times, at times. He gives us variety. He gives us a wide range of things that we can do. I don't know necessarily if it changes tendencies, if you will, but you can jump in and out of things with Sam because of his ability to adapt and not get rattled by change. So I'm happy to have a quarterback that we can do those types of things with.

Where do you feel you've grown the most with Sam?

He thinks so quickly. Sometimes when you're a new starter or you haven't played a lot of games, you can question if a guy's really open or not. You can talk yourself out of a read or progression or think yourself out of it. I think over time he's just kind of pulled the trigger. Guy is open, I'm going to let the ball go. Presnaps, getting us in the right play, things like that, he sees it, he thinks it, he lets the ball go. I think that's helped us. One of the reasons why we've been sacked less this season and throughout the season too is part of it is getting the ball out from the quarterback position.

(Question regarding play calling.)

Just earlier in the year we were in the quarterback position. Max was named the starter, Sam was named the back-up. But it was also said that Sam was going to also play in every game. So I went into the first three or four games of the year with two players. You had an overall game plan that the offense had to play. Then you had a package for Max, a package for Sam that was at times difficult because it was just different to do that. So when Max was named the starting quarterback, go all in on his package and what we feel like we have to do to win the game when he was at quarterback.

But it was tough. You have to play Alabama and Stanford in your first games as a starter. That's a tough deal. And then just adapted to him. Then after you make the change, now the freshman quarterback is now the starter, on the road at Utah, very aggressive defense. Okay. How do we do what we have to do to win the game? So it was more adapting to the triggerman, if you will, and his specific skills and what we can do to win the game with that specific quarterback as opposed to me, necessarily. I'm more so a for-the-quarterback type play caller. Having been a person that called my own plays a lot in my own career, I always felt like my relationship with my play caller, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, that they had my best interest at hand. They wouldn't put me in a situation that wasn't conducive to me being successful and the offense being successful.

So as I'm calling plays, I keep that in mind for the quarterback, putting him in good situations and not make things too hard for him, if you can. Sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do. But the majority of the time I want to put him in a positive situation for positive outcomes in terms of what Sam can do.

After the Utah game and Sam started and did some things but the game got away, what was your feeling about how he was going to feel about that? Was his confidence going to be shaken or how he was going to handle the next games?

At one point during the game, I can't remember if it was third or fourth quarter, but at one point in the game, we had a few turnovers early in the game. We had fought back and actually gotten the lead. I actually got on the sideline, How is Sam doing? And one of the guys said, Dude, he's a stud. He's walking around like he's not even in this environment. So poised. He was walking up to the guys on the sideline, encouraging them in his first start as a red-shirt freshman.

It let me know that we had something special in that quarterback, in that leadership, that type of leadership. But after the game I was upset about the loss. I felt like we had let one get away from us. But I was encouraged by what I saw from an offense; that if you really don't turn the ball over, you don't punt the ball until the fourth quarter, and I hadn't been around that type of performance since I've been at USC, but the turnovers are what got us.

So the message from that point on was when we're not shooting ourselves in the foot, we're pretty good. We're pretty good. Let's take those things out. Stanford was penalties and Utah was turnovers. Let's take these things out. When we take these things out, we're going to be really good. Never lost that message with the offense. Then we went on a streak of not doing those things and winning football games.

He seems to be a guy or a quarterback who can develop a really good rhythm not just with one or two guys, but just about anybody. Is that just a natural thing with him? How does a quarterback develop that?

Well, this is an understanding of the system, too, and allowing his progressions to take him to whoever that person is. He's not locked in on what may have happened in practice. Sometimes as a young quarterback what can happen to you is that situation happened at practice. It may have been man-to-man, it may have been cover two. That may have happened at practice. It may be cover three, it may be blitzing the game. We can simulate what's going to happen in the game at practice, but you don't know when that's going to happen. You have to at that time at quarterback play ball. And I think that's one of the better things he does, is he plays ball. He's spreading the ball around to the tight ends, different tight ends. You look at all of our tight ends with catches in the same game, the running backs, the receivers, Adoree' comes over, Adoree'.

So I think he plays within himself. He plays within the system, and he trusts the guys around him too. It's kind of like being a point guard. You have to trust the guy to pass you the ball, and that's what he does.

Talk about schematics of the Penn State defense. What do they seem to do well?

Get to the quarterback. Do a great job of doing that, whether it's by call pressures or it's just by nature of being good pass rushers. So I'm going to have to do a good job of matching that on tape, all the way to the Wisconsin game and Big Ten Championship game, they've been consistently doing that. So it's something that we've paid attention to, and we're working on to give us an opportunity to win the game.

When you prepare for a team that has the whole season behind them already, where do you start?

I watch everything.

Do you start from the beginning of the season? Do you start from the most recent? What is your progression?

From the first game. It tells a story. Just like if you watch us, it tells a story. Sometimes you don't know why, why they got to this point, why is that kid playing at that corner position or that safety position or that D-line position. What happened? Did he get beat out? Did he beat someone else out? Was it due to injury? So on and so forth. It tells a story. So you go back to the beginning and work yourself out. You don't have anything but time when you're on the road recruiting and playing, things like that, we have a lot of time.

So you end up spending more time on what they did at the end of the year, then?

As you watch the defense and it becomes you, kind of, and you just kind of got a feel for them. I'm kind of an instinctive guy. So as I watch them, I get the feeling and seeing what they do and how they move, and how their players move and how they play. It just kind of gets in your system a little bit. Then you go to the drawing board and start game planning, if you will. So that's how I do it. That's how I feel when I do these things, and that's kind of where I am right now.

What kind of challenges does such a long layoff present for an offense?

Just you don't want to lose your rhythm.

You just don't want to lose your rhythm, especially on streaks. Both teams are on streaks. They played one week longer than we have, but you've got still both teams were, offense, especially, making those plays at the right time and just kind of both quarterbacks are in sync and making big plays down the field. So, you don't want to lose that.

I think Coach Helton does a great job of keeping us in our normal game, rhythm and routine. Monday was Monday, Tuesday was Tuesday, all the way down to when we walked through. I thought it was pretty unique. I hadn't been around that before. But that was really unique. He kept the same schedule that we'd have if we were to play a game on Saturday. And I think our players responded well to that schedule, and it worked good for us as a staff because we got an opportunity to implement the game plan as we went through the week. As opposed to feeling like, hey, it's right here on us right now. Let's get the game plan.

So our players have had two weeks of a game plan, and there will be some wrinkles here and there throughout this week. But for the most part, we practiced the actual game plan for two weeks.


Is Penn State's front seven, with the way they're able to pressure quarterbacks (indiscernible) Utah and Alabama?

Yeah, they're up there. They're good at what they do. One thing they do, that you take note of, they've played together for a long time. You look across the board, it's red-shirt senior, senior, junior, red-shirt junior. They've been on the team together for a long time. They understand the scheme. You always look at the schedule, you look at scores, and then when you go back and watch the game, there are times when they were down early and they came back. They were a big-time second half team. A lot of it has to do with the defense making plays or getting turnovers or stopping someone. An opportune time with a fourth down.

So it's a team that poses a challenge because you don't just have these names that you're just throwing out, but collectively as a defense, they play really well together. We're going to have to play well together at all positions to be successful.

What do they do pressure-wise that they're able to be successful?

Well, just blitz. One of the best ways is to blitz the quarterback. They always try to get seven or eight men in the box somehow. Whether it's to stop the run or it is a run tendency, down and distance, that's what they do. And the obvious passing down, whether it's 3rd and long or 3rd and medium, they have all the stunts and games and things like that. I think the pressure package is pretty cool. It's unique. And we're going to have to do a great job of knowing where they're coming from and putting hats on hats.

What were the last couple months? It seems Sam's been really good about spreading the ball around and not totally relying on JuJu. That's probably a product of him getting hurt. But it seems as a red-shirt freshman, he's able to spread it around. How important is that?

It's good. It's interesting, the dynamic of Sam playing quarterback, you're on the other side of the scout team quarterback for a year, you're trying to get the ball to the first guy before you get your head knocked off, right? So you don't have these favorites, if you will. Now you get thrown into the starting role, and you just want to focus on doing your job. I think that's what got him to that. He's just playing within the system, and he's truly letting progressions and reads and coverage dictate where the ball goes.


Then give credit to the guys around him as well. We knew about JuJu coming into the season, but, Darreus Rogers is having a really good season. Ronald Jones is having a great season. Daniel Imatorbhebhe is a guy that came out of the shadows that we knew how talented he was, but as a freshman, we didn't know how he was going to play. And Daniel's become one of his favorite targets. So on and so forth. But just excited how the guys around him are playing and happy for him that he feels good enough and confident enough that he feels like he can distribute the ball to anyone.

(Indiscernible) distributed just because that's who he is as quarterback, or does he just because he has more weapons?

I think it's a combination of both. He just doesn't get locked in. If JuJu's open, he'll throw it to him. If JuJu's not open, Deontay Burnett has been a great option for him. Deontay didn't even play a lot last season. It's just unique about Sam. He sees it, he's open, he does his job, I do my job, and that's the reason we've been able to spread the ball around so well this year.

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Keely Eure is a broadcast journalism student at the Annenberg School at USC. You can follow her on Twitter at @keelyismyname.

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