Full quotes from Clancy Pendergast's press conference:
Coach, Penn State, pretty impressive especially in the second half recently. What have you seen from them on tape, and what impresses you most about that offense?
I think they make a lot of good adjustments after the first half, they score a lot of points in the second half. They're very balanced in what they do, and they've got a very good – they're very good at running the football, not only the running back but the quarterback, and they take a lot of shots down the field.
When you see that difference between the first half and second half, what stands out to you as something that changed?
You know, there's more explosive plays that happen. I think they've been able to score points in the second half, and they do a good job of making adjustments.
What's been your message to your defense? Something that you know you have to stop if you're going to stop that offense?
Well, obviously, if you look at the numbers, they're very talented running the ball, and that'll be the first and foremost thing that we need to guard against. But, obviously, they like spreading the ball around to a lot of different guys in the passing game, so we're definitely going to have our hands full.
Do they remind you of any team you've faced this year?
They're a lot of a little bit of everybody we've played, to be honest with you, other than Stanford. They're a spread-oriented attack. They'll do things at the line of scrimmage, and nobody in particular, really.
Where has Adoree' improved the most as a corner this season?
I think his overall technique at the position. We didn't have him in the springtime, obviously, because he was running track, and he really came into fall camp and focused on what he needed to improve on as a defensive back, based on kind of our study of what he did prior to us coming here. He really took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and focused on trying to get better, really focused in on studying his opponent, and knowing what his opponent's going to do.
Because he's bounced around so much -offense, defense, track – if he comes back for another year, where can he still refine his game?
I just think that the more you play, the better you're going to get. He's obviously made a lot of great plays for us this year. I think he could just really hone in on his craft, because I think he's playing at a pretty high level right now, based on what I see.
And Biggie [Iman Marshall], opposite him, where has he improved from last year?
I think he's, once again, the same thing. The techniques are a lot different than what he had done in the past, and I feel like over the course of time he's really bought into the stuff that we're teaching, and he's really become more of a student of the game, and I think that's helped him as well.
He had the penalty issues as a freshman, some really inopportune moments. He seems he's been a lot better in that regard this year. What's he been able to clean up to not get flagged so often?
Well, like I said, I think it's a combination of the two things I just mentioned. Number one, it's the technique, and number two, I think he's got a good feel for his particular match-up when he goes into the game.
Almost every team you've faced, they seem different than you've seen on film. How have you been able to be so versatile every week in what you bring to the table?
I think it's the function of our guys. Our players are able to make adjustments. The more we played together, the better we got as the year went on. And I think that we're able to do some things differently week-in and week-out that maybe we weren't able to do early in the year because we hadn't been together as long.
You had some veteran guys on defense. How do they help the chemistry on the defense?
For example, Stevie coming in from Utah, he was a big help not only to the defensive line, but to the whole defensive unit about how to be a pro, how to study, and how to prepare himself.
What have you seen from Uchenna [Nwosu]? He's managed to thrive in your system. What have you seen from him this year?
Very versatile athlete. He's a guy that's gotten a lot better. First time he's playing the position that he's playing now. He played behind the ball more last year, played out on the slot some. But we have him exclusively as an outside linebacker, and I think he gives us a lot of flexibility, and I think he has a bright future.
How do you think he's grown over the season?
I think he's matured. Like a lot of these guys, when you look at our defensive unit, I think other than Adoree' [Jackson] and maybe [Iman]Marshall, there's probably 15 starts combined between everybody that we started the season with in their entire career. So it was a very young group. The more they played, the more they worked together, the better we got as a defense.
With the way you guys have approached the bowl and treated it like a game each week, what have you made of that process?
We just try to be consistent. I think that me specifically prepare to the defense that I want us to be the same group every single day. So to have that same process in terms of the practice has been really good for our defense, I feel.
Do you think it might help prevent against – it seems like some teams get off to a slow start because of the layover. Does that approach, do you think, guard against that at all?
Well, we spent time, really the first week I spent a lot of time just looking at us defensively, how could we do things better? How could we improve? How could our techniques get better at all three levels of defense? Because one of the things that concerns you the most is there is a lot of time between your last game and the bowl game, so we've really focused on that a lot as well as Penn State.
You guys have had some losses at linebacker this year, Jabari Ruffin was a guy suspended earlier in the year, and (indiscernible) now ineligible for the game. Are you guys okay depth-wise at linebacker?
Well, we have to get 11 guys out there, so we'll have a group ready and prepared, and they'll get the normal amount of reps that somebody else would have gotten.
Is there anybody else that fills into his spot?
There are a couple different options that we could use in there, and kind of depending on the style of the game and kind of how it's going. It could go a lot of different directions.
One of the things Tee [Martin] was talking about yesterday was Penn State is not like a proverbial Big Ten team that people think of slow, run oriented, they have a lot of speed. Have you seen that as well?
Yeah, they're obviously explosive. When you look at the amount of big plays they've had this year, it's very high. They can score at a fast rate, so I think they're a very good team and it's going to be a big challenge for us.
Do they have a lot of big plays? At times it seems that receivers are running straight down field and they throw it up?
When you look at the sheet, and they're 75 yards, 80 yards, 65 yards, those are big, explosive plays to me.
Those don't seem like chunks of yardage that a lot of teams get?
No, they have a lot of big plays that they make in their passing game.
Are there any true freshman that you've been impressed with the last three or four weeks?
I think Oluwole [Betiku Jr.], he played this year, he didn't play a lot, but he played some. I thought he made some improvements. I think Ykili Ross has made some improvements in the secondary throughout the course of time. He didn't get a lot of playing time on defense this year. Jordan Iosefa is obviously a guy that's been really flexible for us defensively, playing outside, playing inside. He's really smart for a freshman player, and I think he's gotten better. By him having an opportunity over the course of the season to see Mike [Hutchings] operate, that's helped him as well. So those would be the guys that really jump out at me.
With the Penn State offense that's so explosive especially in the second half, do you guard against that and make sure players are fresh and everything?
Obviously, you've just got to go see how the game goes. Our antennas have to be up. We have to realize every part of the game that they can be explosive. So we just have to keep reminding our players. We've played some explosive teams this year as well. So it's new, but it's not new in a lot of ways.
It seems like one of the common themes is how similar the two teams are with each other. How nice is it to be able to go up against an offense throughout the season and in practice that kind of resembles this same offense?
Well, there are some unique things that they do. Like I said, they're a little bit of everybody we've played offensively. So there are some new wrinkles that we have not seen. I'm sure there will be some new wrinkles when you have this much time to prepare for somebody on both sides. I'm sure there will be some new things.
With that time, how beneficial is that for you as a coaching staff, and just kind of getting ready for this type of game?
I feel like it's been very beneficial. We spent the first ten days evaluating ourselves, how can we improve, how can we get better, and how can we improve our techniques? That was important to emphasize that because there was such a long layoff during the last bowl game.
During that time, what did you feel was the biggest improvement that you felt needed to be worked on?
Just overall technique at all levels of the defense.
When you look at Stevie T. [Tu'ikolovatu], when he showed up on campus, what were your expectations?
I looked at a lot of tape. I obviously saw him play and really wanted him to come in and get his weight down, get him to move maybe a little bit better. He worked on all those things. But most importantly, he came in from a leadership standpoint and really helped not only the defensive line group but the whole defense on how to be a professional.
What are some examples? Everybody keeps saying his maturity, his leadership, but what is something you saw?
He's a gym rat-type guy. He's in the facility, he's looking at tape, he's pushing the envelope, he knows his opponents, and a lot of times not only from the coaches, but the peer pressure from the players on, hey, you've got to study, you've got to know your opponent, that always helps reinforce that. And I thought he did a nice job of bringing that to our unit.
He said sometimes if it's late in the game and guys are tired they'll look to him and say: Look, you've got to go. Is that an element of him and that grittiness that's gone to your defensive line, at least with the success and the streak that you've been on?
Yeah, as a player you have certain attributes, and he has a leadership-type attribute that people kind of gravitate towards.
That's awesome. When you have a guy who is married and who is that old and you have some young guys on this team that come out of a different environment, what is the beauty within your defensive unit that it can kind of all melt together regarding him and his experience and some of the younger guys?
From the initial meeting we had, we're going to work on trust and accountability, so regardless of who is where and where they're from, we've got to look at each other and say we're accountable to each other. I think that is the message we started from day one. We want our guys to be the same guys every day. I think as a collective unit they've bought into that.
Cam Smith, when you moved him a little bit, where have you seen him thrive now?
I think it's helped him a little bit moving him in from the middle linebacker position to the outside backer in a stacked spot. He's thrived more in the tackle-to-tackle type area, but he's done well in space as well. And for him to come off that knee injury as quickly as he did, he's going to be even that much better next year. I'm excited about the progress he's made and looking forward to the opportunity to coach him again.
How about Iman Marshall? How has he grown throughout the season?
Well, early on, he had some issues with penalties, and I didn't watch any film much of the year before, but you saw the stats. He had a high number of pass interference and holding-type penalties. I think it took him a little time to buy into the technique we were teaching and understanding the coverages and where his health is, along with studying his opponents. I think he'll only continue to get better, and I'm excited about his progress.
Porter Gustin, he seems like he's a man-child every time he's on the field. Did you know his potential when he showed up here, and where has he grown in the nuances of the game?
I knew I was going to get a lot of effort out of him. He's going to give you everything he's got. I think he's probably improved the most at playing the run and having the understanding of setting edges.
Then Adoree', what makes him so unique in practice? You see him make great plays in games and back flips and all the amazing elements. But what is he on the daily?
He comes out there, and we push our guys that we want to play the game during the week. He's one of those guys that understands that, and he stays focused throughout the course of the time that we're out there on the field. He's very much a consummate pro himself in how he carries himself.
Can you talk a little bit about Adoree' at the next level? I know there is still a slight possibility he comes back, but how does his game translate to the NFL?
Well, I think he gives the teams a lot of flexibility. He'll give a team an opportunity to be able to be a day one punt returner and kick returner with his explosiveness with the ball in his hand. I think that he's – system-fit-wise, from a corner back standpoint, he's got flexibility to play inside on a slot or outside on a wideout. He's a physical tackler, so he plays bigger than probably what his stature is.
I've watched him play through high school, and the fact that he can tackle is kind of rare for a guy of that size at that position. Most of them just want to cover.
He surprised me the very first time we had a scrimmage at the Coliseum, because we didn't have him all spring because of track. We had a goal-line situation, and he came up and made a couple nice tackles right off the tight end area. I thought, wow, this guy's not afraid to get his hands dirty, and he's displayed that all year.
How about his personality? He's very bubbly. Maybe that's an understatement. When he went to SC, his high school coach told him tamp it down a while. Don't just come in and be the way you are here. I think he took that to heart, at least at the beginning. Now when he goes to the NFL, he's going to probably have to do the same thing, I would think, because old pros don't like the rookies to be too noisy.
He's going to have to be himself. I think he's very focused. I think he's a guy that during the game you can look him in the eye and say we're going to make this adjustment. We're going to do this, do that, hey, I've got it. I think the game is really slowing down for him.
Talking about adjustments, how did you adjust the defense from the time you got here from the first couple of games until now? You did some tweaking or maybe major changes?
Well, I think more than anything, putting in a system, this is probably my sixth time as a coordinator putting in a new system. We have to get good at something first. I felt like after spring ball and after evaluating the guys that we had, and it started in fall camp that, hey, we're going to identify these things that we're going to make sure we're good at early, and then we'll move on to some different things as the season has gone along. And I think we're able to progress and get better the more we've played together, and the guys felt more comfortable with the stuff we're trying to do.
How do you kind of balance them becoming comfortable with what you were doing or what you wanted and you getting to know them? Because it's different in real games versus spring?
Yeah, we don't have any preseason games, so when you looked at our first four games, you're playing Alabama, Utah State, Stanford, Utah, those are opponents that you've got to really bring your A-game against. I just think it took a little bit of time for the guys to get comfortable in the huddle looking at each other, being accountable, trusting the system, and trusting each other.
You're not going to talk to it, but I bet you'd love to play the first three games, forget the one game -
I'm just excited about playing this one right now.
What's kind of struck you about Penn State and their offense?
I think they're very versatile. They do a very nice job in the running game, they've got the ability to run the ball in between the tackles and outside on the perimeter. Their tight end is very good with the ball in his hands. He's a very high-point catcher. He's really a mismatch for a lot of different defenses, and then their ability to get the ball down the field and make explosive plays in the passing game.
Do you change anything with them having a wide receiver in the game?
We've got to cover who is out there. They still have three guys above him that were major contributors that will be playing.
What about you on your side, losing Olajuwon Tucker at a position you've already lost a couple guys at, at the outside linebacker position? How do you fill that hole?
Well, there were a couple guys that were backing up that group, so they've got to step up and be ready to play when they're called upon.
Give us your thoughts, Coach, on their two primary ballplayers in [Saquon] Barkley and [Trace]McSorley, what do they do well.
The running back is talented. He really does a nice job with his vision up inside, and when things kind of close up in there, he can bounce out at the line of scrimmage. So he's a guy that is kind of hard to deal with, and obviously his numbers speak that. I think the quarterback does a very nice job of reading the zone, reading the running game. And I think he really makes people miss in space.
As a coach, playing in the Rose Bowl Game, what's that mean for you?
It's exciting, but obviously I'm really more excited for the players. They've worked really hard to get an opportunity to play in this type of game. Especially the seniors, the Mike Hutchings of the world. You know, I'm really excited for what they've been through and getting an opportunity to play in this game. And of course it's very special to me as well.
You'd like to take away an element of somebody else's offense, a team that can really do both things well with special players like [Trace]McSorley and [Saquon] Barkley. Are you able to do that with this team against Penn State in setting up your game plan?
It's one of those things where they're very balanced. Like I said, they've got a very good tight end that they like to throw the ball to. They've got wideouts that make big plays down the field. So their element, obviously, is trying to run the football, and that's what they've been successful with.
Your guys have mentioned in terms of people stepping up, Connor Murphy and Oluwole [BetikuJr.], are they to that point where they're the next in line?
Yeah, they've done a nice job progressing throughout the course of the season. I think the off-season's going to be really important for them in terms of their development. But they certainly have worked hard enough and understand the defense enough to be able to play.
How has Betiku adjusted to things? When he left high school, they were concerned that he still had so much to learn. How has he dealt with all of that?
He's progressed. He takes coaching. I think just like the whole defense. We've got a lot of guys coming back next year, but having these guys in the same system, hearing the same words, talking the same techniques are going to only help them get better, and he's definitely one of those guys.
With how new football is to him, and the whole culture, and there were people who had concerns about him. And I understand he hasn't been a problem in any way.
No, really enjoy him. I think our staff enjoys coaching him. I think he's going to get a lot better the more he gets acclimated.
What is the ceiling for him?
It's hard to say. He's obviously got the want-to, and he's got a unique skillset that allows him to really be an explosive pass rusher. I think more than anything, he's got to learn how to play the run a little bit better would be the main thing for him initially.
I watched him play in high school. Another local guy that I'm kind of interested in is [Uchenna]Nwosu. How has he grown?
He's been great. He's playing in a new position. He really had never played very much before. He was stacked behind the ball as an inside linebacker. I think he was backing up Su'a Cravens on the slot like a nickel back. So this role is new for him. He's taken it on. He's taken the challenges on. And I think he's got a really bright future. I think he's a guy that's really ascended during the course of the year.
Did he surprise you, then, some from what you saw when you first got here?
No, I could see his athletic ability. I could see his ability to bend. I could see his ability to use his hands. I could see his instincts, so it was easy to say, hey, he's probably one of the top three to five guys on this defense just from an athletic standpoint.
And he's kind of done that now?
Yeah, he's kind of done that.
How about Rasheem Green?
Rasheem's come on just like all three levels of our defense. I think the defensive lines probably have the hardest transition because the techniques are so much different from what they had done in the past. I think the more he played and really took to coaching and understood the gap responsibility, you're not two gapping. We need you to be in a single gap or an eyeball alignment, whatever it may be, hand on foot, this is your gap. You're not playing down the middle of somebody, and somebody's reading off of you. I think that helped him understand over the course of time that's what we were asking him to do, which allowed him to get better.
Is that what you mean by technique, or is there anything else?
He's a diligent worker. I mean, we've got a good group that we've kind of built over the course of the year, and obviously through spring and fall camp. But transition-wise, defensively we're just completely different in what they had done in the past couple years. So it was challenging at times, but these guys have been diligent and worked and can see that things will help them get better.
Can you explain the differences between what they were doing and what you do?
Yeah, we're more of a single gap-oriented defense, and they're probably more of a two. They were in the past, up front for sure, more of a two-gap, two, three, four type system, which is, you know, like night and day compared to what we do. We're pure gap responsibility with our run defense.
The view in the press box by a lot of people was that [Rasheem] Green couldn't keep focused. And he's apparently more focused now. Would that be a fair assessment?
I don't know what he was before, he's been great for us. He's going to have a good off-season, and we can identify some things that he will get better at.
If there is one thing you can accomplish on defense that will basically decide this game, is there one thing you can say if we can do this, we're in good shape? Is there one of those things like that?
No, I think that obviously the explosive plays would be the main thing, whether it be in the run game or the pass game.
Coach, if you singled out a player or two that you really feel like has grown a lot throughout the year, who would that be?
I would say up front, Rasheem would be a guy. Rasheem Green would be a guy that's growing up front, defensive line-wise. I think Uchenna [Nwosu] has grown a lot. I think Cam Smith has grown a lot within this system. I think Marvell Tell has grown a lot. And I think Iman Marshall has grown a lot throughout the course of time.
But there is a unit. The guys have really bought in, and the things that we prepare, they're coming to work and doing it, and have done it all year. I think that's helped our defense get better.
How important is it for – I know all 11 guys all have a job every play. How important is it that they're working together? Because it doesn't seem like you're as reliant on one individual making an incredible play, but really everybody making the right play?
Yeah, obviously, we want to be a team-oriented defense. And from day one we've preached trust and accountability, and the more the guys can play together, look each other in the eye, can communicate, Uchenna's saying this to Mike Hutchings, Mike Hutchings saying this to Stevie T. [Tu'ikolovatu], Marvell's saying this to Iman [Marshall], on down the line, it's only going to help your cohesiveness to get better, because there has to be a certain comfort level to have success.
Do you think Cam [Smith] and Mike [Hutchings]set the tone in the middle for your linebackers?
Obviously Mike is really the ringleader. He's the quarterback of the defense out there. He's had an exceptional year. There is not a guy on our defense that I'm prouder of than Mike just because this being his first year to really play very much. But he's allowed us to do some things defensively because he's able to handle that on the field. Cam's done a nice job playing within the role we've asked him to play, and coming off that knee injury, it's pretty incredible what he's been able to do.
Penn State's had this phenomenal ability to play in the second half. Do you address that? Do you talk to guys?
Yeah, we're going to hit every facet of the game from a situational standpoint, whether it be 3rd and 1, red zone from the 12 and in, first and ten, second and four, that's just an element of the game we do talk about, and our guys are obviously aware of.
From what you've watched, how do they do that? How are they two different teams, like first half, second off?
They've just been able to capitalize when they've taken shots down the field.
You mentioned Iman [Marshall] as one of the more improved players. How well is he playing, because I think he gets underrated sometimes because of Adoree'. Is he playing near?
I think he's gotten better as the season has gone on. I think the last five, six games, the last five or six weeks of the season I think he's gotten a lot better. When you're playing different techniques, particularly at the cornerback position, and you're being asked to study opponents and understand splits and receivers, understand what the quarterback's looking at, in your back-pedal knowing when you're at 12 yards to open your hips, all those little things, it takes time. I think as the more the season went on, he could sense maybe those things were going to help him. He bought in, has gotten better, and I think he'll only continue to get better.
What worries you the most about facing Saquon Barkley?
Just the first guy that gets him on the ground. I think it's really important we've got to get a lot of hats to the ball.
Is that the same with [Trace] McSorley?
Yeah, he's just a little bit more slippery, but the running back, obviously, is a strong runner inside and outside the box. So I think that's the element with him.
Do you feel like Stevie [Tu'ikolovatu] has gotten more of push in the back field in the second half of the season?
I think it's been pretty good all year. He's obviously done a nice job of studying his particular match-up and understanding what the strengths and weaknesses are of that guy, and maybe he's had more success the second half of the year than the first.
But I've been pretty pleased with the way he's played all year, because as another guy that came in and the techniques are different here than what he learned at Utah. So, really happy with what he's done.
What kind of shot do you think he has at getting into the next level?
There is no question, he's a guy that there are a lot of teams looking for a specific body type to play a certain position inside, and I think he fits that bill, and there's not a lot of guys available each year in the draft that look like that. So I'm not sure what his prospectus would be. I know I'll get a lot of calls about it.
With Penn State being a second half team, they usually make some adjustment and do better in the second half, is there anything you could do to prepare for that to counter that?
Well, we're trying. Talking about it as much as we can. We're making our guys aware of that as much as we can. They see the film. We've just got to go out and execute on Monday.
Is there anything tangible they do in the second half that they're not doing in the first?
No, they're just making more explosive plays in my opinion, from what I've seen.
After the Utah game it seemed like you guys did a better job of playing four quarters. Do you agree with that? Did you see something there that you guys had the potential but kind of were dropping off maybe?
Yeah, I think it was really just a function of being good at something early in the year first, and then if we could add on different things throughout the course of the year, it would help our guys play a little bit better. And, you know, we were together more as a unit, and it took a little bit of time. There are no preseason games, and when you open up with Alabama, Utah State, Stanford and Utah your first four games, this is the sixth time as a coordinator I've put in a new system that you've got to get good at something first before you can move to other things.
When you look at our group that we have, other than the two corners, there's probably only 15 starts between that unit. So, it just took a little bit of time. You're looking at Mike Hutchings never really played, you know, Uchenna [Nwosu] played in a limited role, Porter [Gustin] played a little bit. Marvell Tell played very limited. So there's guys that are kind of learning on the fly a little bit, and trial and error by fire is probably the best way.
Are you guys at where you thought you would get to by the end of the year? Are you above it?
I think we're probably a little bit above it the way we kind of finish the last quarter of the season, and I'm looking forward to a lot of these guys are back next year, and that's only continued to improve on the little things, because there are obviously a lot of little things we could be better at.
The defensive line is one group that's made strides. What has Kenechi [Udeze] done for them that's maybe been helpful?
Well, I think he's, you know, very familiar with the type of techniques that I wanted the defensive line to have up front, and he was tutored by a real good defensive line coach, and I think we just implemented those techniques, and the guys continue to work and get better.
What is your impression of him this first year as a position coach?
I think he's done a good job. I think he's only continuing to have gotten better as well just like the rest of the players, really, to be honest with you.
USCFootball.com has been covering USC Trojans football and recruiting for 20 years. Our expert team with Gerard Martinez, Dan Weber, Shotgun Spratling, Keely Eure and publisher Ryan Abraham keep you up to speed on everything Trojan football.
Keely Eure is a broadcast journalism student at the Annenberg School at USC. You can follow her on Twitter at @keelyismyname.