Full quotes from the Cameron Smith press conference:
First of all, just tell me how this week has been, just all the activities they've put you through.
It's pretty surreal, honestly. We all feel so blessed to be here right now. It's just been so much fun, and no one really can complain.
Has there been any big surprise, like I didn't know it would be like this or this would be so fun?
I thought it was more of a surprise how Disneyland went. I got to walk around towards the end with Sam and had a little escort to walk us in the back and get us in some rides, so it was really cool to feel like it is kind of all about us right now.
What was the best ride?
I enjoyed California Screamin' or Soaring over the world. Both of them were pretty fun.
Were there any guys that were really scared of any rides?
No, I don't think so. I think we all just kind of went on them for fun and enjoyed our time.
I heard one guy was to big to fit on that. Did you hear about that?
I did not.
For the Beef Bowl, will you eat a little bit less today for this meal?
I don't think I can really partake in that, but I'll eat whatever I can for sure.
What have you heard about the Beef Bowl?
I haven't heard much. I've heard how great Lawry's is, but I haven't really heard what it really consists of. My mind is open right now.
Do you like this whole buildup going up to a bowl game, or are you just ready to get it over and play already?
I was talking, I think for a little bit I was like, I'm ready to play. I think it's been a while, and we've really got to hammer in some of the small stuff, but I'm ready to play, but I think it's all part of the process. There's a lot of hype around this game, and I think the more we take advantage of it and the more we enjoy this experience, it'll just – it's just part of it. That's what it's supposed to be. I enjoy it. It's fun.
You guys have played under bright lights already with that Alabama game and Washington game. Do you feel like that prepared you for this?
Yeah, I think you don't really understand what it is – like I said, I don't feel like I really believe I'm in the Rose Bowl until I walk out and see the Rose Bowl in the middle and see the other side and be like, here we go, this is it. I don't think you can really prepare for something like this, but I think it's just instincts coming out there and being able to play – we have played the game of football for a while, so we'll just enjoy it, and be ready to play a big game on a big stage.
How important is it for you guys to be yourselves and to stick to the plan that you guys have?
That's the most important thing. It's a huge game, but we're really focusing on just being ourselves, playing like ourselves. That's really all we can take care of right now.
Was the Rose Bowl something you watched as a kid or looked up to at all?
I think more towards – not as a kid but more towards as I was coming in to play college football. I think everyone's dream was to come to USC and play in the Rose Bowl, and so I think all of us are really living our dream right now.
And there's so much hype around that Penn State offense; what is the best thing about that?
Best thing about their offense or the hype?
Why are they so good?
I think they have a really balanced attack. I think their running back Saquon Barkley is a really good player. He's one player that we really need to focus on stopping, as well as their quarterback. He's very scrappy and he can do a lot of things with the football, and that's what makes him hard to stop. They're a great offense in general and they have a great O-line, so we're going to have a tough task ahead of us, so we've just got to play our football, be assignment sound, and the rest is going to take care of itself.
Do you have any expectations for when you walk down the tunnel and what that's going to look like or feel like for you?
Probably just a little heart pounding, and that's all I can really think of right now. Like I said, to us, we need to think about it like another football game, go out there and play our game and do what's asked of us, and that's the most important thing.
Do you guys feel like you've brought USC back to where it belongs in this game given the history of the Trojans in this game?
Well, I mean, I think the history of the Trojans is to come out here and win the game, so we're making strides towards that, but give it up to the seniors and the guys who really put forward and helped us come back to where we really want to be. It's everyone's dream right now, and we're just so honored to be here.
You've got a chance to win the 25th Rose Bowl. How special is that?
It's running through my mind every day, but I'm really just trying to focus on tomorrow and today, and that's all we can really do. Just got to keep focusing on us and our assignment and preparing for Sunday.
There's a lot of focus on the off-the-field stuff, what both programs went through. Does that add anything at all to this game?
Right, I just think it's a cool thing for what both programs have come through and what they did to come here and pretty much how the seasons went for both teams. We got hot late, so there's a lot in common with each other, but we just need to go out there and keep playing. It's just an honor to be able to play this team and be able to play in this game really.
When Stevie showed up on campus, what was your first reaction?
I wasn't really sure who he was, and then I actually got a video from Porter Gustin against him and against Michigan last year, and he was driving this guard back. I was like, oh, I think we've got something special here. He's had a lot of attention on him, but he really goes unnoticed for what he really does. He's controlled the line of scrimmage pretty much by himself, and he does such a good job. It's an honor to be playing behind him and what he does for the linebackers is really something special.
What's he done in terms of the mentality of this team, specifically after you guys started off 1-3?
He's matured us so much. He's a full-grown man. He's a man, and so I think he's matured our defensive line room, which they're young guys, so he's done a lot in those ways of just maturing us. His presence is really felt.
How does he do that? Do you have an anecdote?
Just the way he carries himself. I don't think there's anything in particular, but just the way he carries himself and how he goes about his business is very professional. We all just feed off of him.
You changed position a little bit this year your area of responsibility. What's that been like?
It's been a process. I wouldn't say it was – it's just something that I've had to feel more comfortable with, and I think I have. You know, it was just different. I never had really an assignment that I had to focus on, it was just kind of like, feel around and feel the ball and chase the ball. I like that every man has an assignment and execute your assignment and our team will be successful. And I think Clancy's defense is a defense that you can really plug anyone into, and if you fit that gap and you play and do your assignment, you can be successful, and he's done a great job here, and it's just so much fun to play in right now because everyone really knows their assignment and everyone really knows what's expected from him, and he's very competitive and wants to get things done the right way. It's cool that everyone – I don't know, I've never really been on a defense that everyone knows every position that's going on and what their assignment is. It feels good, and we're confident right now.
When you're watching film on Penn State, what changes when it gets to the fourth quarter for this team because clearly they've had success on offense there.
Right. I think they're a very scrappy team. I think they do whatever it takes to win, and it's pretty cool to watch to be honest. They're a good team, and I think they can get things done throughout the game, but they do definitely turn it on in the fourth quarter. It's going to be – they're going to play hard all game, and we need to match it.
What's made Saquon Barkley so effective this year?
He runs hard. His offensive line is great. But I think they're balanced enough to where their quarterback can make plays and do what's asked of him but Saquon Barkley is a great player. He runs hard, like I said. He can be in and out of holes quickly. I think our main focus right now is just making sure they're one-dimensional. He's going to be a tough task, but I think we're ready for him.
How much of what he does set up their deep pass?
Lots. Any time you're worried about the run, you never know when a play action can come right behind you. That's why I think we need to make them one-dimensional. That's our main focus right now. It's going to be a fun game to play against that offense. I'm really excited for it.
Going up against a very young offensive line, how important is it for you guys to get some pressure on the quarterback?
I think it's always an emphasis for us to get pressure on the quarterback because I think it throws him off, so I think that's always our key, and I think it's huge for us right now. We'll be focused.
You mentioned the fourth quarter, how big a threat they've been. How important is it for you guys not to get complacent even if you have a lead?
Right. This is never a game where we can just skate through the fourth quarter. I mean, they're going to come out and they're going to play hard. They have a tough-nosed attitude about them and they're going to play hard every single play. I think we're prepared for that and we know what's at stake. It's going to be a fun one.
How hard is that to keep in the back of your mind because this is a team that's always come from behind?
I think you've just got to take one play at a time, one quarter at a time, and when the fourth quarter comes, we play just like we have the rest of the game, if that's the case. Go out there and focus quarter to quarter and finish the game.
McSorley is an elusive guy, an improvisational guy. How do you handle him?
I think it's just staying assignment sound and focus on what's at task and really play hard to the finish. Yeah, like you said, he can do a lot of things with the football, and we just need to make sure we always have a guy accounting for him, and we'll be all right.
This is Michael's last game. Lining up next to him, are you looking forward to this? I'm sure you want to put him out with a good game.
Right, it's an honor to stand next to him for this entire season, such a great guy. So many people look up to him, and he's really the cheerleader of our team. I've learned so many things from him in terms of not even just football but from life and what he's had to come back from and what he's done and with his career here. It's really cool to just be able to stand next to him on his last game and hope we can pull out with a win for him.
It's been said that Barkley is the most complete back you guys will face this year. Does he remind you of anyone else that you've played?
Some bigger backs from Arizona State that I think we've seen, and then maybe Royce Freeman a little bit just because he's big like that, too. But he's really just someone who can do a lot with the football, and I think it's going to be a fun game for us and for him, as well. I think it's just going to be competitive, and we're going to go out there and take care of what we need to take care of.
He's a good pass receiver, too, right?
Yeah, he can do a lot. Like I said, he's a great back, complete back, I believe.
You guys have faced a lot of good teams this year, Alabama, Washington, but do you think Penn State might be one of the best that you guys have faced?
I think they've – I mean, obviously they're one of the best. They're here right now and they've had to take care of their season just like we have, so they've really turned it on, and they're a great team. It's going to be a fun one to play in, and I think they do a really good job of playing hard and completing the game. But I think we're both just really excited to be here, and it's just an honor. It'll be a fun game.
You guys turned it on after that Utah game; what do you think it was that helped you guys or gave you guys that belief?
We just believe in ourselves and believe in our coaching staff. It was huge that every game, after those first three games we kept getting better and better and better. We knew we were right there, we just needed to keep pushing and grinding and focusing on ourselves and the little things, and I think that's one huge thing that we started turning on towards the end of the season was just the little things and focusing on the smaller things in all aspects of football. I think that was a huge focus for us, and it helped.
This is one of the most storied games in all of football. To be in this position now, what does it mean?
I think we're all just so blessed to be here and such an honor, and right now it's pretty surreal. I think I really won't feel much until I walk onto that field and I see the Rose Bowl and I see Penn State on one side and USC on the other side. That's when it'll really hit me. But like I said, it's been so fun the past couple weeks and really preparing for this type of game. I think it's just a dream right now, and we're living it.
Who can take down the most meat on this team?
Chris Brown. He can eat a lot, or Chad Wheeler. He'll be up there, as well. I've seen those guys put down a lot of food. It'll be interesting to watch.
Are you going to go all-out there?
No, I'm going to probably eat periodically and just kind of do my own thing because I want to stay fast for the game.
Does Penn State remind you of anyone that you've faced this year?
I think maybe a little bit like Colorado. I think they're a very competitive team in that they're scrappy a little bit, so I think it'll just be fun to play them. I think they do a lot of things great and their defense is good and they're very tough and they like to – and they'll push the game the entire length, so it'll be a fun one.
Their quarterback is a bit of a dual-threat guy. Does he remind you at all of Sam?
Yeah, definitely. That's kind of the first thing that we said when we walked in about two weeks ago. He's a lot like Sam. He can do a lot of things with the football, and it's just going to be a fun one to play, and I think it's a focus that we all need to be on our assignment and doing things the right way.
Does it kind of help that you've seen Sam all season, you know what he's capable of, kind of helped you prepare for McSorley?
Yeah, I think it also – we've seen this spread offense just about every week, so that – I think that's put us at an advantage preparing for this team because we've seen – but they have different players that do things differently. I think we've prepared well and we've prepared hard. It's just exciting to go play right now.
Do you have any opportunities to watch the Big Ten during the year?
I actually love watching Big Ten football. I love watching Michigan and Ohio State. Those are probably my two favorite teams in the nation. Really, I almost feel kind of at home there watching Big Ten football. I like watching it, and I like the rivalries back there. Yeah, I do.
Has it always been that way for you?
Yeah, actually it has. I really liked watching Wisconsin and some of those teams this year, and it always kind of has been like that.
Did you consider playing for a Big Ten school?
No, I was pretty much all SC from the get-go, so yeah.
When the pairings were announced and you found out you were playing Penn State, what did you know about this year's team?
My first thought was that they were a lot like us. They really turned it on towards the end of the season, and they started feeling themselves and getting some confidence about them and some swagger, and they're really competitive, and I thought that's a lot like us. I really feel like we're playing a team that's a lot like us, and I think it's just going to be such a fun game out there and what a great experience.
What were they able to do to kind of turn things around much like you guys?
I think they found out what worked for them, and I think Saquon Barkley really helped a lot in their season, and their quarterback has done a great job. I think overall they've just competed and they've played as hard as they can, and it ended up working out for them really well.
It seems like you guys kind of differ in that they are looking back at the rough start, want to forget about it and say the winning streak is their story, whereas you guys are embracing the start. Why do you think that is?
Maybe just because of how rough those first three games were and how it was kind of motivation for us. It's like, look, we started off slow, but look where we are right now. I think it's kind of like a we can do anything with all of us type of thing. I'm not sure why they look back and they want to forget about it, but look what they've done, as well. Something worked out for them.
For you personally, what lessons do you think you guys learned from the start of the season?
Some of the lessons? I don't know about lessons, I think we've just really grown up as a team. I think Stevie has helped a lot with that. We've really matured and come together and focused on all the small things, and I think that's really some of the key factors to our season.
How specifically has Stevie helped?
I think he's really just matured the whole entire defense and defensive line room, just the way he carries himself and how professional he is. It's really an honor to be able to play with him. He's a great guy.
Some teams don't make adjustments like that over the course of the season but you guys did. Why do you think that is?
I think we all just trusted in our coaching staff. We have a great coaching staff, and what they were able to do with us and how they were able to coach us. I feel like they can connect with us on a different level. We've all just believed in our season and believed in the guys that we have, and it's ended up working out for us.
Penn State's team is pretty explosive, get plays in 50, 60, 70-yard chunks. Why do you think they're able to do that?
Because they like to take a lot of shots downfield, but they're also able to break big runs with the running backs. They're very dynamic and they can do a lot of things with the ball. That's a huge notice for us, and we've just got to keep staying assignment sound and play as hard as we can.
Have you seen a team like that? Some of the throws look like they're throwing it up for grabs almost.
Well, they've got big receivers outside and guys that can take it deep. You know, that's part of their game, and they can do a lot of things. They capitalize on some of their big plays. That's huge.
Talk about their two-pronged running attack. What do you guys need to do to slow them down?
Just staying assignment sound is huge for us. I think we've done a good job assignment based the entire season and really focusing on our job or each individual's job, and I think that's been huge for us. We need to just continue to do our thing and focus on ourselves and play the best defense that we can.
Just a quick thought on the whole Rose Bowl experience, getting to be a part of this game.
It's such an honor to be here. I think it's been really surreal, and it's been a dream that I think every person comes here for USC, and we're all living it right now, so it's been a lot of fun.
Each game you've brought something different; why do you think that is?
I don't know, I think we attack each team differently, I believe. I don't think we just run one typical defense. I think Coach Pendergast has done a great job of breaking down film and preparing for each team and how we can attack that team, and he's done a great job calling his defense this year and forcing us to be very assignment sound and each individual knows their assignment, and that's kind of like the first defense that I've really been around that's been like that. He's done a great job this year, and we've just been able to follow him and be behind him and have him lead us.
How has he been able to do that? What has he brought that's different?
I think he really holds everyone accountable. I just feel like he's not coming from almost – from a high level and coming back down, and I don't feel like he was ever shy enough to like not speak out to anybody. If someone messed up then you'd hear about it. I think that's what he did a great job with, forcing everyone to be accountable and knowing their assignment, and it's been huge for us.
Players have said that you watched film more this season. How much has that improved you guys' game?
A lot, just to know the opponent and their ins and outs. On Saturdays it makes things a lot easier for us, and it's been a big key factor for us.
Your first year you had a quieter, behind-thescenes role. Is that more of a role you see yourself in or do you like making the big, flashy plays?
I like making the big, flashy plays. I just want to be consistent and be a guy that can always be looked at for whatever is needed. Yeah, this year has kind of – I'm just trying to focus on my knee, and I was just making sure everything was good to go and focusing on the defense and I feel like we've all done well. It's been fun.
How do you think you've done this year?
I think I've turned into a much more team guy. I think any freshman that comes in is kind of focused on themselves, but I think this year has really been all about the team for me. It's all about making sure we win and helping out the team with whatever I can. I mean, it's really been a fun season. It's something I'll never forget about, probably my favorite season ever. It's been really cool.
What's made it so fun?
Just from where we've come. I think just how our team has really come together, and I feel like we're all really good friends and we all like genuinely care about each other. It kind of almost feels like a high school feel. It's been a lot of fun.
There seems to be a humble leadership to this team that's helped the chemistry.
100 percent. I think, yeah, just the chemistry on the team is a lot better, and I feel like we have leaders that lead us but not really just like talk to us. We all kind of just go about our business, but we have guys that are like, let's go, baby, let's go, continue to push us forward. So I think that's helped us a lot.
A lot of the guys who are captains are guys that had to work and had to feed behind the scenes. Has that also contributed to that?
Yes, I think from some of the -Mike, for instance, he's been through so much here, and I want to look at him and knowing that he's been through down times, he makes looking up to someone easy.
It seems like there's a lot of lead-by-example guys on this team. Who's the most demonstrative or vocal presence on the team?
I mean, I think that's pretty easy to say, Zach Banner is very vocal, and he has a very powerful voice, and I think he does a good job of coming out in a different way and firing us up, but he also goes about his business the right way.
I don't think we have any bad leaders for sure. We all go about our business, and people take care of themselves, but it's also guys that are there for us and can lead.
What was the reaction in the locker room to his sparkly Minnie Mouse ears at Disneyland the other day?
I didn't see those. He's a character. He's a funny guy. But yeah, it's been a fun week, and that's it.
You guys played Alabama and Washington, they obviously play in the national semifinal on Saturday. Do you sort of instinctively root for the Pac-12 team in that situation?
Yeah. I mean, I think it would be cool to see the Pac-12 do well. Both teams have a tough task ahead of them. I think both teams can do a lot of things really well. It'll be an interesting one to watch.
How much has playing against Sam in practice helped you to go against Trace McSorley?
They're very similar. We've seen a lot of things in film that we've seen in practice, as well. It's been huge for us, and I think that both guys have had really great seasons this year. It's going to be a fun one to watch and to play against.
Are you able to soak in kind of the stuff that you've been doing during game week so far?
Yeah, I've really tried to do as much as I can. I stayed at Disneyland all day. I left on the last bus. I was really there just – I don't care what we do, I just want to be here and have fun. So I definitely enjoyed my time there. It was lots of fun.
How much does this whole bowl season kind of mean to you? Is it as special as everyone outside of the team kind of makes it out to be?
I kind of want to say depending on what bowl you're in. Something like the Rose Bowl is easy to prepare for, and it's easy – it's easy to want to be there, if that makes sense. But some guys I know that don't really feel that way about it, but outside – if you're playing a different bowl. But I think right now we're all just focused on the Rose Bowl and preparing as hard as we can and looking forward to the game, really.
What does the Rose Bowl mean to you then?
It means a lot. I think this is what every person that comes to USC dreams about is playing in the Rose Bowl, and I think we're all just kind of living our dream right now, and it's been lots of fun, and it's just really surreal. Once I went on that field and saw the roses in the middle and Penn State on one side and SC on the other, that's when it'll really hit me, I think.
Even though you're on the younger side, you're one of the more vocal leaders. How do you keep some of the younger guys focused into thinking, this is a big moment, that isn't something that just comes around?
Actually I think individually a lot of people know that. I don't think that's really been voiced, but I think it's just a known fact, and I think a lot of guys are not taking this for – sorry, I just totally blanked. But I think people know that it's a huge deal for us and for our fan base and for our team. We're just going out there, and we're going to do our job and focus on this game.
The whole expectations that people have for USC is that they have to be in the Rose Bowl. Is that something that you guys feel the real pressure to live up to?
Yeah, I think we've fought through some tough times, but I think it's just been really cool to see our season, to come in and end this way. I think it's a lot – it's a big deal for a lot of guys and for the fans, as well. You know, I think we just need to go out there and focus on our job and take care of it.
When you see some of the older guys going through this process, do they have a different aura around them?
I just think they're – I think it's their last season, last game, and I think they really are just really excited to be here. They've been through so much, and they're all just really living life right now. It's been cool to see them, just to see how they've come up and grown up, and from one season to another, it's been cool to see them. I'm excited for them, and I'm going to play my ass off for them.
How do you guys kind of balance enjoying the moment, being in the Rose Bowl but then also focusing on the game at the same time?
We've just discussed a lot about what we've got from 9:30 to 4:00 every day that's strictly ball. That's the only thing we can focus on right there is preparing for this Penn State team and our assignments, and getting ready to go. And then we have some time to lay off and relax, but I think that's just like any other day for the last 12 weeks of ball. We've focused – we've had our time to focus on ball and we've had some relaxing downtime. I think Coach Helton has done a great job of keeping us focused while we're there, and I think it's been pretty successful so far.
What kind of stands out about this team to you?
I think they're very dynamic and can do a lot of things with the ball. I think Saquon Barkley is a great player, and their offensive line is young but they're strong and they're big. So I think that they're just able to do so much with the football, and the quarterback is very dynamic, as well, and can put the ball downfield. I think that's huge for them, and they've capitalized on a lot of things, on a lot of big plays this year, so it'll be huge for us to just stay assignment sound and to play our ball.
What about Barkley is special?
I think he's a big back who can be in and out of holes quickly. His jump cut is nice, and he's a great back, but he can also catch the ball in the backfield. It'll be a back that I don't think we've quite seen this year, but it's going to be a fun one.
Since he's a bigger back, is it a little bit of redemption since the Notre Dame big back kind of tore through the middle on you guys?
Yeah, I think he's a different big back. He's more of a stocky kind of stronger-legged, thicker-legged, but no matter what it's going to be a fun one. We have a huge task ahead of us, and we need to focus on our assignments and ourselves right now.
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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.