Opening Statement: “I’m proud of our guys. Really proud of how hard they competed. I usually always am and that’s kinda been our mission and our message ‘just to keep playing hard, playing with great toughness, playing with great effort’ and that’s what I saw out there. Thought our defense was spectacular against a really, really explosive offense. We were able to contain Cody (Kessler) a little bit. I have a lot of respect for him. I know how good he really is and the weapons around him and I thought our secondary played really well and thought we got some pressure on him, so hat’s off to our defense. They really set the tone. On the other side of the ball, I thought Jonathan Smith called a good game. We were able to run the ball, our offensive line really stepped up, and made plays when we needed. I thought Myles Gaskin did a great job of hiding and weaving behind that big o-line and getting done what we needed to get done. Missed a few things in the first half that I know Jake’s not going to miss down the road, we’ll grow from that. Just pleased with how they played. They played hard and they kept competing.
On expecting the defense to play as well as they did: “You never really know, but we have some good coaches over there and some really good kids that really have bought into their coaching and they compete really, really hard and that’s all you can really ask."
On why they were able to run the ball so well: “I think we were a little more stubborn with it, just kinda kept sticking to it. We kinda made a decision to be more stubborn which I thought was a good decision because you have to give it a chance. You have to get into a rhythm to run the ball and we did that, you can see that, against a really stout front. I think if we had hit a couple of those (deep) shots early in the first half, that would have helped us out a lot, because they were able to pack the box more.”
On the defense’s ability to make up for the loss of Azeem Victor: “They just keep doing what we ask them to do and that’s just to play as hard as they possibly can on every play. Things are going to happen, we talked about it last night, things are going to happen whether the other side makes a big play, we get a call we don’t like, we make an error and a call is deserved, We just have to reload and play the next play. That kinda got us on our heals and then we went three-and-out and our defense came back and forced a punt."
On tackling: “I know we’re making progress. I said it last week; I know we’re pointed in the right direction. If we can just keep working hard and I know they will. If we can stay healthy enough to practice the way we’ve been practicing - which is pretty hard. You have to practice physical but we try and be as smart as we can. But we made some strides in these extra couple days of practicing by practicing really, really hard and running the ball in practice. If we can continue to do that we’ll grow and we’ll continually get better. We’ve just got so many young guys and you just have to…you just have to have a certain style of practice. Later in the week sometimes we’ll take the pads off and just make sure our assignments are correct. We didn’t even really do that this Thursday. Some of the guys did and the coaches said keep ‘em on. We just need more work. We got good work on Thursday.
“It’s such a game of confidence, like we always talk about. We have a lot of respect for this USC program. We knew we had to compete against a really good program, a really good team. It gives them confidence and it makes going back to practice on Sunday enjoyable as well.”
Changes on the offensive line: “We actually had a couple guys that were actually a little dinged up this week, so they didn’t get a lot of reps, taking about practicing. I think both guys…kind of weird stuff. I don’t want people to think we’re in there going live scrimmaging, because we’re not. But we’ve got to practice hard and a couple of those guys got dinged so they didn’t get a bunch of reps and we split some guys around and Coach Strausser continues to do that and those guys stepped up tonight.”
On Andrew Kirkland getting an opportunity for his first start: “And I’m glad he got an opportunity. I’m anxious to go put the tape on. He’s shown a lot of flashes since he’s been here; we just wanted more consistency out of him. Tonight he got an opportunity to play against a really good d-line and I’m anxious to go put that tape on.”
On Azeem and Keishawn Bierria being all over the place on defense: “They’ve been all over the place for five games now. Those guys are tough kids. They’ve taken a lot of snaps and they’re kind of banged up and beat up but there’s no way they were going to get pulled out of there. They are playing hard and playing good.”
How frustrating was that targeting call?: “It’s really frustrating because we need to be smarter around the quarterback. It’s something we talk about all the time. And it’s easy for me to sit up here and talk about it. I get that because those kids are so intense and so focused and it’s such a physical game and you have to play like that. But we cannot take shots on the quarterback. They’re going to call it every time. Whether it was targeting or not? I guess they thought it was. At a minimum it was a foul.”
Defense seemed to come back nicely after that: “That just got us on our heels, and that’s a play we gave them. That’s a self-inflicted wound we’d like to stay away from. Then we come out on offense and throw three-and-out and now we’re really reeling. But we came back and answered again. And we got the ball from there.”
Do you take the good with the bad if you’re able to get that much pressure on a guy like Cody Kessler?: “Well, I just think we can get pressure and I think we can play smarter. Those kids are coming off the edge are blitzing and he gets rid of the ball…I know it’s frustrating because you want to get that guy. That’s the name of the game. But I keep saying, the game’s changed. We know that. It changed a couple years ago, and they are going to be real protective. We have to make better decisions.”
On if the first three possessions were difficult to shake off “It was difficult for me because we had guys open. Jake (Browning) will learn from it. Like I said, I was really pleased. I thought the play calling was good. We were getting guys open. We were taking shots down field. We just weren’t hitting them. He will. He’s an accurate thrower; he just didn’t hit those.
On who called the double-pass with Marvin Hall “That was coach Smith’s. That was all coach Smith. We wanted it and it was a good time right after that turnover. Sidney Jones made a really good hit on the ball carrier and the ball comes out. That was all coach Smith. We got it right then and there.”
On if it made him smile to have a trick play stand out “Not really. I wish we ran the ball then. You know how I feel about that. We run one trick play a game and it happened to work and now we’re trick play university again. There were too many other good hard-nosed run plays that those kids deserved to feel good about.”
On what made them decide to go with Myles Gaskin more today “Myles (Gashin), that’s coach Bhonapha’s call. Myles is crafty and sometimes you’ve got to go with the guy with the hot hand. I thought he was really, really patient, I thought our o-line did a good job of grinding and keeping guys covered up, and Myles will find that crease.”
On the magnitude of this win “I know this: these kids have been working so darn hard and we really haven’t had one they can feel really, really good about and close on some things even last year. This is one they can feel good about. I said this last week to some of these guys. You can feel that we’re pointed in the right direction; we just have a lot of young guys that are going to continue to get better. I’m just really happy for those guys. We just keep talking about working hard, keep talking about being detailed, and every day matters day and every film rep matters. We kind of beat them over the head with this stuff. If you don’t have some success sooner than later it gets hard to stick to the plan. This will give them a little juice.”
On if the veterans felt anything more about this win “We have so much respect from this program, the USC program. There’s always going to be a lot when a lot of these kids grew up around here, and even those who didn’t know about this program, and so I think they competed extra-hard out of respect for the USC program.”
On how the defense started down Cody Kessler “I don’t think it was anything in particular. I think our d-line got some pressure, they played really hard, and I thought our secondary covered well. Those are explosive guys. I thought our staff put a really good game plan together and mixed up calls blitzing and not blitzing. I think our kids executed well. I thought we talked pretty well. You can see how explosive they are. A couple of times they bounced out of two or three tackles. You can see it every game. We were really concerned about that. I thought we tackled well for the most part.”
On the process with Azeem Victor “When you get kicked out for targeting you have to sit the next half, so he would have to sit the first half of Oregon is my understanding.”
On how much this win means to him “Like I said, we’re just proud to be able to beat a really good team because these kids have worked really hard and they deserve some success. It is just one game in our tough schedule here. We feel good about it; 24 hours to feel good about it, then we’re on to the next one.”