Hackett, Willingham Discuss Saturday's Match-up

Oct. 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES - USC Coach Paul Hackett

'I want to answer a question that the Stanford media asked and that was what is the biggest disappointment of the first half of the season. In sitting back and looking at it, the biggest disappointment is that in the fourth quarter of the last few games, we were not able to come through with the plays we needed to win. It was true at Oregon State, to a certain extent vs. Arizona, but that was a different game, but last week it really focused on what I think is our deficiency in the first half of the season. Here, we're playing a team, a good team, in the Coliseum, 17-21 ballgame with six minutes to go, and we're driving. That's the kind of thing I expect us to do to win. We have to find a way to do it. Whatever mishap there is, that's the biggest disappointment. We've played in spurts, but right not, we're not playing well collectively. That's my biggest disappointment.

'Having said that, the improvement in the running game, the improvement in stopping the run, the improvement in kickoff returns and the field goal kicker, all those things, unfortunately, get brushed to the side because in the fourth quarter, we had a chance to win the game and we weren't able to do it. Clearly the turnovers have hurt, but we got it down from five to two and they still hurt us. We're not playing the way we need to. The good news is there's six more games to go. The good news is we get to take the first half of the season and chalk it up to experience. We've got to hope our young offense and young secondary have learned from the six games and hope they can take the experience and parlay it to a better performance in the second half of the season. If we allow ourselves to think beyond Stanford, we're foolish. The goal is to beat Stanford and to get back into a bowl race and find ourselves in a position to be competitive to play in December or January. I think it's a realistic goal, but it starts with Stanford. We have to put the others behind us. We have to hope our younger guys, as painful as it has been, have been able to take something from the six games and say alright, now let's shift gears and find a way to flip it around.

(on Stanford): 'It's a team that had great expectations and hopes like we did. It's a great rivalry and always has been. Stanford plays at its best when it plays USC. It's an important game for both teams. They have in my opinion two or three of the best players at their position in the conference. The way Willie Howard is playing is something and Riall Johnson, the way they're using him, he's having a bang-up senior year. Receiver DeRonnie Pitts is not only premier this year, but for many years. The QB situation, certainly Chris Lewis is developing as a young player. They have some good players and they have a good team and they're a little like us. Against Texas, they look like a million bucks like we did against Penn State and another time they haven't looked good. The bottom line, it'll be a very good game and we'll have to do something in the fourth quarter to indicate we can win the game. Somebody has to step up. I thought we made some nice steps in the Oregon game and it wasn't enough.'

(On senior leadership on team): 'I've told you I believe in the senior class and I think they believe in each other. They have done an excellent job in practice and the development of the game plan. They're expected to perform on Saturday and in many cases, they have. I think Zeke Moreno had one of his best games against Oregon. I believe in the senior group. I've told them that all along. They're disappiointed and they have to find a way to work through it. That's the tough part, the emotional part of realizing you've dug yourself a hole and you have to get out of it, but that's part of being a senior and senior leadership. I've been happy with the senior leadership. We've had some injuries and that's hurt us. Obviously, when you lose an Ifeanyi Ohalete and a Kris Richard and you're starting four sophomores in your secondary, that's a concern, but that's not about leadership. I think the seniors have done a good job.'

(On DeShaun Hill): 'When we redshirted him last year, the hope was he'd emerge as a top safety on the team and eventually the conference. As a sophomore, he's had his most playing time against Oregon. He's got to learn from experience. But he's done a great job on special teams and with Ohalete's injury, he's playing more than ever before, as is Frank Strong. There's a guy (Hill) who's a perfect example of utilizing the experience he's got from the first six weeks to be in a position to come on.'

(any specific areas that Carson Palmer needs to improve on): 'When you look back at last week, his decision making process was good. The problem we had, we had guys wide open that we could not get the ball to. Part of it is his development and maturity and part is the actual practice with his receivers. We all know Kareem has been out for a couple weeks and Carson had a hard time throwing last week. We probably haven't had the opportunity to practice like we've wanted to, but as they begin to develop their relationship, we should be able to hit those balls. I'd say accuracy is the bottom line. His energy and enthusiasm on the first touchdown run, his ability to throw into tight coverage on the throw into Antoine Harris ... There were many things in the game that Carson did that we'd expect him to do. But there are other things he simply has to improve and he knows that. Now he has to take the experience from the first six games and parlay it into the second half of the season. That's the question for him and many of his teammates. I've put it to the team. You can't worry about the past except for what you've learned.

'The Arizona game and the Oregon State game, he got hit a lot. I thought in the last game, our offensive line did an improved job of protecting him. A lot of it was because we ran the ball effectively and when you do, it helps. He had some guys there that he should hit and he normally does. What I will tell you, the fundamentals, the setting up, the decision making process, those kind of things, we're getting the kind of development that I anticipated. He's probably playing like a sophomore.

'We said last week, if we can't run the ball, we don't have a chance. Well, we rushed for 250 yards. So what did we not get done? We did not get the passing part of it done to mix with rest to become effective. In the red zone, we hit two of three but we missed the one that could have turned the tide because we got the ball at the 25-yard line. Interceptions and turnovers are things Carson Palmer has to eliminate from his game if he's to become a premier quarterback. Right now, accuracy and turnovers are a concern. Am I shocked? No.'

(On whether he might use Mike Van Raaphorst at any point): 'There's always a possibility we could make a change. Mike has shown he can move this team. But you have to remember what Carson has been to this team. He is a leader on this team. He's been the guy that has been out front from the beginning. At this point, I think he's the one that gives us the best chance to win. If there are deficiencies, we have to take a look at maybe making a change, but at this point, I don't see it happening.'

(how hard is it psychologically for a team to lose three in a row): 'It's difficult. You have to count on the leadership of your seniors, the guys that understand that half a season does not make a season. We need to focus on saying, 'We've got to look ahead and not behind.' Like anything else that happens in life, when you get your butt kicked, the question is how long do you stay down before you respond and come back. That's the issue we're facing right now. We have dug ourselves a huge hole. We showed signs we might get out of it on Saturday and we didn't do it. But I believe in this team. It's a good team. The seniors are strong and we need to play better as a team. The development has been slower than anticipated, but we've got to get it going and turn it around to finish strong and on a high note.'

(on expectations at USC): 'The history and the expectations at USC are always the same and I don't think they'll ever change. That's one of the things that makes this such a unique place and I believe in them like every other Trojan does. I think our expectations to get to the Rose Bowl every year is exactly what we should expect. Will we be able to do that in sometime in the near future? Yes. Did I think we could do it this year? Yes, I thought it was possible. That's one side. The other is when you look at the reality of this conference. This is my third year. There is a lot of parity in the conference as far as talent, there's a lot of good coaching in this conference. There's a lot of places that are hard to play. Playing on the road is particularly difficult. There's a lot of things going on in the conference that didn't go on many, many years ago when we set the standard in the Pac-10. Can we get back to being the premier team in the conference? I believe that. I believe that totally, because we can recruit, we can bring the players from Los Angeles here, and we can develop them. Are we behind where I thought we'd be this season at this time? Yes. We expected more from our defense and our offense.

'(All schools) have issues. At USC, are they looked at differently? Absolutely. That's why USC is what it is. The expectations are different at other places. Do you take a look and re-evaluate? Well, we started 3-0. We had great expectations earlier this year and started well. I don't think there's anything wrong with those expectations. I think what's important, when it doesn't go the way you thought it was going to, how do you respond? That's the key. As we develop young people and young players, they have to deal with it, to bounce back and finish strong. That's the issue.

'We can never accept .500 at USC. Ever. I'm working and working and going to try to find a way to beat Stanford and turn it around and get the players going. At some point, it's going to turn, and when it does, it's going to go (a hand motion going up, sharply). Because there's a lot of youth on the team.

(did this year's high expectations come as a result of Hackett's own high expectations before the season): 'I believe in looking at the team and the strength on defense, my feeling was the defense could carry the team until the offense came along. We got the three wins, we got some momentum. Then all of a sudden, in a couple games with a chance to win in the fourth quarter, we don't win. And that's the disappointment about this year. When we've had the opportunity to win, we have not been able to finish it when we've had the opportunity. That's my disappointment. Was I unrealistic? I don't think so. I had that enthusiasm for a good reason. But you have to perform. You can say all you want about potential. We just haven't been able to put it all together. That's what we have to address.'

(Has USC been too conservative as a team?): 'That's a fair criticism of us. We have played things, perhaps, a little close to the vest. Perhaps the uncertainty of youth or how we're going to perform allows us to say, 'Gee, let's play it safe instead of let's really roll the dice.' That needs to be addressed. Just like we addressed a week ago, if you're at USC and we can't run, you're really in trouble. And we responded with 250 yards.'

'The nature of USC, college football or pro football, when you don't do well, the first person who gets heat is probably the coach, the second is the quarterback and then after that, the coordinators. That's the nature of it. It's no surprise to the team about the comments that have been made or the predictions. I tell them, you have to find a way. You can't let the distractions of being 3-0 get to you, because you might go to Oregon State and stumble and lose. It's no different now. You cannot let what's being said get to you because you might not play your best at Stanford.'

'I think the quarterback, because the ball doesn't travel as far to the tight end, is always excited about the tight end. He knows he can always get a sort of steady completion and get his game going. We've tried hard in the last weeks to include the tight end and give Carson another receiver. Antoine (Harris) has taken to it very well. The play he made on the sideline on third and seven is a great look at his maturity. If you look at Oregon State, when he caught the ball on the sideline near the 7, and stepped out, that same effort would have gotten us the first down. That's the maturity of Antoine Harris as a receiver. He's getting better. The ball Carson throws for the touchdown, it was intended to go to Kareem. They double Kareem and drop a linebacker and he comes back to the No. 2 receiver and throws it. That's the type of thing we expect from Carson and we're getting that.'

Tyrone Willingham Quotes - Oct. 17, 2000

(On why Stanford has struggled of late): 'We're not making plays you have to make. That's the biggest thing as we look at the team. Right now, we're turning the ball over and any time you do that, that means you lose it, you don't have possession of it and you can't score, and we're not creating turnovers. Once we're in the most critical area of the field, in the red zone, to score, we're not scoring. If you look at our turnover ratio, our ability in the red zone and the non-creation of big plays, that really tells you how we're doing. But at the same time, I really think that our team is progressing and is still getting better and has a chance to finish the season strong.'

(On QB Chris Lewis' progression and on the status of QB Randy Fasani): 'In all honesty, I was very pleased with the progress that Chris made. Over the three-week stretch that he was our quarterback, he improved each week. You could see different things coming into his game and him becoming more comfortable with his play. That's encouraging and we're excited about that. We think the experience he's gained which will do nothing but make him a better player and us a stronger team. As for Randy, he's been medically cleared. That means his injury should be of such a nature that he can play and we'll determine this week how far along he is. It's one thing to have medical approval, but you need the functional ability on the field to do the thing you need to do to win.

'They're very similar. Both have added mobility to our QB position and that's what exciting. In past years, we've had more of your traditional drop-back quarterback that was not as mobile. Not that these guys are 4.1 sprinters by any stretch of the imagination, but they do have the ability to create and make some things happen and that's a wonderful addition to the program.

(On WR DeRonnie Pitts): 'When you talk about DeRonnie, you first of all say to the rest of the world that he's a well-kept secret and hopefully people are realizing now that this is one heckuva a player. When you describe him, you use the word, football player, in the truest sense of the word. This is truly a young man that goes out and plays football and he does it every week and is very consistent. He's not only a player but a leader.

(On Stanford's defense): 'We're doing a lot of good things on defense, but ocassionally we give up a big play, and amazingly, when you do that, it seems to erase all of the good things that you do. I think with the leadership of Riall Johnson and Willie Howard and Tank Williams to name a few, I like a lot of the things our defense is doing and we just need to turn in that one performance that we eliminate the big play and play with the consistency that we've shown in many instances.

(How is the team reacting to the losing streak and its readjusted goals): 'I think you have to have a team that can work and listen to its coaches and stay focused on the things that we think our important. Right now, we have difficulty telling our team we can get to the Rose Bowl, because if you look at the last 21 years, it only happened twice, I believe, that a team with two (losses) has gone to the Rose Bowl. So we tell our team that that goal may be difficult to obtain based on history alone, but it has been done. We have not ruled ourselves out of that. But as you begin to rule yourself in and out of certain situations, you readjust your goals. That's part of the active process of living and is what we try to teach our young men. You have to be prepared to do that. Right now we still have a lot of things to accomplish on this team.'

(On USC and this week's game): 'I think this is a team that has the ability to be extremely explosive and extremely good. We're preparing for that good team. At their quarterback position, Carson Palmer is very talented and has great ability. With the running back, he has excellent ability. Their wide receiver corps is very solid. You go to their defense, they have outstanding defensive players that have shown the ability to clamp down on people. It's a very explosive team. Any time you have speed, it's a concern for your opponent.

(competitive balance in Pac-10): 'Competitive balance is something in which I think the conference may be a forerunner for the rest of the country. I think you slowly see it creeping in. You see signs there's a changing of the guard and everything is becoming more competitive with each team you have to face and our conference has proven it with having seven different teams in the Rose Bowl the last seven years.

(Chris Lewis' game at Notre Dame): 'I think it was a very good experience for him. As a team, we got off to a slow start, but in the second half we made rapid improvement and played like a team we are capable of. What we did not do, which has been consistent, is when we had the opportunities to cash in and score points, we did not do that. Chris, just like the team, got much better in the second half and played very sound and put us in a position to win.'

(on how to deal with a three-game losing streak): 'Any time you can get a win, it's important. But in my opinion, life is habits, to some degree. You can develop a habit of winning, or losing. And what we've been able to do in our program is be very positive about everything that has happened and try to turn everything into a positive. It's difficult to do when you lose, but I've been very pleased with the mindset of our team and the attitude of our team. They realize we're close and if we can eliminate things in terms of scoring in the red zone, make the big plays, don't turn the ball over, create turnovers, score on defense, then we'll be in a position to win because we've done it and we know how to do it.'

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