Pete Carroll Discusses Saturday's Game Against Notre Dame

Nov. 26, 2002

Football Teleconference Quotes

USC Head Football Coach Pete Carroll

'We are excited about this opportunity coming up with our match up against Notre Dame. Our season has been in a crescendo up to our final conference match up with UCLA with a big win and left us in first place. It set us up for a really exciting match up here at the Coliseum with Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a tremendous football team that has had a great year. It's always a classic match up. It's interesting that we are playing against Coach Willingham, who was here in the conference last year. We shared the experience of playing against each other. We have the knowledge of each program. I think it's going to be a classic game and I'm hoping we can do the things that we have in the latter part of the season to get us a chance to win. I'm excited about our team because we have improved as the schedule has gone on and played a very difficult schedule. We have had a number of times where we could have come up short in not having the right focus, but we have continued to stay in tuned with the match ups. We have benefited tremendously from the senior leadership from the likes of Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu. Carson has just had an extraordinary season. From start to finish, he has not dipped at any time. He has given us the best play in his career with remarkable numbers. He has given us great spiritual leadership and I think he's the best football player in the country right now. He is worthy of all of the Heisman Trophy talk. To everyone that has not seen him play, just look at his numbers and the schedule we have played and he has to be one of the favorites for this award from this point on. He will be an All-American for sure and has just been a great Trojan. On the other side of the ball, Troy Polamalu has just been a remarkable football player. He's just been notified that he is one of three finalists for the Thorpe Award and is worthy of it as he is one of the best safeties I have ever coached. I have had some very good guys. I'm excited to see that he has been able to put back-to-back years that would give him All-America status. He's an incredible factor for our football team because he does so many things so well. He's a great defender on the pass and terrific blitzer. He's a great open-field player and one of the best run-playing safeties that you can find. We have been able to use him in a number of different ways to spotlight him. We are pumped up about what he brings to our defense and what Carson brings to our offense. I'm looking forward to this matchup.'

(talking about possibility of defeating Notre Dame and still not earning a BCS bowl berth...)

'There is talk that keeps coming across about how it fits together. To us, the Notre Dame game is so important and we want to get that win. We are in first place in the Pac-10 and in a situation where we could wind up in the Rose Bowl. That is where our focus is at now. If we are fortunate to beat Notre Dame and have a good football game, I can't imagine anybody playing better football than us in the country. We would be excited to play anyone that they decide to match us up with in any situation. We will know a lot more Saturday night where we stand because this is a great team we are playing in Notre Dame. If that happens, we have everything you would be looking for in a good team. We have an offense with a great quarterback, we have a defense that is tops in our conference...it's an exciting football team to see. It won't mean anything if we don't do what we want to do this weekend. Right now, our focus is to try and get this win and everything will take care of itself.'

(talking about turning point for Carson Palmer...)

'I think we caught up with Carson as a coaching staff. His talent has always been there and we just put together a system that suits him really well. It takes advantage of his ability with great decision-making and quick release. He throws well on the run. We have tailored from one year to the next of what he does best. We have done a better job of presenting his strengths. I feel bad that we didn't do a good enough job last year to show his talents. We went from last in the conference in terms of giving up sacks to first this year and that, plus running the ball better, and all the things have made us a better football team. I think it has fit together very well.'

(talking about hiring offensive coordinator Norm Chow...)

'I didn't know Norm before I hired him. I think it's been very beneficial to our program to have him here. He has done everything you can do in college coaching and is a great coach...he has been proving that for years. That stature has added to everything we have done here. He made a big impression on Carson early on. Their relationship is excellent. The triangle of Norm, Carson and (quarterbacks coach) Steve Sarkissian has worked tremendously well. Norm and I work well together. He has been great to work with and he is working with the best quarterback in the country.'

(talking about either team winning on Saturday and not getting a BCS bowl berth...)

'In one regard, it's going to affect what other people think about us, but it won't change the fact that we are both really good football teams. Someone is going to have to lose, but it won't change the kind of seasons that either team has had. It will in terms of the bowl picture. I think it's a great match up and one that everyone will have fun watching. Whoever gets our teams to play in the bowl is going to get a really good football team. It will be exciting for the fans. We have played the hardest schedule and stumbled a couple of times against Washington State and Kansas State. I have great respect for Kansas State. I think they have an excellent program and football team. We were going down there to try and get that one done at the end, but we came up short. We stumbled a couple of times, but if you take a look at us now with the people we have played against who are playing well now...I would feel comfortable playing anyone.'

(talking about national awards and championships...)

'I certainly don't want to be campaigning. I want to talk the truth. If I feel strongly about it, I will talk about it. In this case, when we are talking about Carson and what he has done...I can logically look at the schedule and he has excelled every step of the way. It's an easy story to talk about. To tell you the truth, I will never complain about the outcome of it. That's somebody else's deal. I'm just talking about our guys and how they are doing and trying to give you a straight scoop on them. Carson is an outstanding football player. He's had a great year. We have the wins and the match ups to prove it. If that's enough then good, but if not then that's okay too. It's not going to take anything away from the season that he has had for us and the fact he has helped our return as a program to being conference champions.'

(talking about Carson playing in front of a national audience...)

'This is the kind of stage that you play on, but not for Carson's purposes. This is for the sake that it's a great match up and a traditional game that we would love to win. We have not won it in awhile. The byproduct of that is that a lot of people in the country get a chance to see our players and see what we are all about. Carson is obviously the focal point and people will get a chance to see him.'

(talking about the BCS system...)

'There's enough talk about it that you guys feel about it. It's obvious there is something in question because it keeps coming up. Honestly, it's not my concern. I realize everyone else does because everyone wants me to comment on it. That's just the system and I can't do anything about it. I don't care to try to know about. That's someone else's job to fix that thing if it's not right. I would just assume play head-to-head and let's go figure out what's up if you want to know who the best team is, but that's not the system. We are going to try to get into the Rose Bowl and win it every year. Everything else will take care of itself. If we win all of our games, we will be national champions because we will always be considered one of the most difficult. We will enjoy it if that time ever comes.'

(talking about chemistry with Carson...)

'We have had a lot of fun together. It has been a whirlwind tour since we have been together. We raced to get to the top of our conference and schedule. Carson has done everything we could have ever dreamed. He has been a great competitor in the offeseason. He has been a great leader. He has done everything that you can ask a guy to do in preparation to give his best shot. He is a great competitor and will not back down from any challenge. We are going into this match ups having a lot of fun. We always look forward to these games. We have had a good time doing it and it's been wonderful to see the perspective of Carson's career coming into focus this season. He's worthy of it, he's a great kid and a great Trojan. It's very rewarding for the coach and we have a lot of fun together.'

(talking about East Coast bias for national awards...)

'I go with the experts because if everyone is saying it, there must be something to it. I don't have enough comparison and background to tell you that this is the case. Whether it's because of when our games start or not viewed as much on the East Coast. Let's wait and see. I think we have the best player in America here and we'll see what happens. There have been a lot of Heisman Trophy winners here at USC in the past. If there is a fifth winner this year, we will be able to put things into perspective. I think it's very subjective right now and not easy to nail it down. It will be interesting to find out the result.'

(talking about freshman wide receiver Mike Williams...)

'Mike has done remarkable things from the first day he stepped on the practice field. He started making plays and has not turned back until recently when he has been kind of banged up. He's 6-5 and 227 and runs well. He has tremendous athletic ability and natural athleticism that allows him to move with the ball, move in his routes and release at the line of scrimmage. He has a tremendous package for a receiver. He's a physical runner in the open field. He has so many attributes that seem to be ahead of his years. When we have taught him things, he has been able to do things like the first time he tries them. That has brought him to where he is the focal point of the offense, Carson has really hit it off with him well. Coach Chow has done a good job of utilizing Mike in the offense and getting him the football in his hands where he can catch and run and getting behind people. He's a tremendous talent at this early stage. He caught 17 balls as a senior so he is not one of those guys who have caught hundreds of passes over his lifetime. He is just figuring some things out for the first time and it just comes naturally for him. As far as how he got out of Florida, we just did a good recruiting job that will be grateful for years. Mike is a very individual kid. He was wide open to different opportunities. He was not going to stay in the state just because someone pressured him to do that. He wanted to take a look at things on the outside. He happened to visit us when we had that great game against UCLA last year (USC won 27-0) and it was a great day in the stadium and he saw was USC football was all about. He saw what being in southern California was about and he fell in love with it and we were thrilled. We will continue to try to find guys like him. He is a rare find and a great kid and we are thrilled to have him here.'

(talking about Norm Chow's name being mentioned for future head coaching positions...)

'I absolutely would promote him to other people. I believe that our guys who come through the University of Southern California are going to be guys that will be called upon to go to other places. If that's something that Norm wants to do, I would champion the cause for him. That's something I'm sure he will deal with when the time is right. He's absolutely worthy to be a candidate as a college head coach. He has done everything you can do as a coach to prove that. He's an offensive guy that calls plays, which is a great way to hire a coach. I would support him. I would hate to lose him, but I would support him to the end and I say that with all of my guys. I have always figured that the guys I hire will work through the system and move on. I am going to bust my tail to make sure that they have great chances to do that if that's what they want to do.'

(talking about parallels between USC and Notre Dame returning to national prominence...)

'I think that Tyrone Willingham has done a remarkable job of getting it done in one year. I know how difficult it was for us to get our game going and it took half a season to get it done. By the halfway point, we started playing well and Tyrone got it done from the start. He's done much better. I think the potential for us to return to a prominent position isn't based on one year. It's based on doing back-to-back-to-back. When you do that, then you have done something special. We are happy to have a good season going and I'm sure he is as well. Personally, I think you have to do something on a regular basis and show that you can maintain over a long haul before you can see it's back to where it was before.'

(talking about effect of scholarships evening the playing field across the nation...)

'I'm in the process of finding that out now. It's something we talked about when we first got here. We will find out how far we can go and if that will be an issue. I know that since we are working with our third recruiting class, we are getting a tremendous response now from the best players in America. If we are able to do that consistently and are able to get the right guys for our system, we can win a lot of games and be in great shape from a year-to-year basis. I'm counting on that. The indication is we can get really good players and continue to be on top. It's hard to do, but we will find out.'

(talking about strength of the Pac-10 Conference...)

'I think it's a fantastic conference. There are so many gifted teams with strong quarterbacks and receivers and big-time offenses. It makes the Pac-10 a difficult one to deal with on a week-to-week basis. You watch our out-of-conference results and I think we are very effective. After winning some big bowls a couple of years ago, we started to turn some heads and now we continue to do that. I think it's a tremendous statement that we could be considered one of the top conferences. If we can match them up again in the bowls this year, that's a good indicator. There are no easy games on our schedule. Most people would be happy not to play the type of schedule that we play.'

(talking about Notre Dame cornerbacks Vontez Duff and Shane Walton...)

'I think we have similar defenses in that we vary what we do quite a bit. We make it difficult for our opponents and you can't just nail us down. I have been really impressed with what Notre Dame does with their scheme. Duff and Walton are excellent football players. They are playmaker kind of guys that if you make a mistake against them, they will take the ball away from you. That's why they have had a lot of turnovers. They have been effective setting up their offense. They play the kind of defense that I love. In terms of the match ups, this might be the best pair we will see all year. It's probably the best defense that we have seen since Kansas State. They play similar styles.'

USC Quarterback Carson Palmer
'I'm excited about this week. I'm fired up for this challenge, it's a huge one for the team. There are going be some big implications after this game as far as bowl games are concerned. This whole team is ready for the challenge.'

(talking about starting at USC as a true freshman...)

'It was tough when I first came in because I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I was 17, 18 years old running a West Coast offense and I struggled a lot and was confused. I didn't play well. It took me awhile to mature and figure things out and realize what situation I was in and how difficult college football was. Coach Chow came along and I learned a little at the start. I think this year, we made a huge step offensively and everyone started to figure things out and be comfortable in this offense.'

(talking about key in improving his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio...)

'It's a number of things. I'm not trying to force things as much and we aren't behind in games where we are just throwing the ball and trying to score quickly as possible. It's better decision-making as well. I have just matured a lot and learned a lot about football and how to be a better player.'

(talking about Mike Williams...)

'I think the key to his success early has been his maturity. He's an 18-year-old kid, but he's built like a junior or senior. He has the physical things needed to be successful...he's big, strong and fast. He's a lot more mature than most freshmen who come in. As far as his future, I think he can end up being a great player. It just depends what attitude he takes into spring and summer workouts and how he prepares. If he does everything right, he can be a great receiver.'

(talking about future of the USC program...)

'I look at the freshmen class this year and I'm very jealous of these guys. Now that Coach Carroll's program is established and off and running, the recruiting classes are going to keep getting better each year. The guys that came in this year, they are all going to have Rose Bowl rings and, hopefully, national championship rings because this program is definitely going uphill.'

(talking about tradition...)

'It's tough not to be reminded of the tradition here with accolades and trophies all over the place. Heritage Hall is a monument to USC football. You are reminded every day by knowing that players like Ronnie Lott, Keyshawn Johnson, O.J. Simpson were here.'

(talking about Heisman Trophy...)

'My focus is not on that. Right now, my focus is on Notre Dame. As far as my reaction, I'm definitely honored and flattered. It's an amazing thing to be a part of right now. I'm not playing for it or trying to do anything special to win it. I'm really focused on beating Notre Dame.

(talking about experience during his freshman season...)

'There are plenty of interceptions, lost games and turnovers. There is not one specific time. I think it's tough for any freshman to come in and play right away, especially at a position like quarterback. It's so complicated and so many different things you have to know. The step coming from the high school level to the college level is huge over one summer in order to prepare you for that step.'

(talking about Pete Carroll...)

'He is a straight-up person. He is going to tell you if you are doing good and call you out in front of everyone if you are not. It really doesn't matter about the situation and he doesn't really think about what other people think about him. He's so caring and loves this team and loves every player on this team. Whether you are good or bad, he's going to tell you either way.'

(talking about the chance to watch other Heisman Trophy candidates...)

'I don't get a chance. Like anyone else, your Saturdays are so full and every now and then you get a chance to watch the Friday night game. If you have a game in the afternoon, you are going to meetings and getting ready so rarely do you get a chance to watch other teams play.'

(talking about his game as a freshman against Notre Dame in 1998 with USC winning, 10-0...)

'It was a defensive-minded game. I know they lost their quarterback and they had to play with a true freshman. We had Chris Claiborne at the time and it seemed like both offenses were going three-and-out every time. We got a field goal early and tried to hold onto that. We got a touchdown later on in the game, but it definitely wasn't a very exciting game to watch.'

(talking about progression of the USC offense over the years...)

'It is like night and day. It seems like 40 years ago from that 1998 Notre Dame game. I feel like I have been here as long as the President. Looking back, this offense has come a long way. This whole team has come a long way. Different changes with the program and university has made it an honor to be a part of that change.'

(talking about impact of the BCS...)

'I don't know much about and my focus every week is not about who is in the BCS and who is not. The team's focus is not on that either. All we can worry about is ourselves. We have no control over who goes to what BCS bowl. If we end up going to a BCS bowl, it will be because we beat Notre Dame and finished out a great year. If we are lucky enough to have that opportunity, we are definitely going to jump all over it. If it doesn't work out, I don't think this team will be upset.'

(talking about USC-Notre Dame rivalry...)

'I remember my senior year in high school at the Coliseum and it went into overtime. When USC won it in overtime, the Coliseum erupted and it was an amazing event to be a part of. I definitely got a taste of the rivalry at that point. Both programs are similar where the head coach was fired and a new one came in and has turned things around. Now this rivalry is back and it means something. There is a lot riding on this game.'

(talking about importance of having a quarterback coach, Steve Sarkissian...)

'It's been great for me to have a coach that played the game. Any coach for any position that has game experience is awesome. To have a coach that played for the offensive coordinator and was successful in his system in running the same system is a bonus. To have him on the sideline after I make a mistake and ask him what happened, for him to be able to relay back to his playing experience helps.'

USC Safety Troy Polamalu

'I'm looking forward to this football game. The team is getting ready to play our best game as a unit. I believe that we are going to have to be at our best to be on the same field with such a prestigious team like Notre Dame. We are excited for the challenge.'

(talking about playing with a high ankle sprain, similar to the injury to Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser last week...)

'When I first heard about the injury with Jason, I somewhat know him and have a great respect for him. I started praying for him. I hope that he gets back. As far as the high ankle sprain, it's very hard to come back right away. His team definitely needs him. I couldn't believe what our team would be without Carson. I believe the team really needs him for the UCLA game. Putting up with the pain with the ankle sprain is the hardest thing. You can do as much as you can in terms of taking a shot to block the pain, but the disadvantage I had was it happened during the middle of the season. If I started taking shots every week then it would wither away at the end. The advantage that Jason has is that he can take the shot now and let it rest before their bowl game. It all depends on the individual and what he wants to do.'

(talking about run defense that USC uses, especially against top running backs...)

'Last year, we had a tremendous problem stopping the run. Throughout last spring and summer, we tried to bulk up. As far as strategy in our run technique, our defense was more sound in our gaps. Starting with our defensive line, they have played so great this year even with the loss of one of our best lineman in Shaun Cody. Our linebackers have stepped up. We are not really big. We are playing strong up front and fast as well.'

(talking about playing against an option quarterback like Notre Dame's Carlyle Holiday...)

'Against Kansas State, we had big problems against Ell Roberson. Definitely, we are going to have to prepare like we are playing against three running backs in the backfield. In the past, it has given us some problems and we haven't been really successful which adds to the challenge. We are excited and will really have to be at our best to play against them.'

(talking about any changes in defensive scheme with success of USC's offense this year...)

'Judging from last year to this year, I don't see a real difference in terms of our play-calling. I think as far as emotions, we feed off each other. As far as time of possession, it definitely has shifted from last year. This year, our defense does not have to be on the field very much which gives us fresh legs. It gives us the opportunity to hopefully go three-and-out or give the other offense a short drive. That is the biggest advantage with the success of our offense.'

(talking about playing a week after an emotional game...)

'Our focus on each game this season has had special meaning. We haven't been successful in the past and we have been beat by a lot of the teams we have played this year. Each game has had special meaning and this one, obviously, speaks for itself. I don't think that we will lack focus at all for this game. This is what football is all about. This is what kids dream about, playing in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry game. It's lost some of its sense recently, but fortunately this year both teams have been successful and up there in the rankings so it's what the rivalry first started out to be.'

(talking about playing with a 'Samoan' mentality...)

'To me, it means the love and the passion just to play football and to be committed to your family. The whole Samoan race is family-oriented. Whenever in times of battle, they have been great warriors historically...having football being our battleground.'

(talking about parallels in two programs...)

'Both programs have been put through a lot of pressure to restore the tradition of our university. I don't think any other school in the nation has to deal with the pressure that these two schools have. I was very aware of this rivalry as a kid. I was a USC guy at heart. You always know about the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. This is so huge and something I believe every kid will start looking up to now. Hopefully, they will want to start going to one of these universities.'

(talking about changes in Notre Dame's offense...)

'From what I have seen, I remember last year that they used more option. This year, it seems like they are not running too much at all. I'm not sure if they have run it at all this year. The fact that he can scramble would create another threat for our defense.'

(talking about playing against Carson Palmer in practice...)

'I have always thought Carson was the best quarterback that I have faced. I think now he is in a system that he is comfortable with after the problems of having different influences in terms of different coaches and systems that he has to learn. As far as our offense, he is in the second year under coach Chow and he is comfortable. He knows everything there is to know about our offense. That makes him play that much faster. I don't think that Carson felt pressure early in his career, but he is feeling some now with the talk about the Heisman. I think the only focus he has now is getting ready for Notre Dame. That's always been his primary focus, his team comes first.'

(talking about bias against the West Coast...)

'I think Washington State had a chance to be up there and I think it's very tough. The level of competition on the West Coast is very close. There are opportunities to lose more games here. I don't think there is a bias.'

(talking about Carson's chances for the Heisman...)

'I think Carson is the best player I have faced and feel blessed to be his friend and teammate. He hasn't changed this season even with the success. He doesn't let anything affect him. As far as personality-wise, Carson has always been Carson since he has been the quarterback. He has always faced pressure, but has always found a way to enjoy life. I think that's one of the reasons for his success this year.'

(talking about being a finalist for the Thorpe Award...)

'The winning has always been my primary focus and I never liked to receive an award that has separated me from my team. In my perfect world, we would all be All-Americans and play at such a high level at every game. I feel gracious about being named as a finalist. I don't feel like I played very well this year, but it doesn't matter because we have been winning. The sun is shining a lot brighter now.'

Football Heritage Hall Press Conference Quotes

USC Head Football Coach Pete Carroll

'We are really proud to get to this point of the season where we continue to play good football and finish the conference off with a big win last weekend. It was pretty exciting to see ourselves in first place after 13 weeks of the season and what we have been through. We had a great time with the victory on Saturday and enjoyed the heck out of it. Our fans will enjoy it for the whole offseason. I'm proud that we are still playing great football. We have a very exciting match up coming up, set up by the last few weeks. November has been a great month for us and we have a chance to finish it up. We came out of the bye week, making this month a big deal and it turned out that way. The great match up with Notre Dame in a 10-1 team with all that follows with the great season they have had and a traditional match up makes it real fun to be here. The crowd is going to be nuts and the stadium is really going to be rocking. To be part of it is really special for players, fans and our coaching staff. We enter into this week to turn our focus and preparation into winning this game. We will take this as we have learned to do it and be serious about each day. We want to get the most out of it and be ready for game day. A couple of guys got nicked and we have to make it through this week. I'm sure Notre Dame has their issues as well. It won't take anything away from this great opportunity and what the season has brought to us. It's a great finish to the year. To play three weeks back-to-back in the area and play in front of a quarter of a million people is exciting. I can't wait to get started. The game plan starts today and we look forward to making the most of it.'

(talking about who to play on a weekly basis...)

'It's my approach that if we have a chance, I want everyone to play. They deserve to be on the field when we get them out there.'

(talking about status of center Norm Katnik...)

'We will see how he is and just try to get him to Wednesday. If he can practice on Thursday, we will be hopeful. The spirit is willing so as big as the game is, he is going to take every opportunity to play for us. If he doesn't go, Derek Graf will be ready to play. Derek did a good job for us last week.'

(talking about Troy Polamalu being named as a Thorpe Award finalist...)

'That's really exciting for us because we are hoping the best for one of the great kids you could ever have in your program. He has had some difficulties with an injury during the season and still has played well. He has contributed greatly to our team. It's another statement about who he is and what he is about. A lot of guys would have not been able to play as much as he has with the injury. He was very productive again last week and made some big hits and plays. He is certainly worthy of consideration.'

(talking about taking care of the football...)

'It turns the focus to something that is right at the heart of our philosophy which is to take care of the football. It's something that is the number one element of my philosophical approach to how to be successful. These guys are great at it. The defense has scored four or five times, they have created a bunch of setups for their offense, which is exactly how you want to do it. It addresses the issue of us taking care of the football. We are a plus-16 right now, we are doing a good job. That's a fantastic stat. We have done what we are trying to do philosophically and take care of the ball. The last couple of weeks, we have not given up the ball. We will keep that rolling and it will be a big factor in this game. There's no question it will be a deciding factor in this game. Both teams feed off of it. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.'

(talking about playing against a running-type quarterback...)

'It's a big concern. You can ask me any day of the year and I'll tell you it's quarterbacks who can run and cause second and third opportunities after the initial play. Carlyle Holiday is terrific at it, he gave us problems last year. He's hard to tackle, physical and is strong for a QB. He poses some big problems for us.'

(talking about Mike Williams and health...)

'He's doing a good job of battling. He was affected in the UCLA game. We just missed him deep. There was one ball that he really had a chance to get if he was 100 per cent. Everything else, he really worked hard at. I hope Michael can be a big factor in this game for us. He's going to be a factor anyway. If he can go after that football, it will help us.'

(talking about Carson Palmer's run against UCLA where he cartwheeled after getting hit near the goal line...)

'I thought it was a great play and glad he went for it for all the reasons that he did. He's trying to score a touchdown and he saw fit to do it and survived it. He didn't have to do it in the manner he did, but that was just his spirit coming through and his will to win. I remember a time with the 49ers we played a preseason game against San Diego with Steve Young and he dropped back to pass and takes off running and the defensive guy pulled his helmet off. That's when the fire lit up in Steve's eyes and tried to score a touchdown and it reminds you off the will that is in these guys to be great. It doesn't matter what's at stake, they are going to go. We have done everything we can in his preparation to work on his mentality to survive the season as a quarterback and not put himself at risk. Anything may happen in Saturday's game. It's great stuff and the sidelines went nuts after that play. When he jumped up and put his hands in the air, I was still holding my breath.'

(talking about progress of Carson Palmer...)

'I feel it's clear in my mind that Carson was ready to have a great season last year and we didn't get it going fast enough. We were not a good enough team last year. He busted his butt to learn our system and put it into action. He applies himself constantly and has not done anything differently this year. We weren't as well-equipped as a team, we didn't run the ball well last year and didn't protect him well. We didn't understand how well he throws on the run and encourage him to scramble out of the pocket as much as we have. We have gone from last in giving up sacks in the conference to first in the conference and that's a tremendous change for us. That's because of system adjustments and Carson's awareness. The offensive line has a lot more experience. You put all of those elements together and that is a big reason. The other side of it as he has developed his confidence and seen the consistency that he can have, he can really grow. He is in charge of the game and in command of our system. It's a natural process, it just didn't happen fast enough for us last year.

(talking about backup quarterbacks...)

'Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart and Billy Hart have had the benefit to watch this thing come together. They have been through the cycle. They have evolved as we have evolved and hopefully they will be the beneficiaries when they compete for the job next year. It's only natural that it would help. They have been there from start to finish. Bill Walsh used to talk about how it takes four or five years to really get good in a system to go back and draw on your experience. You can see the benefits. We are a team that can really adjust. We can go into halftime and do things differently. That's part of being together. They should be prepared up until the point they start competing.'

(talking about game preparation at the pro level compared to the college level...)

'I don't think it changes a bit. I'm better equipped to bring the message to them now then I was before. In terms of players competing on great settings on great stages...with championship opportunities...the fundamentals of being successful is the same. To perform really well with a lot of stuff going on around you is what the challenge is. Whether you are 28 years old or 18 years old, it's the same. You have to do things really well under the setting, in the environment you are in regardless of what's going on around you. How we prepare is that we doggedly attack the things that are going to be asked of guys during the game. You have to plan for every contingency that can possibly come up so they are confident, so they know the success that no matter what happens they are prepared and ready to go. We do exactly the same thing in that regard. It's shown up in our football team in this remarkable schedule that we had to go through. We were able to find the focus every week and have this growing confidence in knowing we are capable of success, no matter where we play or who we play against. That's something that doesn't matter. I remember a couple of huge games when I was with New England when we were hurt, battered and against all odds we did not have a chance. We beat Jacksonville when they had won 13 straight home games and we were in shambles of a team compared to what we had. We beat the 49ers one year to put us into the playoffs when they were as hot as a pistol and they were just on fire. We had the backup quarterback and tailback, but guys saw the way through that and find a way to do some stuff. It's no different now. We have been up against it the whole year. It hasn't mattered because the guys have turned their focus to how we play. I know I'm almost downplaying the matchups at times because we treat every game the same. There is some extra flavor on every game, there was a tremendous accent to what was going on last week...but we played the same way as we did against Stanford and Colorado. We did the same kind of things and that's what we are trying to create here.'

(talking about handling Notre Dame's running style...)

'We are going to have to play good defense. There is no doubt. We are going to have to play the kind of defense that's a little different than what we have been up against. This is a team that will overpower you if you allow them to do that, run the ball down your throat. Very few teams that we have faced in the last six or seven weeks have had the ability to do that. Colorado, Auburn, Kansas State...that has been their flavor and style, so we are back into that mode. This could end up being a very defensive, low-scoring game in that regard. I'm comfortable with that. That's the kind of game that I know better than the other end of it because most years, that is what I have been around. That's why the turnovers and not making the critical mistakes are so fundamental to how we play. I think this could be one of those kind of games. We will prepare for that kind of game.'

(talking about Notre Dame fitting coach Willingham's style...)

'I think it does. He had a tremendous run at Stanford and did a great job with the program. He had to resolve some issues and get it on the right track, which he did immediately. I think he benefited from an older team with a lot of seniors, who were ready. He's a disciplinarian and I think he's done a great job with them. They are playing tough football, similar to what he did at Stanford.'

(talking about Notre Dame defense...)

'They are really strong defensively and stout at the line of scrimmage. Fundamentally, the scheme is really solid and not many weaknesses. You can't take advantage of many things. They have a system that I really respect. They have a lot of things that they do, which is tough to get to quickly. They came out right away playing well. I like the way they play.'

(talking about possibility of beating Notre Dame and still not going to a BCS bowl...)

'I'm asked about this question constantly about the BCS and where we stand. As far as I'm concerned, I can't do anything about it. Our focus is winning championships and getting to the Rose Bowl game. Whatever happens after that issue is settled, then we will deal with it at that time.'

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