Riley Meets The Press

Dec. 2, 2003

(On Oregon State accepting an invitation to the Las Vegas Bowl) 'We got official word about the Las Vegas Bowl yesterday, and we're really, really excited about the game. It's great to be in a bowl game; I've heard a lot of great things about the Vegas bowl and how teams are treated down there, and I think it's just really good for the program. We're going to play a very good opponent in New Mexico, we're going to get a number of extra practices for our program and opportunities for young guys to work as we go through this deal, so I'm very excited about it and we'll be looking forward to that.'

(On the magnitude of the game at Southern California and OSU's motivation for that game) 'I think it's a great opportunity for our team. For us, it feels a little like a postseason game after playing the Oregon game, having Thanksgiving, having a bye. But I think it's truly just a great opportunity. It will be very hard. This is an outstanding team; there's a reason they're No. 2 in the nation right now. It provides a lot of challenges and we'll have to play very, very well. But we've been pretty resilient during the year in coming back from disappointments, so I'm looking forward to the game and I think our team is, too.'

(Do you have a sense of playing a spoiler role?) 'I suppose that's a side story and maybe more interesting to other people than it is to me, personally, or to our team. I think this is - for us - a great opponent, a team in our league, and it would be an outstanding win.'

(Is it special for you to go back to Southern California for a game?) 'I did like it there, and I really appreciated my time at USC. It was probably one of my main links to getting this job - being in the conference at the time and getting four years of work down there. But places are always people and I really enjoyed working with John Robinson and all the other people in the athletic department. It's one of the great things in our business, when we get to retrace a little bit and go back. Like I said, it's about people, and they have some very good people there.'

(What's more impressive - USC's offense or its defense?) 'I don't know. They're a well-rounded football team and they play top-level on both sides of the ball; that's why they've gotten where they are. They're an outstanding defensive team, tremendous up front, so people have not been able to get much rhythm, offensively, and they've been great against the run, which is one of the common denominators to a great defense. Offensively, they just have a number of weapons and they use them. This is a talented, well-caoched team; you put those two things together and it makes for what they have.'

(Oregon State is a big underdog in this game - do you use that as motivation?) 'I think we all realize we'll be underdogs in the game, and to me, those kind of things don't play a big part in our thought process. We have to prepare to play USC and the people they have and what they do. It's all about that for us. If we get prepared and go down there and make plays and play well, then we'll have an opportunity in the ball game - that's just how we're looking at it. What's motivating to me is the preparation for the game and our opportunity to go down there and play.'

(On having the third bye week of the season) 'I don't feel like it's messed anything up. At this point, I think three byes just stretches the thing out for a long period of time. But as far as the football, we were obviously more successful in our last bye week winning the next game than we were in our first one. But in general, I think it's kind of nice for the guys to have a little break - and especially with Thanksgiving in there, to be able to go home or do whatever they did and have a breather. I thought when we came back on Monday, we were pretty lively and it did some good for their bodies to have a rest.'

(Is OSU back up emotionally after the Civil War loss?) 'I feel like you said - it's like the last game was a long time ago and my sense at practice was, we looked physically pretty good. Mentally, I think we were very excited about football practice, which doesn't surprise me about this team. It made for a good omen for the start of our week getting ready for the game. We'll prepare hard. But the big thing we have a hard time dealing with right now is, we do have some lingering injuries which have depleted our depth at linebacker. That has residual effects on special teams and things like that. We are concerned - is Jonathan Pollard going to play? What does that do on defense, on punt team? There are some things there at a place where we were real deep early in the year and felt good about it; we're down to the bare minimum right now.'

(Will Chaz Scott play in Jonathan Pollard's place) 'Right now, my feeling is Chaz will play in the game. Then we'll go day-to-day with Jonathan and see where he is on the weekend; that's about as good as we can do. I have no idea if or what role he can play, if any, at this time. He has gotten better, but it is a high ankle sprain and those things last longer than you want them to.'

(Has it been easier for OSU to come back and get ready for USC after having a week off after the Oregon game?) 'That's what I felt like coming back. Kids have shorter memories than we do, so they're on to something new right now and the start of our week felt good. We'll see how it all plays out. We'll need every bit of what we've got to compete in this ballgame. They have absolutely dominated and blown out most everybody they've played since that Cal game, so we'll need it all. We don't need to be superhuman, but we need to play our best. So we'll need every bit of a mental edge and physical edge we can get.'

(Will playing this late in the regular season help you in a bowl game, only having 18 days between games as opposed to almost a month for New Mexico?) 'That's an interesting thing. It won't be that long a span between the time we play Saturday and the time we start practicing for the bowl game. Again, we won't know how that really plays out until the ballgame, but I kind of like that continuity because I feel we've already had one pretty good break in there for Thanksgiving. So we'll get a week of practice here and play a game, then get another week kind of off during finals, which is perfect, then we'll start practicing again for the bowl game. I go kind of crazy when we're not together, when you have games you have to play and we're not practicing and not doing it. So I'm glad it's not too long.'

(What makes USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow an 'offensive guru?') 'I think one thing about their team and their system is that Norm has been there now for a few years so the continuity of what they do there is a big deal. They weren't playing in their first year like they are right now. What they've added is talent, and what Norm does a great job of is getting people involved, utilizing people. And the other thing he does a great job of is coaching the quarterback - that guy knows what to do with the ball and doesn't get flustered and really handles that team well. I think the coaching the quarterback, the utilizing the personnel, and then all the other stuff that goes into offensive football - the formation varieties, the balance of run and pass - those are major factors in playing USC. They have a number of people who can hurt you, and they all get the ball. That's not easy.'

(On USC quarterback Matt Leinart) 'First of all, just the efficiency with which he plays. He doesn't make many mistakes, he throws the ball to open players - not the ones who are covered, but the ones who are open - and he really plays pretty error-free ball. There's an efficiency there, his efficiency rating has been high all year, and that just lends itself to that continuity in their offense. They don't punt very much - you don't see a lot of their punts from week to week, and that says they're doing something very effective and efficient and consistent on offense, and the quarterback is handling all that very well.'

(On USC wide receiver Mike Williams) 'He's hard to defend man-on-man; I think you have to change things up. The hard part about USC is, the other guy (Kearly Colbert) is really, really good, too; I mean, he is a very good receiver and the backs are good. They use the backs out of the backfield a lot like we use Steven Jackson, so there are other weapons there. It's really hard to say 'We're going to take this guy out of the game and everything's going to be okay.' That's not the case when you're playing USC. Again, that's going back to what Norm does - there's a balance within the offense of run and pass, and the kinds of passes, the play-action passes and dropback passes, and the different running game they have. And there's a utilization of people. I think they spend a lot of time talking about how we're going to get this guy the ball and that guy the ball.'

(On what NFL experience gives coaches coming back to college football) 'I don't know. I think just the experience in football is a big deal. You take a situation where wherever you are and whatever you're in, you hope you can gain something - even if it's not deemed as, quote, successful, on the outside. I think Pete (Carroll) has done a great job at USC of going in there and, first of all, he really enjoys the atmosphere and being back in college football. And the other thing they focused on is their system, which has now been in place for a few years, and in recruiting. And that's what you do. With all the other stuff that goes on in college football, it's the coaching of what you do in your system, and the recruiting of players to go in that system. If there's a general statement you can make about why they've succeeded, that could be it. But I think you draw on every experience; I can't speak for June (Jones) or for Pete, but all that for me has been good because it's all about dealing with people in all sorts of circumstances.'

(Does USC quarterback Matt Leinart remind you of a taller, lefthanded version of former OSU quarterback Jonathan Smith - savvy, efficient?) 'Maybe not all the dimensions of a superstar, but playing like one. Because he knows the position - that position is overrated at times because the guy who throws it the hardest and furthest isn't always the best quarterback. That is definitely a factor - it's playing the position and handling the team and making the right reads and handling adversity; it's being able to throw when everything around you appears to be breaking down and you've got to step up in the pocket with one of the No. 1 common denominators - courage - and come back from a bad play. I think he does that; he's done a nice job of being able to do that in his first year.'

(Does playing against a lefthanded quarterback force defensive changes?) 'There is a difference, and that's a good point. The play-action passes that you'd normally see coming out of bootlegs to a righthanded quarterback - we all will run bootlegs to the left with our quarterbacks, but everybody likes to do it more often to the quarterback's throwing hand. So what you might see is a little different with a lefthanded quarterback.'

(How important is it to keep the game close early?) 'I think it's a big deal. Playing in this game and being somewhat stable and staying in it - and I don't just mean by the score, I mean staying in it competitively, moving the ball, getting first downs and really competing in that first part of the game and through the first half is a major deal. This team, there have been games when they've been a little close for a while, but they've found that explosion time ... they're playing the Cougars and it's 23-16 or something, and the next time I look at it, it's 40-something. They have some explosion times in there, so you've got to avoid those times. Wherever that explosion is going to occur, you get past that and keep that game going into the fourth quarter, that's got to be the formula.'

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