Pete Carroll Discusses Upcoming Season Opener At Arkansas

Aug. 29, 2006

USC football head coach Pete Carroll

Opening statement

'I know everybody is kind of pumped up about getting back and going again. You guys love the season too, and it's an exciting time for everybody around the country. So we're certainly ready to go and looking forward to this. It seems that every year is a long haul and then everything comes to a screeching halt. Now, it's game week and the build up is kind of over. We are very fortunate with the health. There are a lot of issues we have to solve as we go through. We just don't know until we get there. Arkansas has a great tradition there and for those of you who haven't been there, it's going to be an extraordinary event. They are going to be as charged up as a team can get and we expect that. Hopefully, our game preparation will give us a chance to win. They have a bunch of players coming back. They are well-equipped and talented. They will be pumped since it's one of the biggest openers they have had in a long time.'

On the tailback situation

'To muddy the waters a little bit, Chauncey (Washington) practiced yesterday. He looked fast and ready to go the first day of the week. Along with that, we have had this intense competition with the young guys. It's been a race to get ready with this gameplan. It's been fun to watch every day. C.J. Gable is probably the most consistent guy from start to finish. Emmanuel Moody has been the most improved, he has really made a charge here in the last week or so. Allan Bradford is the kid we like because he is the bigger of the group. He is a 230-pound running back who can hit the ball inside or on the edge. Stafon Johnson is a talented and effective kid, but it's been C.J. and Emmanuel who have been in the lead. Chauncey will have a factor in that if he is ready to go.'

On losing Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart

'I've been going over that for a long time, I think I'm over that. It's been fun for me to watch them in the NFL and think, okay, they aren't coming back. We are well beyond that and we've set our sights on recruiting knowing what's been coming up. It's been a long, committed process to get these guys to this game and ready, so I'm not worrying about that. I'm over that.'

On recruiting with the thought of losing players in three years

'There is no question that we have to think about that. It's enticing to the kids and we know it's a factor. We're not planning out or thinking that this guy will be gone in three years so let's get this guy. We are more year-to-year in the recruiting process, but there are aspects of the team that is part of the process when you have really good football players. When they are eligible and ready to go, you got to know that that is a factor.'

On testing the new players at Arkansas this week

'Well, I don't know if it's a good way, but it's the way we got so we are going to make the most of it. We've been in the situation a number of times over the years with significant openers on the road and they have been very good for us. They are great challenges. They are great events to look towards as you are starting your season. Without question, for us to go into Fayetteville and come out with a win would be a great accomplishment. It's a great opportunity for us and we will build from there and see what the outcome is.'

On the defensive tackle position

'It's been a great competition with Chris Barrett and Fili Moala. They have both elevated their game and have taken to their best play since they have been here. They will both play at that spot, both are big and fast. They both complement each other and I don't feel the level of play drops off, so we will just keep rotating those guys. I think we have answered the question with two guys. We will see as we get into games and see who is most productive. Right now, it's gone well. We have come out of it better than I thought initially.'

On starting quarterback John David Booty

'I was asked earlier on the radio today about if I was surprised that he stayed and stuck it out, but John Davis has always been committed to USC and he was captured by the thought of it way back when and he has stood strong. He has been through more challenges than we know. People have talked to him and asked why don't you do this and go do that, take off and start over again but he has never wavered on that. He has positioned himself beautifully and is well-prepared, ready to start and played in games. He's confident, he has led this football team and his teammates chose him to be a team captain. He has had to be patient and in this day and age, for a young star quarterback who has been around for awhile to do that, you know they don't always do that. We have seen across the country, especially this year, that there has been some shuffling, but John David has been beautiful about it and his family has backed him up. We have loved the preparation and he has done everything he has needed to do to take care of this situation and go for it. He has even overcome the back issue, which has not been an issue at all during camp. All of those things add up and have been a challenge for him, but he has never wavered. I'm thrilled for his opportunity and looking forward to his play.'

On how the environment has changed without Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart

'We've always been a football team. Our football team has always been very connected, very close and with the nature of the three guys that have been Heisman winners, they have been extraordinary team players and have never rubbed their teammates' noses in it. I believe the following and the hype that goes with this is because we are in Los Angeles, we are a high-profiled program who that has won a lot. I think those are beautiful things that come along with it. This has not been a bad thing at all, it has not been a distraction to us. It has just been what it is. We have dealt with it quite well. It is different now, it feels quite different. There isn't the national following, there isn't all that buzz and talk about things that you really can't control that our guys dealt with magnificently over the years. Those are issues we don't have to talk about as much right now. It isn't better, it isn't worse. We are about going about our business right now. It has never been a factor that has distracted us and took away from the fun in the game that we play. If anything, it has just enhanced it and made it more fun for people. Fortunately, we have been through that experience and maybe we will be lucky some day in the future to do it again.'

On tailback Allen Bradford

'He came in really wanting to play safety. He was a great running back in high school and we noticed that in his junior film when we really started looking at him. We had a need when Chauncey (Washington) got banged up as well as Michael Coleman. We needed to do something for the football team and Allen jumped at the opportunity. He is a talented football player and can play on either side of the ball and we expect to go to him. He's going to get the ball in this game and show us how far he has come along since he has been behind the other guys since he started late. We are asking him to do a limited number of things. He's been very effective on our practice field, running...breaking tackles...running over people. We are hoping to see if that shows up on game day. He is not playing defense. If we have an emergency, we would certainly go back and revisit the situation when it comes time to do that again.'

On units of this year's team he is most curious about

'I'm concerned about the running backs just because they are new and they are young and have never been in this situation before. This will be the biggest crowd that they will have ever played in front of before. We really don't know until we get there, but we have enough choices where we will find the guy who feels comfortable and is the most productive. We have some things that we need to see on special teams. We are going against a tremendous kickoff return unit in Arkansas. This is a unit that features a player like Felix Jones. It is always this time of the year where you try and figure it our. We have a lot of experienced guys on that team. We need to make sure we have guys who have been there before. I will be anxious to see what happens with our young secondary. These guys have not played together before at all even though they have been up for it. They can grow and come together. It's a physical, fast and dedicated group that hasn't played before.'

On USC's team speed

'We were fast last year and we got faster this year with the new kids coming in. Arguably, there are 8 or 9 guys who ran a 10.7 or better in this class alone. This is quite a track team coming in. That's a ton of speed and I don't know anybody who has been able to have that many fast guys before and if they have, they must be flyers. This is a fast group and that just adds to it. The ability to move our linebackers around the defense has helped us some. They are already a fast group, but to put another player on the field like that helps us. The speed that came in at the running back and wide receiver position is obvious on the field.'

On last year's game against Arkansas

'I would expect that every time we play it is going to be very competitive and I'm sure that what happened with that game was very unusual. The plays that got the game going were really uncommon and that it's not likely that it's going to happen this time. I think this will be a very difficult game for us and a big time challenge for our kids. I really don't care what the score is, but we are going to try to come out on top of this thing regardless of how it unfolds. I think the fact that we are playing at their place and the energy level that will be there will really help them, relative to the energy level we had at the Coliseum, so I'm sure it will be a very tough, hard-fought game.'

On Carroll's involvement with Arkansas early in his career and the 1978 bowl victory

'I remember it like it was yesterday. For myself, that was a magical year. I was just trying to keep Lou (Holtz) from yelling at me at the time. I didn't really realize what was happening, but all said we started to pile up the wins. I think the only loss we had that year was to Texas, and Earl (Campbell) made a spectacular play to beat us, otherwise we would have gone undefeated that year. There were tremendous bowl victories and Lou just orchestrated them in extraordinary fashion. We lost some kids in the bowl process, but he got the maximum amount from our football team and really set the stage for Oklahoma to feel pretty comfortable and all that and then we just came out flying. Monte Kiffin called that game almost to the letter. He wrote the numbers on the board in the coaches' locker room before we left on that trip about the points they would score and the yards they would gain and he was on it. There was just magical stuff that happened and it was an incredible year with a great coaching staff too. There are guys all over the country, head coaches and NFL coaches that were on that staff. It was really a fun time. Pat Ruel and I can't help but reflect on that because that was were we met and we had a great time doing it. It was so much fun. It will be really great to go back and it will be my first time returning.'

On cornerback Terrell Thomas

'He is an old guy for us, because everyone else is so young. He's just a junior. He was a starter for us last year and he was our top corner going into last season, so to get him back is great and he has just had a fantastic, dedicated year to getting ready. He had a great offseason, getting his knee back in order and he played a ton in spring football where he was just way ahead of schedule. He is really the experienced guy back there for us at that spot. He is really a leader back there. Josh Pinkard who has played all over is really beyond his years too just because of the variety of things we have asked him to do. They are still young players and I think it is a highly talented group. If we really get going, this could be a really good secondary for us.

On the team leaning on the defense

'I don't see it that way, we will have to see how we play. I would like to see our defense play very well, we can benefit from that. Arkansas has got a lot of offense and a lot of firepower, and that may or may not be the case. I'm expecting both of our groups, both offense and defense to come out and function really well and play smart...execute well. We have had very good work up to now and we have worked so much against ones and ones so much that we have been up and challenged on both sides of the ball. We will see. We should be ready for this. Is the defense ahead of the offense? We will find out, but I am not counting on that and I wouldn't expect that necessarily.'

On comparison of the question marks in personnel this year to what they have learned in the past three years

'Well as far as the preparation up to this point, coming into this game day, we have used that experience to help us. We were not sure at that time if young running backs could carry the load, if they could be a big factor on a football team that has a lot of success. We didn't know about the new quarterback. We were not as far along with our evaluation of Matt (Leinart) as we are of John David. John David has been a backup for a couple of years, he has played in some games and is much more experienced than Matt was when we went to Auburn that year. Hopefully, we have gauged our projections on how these kids can perform based on that experience. It's very similar, numbers-wise, when you look at the quarterback and the defensive backs that left and all the running backs. The comparison is very much the same, but whether the production and the output is the same, I don't know. Up to now, it has made me feel pretty comfortable, but maybe now I'm getting a little shaky about it I guess (laughing).'

On players that have looked good so far

'There are a number of guys that have looked very impressive in this camp...guys that you wouldn't hear much about. (Offensive tackle) Kyle Williams has had a great camp. He has been a backup tackle for a number of years and has played in a number of games, but now he is finally a starter in his senior year and he has had a great camp, a great spring. He has really made that position that we thought would be a big change over very solid. Chilo Rachal at the right guard spot might be the best product we have come up with as our years here as an offensive lineman. He is big, strong, fast and tough. He does all the stuff that we like, but he is just inexperienced. He is going to be a great player for us. (Tight end) Fred Davis has probably made the greatest improvement of any player. He is a front line player for us and he has come out his first few years where he has always been a very good blocker for us and sometimes the go-to-guy for us. Now, we would like to get him the ball a lot and run the ball at him. He has a chance to be a great football player. A guy that you are going to see is Ryan Powdrell. We have moved him from linebacker to fullback and he has really just taken to this position. He might be a special player for this offense. He is 260 pounds, a big-load guy that will hit you blocking you, carrying the ball and he can catch the ball extremely well. All of those things, because he is a natural athlete, have come very easy to him and he has made the transition quickly. He is a frontline player for us right now. The young guy I think that has been very impressive is (tight end) Anthony McCoy. He has caught touchdown passes in all of our spring and fall scrimmages and been an effective kid. He came in as a wide receiver at 260 pounds and we got his at tight end. He has been effective as a catching tight end and as a blocker. There are a lot of guys that I have been excited about. On the other side of the ball, the guy I have been excited about is (safety) Kevin Ellison. He is a guy that played sparingly last year, but came in early and learned his stuff. He got hurt early in the season last year, but he has been the kind of guy that has been the glue to put things together in the secondary. He is a very smart player, always in the right place, very heady guy taking charge back there. He is a big guy and tough, so there are just a lot of guys that I'm excited about. We just have to unveil these guys and see how they perform. There could be a lot of really fun stories for us as we go down the road.'

On (wide receiver) Dwayne Jarrett's health

'He is fine. He has been able to go full speed when we have practiced him. We wanted to make sure and not overload him. He is having an old quad bruise that has bothered him. It really bothered him all last year and he played with it all season. It has just kind of nagged him through the preparation to get hit on. He is fine and he went 100% yesterday. He is ready to go and will be full speed for the game.'

On tailback Desmond Reed

'One of the stories, you asked about guys who were surprising, Desmond Reed is a fantastic story. He has come back from his injury. He has got a role to play on this football team, he is going to be a punt returner and has other stuff that he will do on offense. We are counting on him. He has given us some juice because he is such an intense kid and fires up everyone on the sidelines and in the meetings. He is just such a great kid and to see him overcome what he has overcome to play at this level has really been inspiring to a lot of us. We are just excited to have him back, he is a very talented football player. So we will bring him along as the season goes, and we are excited for him to be back. We are anxious to see him go for the first time.'

On having a tailback-by-committee situation

'This is bigger than a committee. It's like a caucus. It's an exciting spot for us and we have to figure it out. We are going to spread it around and take some time. This is not an evaluation that is set in stone. We will go right back next week to the competition and see who is ready to jump up and keep that alive. We will see what happens.'

On going into a hostile environment with a young team

'This is a great opportunity. We will take a tremendous amount of respect for our opponent this weekend. We take it seriously with how we want to go about it and what we want to get done. I look at it as an opportunity where you can have growth.'

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