Pete Carroll Talks About Saturday's Game Against Notre Dame

Nov. 25, 2008

COACH CARROLL: Yeah, it's a really exciting week for us...get back at it. We had a very good bye week with an opportunity to do a lot of things. I think we accomplished enough to feel good about the week. We had a good rest over this weekend. We got back to work yesterday to kind of start off us with a little extra day. We're hard at this game plan right now.

It's a great opportunity for our kids to finish up their season, the seniors, here at home against Notre Dame. That's about as high on the scale as you can get as a Trojan. So we're really excited about that opportunity, want to make the most of it. We put together a really good week of work that will allow us to go out and play real well and hopefully get a great win.

Notre Dame, you know, coming off a really tough loss to Syracuse. I know they're determined to do something about it, end their season on a big note...getting ready for the Bowl season, all that. I'm sure they're working hard at it. We're going to anticipate that they're going to bring great energy in a matchup for us that is going to make us work really hard to get done what we want to get done.

We are excited about it...pumped up about a lot of aspects of finishing the season on a high note. This is the last game for us in November. We want to do something good with that, set up our last opportunity to finish off the conference the following week. Hopefully we can make the most of it.

Q. Does Kevin Ellison have a chance to play?
COACH CARROLL: Yeah, he does. He's going to go today, see how he takes to the work. We'll be careful with him, of course his first official day back out. We'll be real concerned to see how he responds after the work.

He'll see the doctors tonight. They will make a determination how far along he is. He's done everything perfectly along the way. He's had a great, short recovery here, but he's going to try to maximize it...see if he can push himself back out there. Of course, the doctors will have a big play in this one, whether or not he's ready, all that.

I know his spirit is willing, his preparation is right. Whether or not he can do that, they'll make that determination in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, Will Harris will start again for us as we go into this week, we'll know more. We're prepared to play him in the football game. We'll see what Kevin can add. We'll make a determination later to see what that all means.

Q. What other injuries do you have?
COACH CARROLL: Just Armond Armstead came up with a broken finger last week, a little crack in a bone in his hand. He's practicing. I think we're going to see how he handles it. He's got a cast on it, all that. Looks like Captain Hook. He's going to give it a shot.

Q. Is this one of those games that's special regardless of the records of the two teams going in?
COACH CARROLL: It's always been that way. I think no matter what's riding on it outside of the matchup, it's been a great game every time we've had a chance to go. It's always been exciting and fun. The stadiums are awesome because the fans are so tuned into it and love it so much.

The fact that we get to do it here, you know, at this time of the year, it happens to be the last game for these seniors at home, all of that stuff just adds to the excitement and the buildup of it. So it's a big, big matchup for us.

Q. With Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, the difference between an NFL coach and a college coach, how difficult is it to make that transition? You seemed to make it really well. When changing, what's the biggest obstacles that an NFL guy faces when he comes to the college game?
COACH CARROLL: Well, there's a lot of ways to do it obviously. We've had quite a few guys have a lot of success doing this. I think there's a lot of similarities. I think making connection with that, that it isn't that much different. The football is very much the same, the teaching and coaching aspects of it. Dealing with the players is very much the same in regards to football. You know, just shifting gears from free agency and draft to recruiting, signing day, all that kind of stuff to me is very similar. So I don't think there's as many differences as there are likenesses in it.

I think there's more stuff to be involved with. Having energy for all of that is important because, you know, when you finish with your football, there's other things going on. It's not just academics; it's an opportunity to promote your program, which you don't do in the NFL, you just play the games. You have a chance with boosters. You're much closer to fans directly. And that calls for a lot more opportunity for activity and stuff. So I think the energy it takes to do that is different.

The grind of the football season is, on the other side of it, different, the NFL side. But I don't think there's that many differences really. I think had you never coached in college, and you missed that experience along the way, then the transition would be even harder. I think that would make it more difficult because you wouldn't know quite what to expect. But other than that, I don't think it's as different as it is the same really.

Q. How about dealing with players?
COACH CARROLL: If you think about it, you know, they're the same players. They all went to college, you know. They're just a couple years later. So for the first part of their transition, it's very much the same. Until the players start to develop a career and an opinion, you know, what it all means to them, what they all mean to the world, you know, it's very similar.

There's no question that the college kids are more compliant, they're more pliable, they're more eager. They're like the young guys that come into camp in the NFL, the guys that are trying out for the free agents, draft picks and stuff. But it's not that much different. You're dealing with more mature situations, but not necessarily more mature mentalities (laughter). I don't think it's that big a deal.

Q. You've always set the goal winning the Pac-10 Conference, going to the Rose Bowl. Here we are in a situation where you don't have control, but if you can't make it to Miami, a matchup with a Texas or Oklahoma looks attractive. Do you think about that?
COACH CARROLL: Obviously, I keep postponing the thoughts about it because I don't know where it's going. I don't need to work at that to keep me amused (smiling). I'm just letting it sit until it's time and there's no way of knowing. I'm not going to stake a claim on let's go play these guys, it would be great for this or that. It doesn't matter to me at all. It will matter a lot when it comes up, when it's time. Until that, stay with the principles of trying to win this conference, which will be settled a couple weeks from now for us and trying to get to the Rose Bowl has always been the issue of that. In my mind, I don't have any different feelings than I've ever had about it.

But I totally understand just people kind of, you know, summarizing what could happen, trying to speculate. It gives them an opportunity to think, okay, if this doesn't happen, these are the other options out there, be it the national championship game or the other games that are out there.

It's interesting, kind of fun for people to speculate maybe we'd go here, maybe we'd go there...travel plans and all that have to wait. We're only a couple weeks away from figuring it out. We've waited this long. I think we'll probably be able to make it (smiling). We'll just hang on for a bit.

Q. You've obviously been successful in getting to Mark Sanchez about avoiding turnovers since the Arizona game. How fine a line is there between doing that and taking away some of the aggressiveness that allowed him to make so many big plays early in the season?
COACH CARROLL: Yeah, there is something to that. That comes up in a couple different areas. When we were talking about the issue with penalties, we've had an extraordinarily aggressive defense throughout this season. I don't want to take away that aggressiveness, that nature. It's the same with an individual player. It certainly applies to the quarterback spot.

But there's like these stages of growth for the quarterback that they have to go through these experiences to find the best of themselves. And we're still going through that, I think. And I think that happens for years for players. I mean, you'd like to say you figure it out one game, now you've arrived. But that's not the way it works. For the guys that have played in the NFL for years, you have to remember, they were all rookies, they all had year two, three, four, when they were scrambling around trying to figure it out. We don't get that luxury with our guys. We get a few games and you have to find your highest level of play. It's accelerated very much in a shortened career.

I think Mark is in the middle of all that. I think he's doing a great job. He's been receptive and compliant and introspective, all of the things he needs to figure it out. He's doing really well. He's giving us a chance to win every football game. That's really what we're asking him to do.

We've never asked our quarterback, since we got here, to be the star player and to carry the load and carry the team and our hopes on their shoulders, but to be the point guard in the offense and do the things that our offense calls for, to mix the ball around, to do things to get us winning ways. A big aspect of that is to not give the football to our opponent.

So that emphasis, although it's been taught throughout Mark's career, has really come to light here in the last few weeks and he's done a great job of just not giving the ball away, and we win our football games. So I think he's doing a great job of working through it.

The game plans to some extent, a couple weeks ago we really curled up, we didn't want to give the football to Cal, a team that was really taking advantage and riding the wave of a lot of turnovers and all that. We took that out of their game. They didn't get to do that against us. We had a nice, solid win. I think we really were responsible as a coaching staff for that happening. Mark played to it just right.

So I think it's a work in progress always, though. You're working with your guys to make sure that you're bringing them along just right. Hopefully we'll continue to do that. Last week, we ran for close to 300 yards. It was the way we won the football game. We didn't need to throw the football to get it done. It turned out that way. Mark played to that very well.

I think he's doing what we're asking him to do in great fashion. I wouldn't be surprised in the last three weeks of this season that we do get a lot of opportunities to throw the football and the ball does get out and down the field again. We're always looking for it. That's always part of our mindset.

Q. On the subject of rivalries. Michigan and Ohio State was sort of maximally toxic. Where does this (USC vs. Notre Dame) fit in? From the outside, it always appeared to me it's a mutual regard and respect between the two institutions.
COACH CARROLL: Well, on the 'maximally toxic' scale, I don't know how to fit that in (smiling).

But I would say that it's different. It's a different matchup. You know, this is a unique rivalry. I don't think there are many rivalries that cross this much distance. I mean, all across the country there's the in state rivalries, the cross town kind of situations, logistically that just kind of stir the whole pot up, like we have with the UCLA matchup here.

This is unique in that it's a classic in that the Midwest plays out on the West Coast and we take our team back there. Two storied, legendary programs in college football have held on to this matchup, and they've made it a great rivalry.

I think it has a different flavor to it. I kind of liken it, it's like we don't know the guys that are wearing those helmets as well. We don't know the faces behind the helmets, under those facemasks. There's a more classic aspect to it in that. When we get close in, when we play UCLA, it's a different deal. Everybody goes to school together, they grew up together, worked out together. There's a different connection. It makes for a different energy for the matchup.

I think their uniforms versus our uniforms, their stadium versus our stadium, the history of those classic matchups with all those classic players that we know of, the names, the coaches, all of that, just add to the flavor that make this a very unique rivalry.

It's got its own way about it. I was there for Ohio State Michigan. That's an extraordinary matchup. You guys don't know much about, but North Carolina State and North Carolina. Very close, 23 miles apart, whatever it is. That's a totally different feel than other ones. Fortunately they have their own flavor to them. This one is very special and unique.

Q. What is your reaction to the President Obama getting involved in the BCS discussion?
COACH CARROLL: I'm thrilled about it. I think he's obviously followed well from the leadership from some of our coaches (laughter).

No, I think it's interesting to me that he has an ear for it, and he understands the sense of competitiveness and the competition in our country that makes this an issue. I think it's a natural to keep playing and find a champion. I think that's what Americans are all for. We're all in every aspect of what we're about here.

For him to latch onto that I think, you know, is a sign that he's in touch with stuff. He's in touch with the people. I think if you took a vote across the country, there's no way that the vote would come out `let's vote for the BCS'. They're going to vote for a playoff system. A person that seems to have obviously recognize speaking for the people of this country, has just picked another issue that's topical, kind of interesting, fun, all that.

This is not going to solve world issues, you know. But it certainly is a fun issue for the people that run the world of college football and I think college sports that follow it.

It was really cool that he picked up on it. It gives us, those guys that do want to stand up and say that we'd like to have it differently, you know, a little impetus, backing. If the president wants it, shoot, how can you turn that down (smiling)?

Q. Jimmy Clausen said on a conference call that USC didn't respect Notre Dame, but Notre Dame respects USC.
COACH CARROLL: I don't know how he would know that. He hasn't been here.

Q. How is he playing?
COACH CARROLL: He's really playing well. Really banked on the experience he got from last season. They've thrown the ball a lot. They've showed a tremendous trust and confidence in him. He's done a beautiful job with it.

He's growing. He's a young, sophomore kid doing it, playing in tough games, tough situations, all that. He's a big time performer. He's got good numbers, 20 touchdown passes this year, on a team that is really relying on throwing the football. He's the centerpiece of that. Their other quarterbacks have only thrown the ball three times all year. He's been involved in every matchup. He's much improved. He has a big time arm, accuracy, all the throws, all that to make him a big time quarterback.

Q. USC went after him?
COACH CARROLL: Yeah, we recruited him, sure.

Q. Recruiting wise, go much against Notre Dame any more?
COACH CARROLL: Not many times...once in a while. It was much more so when we first were here. But we knock heads a handful of times every year, half a dozen kids maybe.

Q. Will you talk about the impact the seniors have had on the program?
COACH CARROLL: It's another extraordinary group. When you think about these kids, they've only won championships and been to great bowl games, accomplished tremendous stuff, sent guys off into the NFL before them, and they're going to follow suit when their turn comes in similar fashion.

We've really watched kids grow up and seen them excel and become the leaders that we've seen over the years. You know, a few years ago, look at these guys, you can't picture how they're going to take over someday. But now that they're here, Fili Moala, Kevin Ellison, Jeff Byers, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, all those guys, they've pretty much taken over the leadership of this program, and they've grown into it. You can see kind of the connection from guys' past, how they deliver their own message in their own individual way, but still keep the message solid and clear. It's really exciting to watch it.

One of the things, sometimes when guys are seniors...you're never going to see them again. We're going to see these guys more. We're going to get to continue to watch them. It's exciting for us as we watch our young guys play in professional ranks to know that these guys are going to do the same. As much as we hate to see them go, we're excited for them, to have this next stage in front of them.

A number of our guys have made the decision to stay here and finish their careers here and forego that opportunity because they love their school and they love their team, their opportunity, what this is all about. We're really grateful for that, that they've seen that side of things, and set a position of leadership for the guys to follow.

They'll be rewarded for that, for those decisions, which I'm really excited about, too. But it's been really, really exciting to see it happen. Guys like Rey and Cush and Clay, that have led this defense all year, they play with such tremendous intensity, such love for the game and all, that's so important as they move forward because they leave that message behind them to guys that are going to have to grow into that, as well.

So they've had a tremendous impact. It's been nothing but a blast to coach these guys. And it's not over. We'll watch these guys. We'll watch them forever as their careers continue, watch them continue to carry out the message that they've really done so well in delivering here in their time here.

Q. Considering the way Clay Matthews has played, why was he ever a walk on?
COACH CARROLL: He was a different athlete. When he came out, I don't know exactly how much he weighed, I think he might have grown an inch or so, but he was about 208 or 210 pounds when he got here. He's 248. He's 40 pounds heavier. That's a totally different athlete. He's faster than he ever was. He's stronger, quicker, more explosive. Of course he's more experienced from his play time, but he's not the same kid.

Really he's a tremendous example of the potential of a kid that comes to the program and just buys in with great heart and desire and just would not back down, just takes full advantage of the whole process.

He and (strength and conditioning) coach Carlisle, they've kind of done a transformation through his time here that's given him a great college career and it's going to lead to a professional career. His sense of accomplishment, what he's overcome to get that done, is going to reward him the rest of his life.

Q. Did you see Clay in high school?
COACH CARROLL: Yeah, we saw him. We knew he was thinking of coming into school here. He was a really good, heady football player. He had enough frame that maybe he could fill out someday. I never thought he would run as fast as he runs. He's really fast. He's gained considerable time and speed. It's an exciting story. He's a really fun player to coach because he knows so much about the game. He's one that has withstood the tests.

I don't know, I really can't validate this, but I would bet he's as productive and effective a special teams player that ever played here. He played special teams since the year he started playing. I would bet there's been not many guys anyway that would rival what he's contributed over these years. It's eventually turned into becoming a starter, a big contributor or defense as well. He's been an all around great football player for us.

Q. He's not playing special teams this year.
COACH CARROLL: Oh, sure. He's all over. He's on punt teams, coverage teams, kickoff returns, score team. He's done all that stuff...field goal block team. He's really a big, big factor in all of that.

Q. Talking about the pros, what about Matt Cassel?
COACH CARROLL: How about Matt Cassel? Golly. That's amazing. That's an enormous accomplishment, to throw for 400 yards in a game. But that can happen. But to come back and do it again, well, it's historic for that franchise and for most franchises.

To start to find a rhythm, you know, this is an enormous come through year for Matt. This is his contract year. He's getting paid. He's going to get paid. I don't think they want to lose him. I'm sure they're going to do everything they can to keep him. I'm sure they're going to be very strategic in how they go about it. This is a guy hitting it at the right time. Every once in a while it happens like this. Just couldn't happen to a better guy, a more deserving kid. He's earned every bit of it. So it's a great, great story. He was real a good tight end, though (smiling).

Q. Did you ever envision that happening, the way he's playing?
COACH CARROLL: Not quite. Not quite. You know, we've had some fun thinking back about it. There was that time when it's Matt or Matt. The way it went, how could you complain about what Matt Leinart did? But, shoot, what would happen if Cassel played? I don't know. You can bet on this, Cassel is competitive. He's aware that Leinart ain't playing. You know that. When I've talked to him a while back, he didn't bring it up, but he probably will in the off season. 'Look what happened now' kind of thing.

Couldn't be more thrilled for him. The best part about it, he's helping his team win. They're doing great stuff in a very difficult situation.

Q. Anything special for the players on Thanksgiving?
COACH CARROLL: The Sanchez crew is trying to help out some guys. Everybody looks to take care of our guys that don't have a place to go, home to go to. The Sanchez clan is taking care of a bunch of kids. We'll have a nice little day. We'll get off practice in the morning, get off the practice field about 1:30, something like that. They'll have a good afternoon to hang out, a good rest period for the weekend coming up.

Q. Tell us how the Carroll family celebrates Thanksgiving.
COACH CARROLL: No, I won't (smiling).

Very well...family deal. Just get everybody together and hang out. Just do real typical stuff. Throw the football around, all that.

Q. Do you have a favorite dish?
COACH CARROLL: Mine is a blue one (laughter).

I kind of like dessert. I'm a dessert guy. Glena makes this real good strawberry thing that's really good.

Q. (Indiscernible).
COACH CARROLL: No. There's a traditional game going on back home that I was part of the starting way back when we were in school. I've missed it for years. But they know that one of the these days I'm going to show up. At this point I think I can get to be the all time quarterback, I don't know. Try to work my way into that.

Now that you bring it up, when I was fired in New England, they had a tournament at the local high school that was played. Like it started it was dark when it started. It was freezing. I mean, it was freezing. There were people that came from all over the place. It was like six on six touch game. It was my favorite Turkey Bowl. We won the championship that night. It was a bunch of guys playing football under the lights at high school that did it for the heck of it. That was a classic Turkey Bowl. Not quite like the ones at Greenbury School. One of my favorites, though. Thanks for bringing it up. Glad I could tell you that. Yeah, I did play quarterback in that tournament, too (smiling).

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