Coach Hackett Previews Saturday's Game

Nov. 14, 2000

USC Head Coach Paul Hackett
Press Conference - Nov. 14, 2000

Nothing is more exciting and more emotional than this week for us. Obviously I'm terribly disappointed that we're not coming into this game with momentum and two wins in a row. The important thing now is this football game.

I have to smile thinking about the first USC-UCLA game I ever went to. I was in college and it was a 3:30 game, just like ours is going to be. They opened those gates at 12 o'clock at the coliseum and there must have been 20,000 students already there. What amazed me is that there could be so much emotion so much passion involved in a football game. Seeing people there five hour before. I remember Bob Toledo and I just marveling at it. It has a lot to do with the fact that we're neighbors. Our players know their players. They've played against each other, grown-up with each other. In recruiting it's one of the toughest competitions out there. All of those things heighten and intensify what this rivalry is all about.

Last year we broke the streak and it was obviously a great moment for USC football. 2000 is a whole new year and none of us anticipated being in the position we are now. We have to look at UCLA as another good opponent. They are a big play, offensive football team. Defensively, I love their linebackers. They're playing good at the corners and it's a solid football team. The thing that leaps out at you is how well they're also doing in special teams. They've had the kind of year we've had where they've played high-scoring games but more of them have gone their way than have gone our way.

But this game will be about turnovers. As we go into this game we must solve the turnover issue and we must improve on special teams. As you look at this game, you can not give the momentum to the other team by not taking care of the football. Those are the two areas that we have to focus on. This is clearly the most important game at USC. It's a big deal for the entire university and especially for me and this football team in order to try and redeem the season.

Are you more aware of Bob Toledo and his trick plays because you've worked beside him?He has always done a great job of the unexpected throughout his entire coaching career. That big play... I think against Alabama... where Freddie came around on a reverse and threw the pass for the touchdown, something like that... I was shaking my head and thinking that they'll be saving all those for us. When you watch them play you're going to get a couple of those every ball game but you can't play on your heels waiting for the trick play. You have to play good, solid football. You have to hope that you'll be able to react to it when it comes.

The quarterback position...I felt that in the ball game that we needed some energy and a spark. Why? I don't know. I felt we needed to do something and (Mike Van Raaphorst) has always been ready and prepared and (Carson Palmer) just wasn't throwing the ball as well as we would have liked so we made the change. I told the team at halftime and he went out on the field and did what I thought he would do. He played his heart out and unfortunately we still came up a little short. He did his part to try to get us back in the game.

The decision to stay with Carson is real simple. He has been our quarterback all year. He's the quarterback of the future here and he gives us the best chance to win. I really believe that. I have spoken to the team and said that if at any point we feel a change will benefit the team, we will make that change at any position. Carson Palmer is going to be a great quarterback. He has the tools and the ability. If we take him out then we are saying that our woes have been all because of him, and they have not. They have been all about turnovers (of which Carson is a part of), special teams and our inability to play well enough as a team.

How would you evaluate Carson Palmer?From a coaching standpoint you first have to take the expectations and look at them for what they are. Those expectations were based on the fact that he is a marvelous young man who has great potential and great athletic skills. He took a year off and that concerned me because during that year he wasn't able to practice and work the game plans like most redshirts do. The spring and fall were how I anticipated considering the losses on the team and the youth. He has a lot of work to do but he has marvelous potential and he's so committed and works so hard. He's just as frustrated as the rest of us. And after playing in his first year at the Rose Bowl, he now gets another chance at UCLA.

Technically, where is he at?He's about where we'd anticipate. Technically, in throwing the deep pass he's behind and that's what has me the most concerned. His short, intermediate game has been good. His command of the offense, the audibles, the changing-up... those things are where we expected. Throwing the ball down the field has been a disappointment.

Is that because he took last year off or because of the injury?No, I think it's because he still has not gotten in the groove. Getting in the groove with the receivers. Getting comfortable with the protection. Generally the protection has to hold up longer if you're going to throw down the field. Getting comfortable with the offensive line which has been mixed-up the whole year. I don't think it has anything to do with the injury. When bones break, they usually heal just fine. It's just getting comfortable with his receivers.

Comments on Cory Paus...I'm really excited about Cory Paus. He's come through a lot of adversities. He looks very poised to me. He throws the deep ball very well... he has a touch that's rather unusual. He's more accurate than I imagined and he's got a good group of receivers to throw to. I see all positive things when I watch him. Unfortunately that's what we're behind on. That's what I'm referring to.

On the UCLA receivers...I've been a little bit nervous the last couple of weeks in this area. When you look at them you see size and you see experience. That is a concern. Although I will say that our secondary in the last three weeks has played pretty darn good football. In the last few weeks they have been playing together as a group. Losing (Ife Ohalete) really hurt us because he was kind of the glue. But now they are starting to feel pretty good about themselves. Chris Cash has played a couple of pretty good games. It is a huge challenge for us and there's no doubt about that. They're experienced, they're strong, they're fast, and they're good. They're the No. 2 passing team in the conference. But we also can't forget about Foster.

Regarding Ryan Nece playing at UCLA...Well that was before my time here at USC but it was extraordinary for me to see that Ronnie Lott's son was not here. I know (Ryan Nece) and I've known his dad for many years and I think he's a wonderful football player. When I saw him this summer he said that our streak will be one game, I said that it would be far more. He has had an excellent year. He's suited to play where he's playing now. Playing at outside linebacker gives him a chance to run to the ball and use his hitting ability. I know it's difficult for his dad to be rooting against the Trojans, but he roots for us all year long until this one game and that's okay. We would have loved to have had him at USC.

Markus Steele's position...Right now we're still on hold regarding his ability. I think he's going to be available in a limited role but we won't know until the end of the week. It would be great to have three guys that can rotate around in there and that's probably what we'll do. We're now rotating the strong inside linebacker position. Chris Prosser, a redshirt freshman, has been playing with Kori Dickerson. We need them in there because every game in our conference has been decided in the fourth quarter. If we get Markus Steele back he can have us fresher at the end of the game.

(Zeke Moreno) is remarkable. He can play all three positions in a heartbeat. He finds a way to play every play in every game. He's just a top-notch performer.

The emotion of the game...The one thing that we all know is that if you are not fired up to play in this game, then there's something really wrong with you. When you run into that stadium, whether we play it here or at the Rose Bowl, it's an extraordinary rush of adrenaline. Then you still have to put aside the emotion and remember what we have to do. We have to hang onto the football... we have to do that better. That has to be our focus and the emotion will take care of itself.

The thing about this game is that the enjoyment is in the victory. This team knows what it's like to have an eight-year drought so they remember the taste of what they got last year. There's so much emotion but they have to concentrate and get the job done on the field. In that atmosphere you better be ready.

I think that my position is that with the things swirling around, you need to focus on the game. We need to prepare our bodies and our mind. It is very easy to get distracted right now with the kind of year we've had. We'll have the bell out at practice and we'll do our best to focus on this week.

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