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December 31, 2004

Bo Pelini

Brent Venables


JOHN HUMENIK: We have Brent Venables and Bo Pelini from Oklahoma, and please direct your questions to them personally.

Q. This is for both you guys. Can you talk about the addition of Marcus Walker at cornerback and how he's solidified your secondary?

BO PELINI: Well, I think Brent would second it when I say he's really done a nice job. For a freshman, he's a very mature kid. He's really handled the situation well and he plays with a lot of confidence. He's done a nice job, and we feel he plays with a lot of confidence. We have a lot of confidence in him, and so it's been an excellent addition to a pretty good defense to start.

Q. Coach Pelini, as a former assistant with Pete Carroll for the New England Patriots, has that helped you while watching tape this week?

BO PELINI: Yeah, I see a lot of things that he believed in, things that we knew and he talked about when we played against him that was hard to deal with, as far as -- he's a defensive-minded coach, but he has an excellent knowledge of offense, and you see a lot of his influence in the offense. I think Brent would second it in saying they present a lot of problems for us.

Q. First of all, Brent and Bo, congratulations on a great season. Brent, you made some adjustments at some point in the year which really solidified your defense against giving up big plays, and the last few outings you played lights out on defense. I know you don't want to give away a game plan, but talk about those adjustments and what you did and how it solidified this defense that's really come together to become one of the top defenses in the country?

BRENT VENABLES: More than anything it's the consistency that you see. Obviously there's been some personnel changes over time. Getting Antonio back helped us a great deal. Marcus, again, as Bo talked about, has been really strong and consistent for us, and we knew that at the beginning of the season, but again, the other guys had shown that they are more than capable of playing winning football and really did outside of a few plays, and Bo felt it was time for a change and to give Marcus a chance. I think those two things are as big as anything, and again, I think that our safety play was a lot more aggressive and they were more confident knowing that, again, they wouldn't have to worry about other guys out there making checks and adjustments to both Marcus and Antonio. Obviously with the experience Antonio has and knowledge of the defense, those two guys, you know, can hold their own, and again, allow the other guys to do their thing, but overall, just the overall execution with the consistency has been probably the biggest thing. You know, some of it, again, may be that the offensive fire power the last few games, maybe the challenge wasn't the same as the other team that had a little bit of success against us. But it's amazing when you're playing consistently and not giving up big plays, the perception is now all of a sudden you're playing dominant defense, but over the long haul, in time you're going to give up some plays here and there. People are more than capable of making plays. They get coached, they've got good players, but we like the way we're playing right now. We've peaked at the right time.

Q. Brent and Bo, this is for both of you guys. Obviously Mike's departure -- how would you say each of you has put your individual handprint on the defense?

BRENT VENABLES: It's been a collective effort from day one. Bo has brought a number of things. One of the first things we implemented when Bo came was just having a little bit more flexibility in our defense, having a third linebacker involved in our defense a little bit more on early downs, and it's given us the kind of flexibility both pressure and coverage-wise that maybe in the past we haven't had. That's probably been the most noticeable change structurally in the defense, and Bo came from the same school of thought and a lot of the things that he did structural-wise, but he brought a number of new wrinkles, and again, the way he teaches and coaches is just a little bit different, and it's good with Mike and it's been great with Bo, as well.

BO PELINI: I mean, I wasn't here with Mike. Obviously when you come into a situation like I did with a defense that's played great defense, it's not like -- it was a much different situation I came in at Nebraska, so it's been really easy, I mean, as far as our working relationships and the things we had to do. We brought in a few new wrinkles. We thought of some things that we thought could help our football team, and I think it's been really a smooth transition. You know, I just came in and I just tried to fit in, and like I said, we've worked well together and it's a pretty collective effort as far as the staff as a whole.

Q. Brent, people have become so accustomed the last few years to you guys being so dominant defensively and kind of producing all these guys who get all-American and other awards. With the exception of maybe Dan, a lot of these guys have not gotten quite that same kind of recognition. Is this a different kind of defense than you've had in the past, and along those lines, people might say it's not as dominant as it has been in the past. Is that a misnomer or has this been a different kind of year defensively?

BRENT VENABLES: It's obviously been different. We've had a lot of good players that have come and gone. We still feel recognized, nationally or not, that we still have a defense that's got a lot of very, very good players and some of the best at their positions in the country. Sometimes that's good when you have maybe guys that not everybody is talking about, but again, it's more collectively how you're playing together. Getting those 11 guys to believe in one another, that again, gives you a chance to play great defense and have a chance to be a championship-style of defense, and we believe that we have that. If people want to look at it, outside of Dan Cody we have a bunch of chumps and we made it to the National Championship game and so be it, but we feel really good about the group of guys that we have an opportunity to coach and their play-making ability, as well. Hopefully on Tuesday night you'll be able to see that.

Q. Brent, you mentioned Bo coming in and the third linebacker, especially on early downs. If you both would address this, this might be one of those games scheme-wise that you would need to do that anyway. Is that something that is especially beneficial to you in a game like that?

BRENT VENABLES: Again, it just gives you more strength in the perimeter of your defense, both run, and some of their quick passes. Again, as long as he's not -- you're not putting yourself at a disadvantage athletically, that's the main thing, whether or not you match up well. For what they're doing, we'll pick and choose our moments in that regard, but you'll see that on early downs. Again, you set up your pressure package off that, as well, maybe a bigger, stronger, more explosive guy when you do pressure in those situations.

Q. Bo, would you address that, please?

BO PELINI: I think Brent said it well. It gives you a little more flexibility. I think what's happened is you've seen more guys get opportunities out there, you know, Clint Ingram, that might not have -- that Brent was able to coach and have out there on the field, and you see a lot more linebackers that have made plays for us this year, and because they're out there on the field more often, you just get bigger, faster guys out there, especially against a team that's going to be in a lot of pro personnel sets, pro sets. It allows those guys to -- they might try and create some match-ups, but we can try and create some match-ups in our favor, also.

Q. How would you say that the four weeks or so -- over this break, how would you say that's helped Antonio's continued recovery, and would you classify him as near 100 percent, at 100 percent at this point?

BRENT VENABLES: If you don't mind, I'll let Bo answer that, but just watching him moving around and not being limited or probably confident is the biggest thing he's been able to overcome.

BO PELINI: Yeah, I think that he's as healthy as he's been. It goes all the way back to the first game. He came back a little bit early and was still probably feeling a little bit of it, and right now you see him running, you see his speed is back. He's the Antonio we're used to seeing, and any time you have a knee just tweak the way he did, whatever happens, it takes time to not just get healthy but gain the confidence back, and like Brent said, you see more confidence in him right now.

Q. Bo, could you give us some insight into the conversations that took place to take the red shirt off of Walker because taking the red shirt off a kid in November is a tough, tough decision. Was the decision to say, hey, we're not going to get to where we want to be unless we do this? Ultimately what did it come down to?

BRENT VENABLES: We said, "Marcus, you're in."

BO PELINI: We talked a lot about it, and it got to about four or five games into the season, and we were talking about it, and we were like, "Well, let's just see how it goes." It was just a game-by-game basis. I think that things were going bad in that A & M game. We gave up just some crazy plays, and we said -- I turned to him and I said, "You're in." He had been beating down our doors to get on the field. It wasn't a situation where he felt slighted because it went into November. He was itching to get out there on the field and perform. We had confidence in him, but we thought that if we could -- if the other guys would keep making plays and playing consistently that we could avoid having to do that, but we had to do what we had to do to win them all because that was our goal coming into the season.

BRENT VENABLES: There was a constant line of communication between Marcus, Bo, Coach Stoops, myself, "Just keep hanging in there." He was taking reps with the varsity, running with the twos, and we as a staff, again, were just trying to preserve and look to the future as we could, and again, between Eric Bassey, who started at both safety and corner, Chijioke, who's a fabulous talent and is exactly what you want, and Jowahn Poteat that's been in the program for four years, you'd like to believe you can find enough out of those three guys collectively to find what you need, and at times they were, but Bo said it got to a point where the inconsistencies were hurting us and you had to go to the next option.

Q. Talk about Southern Cal. You said back in Norman before you came down here you thought maybe athletically they were as talented as any offense that you've seen. Now that you continue to watch them, do you feel that way?

BRENT VENABLES: Without question. The Florida State team that we played in 2000 was very similar in regards to the talent level, but I think the complexity of the offense and the problems that they create both running paths and how -- the entirety of it marries up and really balances what they present to you; that's what makes it most challenging. The decision-making of Matt Leinart, it's second-to-none; his accuracy, his poise, the way he distributes the football, just his overall decision-making is exceptional. Reggie Bush is probably the single most talented player that we've faced, and what he can cause you, the problems that he can cause you both in the running game and the things that they do with him when he's out at receiver. You look at the way he's changed and won a number of their close games where they were able to pull ahead and win in the fourth quarter throughout the year, I think that really typifies the type of player that he is and the difference that he means to their football team.

Q. This is a question for both of you guys. With Cal being such a strong representative for the PAC 10, do you have to say anything to your players about taking too much or not enough? Do you want them to take something from that result last night with Texas Tech beating them?

BO PELINI: I think our guys understand that game means nothing to us and nothing to USC. We know we have a tremendous challenge up ahead of us, and our guys are just looking forward to putting our best foot forward on Tuesday night. That's for the media, that's for the fans to talk about, all the ramifications of what happened last night. That doesn't make any -- it's going to be what happens between the white lines on Tuesday.

Q. Brent, how would you characterize Lance Mitchell's journey over the last two years and what do you think he's accomplished and done this year?

BRENT VENABLES: Obviously it hasn't been how he would have ideally liked it. He had to settle for Oklahoma when things didn't work out at Florida, and he was off to a -- he had a fabulous first year with us, led our team in tackles, barely knew the defense and was just a very dominant force for us, made a big difference on our defense and was off to another stellar start starting in 2003 and blew his knee out, and he had a lot of people pulling him in a variety of directions telling him what was best for him obviously. You know, the idea of playing in the NFL, foregoing an opportunity to come back, that type of thing, and the mental challenge more than anything, overcoming a devastating knee injury like that, what that takes, the time, the commitment, the toughness, the ups and downs that go along with that and the uncertainty on what happens when you do come back, it certainly hasn't been easy for him this year. The knee has bothered him on and off throughout the year starting in two-a-days. To be expected, but what he's been able to do for us and the way he's been playing probably the last six, seven games is a real credit to what he went through probably before he went came to Oklahoma and before he went to college. I know there's been some stories out there, the things that he had to go through growing up that a lot of guys -- he's not the first guy with that type of story, but I think it speaks volumes for the type of man that he is, the way he handled the knee injury when it first happened. He's having to cheer me up. I'm feeling terrible for him, and he's telling me, "It's okay, Coach, I've still got a red shirt year." But that speaks volumes for the kind of man that he is, and he's that presence that you want on defense; doesn't ever get too high, too low, just very strong. We tease him all the time that he's like that old beat-up pickup truck that the farmer drives around that's never going to break down, gets him from A to B to C, and you can always count on it starting for you when you get up in the morning. That's Lance Mitchell for our defense.

Q. Is he 100 percent going into this game?

BRENT VENABLES: He's as healthy as he's been all year. We haven't been off by any stretch, and he's been a little bit limited just for us taking back some reps, trying to give him a little bit of rest, but without getting him too rusty without playing. But he's as healthy as he's been. His knee feels really, really good, hasn't been bothering him.

Q. Bo, knowing Pete Carroll as well as you do and given the fact that you had basically a month to prepare for this game, how difficult could that be for the Oklahoma offense in terms of preparation time?

BO PELINI: Well, he's into some wrinkles. I think you're going to see wrinkles on both sides of the football, from SC, the same way you're going to have a couple new wrinkles on our side. When you have a month to prepare, you're going to see a couple added new wrinkles. But the bottom line is both teams are going to go with what got them here. You can't get away -- there's two good coaching staffs, a lot of good football players. It's not going to be just about the X's and O's and the new wrinkles. It's going to be who creates plays and who makes turnovers and who wants it the most.

Q. Bo, could you talk -- you coached at the professional level. Obviously a lot of coaches now at this level are kind of looking up at the NFL. There seems to be a lot of fluidity between the two levels. Could you talk about the challenges that are presented in the NFL that you don't face here and the challenges here that you may not face in the NFL?

BO PELINI: You know, I always say coaching is coaching, but it's two different games, and the biggest difference is in the NFL you're with your guys from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon every single day, so therefore you have a lot more that you can put in and things you can do, and therefore to stay with your opponents you have to deal with a lot more on a weekly basis, but you also have a lot more time to prepare. You have walk-throughs every single day. You're almost in a two-a-day schedule throughout the whole year because of the way you're practicing and the way things are set up. In college football I found that the biggest challenge coming from the NFL was being limited to 20 hours a week and the amount of time that you have with your players and meeting time, and you have to be very organized and very conscious. I mean, we spend a lot of time, Brent and I and the defensive staff, same thing at Nebraska last year, making sure you don't overload your players but at the same time having enough to create problems for the offense. That's a challenge. That's a challenge for us as coaches because when it comes down to it, you want to make sure that your players are out there confident and know exactly what they're doing. But you want to have enough tools at your disposal.

Q. Which is the most media intensive? If you don't particularly want to deal with the media, is it easier in the NFL or easier at the college level?

BO PELINI: You know, the media, I think it's the same at both levels. I think the biggest difference is in the NFL, you know you have the amount of stars -- I think it's a lot more player intensive. When you get to college football, you see a lot more that they want to talk to the coaches a lot more. The head coach kind of handles it in the pros and everybody wants to talk to those star players, the big money guys. I've found in college they kind of go after the coaches a little bit more. I think it all depends on where you are and what media market you're in.

End of FastScriptsÂ….

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