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January 1, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Coach, we'll have you make an opening comment and we'll take questions from the group.
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Obviously we're extremely excited about this match-up. The defense poses a lot of issues for us, by far the best defense we've seen all year. In the five years I've been here probably the best defense right there with Oklahoma last year, extremely fast, and on film people have not had very much success with them. We'll try to find a way to make a couple 1st downs.
Q. Lane, do you feel like you stepped into a no-win situation in this job following Norm Chow?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: No, not really. Coach Sark and myself are extremely excited about the opportunity to come in, obviously great players to work with. Two of them are up here right now. I did not feel that way at all.
Q. LenDale, Mack Brown says that you are the forgotten man in this USC offense. Your thoughts about that?
LENDALE WHITE: Well, I honestly don't feel like I'm forgotten at all. As long as my coaching staff and my teammates know the hard work that I put in, that's all that matters really. I'm not worried about the accolades or anything like that. As long as my teammates know that I'm there for them to help them win the game, that's all that really counts.
Q. Matt, you've had so many great experiences, the Heisman, the championships. Is there anything in the college football experience that you feel you missed that you would have liked to have happened or that hasn't happened yet?
MATT LEINART: Not really. Like you said, I've been through a lot and I've seen the ups and the downs in my career. I've been here for five years. Just the most important thing to me is just being able to be with these guys for this last year coming back, just having fun. Right now we're right where I hoped we were going to be when I made my decision. I want to help this team to win in any way I can.
But I feel like this has been the best time of my life, these last four or five years, and Wednesday is kind of the culmination, so I just want to go out with a bang and play like I know how to play for them.
Q. Matt, Texas's defensive coordinator was at Auburn when you made your first start and talked about how well you managed that first game. What do you remember from that day playing down there, and how big was that for you to start your career that way?
MATT LEINART: It was huge. That was probably the most hostile environment you can go into, and being a first year quarterback the first game against -- some magazines had them No. 1 in the pre-season polls and they had two big linebackers that were everything. They didn't ask me to do a whole lot. I went in and threw some slants, threw a couple of stick routes, whatever, and just kind of managed the game, didn't turn the ball over. Our defense really stepped up obviously and we ran the ball a little bit. But yeah, their D coordinator, obviously that was a couple years back and he's been at Texas this year, and things are different.
As far as that game, that was just about me just kind of maturing as the season went along and bringing me along slowly. That game definitely helped my career, I think, just starting in that environment, a first year, a lot of questions about a new quarterback. I think I answered them that game and as my career has gone along, but it's kind of nice to go against him again.
Q. Lane, could you discuss your experiences with Jeff Tedford at Fresno and what was it like coaching against him this year?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, first of all, I played under him. He was my offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. I think that people don't look into that very much like as they watch about coaching. That's four to five years that you're starting really coaching because it's the first thing you're seeing a lot of times as a player. It was a great experience. He's obviously a great coach, has done a marvelous job with a number of quarterbacks and offenses, and I was very fortunate my last year he encouraged me to be a student assistant, coach with them and sit in all the meetings and be around everything. That was a great experience.
And then playing this year, really it doesn't mean anything different. The game starts and you're calling plays and you don't know who you're playing against. None of that matters. There really wasn't much to that.
Q. Any funny experiences where he taught you something or said, hey, kid, this is the way we do it?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Yeah, there's some really good experiences like making the coffee every morning (laughter), picking up his newspaper and then taking his clothes to the drycleaner, all those things. He was tough, but it was a great experience.
Q. It's all over the newspapers and the TVs and everywhere else, I know all three of you guys have heard this and I want to get some reactions, USC, the greatest offense in the history of college football. Even the Texas guys were referring to the offense as the greatest in the history of college football. Any thoughts?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, I think that these guys would probably agree that there's no way to prove that. Obviously it's fun for you guys to write about, the stories and comparisons and SportsCenter and all that, so there's no way to know. We don't worry about it. It has nothing to do with what we're doing, whether we're the greatest ever. We're just trying to win the next game. Really that's the truth.
LENDALE WHITE: Coach Kiff calls the plays. Naturally they're going to be good calls and we're going to execute to the fullest, but I don't know about being the greatest offense in the world. To think about all the great teams that have played, Michael Vick and his Virginia Tech squad, Miami, there's a lot of teams that have played before that have been great. We do have a lot of great players, and I just think we execute real well. I don't know about being the greatest.
Q. Matt, what's the difference in the confidence level when you get in the huddle and you look around that your teammates have in you compared to that first start you made against Auburn? What was that like when you looked in your teammates' eyes?
MATT LEINART: Obviously from my first year to this point now, they expect me to know everything, they expect me, being the quarterback, being the general on the football field that it's my job to get everybody in the right position, it's my job to -- if they have a question, tell them what to do or who to block or what routes to run, anything like that. Obviously our guys know just that I'm the guy who needs to know everything. I take it pretty seriously, the mental part of the game, to really understand what's going on with our players and when Coach Kiff calls the plays what I'm supposed to do. When I get in the huddle, they know, just like I know LenDale and Reggie and our whole line is going to do their job. We just have that confidence in each other, and I think that's what successful teams have.
Maybe there's some teams out there who lack confidence, but we're a team that has a lot of confidence and we have fun on the football field. We're in the huddle joking around. We're in the huddle against Notre Dame 4th and 9 and we're probably as relaxed as you can be. It's tense, it's a tense moment, but we're just like, we can go out and play, if we don't get it, we don't get it, and if we do, we do.
Obviously it starts with myself. They've got to look in my eyes and be able to know even if I'm having one of my bad games or whatever, UCLA kind of got off to a bad start but my guys were there behind me saying we believe in you, we know you'll get the job done. That's really important. That gives me confidence, too, as well.
Q. Matt, LenDale, you're on the brink of possibly getting a three-peat at this point. Have you all talked about it, and what would it mean to you to achieve it?
MATT LEINART: We don't talk about that, really. This is obviously a big football game, but we're just approaching it like it's any other game. We realize that it is the National Championship game, but what we've done in the past and what we can do or have a chance to do, it doesn't come up in our conversations. We have a job to do, and we're pretty serious about that. We have a game in a few days, and that's how we're approaching it.
Q. I was wondering, LenDale and Matt, could you guys talk about your offensive line and what they mean to you, giving you room to go through your plays?
LENDALE WHITE: Well, I think that from last year to this year, they improved so much. I think they became a family within a family. They do everything together. They said early in the year, they're going to work the hardest, they're going to be there at 6:00 a.m. and they were going to get the job done. I think for me honestly just playing behind this line has done wonders. As soon as you get the hole, it's there, and you don't have to worry about waiting. There are gaping holes and all you've got to do is run through it.
They deserve all the credit because that's where it starts and that's where it finishes. Without them, I don't think me, Reggie or Matt and Dwayne and those guys, we wouldn't have the type of season that we have and the success with all those guys, because that's where it starts.
MATT LEINART: I think just like LenDale says, that's where it all starts and finishes. Those guys up front are unbelievable. The process of last year to this year, how much they've matured and come together as a unit has been unbelievable. I think they're the best offensive line in college football, and I believe in that. Those guys are just -- they work hard, they're so tight, just off the field, as well. They're always around each other, laughing, joking, and I think it shows on the football field in their chemistry. They're great, and those holes, Reggie and LenDale, they rushed for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns, but the offensive line is what gets them there and the offensive line is what protects me to throw the football and give me all day to get the receivers the ball.
Those guys, they don't get a lot of credit, but they know how important they are to our team and our offense.
Q. Matt, you look at the Texas defense on film, what do you see and what's your biggest concern?
MATT LEINART: I just see very, very solid defense, very fast defense. They're very good tacklers. They don't miss a lot of tackles, don't give up a lot of big plays, athletic, big, fast. I mean, you name it, that's what I think of them. They're a great football team, great defense, and don't have a lot of concerns. I think it's going to be a challenge for us, but we've been in these games before where we've played against some good defenses, but they do offer a great challenge for us. We've been preparing well and practicing well, and we're just going to go out there and execute our game plan.
Q. Have you guys gone on-line and voted for yourselves?
MATT LEINART: For what?
Q. For the greatest offense, beating all these teams?
MATT LEINART: No. I didn't know you can. I haven't been on the Internet in a long time.
Q. How do you think these things are decided? It's people who go on-line and vote. Lane, you have not, either?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: No, I didn't know what you were talking about, either.
Q. A lot of people talk about how you get your team in the right play, Matt. Is it easy to do that because you have so many options and so many weapons, or is it hard to do it because you have so many options?
MATT LEINART: I think to me it's easy because first of all, it starts upstairs with Coach Kiff and then Sark and them figuring out what we're going to do. It's all in preparation. There's some games where we might get out a lot of plays. There's some games where we might not work a lot of plays at all. That's preparation, that's also great play calling, that's also me preparing and knowing that if we do have to get out, making the right decisions at the line of scrimmage.
There's always been a question, we have so many superstar guys and one football and stuff, but I think things would be a lot different if we had selfish players on our football team. I don't know if we'd be where we were today and the last couple years. We have a lot of guys who obviously want the ball. Some guys maybe want it more, but we're willing to sacrifice that for the team to win football games and to win championships. That's what -- Reggie and LenDale who are two of the best backs have split carries the last two or three years. If there was one of them, they might be getting 2,000 or 3,000 yards easy. That's just the bottom line. We've got a lot of guys who want the team to win and guys who have great statistics, as well. The first and foremost, most important thing for us is the team and doing it for the team.
Q. Can I just follow up on that? The 4th and 9 against Notre Dame, what was the play supposed to be and what happened?
MATT LEINART: I don't remember exactly the play, but it was more of a drop-back pass with some protection stuff, and Sark told me before we went out, if you see a pressure look, get to this play and to just kind of maximize Dwayne on the corner. I don't know if it was much of a pressure look, but the situation, I was just like, all right, so checked out and all the guys up front got the check, and somehow we just found a way to do it, and Dwayne -- the guy actually had great coverage, the ball just kind of fit in there perfectly, and the rest is history.
Q. This goes for all three. Just peaking at the right time of the year coming off the UCLA win after Texas won 70-3, how important was that?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, I think if you look back at Coach Carroll's teams ever since we've been here have finished great. Coach has never lost in November, and we've always gone into Bowl games at our best, and that obviously goes all the way back to these guys in the off-season with Chris Carlisle and workouts and finishing. The teams have done a great job of that. So yeah, that's extremely important for us to finish the way we finished again this year, but none of it means anything if we don't finish this game.
LENDALE WHITE: Like Coach Kiff says, it kind of starts from the off-season on. We're taught to finish every play. We're running our sprints in the summer. If we don't finish all the way through, we've got to go back and run it all over again. And then going to Coach Carroll, he's a great leader. He knows exactly what to do to put us in great situations to succeed. I feel like just playing with those guys is great. He knows exactly what to do at the end of the season or during the season to keep us in it at all times.
MATT LEINART: We've always been a great finishing team, even in my first year where we finished 6 and 6 but we won four of our last five games. Just like Kiff said and LenDale White, midway of the season and on is where we really start turning it on, and it does go to the off season. It sounds like I'm repeating everybody, but that's really what it's all about, off-season workouts where we're prepared and we finish so hard to have that stamina and endurance throughout the season so the 4th quarter it feels like the 1st quarter where we can just play four quarters and still play again if we wanted to. It's all preparation and how we prepare in the off-season.
Beating UCLA like that, it was a great feeling just to kind of not even make a statement just for ourselves, go out there and beat our rival who was top ten at the time and beat them pretty good. It gives us a good feeling, but all that, it really doesn't matter anymore.
Q. Matt, you admittedly became very emotional in your final game at The Coliseum. I'm just wondering, do you have any plans to try to -- this is going to be the last game of your career here. Are you going to battle some of that again?
MATT LEINART: Kiff doesn't want me to be like that, but I have a little different mindset. Obviously last game of my career in college, it's going to be emotional, but I think I'm mature enough and understand how I'm going to approach this game. UCLA, it was just a lot of things, Senior Day, UCLA, The Coliseum, all kinds of stuff built up, and it really kind of hit me that week. Right now I'm focused more on trying to win this game and trying to be a leader for this football team on Wednesday night. I'm sure it's going to be a little emotional, but I'm definitely kind of looking at it differently, taking a different approach and just trying to soak it all in and be happy about it and smile and stuff.
Q. Matt, I suppose you're not known for your running ability, but I wonder after seeing the Texas A & M tape about whether you've gotten any funny ideas about running for 100 yards on Wednesday?
MATT LEINART: My goal for the season was to get positive yards. I wanted to get 150, and I've got about 20 right now, so I don't think it's going to happen (laughter). I think in all seriousness, I think this year I feel a lot more mobile than I've ever been. I'm always a guy who's going to look to throw first and sit back, maybe take some hits. I think this year I've made some plays running the ball that have helped keep us in drives and scoring a few touchdowns and stuff. Everyone jokes about it and even I joke about it because I know I can't run that well, but I think moving the sticks, picking up 3rd downs with my feet is really vital for a team. It's like Vince Young running. It's tough to stop him and he can throw. But no, I don't plan on -- I just plan on trying to make plays. That's all I do.
Q. Matt, for both players, Texas makes it a point to keep it light at practice. It seems like they like to have a good time and that seems to have the attitude you guys have, as well. How important is that, to kind of put everything in perspective and enjoy it while you're practicing?
LENDALE WHITE: Well, like we said, Coach Carroll does a great job of knowing how to keep us in it at all times. I think for you to be a successful team, you have to kind of know when to turn it on and when to turn it off. For us to be out there and be relaxed but as soon as the whistle blows it's time for preparation and be ready for the game, I just think we know how to stay focused and know exactly like when the game time is and when it's play time. Like I said, Coach Carroll is a great guy and doing stuff like that, like with the Halloween tricks and stuff like that.
Q. I was wondering if there's anything with the success that you had the previous two years, if there was anything that you did this year to kind of keep things fresh during the week and challenge yourself and those sort of things?
MATT LEINART: I think at one point during the season, I don't know what it was, but I kind of was like feeling the pressure, felt like the world was on my shoulders. The first two games we come out smoking, 70 points, then it started getting harder, Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, and I was not on the top of my game a few of those games and other guys had to step up obviously. There was a point where I was just a little bit -- I was just like, I don't know what's going on here. It's like not fun, or what is it, what's going on.
And then I was having fun, but it was kind of getting harder. I actually sat down with Sark for about an hour after the Notre Dame game and just kind of vented and talked and told him how I was feeling, outside, all the demands, and then I took a deep breath and said, you know, this is what I came back to do, to have fun and be a part of this and know that all this stuff is for good, for a good cause.
But I've been pretty loose. I'm not a guy that gets tense or nervous or anything like that. I think everything was kind of building up. I think I've been doing a pretty good job of kind of handling everything the past couple of years. I finally kind of just like -- oh, man, I felt like there was so much weight on my shoulders. And guys, my teammates were there to back me up when I wasn't doing so well, and the coaches, and then I just started getting the rhythm again, playing football again, having fun. There wasn't really anything different I don't think. This year more than any other year was more mental. The off-season obviously I had to rehab to get better and stronger, but mentally I think I've grown a lot more this year than I ever have my last two years.
Q. Lane, what's the division of labor with you and Steve in terms of running the offense? In any way do you think you guys have put your imprint on the offense?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Well, we do everything together throughout the week as far as game planning, 1st down, 2nd down, 3rd down, red zone, all that stuff. It's worked out great, not the production and any of that, but just from the standpoint of I don't know that other people can do this without having the background together and being very close that we've been for the last five years. He left for one of them, but we were together for four years.
I think that that would be hard to do if you brought two people from different places, if Pete would have brought in a guy from this school and this school and said, okay, here, I want you guys to make this work. Growing up here under Coach and knowing what he wants and all the things that if you take a job you don't usually know over the course of four or five years that happen, we know what he wants without him having to tell us all the time. I think that's why it works so well with our background together.
You know, he does an unbelievable job on the field feeling the players, knowing when it's time, we've got to get Matt going with this or LenDale or Reggie, and he has a great sense for that on the field. I think that that really benefits us, to have a guy in the press box that can be away from all that, behind the closed window, and really being able to concentrate without all that going on, and then a guy that's down there with all that going on to get a feel for what is going on down there.
In the press box you're just watching, you can't feel what the players are feeling like down there or some things that you feel close to you. Sometimes your guys come out a little slow that you don't know up there. I think it's a great situation to have a guy up there and a guy down here trying to work together.
Q. Did you guys try to put any wrinkles in this year?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Sure, every off season we've always tried to improve. We never want to stay the same. We imagine people are always trying to catch up to us, especially in the conference in the off-season doing studies because we're No. 1 in the conference. That's the way it works in coaching. We're always trying to change and stay above everybody else.
Q. This is for Matt and for LenDale: Last year in the National Championship game, one of the first plays in the game Reggie went in motion and Oklahoma sent two guys with him. Do you guys remember what went through your mind when you saw that and what it did for the offense to know that they were going to put that much emphasis on him?
MATT LEINART: I don't really remember exactly when that was, but, I mean, I don't doubt it obviously because we've seen that a bunch of times. I think some teams, and maybe Oklahoma did, they want to know where No. 5 is on the football field because he's such a threat receiving the ball, running the ball and specials, everything. Maybe you want to double him or maybe you want to in-and-out him as linebackers. I don't know how defenses approach him, I just know how we use him and we try to get him involved in as many ways as we can. I don't really remember or recall what I thought about it.
LENDALE WHITE: I just remember like one particular play, it was like kind of close to the goal line and he went in motion, and I think three or four people went with him, and we got Steve wide open in the end zone for a touchdown, Steve Smith. When you've got a player like Reggie Bush, you've definitely got to account for him and see where he is on the field. He's a Heisman Trophy winner so that speaks for his greatness. I know they're going to be ready to game plan for him probably as well as myself. We're just going to stay focused and do the game plan.
Q. I know your role has changed a little, but do you recall any conversation last year when you guys realized how much they were going to focus in on Reggie, how that was going to affect what you guys were going to do?
COACH LANE KIFFIN: Yeah, like LenDale said, the play you were talking about was down on the 5 yard line. We actually scored on the exact same play twice. Steve Smith scored twice where Reggie motioned for him from a weak set to a strong set and three guys went running over with him.
The thing about Reggie that probably you guys don't understand is he helps us so much when he's not getting the ball because defenses totally -- it's not just they double team him; that's not how it works. That happens sometimes, but it makes the defensive coordinator only have so many calls when he's in the game.
We'll go sometimes where we know when Reggie is in the game plan, they don't play any man coverage because they're not going to put a guy on Reggie. Every time you put Reggie in, not lined up as a receiver, every time he's in your huddle, you're limiting the calls that that defensive coordinator can make. He helps us in so many ways that you guys cannot even imagine.
End of FastScripts...