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December 23, 2013

Reactions: Las Vegas Bowl

USC finished off the 2013 season with an impressive victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The Trojans were favored by six points according to Sports Betting Dime but ended up winning by 25 points.

Here is what the coaches and players had to say:

Clay Helton (Interim coach)

Opening statement: "Just really proud of our football team and proud for the Trojan family. We came into this game wanting to make the Trojan family proud, and I can't tell you how excited I am about the accomplishments they made. These guys did a tremendous job of executing a game plan and really being into this game."

If USC's speed affected Fresno State: "They have a tremendous football team. We have a lot of respect for them. I was very nervous coming in about the amount of pressure they bring on, especially when you have two backup offensive linemen playing. It was just an unbelievable job by the offensive line."

USC's defense: "Clancy Pendergast and the defense, to hold that offense to 254 yards when it averages 570 a game with a tremendous quarterback and receiving corp is really something. We came into the game with a game plan to be ultra aggressive in all three phases of the game. It didn't all work out but we wanted that mindset from the start."

Cody Kessler (Quarterback)

Playing against Derek Carr: "Derek is a great quarterback, but that is what our defense has done all year. Our defense is so good at stopping the run, stopping the pass and confusing teams. It makes a good quarterback frustrated. I see it everyday in practice."

His success today: "It was a great game today and it's 100% due to the offensive line. They studied film all week and worked so hard. It's due to them and our receivers who are freak athletes. They make plays. That's why they came to USC. They get the ball and make plays. That's my job to get they ball to them and let them make plays."

Leonard Williams (Defensive end)

New coaching staff: "I believe in coach Sark (Steve Sarkisian). I've had a chance to talk to him a few times. He didn't recruit me, but he's a a cool guy. I feel like we have a lot of good players on the team. I feel like we're going to work together next year through all this adversity and continue to fight on."

Thoughts on the defensive play: "The secondary did a great job. We tried our best to get after the quarterback, but their were a lot of quick releases and stuff like that. A lot of cut blocks. They tried to get us out of our game but we tried."

Defensive line: "We didn't have one of our better games, but we tried to affect the quarterback as much as possible and get pressure."

What worked and what didn't: "I feel like in the first half, we got a lot more pressure. In the second half, just speaking for myself, I became a little more hesitant because of the cut blocks. It slowed me down a little."

Feelings after win: "It feels great. We just owe it all to the Seniors and Coach O (Ed Orgeron). I just wanted to get the tenth win for the older guys that I won't be able to see next year. We wanted to grow from last year, not underestimate our opponent and get this win."

If he felt the season was a success: "Definitely. We thought through so much adversity. We went through two coaching changes. It was kind of hard on us but we fought on."

When the players decided to honor Coach O in the bowl: "When he picked up this team halfway through the season, he taught us so much about coming together and being a family. From here on out we'll never forget that. We owe it on to coach O."

Marcus Martin (Center)

The game: "It was hard watching and not being able to help but I'm proud of the team. It's a great way to finish the season."

NFL decision: "I still have a lot to think about before I make my decision."

Anthony Sarao (Inside linebacker)

What the bowl win means: "I think it just completes the season, this team and the journey we've been on. We couldn't go out a better way, for Coach O, coach Lane Kiffin and everyone who was a part of this team. this win is for them."

If he thought the season was a success: "I think we're successful. A lot of teams across the country don't have ten wins. At the end of the day, we'll look back on it and feel good."

Feelings on the change that's coming: "I think with the new coaching staff, there's just another adjustment we'll have to make. But that's nothing. This team has been through so much adversity, it just motivates us. We're going to come out next year and do the same thing."

His impressive pass break up: "I haven't had a play against a receiver like that. He's a fast guy. I usually don't guard them, but in this game I did. That was the first time I've had to do that."

Final thoughts: "I want to give a shout out to Coach O and thank him for everything. I want to thank coach Kiffin and coach (Clay) Helton. He took over and kept the train rolling. I want to thank everyone."

Xavier Grimble (Tight end)

NFL decision: "I'm not sure yet. I'm just looking at pros and cons. My evaluation will go in. I'm going to talk to a lot of people and it's going to be a long decision. I'm probably going to wait until the end to decide."

People who he'll seek advice from: "I'm going to talk to my coaches, NFL scouts and obviously my family. I just want to make the right decision."

Why he would come back to USC: "It would be because I love USC. I love the program, the school and the alumni. I came here for Pete Carroll, but I fell in love with the school. I'm glad to be here and I'll definitely consider one more year."

If the early lead surprised him: "Not really. I suspected that we could do it, but Fresno State is a good team. They have eleven wins this year and a high powered offense. I thought it was going to be a shootout, but the defense came to play today."

What they were able to exploit against Fresno State: "I think that it was the same thing that we have been able to do against everyone else. We're a big, strong, physical team. We're solid in the run game, we have play-action and speed on the outside. We run the ball and then throw it over your head."

What the win means: "It feels good to go through everything we've been through and to get our tenth win. We've had three coaches and fifty players on the roster. With everything we've been though, it's just crazy."

If it's bittersweet without coach O: "A little bit, definitely. But we know he's at home watching and paying attention to us. We're very proud."

How they got out to such a big lead: "It was our intensity in the locker room. Before the game, we really got together to celebrate and everything. We got a feel for each other and we knew we had to play hard an strong. We didn't want to quit and we knew that we needed to want it more than the next man."

Going down the field through the air: "We've had a few games like this were we got down field and made some plays. We had a lot of good things happen today and it was cool."

Clancy Pendergast (Defensive coordinator)

How the defense slowed down Fresno State: "We've had some good practices. They executed the plan. We wanted to get a lot of different guys involved and we wanted to put pressure on the quarterback. We wanted to force the ball out of his hands and we did that today."

If the season was a success: "Getting to ten wins is very important, obviously. This defense went from seventh in the conference to first in total defense in the regular season. It's something that these guys wanted to come out and prove. They wanted to show they're one of the top defenses in college football. That was one of the better offenses we've played and I'm proud of what they did."

If he could be back: "We've had conversations and I'm sure they'll be on going. Nothing's been solidified yet so we'll go from here."

If he feels like he proved enough to be retained: "That's not my decision, but the work speaks for itself."

If they've discussed the details of the final decision: "There's been no real timetable. You'd have to ask coach Sarkisian those questions from here on out."

Josh Shaw (Cornerback)

What the win means: "It means a lot after all that we've been through as a program.To come out here and get our tenth victory, it definitely feels great. We feel like we've accomplished a lot this year. Our hats go off to Fresno State. They have a great program, but tonight was our night and we we're going to be denied."

How he feels about the season: "It's definitely a success. I don't think their are many programs that could overcome the adversity we've had to overcome. That's just a tribute to all the seniors we have on our team. It starts with Devon Kennard being a leader. Everytime we faced a challenge, he stood up in front of us and kept us together. I'm very thankful for him."

Talk about a lack of motivation: "We were definitely motivated. You should have seen us in the locker room. We came out here and everyone was jumping around. You would have thought that we didn't even miss Coach O today. You would have thought he was here. We flew around on the field and we made plays on special teams. Whenever we made a play, the guys on the bench would jump up and go congratulate the guys. We definitely had the right energy today."

What motivated them: "We deserved to win. We've been though a lot as a program so to have an opportunity to get ten wins in college football is hard to come by. We had that opportunity in front of us and we didn't let it get by us."

How the defense turned it around this season: "What I will say is that I've been around college football for a while. Next year will be my fifth year. I've been around some defensive coordinators, but coach Pendergast is second to none. I think he's the best signal caller out there. If you look what he did at Cal, two out of three years, they were number one in total defense. He accomplished that his first year at Cal and he did it his first year here. The guy really knows what he's doing and he gets his troops ready to play for him."

If his fifth year is officially happening: "It's not official. I haven't even gotten my evaluation back. When I do get it back, I'll sit down with coach Sark and my family. Then we'll see what's best for me."

George Uko (Defensive end)

The ejection: "I was walking away and I felt a pull on my shoulder pads. I didn't know who it was so I just pulled my arm away. It was one of the referees and they called a penalty. It was my second personal foul so I was ejected. It was a mistake and I hope that everyone knows that I'm not that type of player."

NFL draft: "I'm going to wait until I get my evaluation before I sit down and think about my decision."

Dion Bailey (Safety)

What the win means: "This win means everything to us. To get ten wins after all the adversity this year. We had three different coaches in one year and we were still able to get ten wins. I'm thankful for this team and for what I've learned. We're the definition of our school motto and I'll never forget this team. I'm so proud of everyone."

NFL draft: "It's kind of hard not to think about it, but I was focused on the game and everything. I'm going to talk to my parents and before Christmas I'll make my decision."

Dancing on the sideline: "We were just fired up. We had a great time, we enjoyed our stay at the Las Vegas bow. It's been great. Everything they put together and that the coaches put together have been a great experience. Everyone understood the task in front of us and the opportunity we had to get this tenth win and make our mark on history. For us to get two ten win seasons under the circumstances we had, we're a very special program. I don't think anyone else could produce under the circumstances we had. If a team wins ten games you have to respect them and I just wanted to be on a respectable team."

How he would look back on his time at USC if he turns pro: "I wouldn't want to go out any other way. We came, we had a great time and enjoyed the experience in Las Vegas. We went out the right way. Our defense went against the best passing offense in the country. They had 20 points, but if you watch the game, you understand how they got those twenty points. They didn't even have over 250 yards total. I'm very proud of our defense and secondary. I'm proud of how coach P (Clancy Pendergast) got us ready to go in the game. Then we executed it perfectly."

What his time at USC means to him personally: "I'm very proud of what I've been able to do. How I've helped and produced for this team. I've played different positions and made a lot of sacrifices here. I made all conference at two positions, I graduated in three and a half years. I'm just proud that I was able to make my parents proud. My time here at USC, whether it's finished or not, I feel like I'm in a win-win situation. If I leave, I wouldn't regret leaving at all. We had two ten-win seasons, I made all conference twice, I earned a degree and I made friends that I'll have forever. If I stay, I'll have another year to get better and another chance to play in a BCS game and be an All-American. I feel like I'm in the best position I could be in as an athlete."

Difference from last year's bowl to this year's game: "We were in a predicament last year. With all the expectations and how it ended up, we just didn't handle that situation well. This year is a completely different team. We kept our focus and we had great leadership. Our seniors and upperclassmen kept us together and we finished off the season."

Winning ten games with three different coaches: "It just shows the type of guys that are on this team. Coach Bax (John Baxter) calls us the dirty thirty, and I think we just proved that our thirty is better than a lot of teams that have 75 or 85. Just like Coach O said, we put 11 out there and fight on. We're going to put our best foot forward and let the chips fall where they may. We were able to make it happen 10 times out of 14. I'm proud of this team and I wouldn't change anything about this season. I wouldn't take any of the losses back, they built us to get to this point and to get these wins."

Defensive turn around from last year: "It was pride. Guys understand that 'SC defenses aren't supposed to give up points like we did last year. Coach Pendergast's mentality, scheme and knowledge of the game was the perfect storm."

Abe Markowitz (Center)

His award: "They didn't tell me anything about what the award was. I got down here and they told me that it's the "outperformer" award for offense."

What he was thinking: "Is this the lineman award? What is this? I just do what I was told and that's how I got the award. I just do what I'm told."

The one more year chant: "That was funny. Technically I've only played three years so we need to figure out a way."

What he'll remember from the season: "I was proud of what I was able to accomplish this year and it was a team effort. It took everyone, including my family and USC to get me back this year."

Randall Telfer (Tight end)

The plan for his participation in the game and practices: "The plan was for me to take it easy on my knee as much as I could. That way it doesn't get dinged up. I didn't get to practice, I didn't get a lot of reps, but I did what I had to do in order to play today."

Taping his knee: "I didn't get it taped today. It's getting stronger. With the extra rest from the last game to this game helped out a lot and I didn't have to wear anything."

What the issue is with the knee: "It's a meniscus tear, MCL sprain and a bone bruise."

When he knew he'd play: "i told the coaches after the last game that I was for sure going to play in this game. I was going to play regardless. So I did what I needed to get prepared for this game. I watched a lot of film. I couldn't practice as much as i would have liked but it's what got me here today. If I had practiced more it probably would have hindered me a little bit."

If he was hurting a bit: "Not right now, I'm not hurting too much. It's healed quite a bit."

NFL decision: "I haven't decided yet, I should decide within the next week."

What he'll consider before he decides: "I love these guys and I've been through everything with them. They're a factor and my family is too. What's important to them and what will benefit me as well as them."

Mike Summers (Offensive line coach)

His offensive line: "I was so proud. They pulled together when we had such limited numbers. We basically had seven guys available for the game. Two guys hadn't started much all year. To pull it together and to run the ball and pass protect like we did, I was so proud of them."

Fresno State front seven: "They were really good. I don't care what conference they're in, that was the number 23 team in the country. They got that way because they've been beating people up. They had a really good scheme. They moved their guys and blitzed us all night long. I don't know but it was maybe 70% of the time. Our guys stood up and did a great job with it. I was really proud of them."

The line's progression throughout the season: "When I came here, so many people outside the program had talked so badly about the offensive line. The first thing we had to do was to become a cohesive unit. We started working from day one on that. They grew together, they learned to trust the things they were being told. I knew it wouldn't be a quick turnaround, it would be change over the season. I thought that once we got to game five or six of the season, they started to really gel together. I think they earned and developed their reputation this season and became a strong part of the team."

How proud he is: "It'll be my favorite team of all time. No one realizes how hard it is to hold everyone's motivation together when so many distractions are going on around you. These guys stood up for every opportunity they were faced with. I love those guys in the offensive line. I have such respect for what they did and I'm so appreciative that they trusted me."

Conversations about a return next year: "We've talked but it's all behind the scenes stuff."

De'Von Flournoy (Wide receiver)

Ending his career at USC well: "Anytime you can win ten games as a football team, it's a tremendous feeling. As a receiver or as a football player, you want your role to be a little more prominent. But I had a great coaching staff and they instilled in me that it's about the team. It's about what you can do to help the team and that's what I changed my mindset too. I'm willing to do anything to help the team."

What it meant to play this season: "It meant the world. When I was a little kid watching USC and the great receivers that played before me, getting as chance to talk to Steve Smith and Mike Williams, it felt phenomenal to go out and contribute to the stat sheet. I got to make some plays and get hyped. Everyone hits you on the helmet and it's great morale."

What he'll remember most about USC: "That a group of young boys grew into men and fought adversity. We looked it in the eye and didn't give up. Guys had the opportunity to leave, but they stayed and that's what I'm going to remember."

If he felt this season was a success: "It was very successful. Anytime you can get ten wins, I feel like it's a really good season. There were a lot of coaching changes and a lot of emotion into it, like with Coach O, but at the end of the day, we got to ten wins. We had nine and we decided to put everything we had into this one game."

Sideline celebration in the first half: "We have a great coaching staff and they make sure that we don't jump the gun too early. We got high on the scoreboard early in the game, but when we went into the locker room at halftime it changed. Coach Helton told us that we signed up to play this football game for 60 minutes and there 30 more minutes left. We couldn't let up. We're playing a great offensive team that could put points on the board. We had to keep going to win."

Final thoughts: "We're a band of brothers. I will never forget this USC team that played these past three to four years. We'll fight on forever."

Andre Heidari (Kicker)

Fighting adversity: "My coach, John Baxter, had this quote that has stuck with me throughout my freshman year. The quote is, 'adversity introduces a man to himself'. As you can tell, we went though a lot of adversity this season. I feel like adversity is something we needed to overcome this season and we did a really good job of it. It'll help in the future to become a better man and father in the future."

The season: "Every team goes through adversity in the season. This team is tough enough to go through anything and I thought we took it well. The season went great and I loved it. i had a really good season, it was awesome. The thing I took form the season was that you can overcome adversity."

If he believes the season was a success: "Absolutely. For our team, a ten win season is great. The last time we had a ten win season was my freshman year. It was a good season for our team."

Beating Fresno State: "Respect goes out to Fresno State. That's a really good football club. They did a really good job. I thought they were going to come back, but our team stuck with it and won."

Thoughts when it was 35-6 at the half: "It was only the first half. We still had to come out and play a second half. It was a good game for us even though we didn't score in third quarter. We put some points up in the fourth to help us win."

Winning a bowl: "Coming in and winning a bowl game for this university is amazing. We struggled last year in El Paso but we can't even think about that. This victory solidified our characters and our passion for the game and this university."

J.R. Tavai (Outside linebacker)

How happy he is: "Yeah I'm happy. Ten wins is something that not many can accomplish. It's really special especially with coach Helton. He really took care of us these past few weeks and in Vegas. It's just a fun game like when Coach O was here."

If the final score was surprising: "They're a great team but we took their game away. They depend on their offense and we cut that loose. We just flew out there and had some fun."

How they slowed Fresno State: "We hit the quarterback a few times and got them a little rocked up. We forced them into some bad decisions, stopped the run and the offense took care of the rest. They put up 45 points, that's pretty good."

The defensive improvement from last year: "That's all thanks to coach Pendergast. He gave us the game plan and we just executed it like we're supposed to."

Does coach Pendergast deserve to retain his job: "Hell yeah. I think so. We've built a very solid relationship with coach Pendergast. For him to go or stay is totally up to Sark but it's been an honor to play for him."

Did another player help you out: "I have to shout out to my boy Morgan (Breslin). He taught me a lot and he's my idol."

Tommie Robinson (Running backs coach)

Would he consider his first season a success: "I would have to say that what we accomplished on the field, even with all the adversity and all the things that are going on, it was a success. I told my staff something that I'm going to say now. I've been in this business for 27 years. There's probably a couple of guys on the staff that have been coaching longer than me. With everything we've gone through and with everything that happened, this is a group of good football coaches. We may have done the best job of coaching in our lives just too keep this thing together and hold it in tact and there's a possibility that we're all going to be looking for jobs. I told them that we may have done the best job we've ever done coaching and we might be getting fired."

"To answer the question, I think the season was a success. Whether we're here or not, it's a jump start for Sark and the team moving forward to next year. We ended on a positive not and everyone's happy, so it was a success. It's just so sad to even think that you're not going to be here. It's really sad that Lane started this thing, Ed Orgeron picked it up and they can't be here to see this. We won ten ball games. I don't know what percentile it puts us in across the country or how many teams one ten games this year, but I'm sure that it's not going to be a high percentage of teams that did that."

Assessing his year: "I feel like I gave it my all and then some. I had to deal with so many different backs. Guys would go down and I would have to get the next guy prepared. I started with Justin Davis, then I had to get Tre Madden prepared. Then Silas Redd comes off of injury and I have to get him prepared. Then the next guy is Buck Allen and I had to get him prepared. We never looked back, we never said woe is me. it was always, okay guys, let's go. We went to work everyday, busted our tails and that's what happened. I would say that it was one of my best jobs of coaching."

Talks about being retained on staff: "Sark and I have talked. We'll visit in the next day or two. We'll decide what the best situation is for USC and for me. He basically said let's get through this bowl game and then we'll sit down and visit. It might be in the next couple of days and then we'll move on from there."

Marqise Lee (Wide receiver)

Timetable for decision: "In about two weeks, I'm guessing."

Compared to today, the healthiest he's been: "The first game. The first two games. I even had some nagging injuries back then but I'm okay now. I'm 100 percent. I utilized the treatment as far as the breaks we had. I came out 100 percent and did what I was supposed to do."

Coach O celebration: "…At the end of the day, it wasn't just Coach O that we were really thinking about, it was coach Kiffin, too. Coach Kiffin brought us together and coach Orgeron maintained it and made sure we did what we supposed to. This win was for both of them."

Winning the tenth game: "It was very important. You'll never see a team have three different coaches and expect to win ten games at the end of the year. We just kept fighting and when the opportunity came, we took advantage of it."

His performance: "I felt more relaxed. I didn't have to worry about injuries or about people hitting me in certain spots."

If they've realized how crazy this year has been: "It hasn't sunk in yet but I think by the time I sit down and think about, I'll think it's crazy."

Could any other team have won 10 games with all the adversity surrounding USC: "I can't really speak for other teams. I don't know how other teams would have reacted…"

What he tells next year's USC team: "I would tell them to stay focused. At the end of the day, a lot of adversity is going to come. It doesn't matter if it's coaching, dropping balls or getting hurt, adversity is going to come. We're moving forward at the end of the day. You're going to have bumps in the road so moving forward and having a good work ethic."

Being in sync with Cody Kessler: "Cody did an amazing job, especially today. He threw an interception, but came back and was poised. He led a drive down there, came back and made good pass plays. He became a great leader…"

What is there to gain from coming back: "There's a lot to gain. You can get yourself a lot better. The other thing that makes the decision so hard is that you know how good your team is going to be next year. Based off the performance today and knowing not too many people are leaving, that's another thing to look at at the end of the day."

Where he is in the decision process: "I haven't really sat down and thought about it to be honest with you. I don't even what factors to consider."

How he would look back at USC if he did leave: "I think I did an amazing job. I did what I was supposed to do at the end of the day. I just played hard and was a team player. I did what other teammates did and went out there to play as hard as I can. It turned out good for me."




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