By Greg Katz – WeAreSC
San Diego – Some final National Funding Holiday Bowl prodigal was completed on Tuesday, as the USC Trojans and the Wisconsin Badgers held the traditional combined final media press conference with comments from the two team’s head coaches followed shortly by a spirited Holiday Bowl pregame public banquet honoring the two teams.
Final Holiday Bowl Media Conference
Held in Gallery No. 3 of the San Diego Omni on Tuesday morning, head coaches Clay Helton of the Trojans and Wisconsin Paul Chryst gave their final assessments, observations, and thanks before heading off to the San Diego Hilton Bayside, located across the street from the Omni, for the traditional pregame bowl banquet.
Looking fresh, animated, and very enthusiastic in a business suit, Trojans head coach Clay Helton touched on various topics while appearing in front of a well-attended group of media representatives.
On the welcome by the city of San Diego:
“So excited to be back down in San Diego. I didn’t think it could get any better than last year, but the red coats and this National Funding Holiday Bowl have topped themselves yet again. From the ability to take our kids to the zoo and be on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt and see that aircraft carrier and everything that goes along with the city of San Diego, its people, and this bowl game has just been first class.”
Evaluating the Wisconsin Badgers:
“After watching the tape, I have been so severely impressed how they play. Defensively, without question one of the better units that we’ve face all year, especially when you talk about a bunch that only gives up 13 points a game. Offensively, one of the more experienced quarterbacks that we have seen all year, and obviously going for his opportunity to get the lead in the total number of victories for his team.”
Being asked about his team’s ability to handle adversity:
“We’ve gone through some adversity from coaching changes to sanctions. Really, we’ve had a bunch of senior lead us from darkness into light to be part of a Pac-12 South Championship and a Pac-12 championship game; it shows the progress we’re making right now. Obviously being able to be back in our second consecutive Holiday Bowl, one of the premier bowl games in the country, is exciting for us. The progress has been a great jumpstart to our season coming into next year, and we’re so grateful to be playing such a quality team as Wisconsin.”
Regarding the limited amount of practices for the Holiday Bowl:
“You go into the bowl game and you have eight practices plus that bowl game and 15 opportunities (including the Pac-12 title game practices), and that’s a spring practice. Coming out of the Pac-12 championship game, we were beat up going into that game and when we came out even more injury wise. To get our kids through finals and get them through some injures and then have eight more practices that we thought were not only competitive and bowl practices, it gives us the ability to prepare for a really good team.
“We got to progress with some very young kids like (quarterbacks) Max Browne and Sam Darnold, and it’s helped us get 15 more experiences for some young DBs and linebackers that need to perform for us next year, so it’s a great opportunity for us and that championship game experience really helped us. You look at those 15 opportunities in December, I think you’ve only benefited your team.”
On CB Iman “Biggie” Marshall:
“Biggie is one of those guys that stepped right in, was mentally mature, and ready to play. The best players play at USC play whether you’re a freshman or a sophomore. Biggie was one of the best corners on field and he was out there, and we saw him progress through the season and had his best game against UCLA, I thought.”
Discussing makes Wisconsin’s defense so successful:
“Their front seven is one of the best we’ve gone against all year. In that 3-4 scheme, those four linebackers are the best we’ve seen all year. They bring them from everywhere, their inside backer or their boundary backer and No. 47 (Vince Biegal) is one of the best pass rushers I’ve seen all season. It’s one, a terrific scheme that they run, and you put in the personnel that has been extremely well coached. Look at the back end. They put a lot of pressure on their DBs in man coverage and force coverage on an island, and they do a tremendous job.”
How did Helton get his team prepared to handle a Badgers offensive line that is very physical up front?:
“We did what we call ‘iron sharpens iron,’ which basically means instead of using the service team (on offense), we used our 1s and 2s to get a very quality look during a scrimmage period for a look at that power run game and the best quality look that we can. That’s what we’ve done in the last eight practices.”
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst followed Helton to the podium and address some questions.
On Wisconsin playing the Trojans:
“Our kids were really excited to come to San Diego and be part of the Holiday Bowl and then the news of matching up against USC. Clay talked about it. It’s two programs with great tradition and for us to play against each other. This is one of those games, as a fan of college football and coaching in it, you’re hoping you get a chance to be apart of it. What USC has done in spite of all the adversity and playing their best football at the end of the year is quite a compliment to the people they have there.”
What team does USC remind him of that the Badgers have played this season?
“I think that they (USC) are different than anyone that we’ve played. That’s part of the great challenge. They are very skilled and well coached, and offensively they are explosive, dynamic in the throw game and defensively they present a lot of challenges for us. I don’t believe we’ve played a team – I don’t believe we have – like them where you can just say USC is like someone else. That’s what makes it neat, too, for our players and the preparation. It’s a whole new process. It’s not like taking parts of this plan or that plan. It a whole unique team and opponent for us.”
The National Funding Holiday Bowl pregame public game banquet
Here are some of the highlights from an energetic banquet:
After a 35-minute battle of the bands – featuring the Spirit of Troy and the University of Wisconsin marching bands – the balance of the pregame banquet took place on the fourth floor of the Grand Ballroom inside the swank San Diego Hilton Bayside.
Before a sold out affair with standing room only at the beginning, the banquet featured again the two bands, players, dignitaries, and the general public. The two bands opened the program with the Trojans band, on the right side of the ballroom, performing first followed by the Badgers band, which also played our national anthem. There were two large TV screens at each end of the ballroom for fans in the back to get a better view.
The Wisconsin players wore their home red jerseys with white numerals and their names on the back. The Trojans wore black “T-shirts” with cardinal and gold numbers and their names above their back numbers.
Both bands excited the banquet before the actual program got underway with the Trojans band playing “Conquest” and the Wisconsin band playing – naturally – “On Wisconsin.”
The banquet, which cost $60 or $65 depending on date of purchase, consisted of dinner rolls, salad, chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies, and a desert option of cheese or chocolate cake. Each table had two large bottle of Dr. Pepper to wash it all down. Water had to be requested.
The main program began with the introduction of the head table, which included Trojans athletic director Pat Haden and select players, which included LBs Anthony Sarao and Su’a Cravens, DL Antwaun Woods, and QB Cody Kessler.
Haden spoke and thanked the Holiday Bowl and gave a special shout out to Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez, whom he called “a longtime friend.” Haden went on to say the Trojans will have their hands full with the Badgers and thanked the Trojans team, especially the seniors, for overcoming an “incredibly difficult year.”
Following some additional introductions and presentations, a USC football highlight tape was played and it had the full attention of the Wisconsin Badgers, many of whom stopped eating to watch the high-energy video.
Following the Trojans highlight video, a new MC took to the podium, ESPN’s Holiday Bowl play-by-play man Adam Amin. The quick witted and sharp-tongued broadcaster went on to briefly interview each Trojan up on the head table but not before allowing Clay Helton to make some opening comments.
Helton reiterated what he had said in the morning’s press briefing by addressing the honor of playing in the Holiday Bowl, a thank you to his seniors, and the “excellence between the two schools.”
After Helton, Amin first spoke with Trojans senior linebacker Anthony Sarao and asked him about his special relationship with his fellow linebackers. Sarao said, “We are a band of brothers out there.”
Next interviewee was senior All-Pac-12 defensive lineman Antwaun Woods. Asked about his ability in terms of artwork, Woods said, “I pride myself on making a great piece (of art). In my ceramics class, I made a picture of (President Barack) Obama.”
When asked about the effect of Clay Helton as the Trojans head coach, senior quarterback Cody Kessler said, “The seniors have been through a lot with all the coaching changes, but we’re playing for the man we want to play for. We want to win the game for him (Helton).”
After answering Amin on why he decided apply for the NFL draft, Trojans two-time All-Pac-12 linebacker Su’a Cravens revealed a deal he has struck up with Trojans new offensive coordinator Tee Martin. Cravens said, “Me and Tee had a discussion. If I get a sack or a fumble, he’ll put me in for one offensive play.”
Following the Trojans segment, a Wisconsin highlight video was shown and head coach Paul Chryst made some opening comments by saying, “We’re playing a heck of a team, a traditional team like USC. They are an unbelievable quality opponent.”
Chryst went on to say that his quarterback Joel Steve and the Trojans Cody Kessler rank as the fourth and fifth most winning quarterbacks in the country.
Amin then went on to interview the Badgers players on stage, who made no mention of the Trojans.
Following the conclusion of the Wisconsin interviews, the banquet concluded with the Trojans and the Badgers departing separately back to their respective team busses.