19 min Read

USC offense meets the Cotton Bowl media

Q. When you look at the Ohio State defense, what’s the first thing that stands out to you on film?
COACH MARTIN: Athleticism, speed. They can run on the perimeter, the DBs, secondary, linebackers on the field. But even when they have those guys on the field, they all can run. And third down, obvious passing downs get after their quarterback pretty good, multiple pass rushers. A scheme that’s sound, not overly complicated but gets the guys in position to make plays. And I think that’s what they do well, putting their players in position to make plays and do what they do best.

Q. Their linebackers at times have struggled in coverage. When you watch film, why do you think that is and what do you think their issues might be?
COACH MARTIN: It’s all different. I can’t just pinpoint one reason why. They may have been perceived to have struggled. I just think that with this game plan or play action, teams protect them differently. Iowa is different than Penn State. Michigan is different, so on and so forth. But I just think there’s opportunity for us to be balanced. How can we run the ball? How can we pass the ball? How can we give Sam [Darnold] an opportunity to get guys open to make plays? I don’t just go into this game feeling like their linebackers are a weakness. I don’t think that. I think they can all run. I think they all can make plays. And it’s going to be a challenge for us to execute and move the ball.

Q. Talk about the Big Ten playing a different style. You think you can mix tempo this week to throw them off possibly?
COACH MARTIN: That’s part of the offense in every game. How much we use tempo is based on the flow of the game. And, really, I have a concept of how our defense is playing and how our special teams are playing and are we winning the battle of hitting yardage in the special team game. A lot goes into that for me calling the plays, but that’s always a part. We want to be able to control the speed of the game. We can play as fast as we need to play, get 85 plays a game, or we can slow it down as slow as we need to play based on how our team is playing to give us the best chance to win a game.

Q. Based on tempo and kind of the offensive game plan, how important is Ronald Jones in that?
COACH MARTIN: Huge. Games where he’s rushed for over 100 yards we’re basically undefeated. And we have to have balance, whether it’s Ronald [Jones] or Stephen Carr back healthy. All four of our backs are healthy. This is the first time in a long time I’ve been able to say that all four of them are ready to go. But Ronald is just different. You have great players. You have great running backs. And then you have backs that are just “different,” and I don’t know if, number one, I haven’t coached one like him. I don’t know if in my career I’ll have another one like him. But he’s real with the things he can do. If one guy misses a gap, you’re not going to catch him. He can outrun your backers and your secondary. He’s physical in protection, does a great job of protecting our quarterback. And the one part of our game I think he’s developed is his ability to catch the ball in the backfield. Hasn’t had a drop all season. That’s one area we challenged him in off-season to get better at, and he’s taken it upon himself to make it something he’s really good at. Got to have him on the field and make him a big part of this game.

Q. How has the fact that Tyson Helton changed your preparation?
COACH MARTIN: Not at all. He was our quarterback coach and passing game coordinator. And passing game coordinators have the ideas in the passing game, but ultimately it’s my decision to say if it goes on the call sheet or not.


Q. What’s it feel like to be in the spotlight everywhere you go, everyone’s focusing on you?
QB SAM DARNOLD: Yeah, I mean, that’s something that I’ve gotten used to. Over the past year, it’s been a crazy journey of kind of stepping in and no one knowing who I was and playing the Rose Bowl and people starting to know who I was. And in the off-season, magazine covers and all the interviews and all that kind of stuff. So it’s been pretty crazy. But I thought I’ve handled it well. And I’m just going to continue to do my thing and play this game as long as I can.

Q. Would you like to have the same skill level but just be anonymous?
QB SAM DARNOLD: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. There’s certain things that as a player that you’d rather just not do. But, at the same time, it does give you a platform to be able to have a say in a matter that you might find near and dear to your heart or something like that. So there’s always an interesting platform or good platform that you can use in terms of being the starting quarterback at USC to be able to make a change in something that you might find, like I said, just near and dear to your heart or something that you might want to change in the future.

Q. Sam, the decision that you have and the players like you have faced every year in college football, what will matter to you the most as you are trying to decide whether to be in college next year or the NFL? What are the factors that really matter to you?
QB SAM DARNOLD: Obviously, I haven’t been thinking about it a ton. I’ve been really focused on Ohio State. So I think after the bowl game, honestly, I’ll be able to give a better answer. But I think just looking at all the factors, I can’t really pinpoint anything specifically.

Q. Does the NFL chatter get exhausting week to week, or do you just block it out?
QB SAM DARNOLD: No, it doesn’t get exhausting. It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NFL. So, whenever I hear my name being talked about in someone’s draft or whether or not he should stay or not, it’s always interesting to listen to. But at the same time, I don’t take it for granted. I think it’s cool, to be honest, to be able to be in that conversation. But I do recognize the stake in the decision that I’m going to have to make by January 15th. So it’s, obviously, probably going to be the biggest decision that I would have made up to that point in my life. So it’s going to be a hard decision but something that I think, obviously, looking back on it, something that I’ll say, “Hey, I think I made the right decision.”

Q. You’re going to go near the top of the draft, if you go. It will be to a team that struggled. But there are teams that have bad years and franchises that look hopeless. How much of a factor will it be in your decision to think, okay, if it looks likely that a team that has a hopeless history might take me, maybe it’s better to come back to school?
QB SAM DARNOLD: I honestly don’t really look at it that way. Certain guys might look at it that way. But for me, I think it’s been such a dream of mine to play in the NFL that whether I go or whether I stay at USC, to be able to have the opportunity to even play in the NFL and achieve that dream of mine is something that I’ve always looked at. And for an organization to put their trust in me to be able to go out there and play football for them, I think any opportunity to play for anyone would be amazing and something that I’ve always dreamed of.

Q. Guys like us ask these questions because you’re good. It’s the punishment of being good. But the idea you think it’s cool and you always wanted to be in the NFL, wouldn’t it be cool tobe the number one pick? When you’re a little kid, you think about that. You’re the number one pick. How would you feel about that?
QB SAM DARNOLD: Honestly, yeah. It would be awesome. But, at the same time, I look at it holistically. And, like I said, I’m going to factor everything into it. But, yeah, to be the number one pick would be so special just to look back. I talk to Coach Clay [Helton] all the time. Three years ago I was in my living room. Coach Clay was recruiting me. Life is kind of moving really fast right now. So I’ve made some big decisions, and coming to USC was one of them. And it was a really great decision. So I think whatever decision I make by January 15th is going to be a great decision, too.

Q. How comfortable are you throwing on the move?
QB SAM DARNOLD: I’ve been doing it for a while now. So, you know, playing backyard football with my buddies and playing Pop Warner, just having fun with the game. I’ve not really been much of a robot, which can hurt me sometimes mechanically. But I think being able to play and move off my instincts has been one of my strengths in terms of playing quarterback. So I think there’s a lot to learn from sometimes how my feet can get out of whack a little bit and I can be throwing a little sideways. But I think throwing on the run is one of my really good strengths and something that I always work on every off-season.


Q. You guys have used multiple backs this year successfully. What’s that dynamic like when you’re not in the game on nearly every snap? How do you stay ready? How do you work with each other? What’s the dynamic?
TB RONALD JONES: Coach does a good job rotating us at practice, getting how many reps you’re going to get in practice you get in the game. So we know guys just stand ready because I’ve been a rotational back. So not much has changed.

Q. How do you describe your differences on the field?
TB RONALD JONES: Between me and my teammates? Obviously Stephen (Carr) is more like a receiver. What do they say, Swiss Army knife something like that? I’ve got a little speed and power. On a short down, he’s going to make it in there.

Q. Is it nice to have that it’s not all on your shoulders? You have guys who can do different things and limit your carries a little bit?
TB RONALD JONES: Most definitely. We always compete who has the most yards, who is going to make someone miss. Also, like you said, you just stay fresher and you’re able to be out there throughout the game.

Q. When you were deciding on USC as your school, what appealed to you about it other than like some in-state schools?
TB RONALD JONES: I think the history behind it. Other than like Texas, we don’t have a storied college. And then academics, the alumni, people who came through there, like Will Ferrell, Steven Spielberg, famous people who donated and have given back to the school.

Q. Obviously there’s two teams that could have been in the playoff and wanted to be in the playoff. With this matchup in the Cotton Bowl, how big is this game for you guys? And how much is this a game to prove these two teams deserved to be in the playoff?
TB RONALD JONES: We’re going to treat it as a playoff game. They are too. Make a statement. Just let us in next time. But, yeah, it’s definitely a big game. A lot of guys sit out games like this, but this is a New Year’s Six bowl.

Q. Was there any talk among any of you guys about sitting out? Especially the guys looking at NFL.
TB RONALD JONES: No. I, didn’t hear a word from guys on the borderline of coming and going. We wanted to come out and get this win.

Q. Coach Martin was just talking about it’s been a while since you had all the four running backs in the system healthy at one time. How does that change the offensive approach when you have all four guys who are ready to contribute against a team like Ohio State?
TB RONALD JONES: Yeah, they have special backs. Having guys healthy and stay fresh throughout the game, as the defense gets tired, we put in a new back to wear them down more.

Q. You guys like Sam [Darnold] and Deontay Burnett and the receivers, do you feel that you’re almost unstoppable?
TB RONALD JONES: Yeah, that’s what Coach [Tee] Martin tells us all the time. When we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot, nobody can stop us. Other than my turnovers and penalties, we do feel that way.

Q. When you’re watching film of Ohio State and you’ve seen what they’ve done against Saquon Barkley and Jonathan Taylor, great running backs, when you see them stop great running backs like that, why do you think it will be different for you?
TB RONALD JONES: Maybe the game, guys in conference, things like that. So just knowing that my O-line is going to get it done and I’ve got a quarterback like Sam there to make the plays, I’m just looking forward to it.

Q. Can you describe your game, what you can do well.
TB RONALD JONES: Make quick cuts. I use a lot of speed. I just like to get into a race with the DBs.

Q. When you have all your running backs healthy, what does that offer the offense?
TB RONALD JONES: Just a change of pace. We all do some things really well but some guys do other things better than some of us. Just knowing we can switch it up. When I’m getting tired that way, I don’t have to get too many runs in a row and vice versa.


Q. You’re from Southern California. So how’s your body feel this time of the year?
LT TOA LOBENDAHN: After the season? Definitely a little beat up. But we’ve had three weeks or four weeks since our last game so I’ve been taking time to take care of it, so I feel a lot better.

Q. You guys are getting ready for a big game. How’s your hydration? Are they pushing you?
LT TOA LOBENDAHN: Yeah, our coach got on us a little about it the other day. He said we’re going to start our hydration test a little earlier than usual. We’ve got water everywhere, so I’m constantly drinking and making sure I’m hydrated.

Q. What’s your workout schedule like now compared to what it was during the season?
LT TOA LOBENDAHN: I think it stays about the same for me. So, if guys play a lot, they lift two times with the team. If you play a little bit less, three, and so on. But I try to make sure I lift a little almost four or five days a week. Try to fit it in with the schedule as much as I can because I feel it’s really important just to keep my body tight and the muscles not tight but justsolid.

Q. What’s nagging you the most right now that might affect your play?
LT TOA LOBENDAHN: Nothing much, honestly. I just — as long as my body is good, that usually makes me feel good for the game. So I just got done with our last padded practice, no injuries. So I’m pretty much ready to go.


Q. Ohio State has struggled against tight ends this season. Is that something you’re expecting during the game?
TE TYLER PETITE: We’re expecting a few different things. They play a lot of cover one. And I think the thing that comes with man-to-man coverage is that you need — you just got to win. The bottom line is they’re playing man coverage because they think that their guys are better than our guys, and it’s not a jab at us. It’s just that you go out to play man-to-man because you need to prove to us that your receivers and tight ends can do something. And I think we’ll have corners covering us. We’ll have safeties covering us and linebackers covering us. It depends on what formation we’re in, the way that they play certain formations. We’re just accepting to any challenge that wants to come at us.

Q. When you’re matched up against a guy like Denzel Ward who is a lot shorter, only 5’9″ but has plenty of speed, what are the challenges in a match-up like that?
TE TYLER PETITE: The speed is the biggest thing. The fact of the matter is we’re still tight ends. I’m still 250 pounds. So my speed is going to be a little less than what he has. But the advantage we bring to the table is our size, not just in height but in weight. Because it doesn’t matter what someone tells you but, if he’s trying to cover us and we can body him up — it’s just like basketball. A guy can play defense. But when you just have a bigger guy that can just kind of body you up, you’re just hoping that he can do enough with his body that it’s going to create separation. Obviously, a great player and has great speed and we know that. We’re not going into this game like, All right, we’re going to send the tight out deep when a corner is covering us so we can beat him with speed. And so there’s a few different things in there that we’re going to try to do. I think as a tight end group, we just have to realize that. And it’s something that you realize, once you get into college football that you’re no longer — you’re no longer going to be burning guys. It’s just the fact of the matter. But you need to just have great route running skills. You need to be great with your body because that’s how you create separation with people who are smaller than you are.


Q. Were you surprised at all when Denzel Ward decided to play in the game rather than just go straight to the NFL draft?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: I wasn’t surprised because as a football player, you have to have some type of competitiveness in you to not want to be out there with your teammates. I believe he’s a competitor. So I think that playing football, you have to be a competitor and no one wants to sit out games.

Q. Have you all faced a secondary similar to Ohio State’s this season?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: Yeah, we have. We faced the same scheme, but I don’t know about the type of players. But it’s a great opportunity to go out there and compete against them.

Q. How big a factor will your tempo game be?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: It’s going to be big. Tempo is always good for us.

Q. How much does it help a passing game when you have a running back like Ronald Jones to try to mix up the offense a little bit?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: It helps a lot because defenses have to choose what they want to do, whether they want to stop the running game or stop the passing game. But when you have a balance, it helps out the whole offense.

Q. Do you feel like offense has become more balanced this year? If so, in what way?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: I feel like it has, yeah. We have other receivers like Tyler [Vaughns], Steve Mitchell, Jalen Greene, and Joseph Lewis. Everyone in the whole receiver line steps up and makes plays. And having Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr and Aca’Cedric Ware, all the running backs as well, we have a lot of talent and we’ve been displaying it all season. So it’s come together.

Q. When it comes to defending a shifty and quick receiver, what do you think it takes?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: Patience. I would say patience and technique.

Q. When you look at Ohio State, how do you feel like you personally match up against Denzel Ward or Kendall Sheffield?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: Like any other game, it’s going to take technique and film study, but just be yourself and go out there and play how you played all season.

Q. What have you seen out of their safeties all season?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: Safeties are good. Safeties come down for run support, and they can cover as well.

Q. What stands out most on film when you watch Ohio State?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: Secondary. D linemen as well. So secondary is very good and their D linemen. I would have to say that.

Q. Tee [Martin] was talking about getting four running backs healthy. This is the first time this season that’s happened. So how important will that be to kind of have backs coming in and out of the game?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: To have four different running backs with four different types of styles is very good. We have Ronald [Jones] with speed, and we have Stephen Carr with elusiveness. We have Vavae [Malepeai] with shiftiness and power, and you have Ced [Aca’Cedric Ware] with power. And they all have a knack for finding holes and making explosive runs. So that’s pretty tough and pretty good for offense

Q. You’ve been watching film, and you are talking about the secondary. Have you noticed guys that you can burn with speed and guys that you can burn with moves to get loose in the secondary?
WR DEONTAY BURNETT: That all plays a role into technique and having a great technique to defeat a defender. So I think, if the whole receiving corp goes out there and plays with great technique like we’ve been doing all week, we have a chance to do that.