With a Rose Bowl date with Penn State just days away, the USC football team is dotting their I’s and crossing T’s to prepare.
Not only is the Rose Bowl an opportunity to play in what is typically the most watched college football game of the year, it brings forth a week of fanfare akin to the Super Bowl.
USC players spent Tuesday at Disneyland, Wednesday night at an improv comedy show, bring their appetites to Lawry’s Prime Rib on Thursday night for the Beef Bowl, and have an early Friday morning date with the press for Rose Bowl Media Day.
Head coach Clay Helton kept the week of festivities in mind when drawing up a plan for bowl prep. The agenda? Spend two mock game weeks prior to Christmas to install a game plan.
“Once you get into this type of atmosphere, there are distractions,” Helton said. “There’s a lot of fun that happens. You don’t want to be learning a game plan, you want to be reviewing it.”
It’s done a lot to compartmentalize Rose Bowl week, taking a burden off players and coaches, while ideally maintaining focus.
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“We’re worried about football earlier in the day and then we take care of business and have fun at these events,” offensive lineman Zach Banner said.
Will it help to avoid the dreaded bowl game letdown?
You’d like to think playing in a desired destination like the Rose Bowl takes care of that, especially with an opponent like Penn State, who just missed out on the College Football Playoff.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast isn’t taking any chances.
“The first week, I spent a lot of time just looking at us [asking] ‘How can we improve?’,” he said. “Because one of the things that concerns you the most is there’s a lot of time between your last game and the bowl game.”
Tee Martin agrees.
“You’re going for eight, nine-straight weeks of playing and guys are on the money and guys are on time, [then, receivers] are coming off after the break sometimes,” he said. “You know Saturday you have to play, and then you have a month off, and things will slow down just a tad bit.”
USC’s layoff of 37 days is the longest since 2001. Then, in Pete Carroll’s first season, the red-hot Trojans lost their momentum, losing to Utah 10-6 in the Las Vegas Bowl 38 days after shutting out No. 20 UCLA.
Facing Penn State in Pasadena isn’t exactly an upstart Christmas Day bowl. But the lesson is proof the little things matter.
“It’s similar to the first game of the season,” linebacker Michael Hutchings said. “We’re flowing with the game plan, and [now] it’s time to hone in on our technique and fundamentals.”
USC was done in by their lack of technique in Week 1 against Alabama, but this isn’t the same team. They’re getting ready to show it.