December 2, 2008

Carroll has team ready for late-season distraction

Before each game, USC head coach Pete Carroll, his staff and his players strictly adhere to one of his philosophies.

Each game is a championship game. Approach each game the same, and you won't have to deal with the ups and downs - the grind of the season.

The philosophy works. Carroll's teams are 86-15 in his tenure at USC.

To get Carroll to admit that things might be a little different isn't the easiest thing in the world.

Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon, Carroll said this Saturday's rivalry game with UCLA at the Rose Bowl comes at a time in the year were distractions are everywhere - and could impact his team.

"There's a lot of stuff that starts to add up at the end of the year, elements that aren't so obvious during the regular part of the season," Carroll said. "It's the last game for the seniors; it's the last game for the whole team. It's their last time to go out for almost (a month)."

In addition to that, players who feel their clock's ticking may try to make one last final statement and play out of the Trojans' system.

"Guys can look at it like it's their last opportunity to do something, to make plays that they haven't made. All kinds of things could come up," Carroll said. "The fact that there's a lot of personalities on the other team that the guys know and grew up with, that always adds to it - the relationship of the game with the other team that's different than other times.

"Plus we're coming off a big game and going into a big game, and it's a championship opportunity. All of those things start to add up as added elements. Even though each game is a championship game to us throughout the season, this is the last one."

Even though UCLA has been struggling this season, the Bruins and head coach Rick Neuheisel have said Saturday's game against the Trojans is "their bowl game."

Still, the Trojans are big favorites Saturday, favored to win by almost five touchdowns.

Senior Kaluka Maiava said the team's done paying attention to things like that because Oregon State taught them a lesson this season.

"You never know; each week it changes. Look at Oregon State. We were supposed to win, but we didn't," Maiava said. "Every week, you can't settle on the ranking or whatever. No matter who the team is you have to come out and prepare each week to take care of business on Saturday.

"You always have to remind yourself of what can happen. You can't let it slip by you."

And senior Jeff Byers said he thinks anyone who has trouble generating energy and emotion for Saturday's crosstown rivalry shouldn't be on the field.

"You have to bring emotion every week, regardless of who you play. If you can't get up for a game like UCLA and you aren't focused, you're doing something wrong," Byers said. "You probably shouldn't be playing at USC.

"I don't think we'll have to manufacture anything. This is for who owns L.A. It's a big deal to us; it's a big deal to them."

Carroll said the rivalry game and timing do present some challenges that he'll have to address with his players.

"It has some additional issues we have to deal with. I started right in on it yesterday to try and make clear sense to these guys so we can practice really well," Carroll said. "It's a unique rivalry. We can't ignore that.

"We have our ways of dealing with it, and I hope we do it really well."

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