Everything Lincoln Riley said Tuesday as USC prepares for Pac-12 title game
It’s Championship Week for USC as the fourth-ranked Trojans (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) prepare to take on the 11th-ranked Utah Utes (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12) for the Pac-12 title.
The game is also a revenge spot for USC, giving coach Lincoln Riley and his group a unique opportunity to try and make amends for their lone loss on the season. The Utes took down the Trojans in Salt Lake City on Oct. 15 in one of the best games of the season throughout college football.
Riley is quick to note that neither he nor his staff is approaching the week thinking about revenge. He talked extensively about the mentality needed for a rematch like this when he met with reporters on Tuesday. Here’s everything he said, with video of the availability below.
On what he wants the team to focus on
“It’s just football. You know? It’s just football. The reality is all the game have had this much at stake on them because if you don’t win those, you’re not even playing in this one. You’re at home, getting ready to go out recruiting and players aren’t practicing.
“It’s a privilege to be able to practice right now and have a game this week. We’ve progressed as a team. I think we’ll continue to do it. But, for us it’s just playing ball. It’s what this team enjoys to do and we’ve gotten better. We need to take those steps again this week and keep the same approach we’ve had.”
On whether or not there’s irony in the opponent being the only team to beat USC this season
“Yeah, I mean, it’s great that it worked out that way. It’s a championship game, you’re gonna play a good team regardless. I don’t think we’d be any more or less excited if it was anybody else. I’ve actually been in this situation twice where one of the teams that got us during the year we ended up playing later on.
“This is not a revenge game. That’s not what this is. We played a really good football game, as did Utah up in Salt Lake. It was an elite college football game. It came down to one play here or there. They got us that time, but this is not about that game. This is a new game, a new challenge, a new setting. Both teams have evolved. Both teams have changed throughout the year. This is about that and obviously the opportunities at hand.”
On what stands out about his first year at USC
“We’re in the middle of a short week right now. It’s kind of not on my mind. I’m sure in the offseason, once the year winds down I’ll think about it a little bit. It was a crazy time. A lot going on. Feel right now about like I did then. When you do step back for a second and think about where we were a year ago, some of the things that have transpired for this team and the program during that time, it’s fun to think about. But it’s just not the time and place right now.
“I know everybody’s talking. It’s been a year and that’s been great. But the main thing right now is this opportunity we’ve worked so hard over the past year to put ourselves in front of. We came here to get an opportunity to play in games like this with opportunities like this. It’s exciting here for us that we get to do it in Year 1.”
On the key to playing a team a second time
“It’s a challenge still. You get into a game and both sides… Most of the time in games like this I don’t know that both sides are going to completely change what they’ve done. To get in this game, you had some success, right? You played pretty good to be in this. So, I think you’ve got to get ready to go play again.
“I think you understand that maybe the first one played out is not necessarily the way the second one plays out. A lot of times they actually play out very, very differently — just in terms of flow of the game and how it goes.
“I think you’ve just got to reset yourself and be ready to go. It is a challenge. It’s good to have some of that experience we’ve had (at OU). I remember the first couple of times at OU doing it, it felt unique just because I hadn’t done that in my career yet. It’s not like the NFL where you cross over so much. We’ve challenged the guys to reset and understand this game’s going to be a different game, different challenge, different setting and you’ve gotta be ready to respond to that. Especially against a tremendous team like Utah.”
On the return of LB Eric Gentry
“It’s helped. He came in and played some good snaps. He was still a little rusty but he made a couple plays like he tends to do. Similar to some of our guys that have missed extended time, that first game back was… he did some good things. He’s moving around a lot better now. You miss that much time, you’ve gotta reset yourself a little bit, so being able to play some the other night and do some good things for us was great. We expect he’ll be quite a bit better this week.”
On if the Utah loss was a turning point for the team
“I don’t know that I’d say turning point, but it was like we were tested in a way there that we hadn’t (yet). We experienced failure and we experienced a loss. And we hadn’t experienced that yet. When you try to change some things, you win games and everybody’s happy, things are moving along. It hadn’t been tested in that way, so you wonder, alright, you lose a tough game like that on the road in the fashion we did right there at the last second, alright, is everybody really gonna stick to this now?
“Like I told you guys after that week, certainly the mood, the vibe in that locker room, disappointed but not defeated at all and even maybe more inspired. (That) was what you hoped to see. And then most importantly we’ve done something about it after that.
“You lose one like that middle of the season, you’ve got to claw your way back to a position like this. We’ve done that.”
On how Utah looks different now compared to when they first played
“They’re not gonna go change what they’ve done. They’ve had a lot of success, so they’re not gonna go flip a script. We’re not either. But teams evolve. You get challenged different ways. You have people in and out of the lineup. The year goes on, sometimes you start featuring this player or that player more, teams start attacking you this way or that way more, and it’s just kind of ever-evolving.
“They’ve played a lot of games since then and we have, too. They’ve had a lot of changes in personnel and we have, too. That’s just kind of how it plays out. Again, I think the biggest thing in our heads is the game doesn’t always play out the second time so you’ve got to have an open mind and be ready to go compete.”
On RB Austin Jones
“We told him a couple games in we felt like (Travis Dye) had maybe inched ahead and then a couple games just played out that way where we started featuring Travis and Travis was playing well and we got in a little bit of a rhythm. We were upfront with him.
“And, listen, there were some games in that midseason stretch that we should have played him more looking back on it. … We’re upfront with our guys about how we think a game’s going to go or where we see them. It doesn’t always play out that way and that’s where you give a guy like Austin credit — that’s unselfish and headstrong. He didn’t let it rattle him, he kept working, and trusted there would be an opportunity if he kept his nose to the grindstone and he’s done that. Nobody around here was surprised about him being able to step up and play at an elite level like he has since Travis went down.”