SAN DIEGO — When a college football coach is comfortable dropping the word “cool” twice in the opening minute of a post-practice press briefing, you get the impression he’s confident his team is ready to go.
That describes USC coach Steve Sarkisian on Thursday following the Trojans’ final practice for Saturday’s Holiday Bowl against Nebraska.
Sarkisian was calm and relaxed following the spirited 1 hour, 15 minute session at San Diego State University, especially when he reflected on how far the Trojans have come since he took over as coach one year ago.
“We feel like we’ve laid a really cool foundation, a solid foundation,” Sarkisian said. “Something that we think we can build upon. This is another opportunity for us to continue to build upon it.”
Sarkisian also said there have been “some really cool moments” during the Trojans’ 8-4 season.
“Not everything has been perfect since we’ve been here,” he said. “But some of the things that haven’t gone our way have probably given us the most teachable moments that we can build upon moving forward.”
Though Thursday’s practice was closed to the media, some of the sounds coming from the field left no doubt there were equal parts of fun and focus.
Musical selections ranged from Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” to hip-hop. There was some lighthearted banter as well as the sounds of whistles and words of encouragement from coaches.
When the team huddled at midfield for some final words from Sarkisian, the laughter was louder than ever.
“We’ve got a team dinner tonight, and there’s some performances that need to get done whether it’s karaoke or skits or what not,” Sarkisian said. “So there’s a little laughter for that probably as well.”
The lightest moment of the day came about five minutes later when five players lined up for a 50-yard race. Sarkisian briefly halted the press gathering to watch, saying “Hold on, this is going to be a good race.”
Sarkisian was right. While it was competitive for the first 30 yards, junior wide receiver George Farmer pulled away from the pack for an easy win.
Farmer looked right and then left with a “What did you expect?” expression that earned hearty cheers from Sarkisian and most players watching the race. One player, apparently supporting Farmer, shouted “Give me my 20” a couple of times.
“That’s our team, though. That’s our team,” Sarkisian said. “The guys are in great spirits, as you can probably tell. It’s Christmas Day. We should be in good spirits. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Sarkisian said he was pleased with the football elements of Thursday’s practice.
“Real crisp, good tempo, good sense of urgency, but confident,” he said. “When you have this much time to prepare, one of the challenges is not chasing ghosts and trying to prepare for everything or do everything, but being detailed in what you want to do.
“But that’s part of bowl games. Everybody runs the trick plays they’ve been practicing all year they haven’t called yet.”
While the Trojan coaches did focus on things they expect Nebraska to do Saturday, Sarkisian said it’s important for the players to remember that’s only half the equation.
“I think there’s a fine line in there,” Sarkisian said. “There’s a real balance of preparing for Nebraska, but also focusing on ourselves. Because ultimately, we’re going to control what we do Saturday.
“When you get into a bowl game, you always have to expect to see some things that maybe you haven’t seen before. Then you just have to adjust. Hopefully we keep them on their toes a little bit, too, with some of the things we’re doing in all three phases.”
Sarkisian said he understands what Nebraska is going through with its coaching change and knows that many USC players appreciate what their Husker counterparts are feeling.
“They were in that same boat a year ago, and it can serve as a real rallying cry to bring the team together,” Sarkisian said. “We know we’re going to get Nebraska’s best shot. We know that they’ll be fired up and emotional and all that stuff.
“We have to leave that over here. We have to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind ourselves to do what we need to do.”
Contact the writer: