Coming off of an encouraging – although heartbreaking – loss against Ohio State, the Golden Bears now face the task of building on that performance against another ranked opponent this Saturday. For linebacker Chris McCain, the key to doing so is in the team's preparation.
"I'm working on being real physical in practice, the same way I prepared for Ohio State," he said Wednesday. "I felt like [last week] was really physical, preparation-wise. We just have to continue to do that so we can carry it over to USC and have a good, tough game."
A large part of that has been an improved effort from the practice squad (opponent), which McCain praised.
"I believe we have the best scout group in the country. They try to blow us off the ball every time."
"The scout guys, it seems to me like they feel they still have something to prove, as if this is still fall camp, which is what we need. We kind of lacked that last year, kind of lacked that a little bit the first two weeks."
McCain also spoke on Wednesday about his reaction to the loss, noting his disappointment at the missed opportunities.
"… I felt, by looking in everybody's eyes, that we thought they could come out here and beat Ohio State. Not just beating them (in a close game). We really could have beat them bad, by a couple touchdowns. I really felt like everyone had it in them."
"I took it really hard, because before we even came out, I told everybody that if they were only going to give me 99% of their heart, I didn't want them to be on the field. If they weren't going to give me every inch of their heart, then don't come on the field."
The message was well received in the locker room. "When I said that, Bigelow came up to me and said, 'Man, I got you.' A couple other guys came up to me. We just got to bring our heart."
The defense, which gave up 30 points for the third straight week, has become a worry for some. McCain's comments on Wednesday indicated that he was not happy about that either.
"It's unacceptable [to give up that many points]. The talent we have, the type of defense we have, with Coach Pendergast, just all our coaches…everything that went wrong in the first three games, touchdown-wise or big-play-wise, we practiced. There was nothing we missed. It wasn't like the plays looked different."
"We knew exactly what they were going to do."
"It was just breakdowns. Maybe one or two guys didn't execute – no one specifically – maybe one or two guys in the area who might have been a step late, a yard late. The quarterback from Nevada was fast, very fast, so if you had the gap on that, then you missed him."
In order to correct that going forward, McCain said that the key was simple. Trust.
"You just have to trust, man. Certain points of the game, certain guys feel like they have to do a little bit extra than what they need to do, to try to make a play. They end up losing their key, or their assignment, and then a big play happens. We just have to trust everybody and believe."
"I know Biggie [Deandre Coleman] is going to hold this gap. I know KP [Kendrick Payne], AT [Aaron Tipoti gonna be able to hold this gap. I shouldn't have to worry about somebody that I'm lining up beside."
As far as this week's opponents go, McCain noticed what many have – that the Trojans are vulnerable up front - but added that preparing for a game was about more than just noticing the opponent's condition.
"They have young guys. We're going to try to take decent advantage of them."
"It's about watching their techniques, their demeanor when they come to the line, how they line up, pressure being on their hands, off their hands. They give a lot of tools away."
Notes on Brendan Bigelow from Chris McCain.
When asked about Bigelow's 81 yard touchdown run, McCain said: "I think I was probably more juiced than anybody in the world."
"I see a lot in Bigelow. Bigelow has it. Bigelow can really be one of the best running backs in the country. In practice, if he messes up, I always get on him. Like, 'Man, hang onto the ball', or 'Tuck it tighter.'"
"I carry it over to the locker room – I'm always on Bigelow. I'm always talking to him – I'm always talking junk to him. I want him to get mad…because when Bigelow breaks that first line, that first level, it's hard for anybody to even get close to him."
McCain also said that he had seen signs of this explosiveness in camp and practice, especially the spin move, but he was, "Not expecting the double spin. The first spin was cool, and then I saw him hold his balance. It was like he hit the second spin just to get back on his feet, so he could get going again. Never seen that before. Not even NFL guys do that."
"One hundred five thousand fans? For a freshman or a sophomore? You would think that they may be a little shaken up, because we ain't played in a big venue like that before.
But Bigelow, man, he was ready. And I loved it, man. I loved it. That's my guy."