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November 24, 2011Wednesday's practice is the books and it will be the last tine that UCLA head coach, Rick Neuheisel speaks to the media until the outcome of the UCLA/USC game is known. This coming game is the biggest of Neuheisel's tenure at UCLA. Much is at stake for the Bruins with a win, not the least the opportunity to play in the inaugural Pac 12 Conference Championship game.
Neuheisel: "First of all, let me say Happy Thanksgiving to all. We Certainly have a lot to be thankful for in this Country and those of us who get to earn a living doing this. Coaching great kids at a great university. Getting ready for big games like we've got coming this Saturday are truly among the fortunate, so Happy Thanksgiving.
"With that being said, I will tell you it was another good practice. I believe that our guys are excited about the contest, but are yet focused about making sure our best foot forward so hopefully that will be the case. We will continue to work towards that and have great practice Thursday morning practice and then let everybody go home for Thanksgiving dinner."
When you have someone who has the potential that Johnathan Franklin has for big yardage and touchdowns, but yet he has been hampered by fumbles. How do you play that...
Neuheisel: "We just trust him. Obviously we would like for the fumbles to disappear but we trust him. I think he's going to be clean this game and I think he is going to be terrific."
The last two years you have had returns for touchdowns against you. Game changing moments. Can you talk about how it is not just about controlling the ball but not having...
Neuheisel: "Turnovers are huge and the keys to this game is for us to be able to avoid them and not let them have easy points and secondly get them into as many third downs as we can and for us to be able to stay on the field. If we can be able to do those three things then we can have a whale of the game."
Is USC has physical a defense as they have been in the past?
Neuheisel: "They're physical. There is no question that they are physical. This is a great SC defense. They are third in the conference against the rush and they played with the lead a lot this year because they have a prolific offense, but I think they have 26 sacks. It's a come at you defense and I think Nickell Robey is as good a corner around. He's really, really good."
How able is Richard Brehaut to be in a relief role?
Neuheisel: "I think he's getting close. I think he would be ready in that role."
Is Richard your backup?
Neuheisel: "I haven't determined that but he is getting closer being in that situation."
Thoughts on Sean Westgate on Saturday?
Neuheisel: "I think Sean will make it. He has no symptoms today and that's good news. We will go through the protocol, but it puts him on course for Saturday."
Tevin McDonald is that similar to being like a coach's son when you have had a dad that has had so much experience?
Neuheisel: "No question. When you are around the game as often as he's been around it. He and Taylor Embree are both kind of in that category. They grew up around it. They talk that language and so Tevin's maturity at this level has accelerated because of it."
Is there anything that Tevin does that kind of pops out at you, like wow, that somebody has been teaching him a little bit...
Neuheisel: "No question, he is has great instincts about concepts. He sees concepts and he kind of knows because this guy is doing that I know what the outside guy is doing. That all comes from sitting watching TV with Pops."
Do you feel like you have to win this game to keep your job?
Neuheisel: "I don't. Maybe you have talked to somebody that I haven't, but I feel like have to do my best everyday. That's what I do. I come to work and I enjoy coming to work. I love coaching the kids and I like the staff and we are going to keep doing our best everyday, but all that other stuff is on someone else's desk."
How special is this rivalry to you? You never lost in this game as a player right?
Neuheisel: "It's huge, no, no, I have been involved on both sides of this deal. Both as a player and a coach. I have great respect for this rivalry. Meaning that I have great respect for this opponent, but there is nothing like bringing your best on game day on this particular setting. As I have told everybody, both who have played in it and people who wonder what it is like to be involved. These are long memories and it is better to make them fond ones."
You guys are playing for more than you ever had in any other time at the end of the year. How special is that for you as you help to grow the program?
Neuheisel: "Yes, this question right after I was told I'm going to get whacked (laughs). We have earned the right to play for a championship. No matter what anybody says there's no asterisk on it if we win it and so we are thrilled with that and that means a lot of people put in a lot of hard work in and we are looking forward taking our best swings."
Does it give you a little easier motivational message to your players just playing is not just playing for second place and USC is not able to go so we are hoping to backdoor it, but you are actually able to win the thing?
Neuheisel: "We work at a school that has 107 national championships. Football has been on a hiatus from being in the championship run for awhile and we need to get back into that so here we are and we don't want to squander this opportunity.
"We know we need to play our best to have a chance and that's what we are going to do. We are going to work hard to play our best and see what happens, but we are looking forward to that."
To be able to tell them this is not for second place...
Neuheisel: "No one is thinking that it is for second place. I don't mean to shortchange you question, but no one is thinking it is for second place. We are playing for first place and that's been our goal all along and we are looking forward to that chance."