Irish Dismantled Again

In an offensive explosion, the USC Trojans marched in Notre Dame Stadium and ran, passed, and scored all over the Notre Dame defense. The Trojans didn't miss departed 2002 Heisman Trophy winner, Carson Palmer, because USC quarterback Matt Leinart certainly didn't miss a beat. The Irish had no answers for Leinart and the Trojan offense as the Irish suffered another crushing defeat 45-14.

The Trojan offense came out clicking as they took their first drive 80 yards scoring on a Leinart to Keary Colbert 18-yard pass. The Irish looked confused as the Trojans easily marched down the field scoring in just two minutes and 35 seconds.

For the second straight game, the Irish offense also came out clicking and put together an 80-yard drive of their own as Julius Jones finished the drive on a 22-yard scamper into the end zone tying the game 7-7.

Freshman Reggie Bush finished another 80-yard drive for the Trojans taking a Leinart handoff 58 yards for another USC score giving the Trojans a 14-7 lead.

The Irish held serve with another scoring drive capped off by an Anthony Fasano, 2-yard touchdown grab, from quarterback Brady Quinn, tying the game 14-14. The drive was set up by a Julius Jones 51-yard kickoff return to put the Irish at the USC 43 yard line. This would be last of the Irish scoring, and it was all USC from here on out.

The Trojans finished the first quarter with 21 points, 240 yards of total offense, and 11 first downs. They also took their first three drives 80 yards for a touchdown—something we never thought possible against a good Irish defense.

The Irish had an impressive first quarter scoring 14 points, and amassing 132 yards of offense, but finished the game with just 14 points and 279 yards of total offense.

Julius Jones looked to be primed for another great game as he had six carries for 68 yards in the first quarter only to end the game with just 84 yards on 18 carries.

The Irish had their chances to stay in the game. In the second quarter, the Irish defense sacked Leinart, forcing a fumble, and the Irish recovered the fumble at their own 47 yard line down 21-14. A run for no gain, two incomplete passes by quarterback Brady Quinn, and the Irish were punting.

The Trojans then took the ball 80 yards again, scoring on a Leinart to Hershel Dennis 3-yard touchdown pass, giving the Trojans the 28-14 lead and putting the game out of reach.

The Trojans and Pete Carroll made the appropriate adjustments in the end to stop the Irish rushing attack and Jones—the Irish defense didn't make the appropriate changes and rarely slowed down the potent USC attack.

In the end, the Trojans rolled up 551 total yards of offense, and scored the most points they ever have at Notre Dame Stadium--45.

Coach Tyrone Willingham said his offense played well initially, but mistakes cost his team. "I think what you saw of our offense is that we started to make mistakes," said Willingham. "We started to make penalties, etc. that didn't allow us to keep drives going."

The Irish secondary had been on a roll lately, holding teams well below their passing averages. The Irish secondary bent and broke on Saturday allowing 356 yards through the air and four touchdowns. Willingham said he had been pleased with his secondary up until now.

"I've been, for the most part, pleased up until this ball game, with the way they've been playing," said Willingham of his secondary. "This ball game, we went against a good football team that played very well. I think our guys will recover if they just continue to do the things that we've done up until this date."

The most shocking thing was that USC was able to take four drives, 80 yards, for four touchdowns, against the Irish defense. Willingham said he never saw that coming. "It is disturbing, it's surprising, and I don't think I anticipated it. We had great respect for their offense, but I don't think I anticipated that they would be able to perform in that manner."

Willingham said they didn't make the proper adjustments or execute like they should have. "One, we didn't adjust as well as I'd like us to, to their subtle personnel moves. Things that we normally play, we didn't play well, nor did we tackle very well."

Willingham was asked where he thinks his team is at this point compared where he thought they would be. "We're not anywhere near where I hoped or expected us to be," was his response.

The Irish team played so well against Pittsburgh, dominating the line of scrimmage, which makes this all the more confusing. Willingham was asked if this were a setback for his team. "It depends on how we respond. If we come back and play to the ability I think we have, then it's not a setback. If we don't do that, then it's a setback."

Willingham was asked if he thought there were any similarities in this game from the game they play last year at USC. "Yes, we seemed to be a little tentative." When asked why that is, Willingham responded. "If I knew, we would've solved it long before the final seconds ticked off."

Defensive coordinator Kent Baer saw his defense get dismantled once again by the Trojans. He made no bones about who should take the blame for this loss. He took all the blame after the game.

"They're a good football team," said Baer. "They kept us off-balance the whole game. By the time we got settled in, it was too late. We didn't play well--I take the blame. I didn't prepare them well enough, whatever it was. I can't speculate on a lot of things until I watch that tape tomorrow. I don't think we're very good fundamentally today, we missed a lot of tackles, very disappointing."

Baer's defense had been playing well. He said he might not have prepared them well for this game. "Whatever it's been, maybe I prepared them wrong for this game. Again, I'm not putting any blame on anybody but right here. We'll be alright."

The Trojans certainly have talent and Baer recognized their talent but says his team didn't help themselves today with the mistakes they made. "They've got a ton of talent. You turn the tape on, you watch them, they look a pro team. That's the most talented team we've seen, by far. I still think we did some things that didn't help us."

Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart impressed Baer, as did the entire USC team. "They awfully young on offense, they're very fast. I thought Leinart did a great job today. He put the ball where it needed it to be. Again, we broke down in some coverages, we finally got settled down in the second half, but it was too late. Then we probably tried to do too much."

Baer said they made a lot of adjustments at halftime but it they had too big of a hole to crawl out of at that point. "We made a lot," said Baer of halftime adjustments. "We settled in to some things, and I thought it helped us. They kept off-balance so much that first half. We just didn't play well that first half—too little, too late."

The defense will have to bounce back after another crushing defeat. Baer said he had faith in his kids to bounce back against Boston College. "I think the kids are very disappointed right now. I talked to most of them after the game. I like their attitude right now. I like what they're saying about the game and how disappointed they are. They'll be fine; we'll come back and play hard. We'll come back and be better than we were today."

Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said his offense did move the ball early. "I think we were executing and we were getting movement at the line of scrimmage," said Diedrick. "We we're able to keep them a little off-balance."

The Trojans made an adjustment during the first half that throttled the Irish rushing attack after some early success. "They were gaining another guy in the box, did a good job with their adjustments. I think the adjustments that we ended up making at halftime; we never really got a chance to get to them because we were playing catch up."

Diedrick said USC has two things that make a great defense, good athletes and a good scheme. "I think they've got very good athletes, a very good scheme, and you put the two together and I think it makes them a pretty good defense."

The Trojans were clearly the best team on this day. Notre Dame couldn't match up with them in speed or strength as USC owned the line of scrimmage most of the day. They also seemed to out-coach the Irish staff which is disappointing to Irish fans. Put those three ingredients together and you have the makings of a blowout.

The Irish didn't respond last year after being embarrassed by USC. They lost in the Gator Bowl to North Carolina State, 28-6, in a game where it appeared the Wolfpack wanted the game more than the Irish. Is beating Boston College important enough to the Irish to get back on track? The answer will come next week.


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