Carroll, Trojans Top Dogs in College

Some of the headlines this week will be about USC head coach Pete Carroll going up against Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and the classic chess match that could ensue. Carroll's specialty is defense. Weis's is on offense. Carroll's NFL career sputtered. Weis won multiple Super Bowl rings. The differences are clear. But Carroll is bypassing the intriguing talk of the two coaches.

"I know it is interesting to you that Charlie and I have gone against each other in games in the past," Carroll said. "This is about a bunch of kids that get to play in a great setting, in a great football game with memories to be made. We are thrilled about it. We are going to work really hard in practice to put together a great week."

Carroll is enjoying life. As head coach of the USC Trojans, he is 42-9 (.824) in his fifth year and has won one outright national championship in 2004 and shared one in 2003 with LSU. Former quarterback Carson Palmer and current signal caller Matt Leinart have won the Heisman Trophy during Carroll's tenure. After a lackluster NFL coaching career with the New England Patriots and New York Jets, Carroll has hit gold in Los Angeles and has turned the Trojans into the top program in the country. Weis, who similarly trying to return a historic program back to prominence, heaped praise on the job Carroll has done at USC.

"Pete has set the bar in college football over last several years," Weis said. "Since he's come from the NFL, back in the college ranks, he's got the program to the top of the game. And right now, I think it would be giving myself undue credit to put myself at the same accolades at this time."

The spice of this intersectional rivalry has been put on the back burner the past few seasons. The Trojans have owned the Irish as of late, winning three straight games by 31 points with dominating second half performances. Insert Weis and his imaginative offense into the college game. Notre Dame has turned it around and head into Saturday's showdown 4-1 and ranked 9th. The hype for the rivalry is definitely back for this contest. Carroll can see the improvement from last year to this season.

"This is a fantastic and improved football team; the impact of the head coach is obvious," Carroll said. "He has done a wonderful job to train their players to adapt to a new style of offense in 15 days of spring football and in the weeks of camp. To execute like they have is really a credit to their ability to teach, their philosophy and knowing what they want to do, because they can really put it together.

"The play of their quarterback is really emblematic of their philosophy and of their style. Brady Quinn is having a fantastic season. We have seen him for years. We have watched him grow up. He has always had games where he looked terrific but now he is just absolutely on the money. He is in control of his game and his team. There is a lot here with two winning football teams. It is everything we could have asked for."

USC has not got off to great starts the past three weeks. They struggled at Oregon but turned it on the second quarter to dust the Ducks 45-13. Arizona State was up 21-3 at halftime but LenDale White and Reggie Bush exploded for long touchdown run after long touchdown run to give the Trojans a 38-28 win. Last weekend, USC was only up 14-7 against Arizona at halftime before putting the game out of reach in the fourth quarter for a 42-21 victory. Is this a sign of a talented team disinterested or a serious concern?

"I am concerned," Carroll said. "I like to start smoothly and get rolling. If you look at it, we had some terrific drives and some great starts on defense in the last games. In the course of the long drives we were faced with, we had a few turnovers that set us back. We fumbled and we threw the interception so we kind of stopped ourselves. Other then that we played some pretty good football.

"But that is what football is all about. That is why it works. You have penalties or you have turnovers. Those are the mistakes that keep you from playing at your level. When you play against good competition those can be factors that set the tempo of the game for you. That has happened to us in the past three weeks."

The beat down of the past three years by USC has to be in the back of the Notre Dame players' minds. To counter this mental block, Weis has tried to use these slow starts by the Trojans for a psychological advantage.

"If you just watch the first half of the Arizona State game and didn't bother to turn it on for the second half, you would think you would have a chance," Weis said. "And that's the type of thing you do. Arizona State for a half, it was as good as you could ever see in anyone playing against them. The only problem is you play the second half. I told them to go eat some hot dogs when it got to be the second half and try to keep them away from it at that time. But that's a typical psychological ploy you use. To try to say, hey, you play like this and just play it for 60 minutes, you are going to have a chance against these guys."

Notre Dame Stadium is the setting for the biggest game of the weekend. ESPN's GameDay will be live on campus for the huge contest. The Irish's home has tons of history and tradition but don't get it confused with The Swamp or any other hostile environment around the nation. Noise generally isn't a problem for opposing teams. Carroll doesn't seem to agree.

"It is a great stadium," Carroll said. "It is very close. The student section is extraordinary. It is a beautiful football setting. To me the football stadium that is closed in and rolls up just like theirs does that is the way you picture it. Everybody is hanging over the field, the bench is close to the wall, you can't separate the fans from the game and they are connected to it. That stadium has that and, of course, it is very special. Of course it is very loud."

Fans should pray hard that this game does not come down to an instant replay review. That's because there won't be any booth reviews for this contest. Both teams must agree to its use. Carroll and the Trojans had a decision to make and they chose to reject it. Carroll is not a fan of instant replay and likes the traditional way of referees making the final decisions on the field.

"Nothing went into it," Carroll said. "They gave me a choice and I didn't want it. We had a chance to not have it so now we don't have it. I hope it doesn't come down to one of those replay situations."

USC has been at their best in the big games. The last three bowl games they were in, two of which were for national championships, the Trojans blasted three BCS teams by double-digit margins. This Saturday's game is another opportunity for USC to show their dominance to a national audience. Carroll, in his usual rah-rah fashion, can't wait for game day.

"I couldn't be more excited about the opportunity," Carroll said. "I like our chances against Notre Dame."


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