"If it wasn't for (Matt) Leinart, he probably would have won the Heisman last year," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "I'm sure he's a top candidate for it this year. The kid is an awesome player. Every time he touches the ball, it's a highlight reel. He's a Marshall Faulk-type back. You can't just key on him as a runner. You have to key on him as a receiver even if they use him as a decoy. We got to play him tough."
The praise didn't just come from the defensive guys. Darius Walker, a fellow running back himself, truly appreciates what Bush is capable of on the field.
"Incredible guy," Walker said. "Reggie Bush is one of those exciting players to watch. He's like a Michael Vick-type. He's just not a running back. He can be out at wide receiver. He'll be returning punts and kicks. He's an all-purpose guy. He's one of those guys you have to watch out for in every facet of the game. He can make a big play at an important time."
Bush is limping into the game with a minor right knee sprain sustained during last week's 42-21 win over Arizona. The junior back still rushed for over 100 yards despite being injured early on in the contest. For the season, Bush has rushed for 601 yards (120 per game) and six touchdowns. The reason he is special because he excels at the wide receiver position as well. If lined up with a linebacker (think Brandon Hoyte in last year's 41-10 loss), it's a mismatch. Bush averages 14 yards per catch and has two touchdown grabs. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis is also quite impressed.
"He reminds me of Marshall Falk," Weis said. "He can do it all. 194 yards a game. He is a dynamic returner, both in the punt game and the kickoff game. He can run the ball. He can catch. He can pick up the blitz. He is averaging eight and a half yards a carry. He is a very, very, very good player."
*A lot of big-time recruits will be coming to South Bend this weekend to view the Irish take on the top-ranked Trojans. This is the perfect setting for a potential prospect to grasp the atmosphere of a big-time game in South Bend. The electric environment hopefully can sway these recruits towards Notre Dame.
USC and the Irish constantly compete for the same recruits. Two of the top programs in college football history deserve this type of attention from four and five-star high school players. One of these players was Darius Walker. Coming out of high school, he looked at both these school and said the tradition of each institution makes them an appealing choice for a recruit. Thankfully, he chose Notre Dame.
"Southern Cal was my second choice," Walker said. "It's an interesting concept for me this game that I could be on the other side. Pete Carroll is a players' coach, which is what I've heard. Interestingly, my dad played with him at Arkansas. He also had good things to say about him. The type of success they've had over that at Southern Cal is encouraging for recruits coming in."
"What made me come here was the education part and being able to become an overall person and man. Notre Dame is one of those schools that you really can't pass up. You would have to be crazy to pass it up."
*Residents of South Bend are beginning to see the excitement level increase as game day approaches. The imaginative T-shirts are popping up on every corner. One example is "Charlie Weiser: King of Coaches." A marquee outside a local church had this following message: "Notre Dame +11 against USC: Christ said it's a sin not to take the points."
The campus as well is starting to get into the swing of things. Players have seen their fellow students getting jacked up earlier than usual.
"Students and people are coming up from everywhere and it's only Tuesday," Landri said. "Usually it doesn't happen until Friday afternoon or Thursday."
"I think they are crazy for every home game," linebacker Corey Mays said. "It's quite a buzz around campus."
*Last week during the bye, Weis singled out Landri for his play so far this season. The head coach said Landri's plays may not show up on the stat sheet or in the highlight reels but are noticed during film sessions for his hustle and ability to do the small things. Landri knew at an early age that the spotlight was not going to be part of his football life.
"A long time ago, I knew I wasn't a quarterback or a running back or a receiver," Landri said. "Most of the glory goes to them and that's fine. We're not worried about that as long as we win and as long as we do our part. My job is to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback. If that's what I do, that's what I do. I'm not worried about all the extra hype and getting my picture in the paper."
The defensive line hasn't gotten to the quarterback that many times this season. In 204 pass attempts, the group has five sacks. A key to Saturday's game is not allowing returning Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart all day to throw to his stud receivers. Pressure from the defensive line is a must. The group has been solid against the run, allowing 116 yards a game. This is up a bit from the 88 yards per game the 2004 team surrendered. Landri would like to see a return to that type of production.
"Ideally, we are not producing as well as we think we should," Landri said. "We have a good group and we know we're talented and capable of big things. The defensive style we've been playing is bend but don't break. We'll take the bend but don't break as long as they don't score and we get the win.
"Last year, we were fourth in the nation against the rush. We'd like to be there again. We've given up a couple of 100-yard games. Our goal is to keep them under that and limit the big rushing plays. They've broken a couple we really don't like much."