USC Notebook

SOUTH BEND- The past several weeks, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has increased the level of hitting at practice. This was in response to the 38-0 loss at Michigan. Weis had his team go back to a training camp environment in order to be more physical at the line of scrimmage. This week, the Irish head coach did not have his team in full pads for any of the three practice sessions.

Although it can be debated as to how much effect that had, Notre Dame still got pounded by USC 38-0 on Saturday afternoon in all three areas of the game. The Irish fall to 1-7 on the season and will have a bye next weekend before hosting Navy on November 3rd. Weis didn't second guess himself about the practice schedule after the game because of how he saw the game playing out.

"For the first quarter of the game, the game was going the way I wanted the game to be going," Weis said. "Well, I can't say that. Not trying to score, but I thought this was going to be a ball control game.

"You guys have been talking for three years: would you ever defer? I defer because I thought this game was going to be a defensive game, and I thought our defense was going to be able to play fairly stout against them. I know that defense is the strength of their team and they're darned good, and I just thought that was the way the game was going to go."

The play that gave USC a boost was another mistake on special teams by Notre Dame. Trojans punter Greg Woidneck lofted a kick down inside the 20-yard line with just under four minutes to go in the first quarter. The punt was short and return man Tom Zbikowski motioned to get away from the ball. But the punt ended up hitting Munir Prince in the leg and USC's Vincent Joseph recovered it at the Notre Dame eight-yard line. It took one play for Mark Sanchez to find Fred Davis for a touchdown and for the Trojans to start the momentum for the rout.

"The game starts to swing a little bit on a crummy punt," Weis said. "A crummy punt, the ball hits up in the air, they recover the ball at the 10-yard line and the floodgates open from there."

***In his first road start and second start of his career, USC quarterback Matt Sanchez turned in a spectacular performance on Saturday afternoon. The sophomore finished the day 21-of-38 for 235 yards and four touchdowns. The four scores went to four different receivers.

"I expected to play better than last week," Sanchez said after the game. "I promised myself, before the game, no interceptions. It just can't happen. That's letting the team down. That's taking them out of the game. I didn't want it to happen. Thank God it didn't. We came out with a big time team victory. The offense got rolling a bit."

***The Notre Dame defense was put in a few bad spots during the loss to USC. One was on Prince's miscue on special teams. The other was on the opening possession of the second half. Travis Thomas fumbled the ball after catching a screen pass from Evan Sharpley. The Trojans' Keith Rivers recovered and three plays later, Sanchez found Stanley Havili for a five-yard touchdown to make it 24-0.

Overall, the defense might have taken a small step backward. Notre Dame surrendered 462 yards of offense and did not sack Sanchez once in the contest. In the second half, the Irish allowed USC to convert 3-of-5 third down attempts. Poor tackling led to Vidal Hazelton's highlight reel 48-yard touchdown reception and Joe McKnight gashed the Irish defense for a 51-yard score in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame also didn't create any takeaways.

"I don't think it was a step back as much as we didn't make the plays," nose tackle Pat Kuntz said, who totaled five tackles on the afternoon. "We were leaving guys open and we weren't tackling guys when we should have. In a sense we played bad but there were times we stopped them. But you really can't tell that because of the score."

***In the second quarter, Notre Dame had a shot to get back into the game. USC was leading 7-0 and Woidneck came on to punt. Junior safety David Bruton came up the middle, blocked the punt and recovered it as well in one motion.

"I actually had the ball in my hand," Bruton said, who battled through a hamstring injury to total five tackles. "He kicked it as the ball was in my hands. So I felt the force of his kick. It was a big emotional shift for the team, just seeing everyone jumping up and down. You really felt momentum was going to swing our way."

But as is the case with the Notre Dame offense, the momentum went nowhere. The Irish went three-and-out and Brandon Walker came on to attempt a 40-yard field goal. It would have cut the deficit to 7-3. But USC's Clay Matthews blocked the kick, giving the momentum back to the Trojans. Two series later, Sanchez connected on his second touchdown pass of the day to make it 14-0.

***Geoff Price was a busy man on Saturday. The fifth-year senior booted the ball 10 times for an average of 45 yards per punt. Price's 53-yard boot early in the third quarter was his 10th punt of 50 yards or more and the 21st of his career. Also, the 10 punts are a career-high and the most for an Irish punter since D.J. Fitzpatrick's 10 at Tennessee in 2004.

***Senior defensive lineman Dwight Stephenson, Jr. recorded a pair of pass deflections. They were the first of his career.


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