The Irish were without their leading rusher in James Aldridge. The sophomore sustained a high ankle injury in the loss to Boston College. A combination of Travis Thomas and Armando Allen could not get the job done as Notre Dame totaled just 48 yards on 30 attempts.
"They have a great defensive line and a great defense," fifth-year senior center John Sullivan said. "It was much more competitive in the first half but as the game went on, they got a lead and we were throwing the ball and they were teeing off on us. It just got worse as the day went on."
As has been the case since game one, the Irish remain at the bottom of the NCAA rankings in rush offense. Notre Dame is averaging 34 yards per game on the ground and 1.09 yards per attempt. In contrast, the Irish's next opponent, Navy, leads the nation in this category, racking up 343 yards a contest. That's a difference of 309 yards between the two teams. The difference between Notre Dame and the second worst rush offense, Duke, is a 32 YPG difference.
A possible bright spot was Allen's effort, especially on a drive late in the fourth quarter. With the game already out of hand at 38-0, the freshman running back ran the ball six times for 33 yards, more than the team total for the rest of the contest. Allen, who is more of a burner, got most of those yards between the tackles on hard runs.
***The big question for Notre Dame: what happens in the final four games of the season. The Irish are through a tough eight game stretch but now have four winnable contests against Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. But nothing will be taken for granted with this Notre Dame team and head coach Charlie Weis has to make sure the team doesn't go into the tank after the shutout loss to USC.
"I don't think anything will satisfy the season even if we win these last four or not," fifth-year senior Trevor Laws said. "Personally and with our team, it's one of our goals so it would be nice to reach that goal."
Jeff Sagarin's rankings have Notre Dame's first eight games as the second toughest in the nation. The Irish's next four opponents have a combined record of 14-15 with Air Force having the best record at 6-2 and Duke the worst at 1-6. With the exception of Stanford, these contests will be played at Notre Dame Stadium. Despite the dreadful start and the myriad of problems, there's still faith among the players that this Irish team can finish on a high note.
"I am 100 percent sure that we can," Sullivan said. "We know the other fifth-years are committed to that right on down the younger guys. At this point, we're are 1-7 and playing for these last four games. A personal goal is to get this team on a roll and send them off right and win these last four games."
***Speaking of the younger guys, now that the Irish are officially not bowl eligible, there will be a call for more of them to see prolonged action on the field. In turn, these players would gain valuable experience in the final four contests of the year and not be first-timers in 2008. Weis said after the contest that even though he has an ethical responsibility to win the last four games, the Irish head coach wants to get more guys into the mix to develop them for next season.
Fans could take their guesses as to which players will see their playing time increased. A few possibilities could include more Robert Hughes at running back, more Ian Williams along the defensive line, more Brian Smith at outside linebacker, more Toryan Smith at linebacker and on down the line. The older players understand the situation and they'll do what is takes to lay the foundation for the following few seasons.
"I look down and see so much potential from all of the guys," Laws said. "One of the things I try to do I teach them how to play well because this is my school. You want to see them do well in the future and I'm excited because we have so much young talent on this team."
"Knowing that we're not bowl eligible right now, the coaches have a responsibility to look towards the future," fifth-year senior John Carlson said. "That doesn't mean that they are going to disregard this year's team. I think first and foremost I would like to see improvement."
"It's a chance for young players to transition in and get some more experience," junior safety David Bruton said. "With next season coming, we'll have to improve to do better than we're doing this season. But I feel that giving game-time opportunities to these young guys will help us down the road."