This Irish team did one thing this year and that is all the Notre Dame fans wanted. They lived up to their potential. This is not an extremely talented team. They have some talented players at several positions but they still lack talent at key positions and that was clearly obvious on Saturday night.
The bad news for Irish fans is that the Southern Cal players also lived up to their potential this year. This Southern Cal team has had talent for many years and their coaching staff needs to be complimented for their job this year. U.S.C. dominated in every aspect of the game and you can't paint the picture any other way. That really hurts to say but this is one very talented team.
The good news for Notre Dame fans is that Ty Willingham has proved he can pull that extra something out of a player. This defense didn't quit on Saturday even when put in dire circumstances. This defense still played with pride and hit just as hard and they did from the first whistle. The "experts" will comment, they will criticize and they will suspect but in the end, this Irish team earned it's top 15 ranking and nobody expected them to be here and can take that away from them.
The final stats will show that this defense got beat up badly. Plenty of defenses got beat badly by U.S.C. Not many of them had their offense total 20 yards in 2 quarters and 2 total first downs in 3 quarters. Something had to give and they certainly did. The Notre Dame defense did their job in the first half but you can only keep the Trojan offense down for so long. Carlyle Holiday was clearly hurt but Notre Dame had no answer and that was obvious.
It also needs to be said that Norm Chow did a fantastic job of keeping the Irish off-balance. He threw to the backs, the tight end, underneath, to the flat, to the deep out, to the slant, to the fade and to every inch where the Irish were not. He rode the arm of his Heisman quarterback the entire way. I think it's safe to say Norm called one heck of a game.
Fools gold, should we be concerned? Before anyone panics, let's look at this team realistically. One thing happened to Notre Dame this year. The same talent was present but there was an attitude change on defense. Pete Carroll and U.S.C. did the same thing but had the better athletes. A few people stepped up and took this team by the horns. Shane Walton, Courtney Watson and Darrell Campbell were the obvious leaders in fall ball. These three clearly appeared to be the team leaders.
When I was out at fall camp, I commented on this change of attitude all week. I was clearly excited about the defense. I was not that excited about the offense however. While the defense clearly had 3 leaders, one for each unit, I only saw Battle on offense. I am not sure if it's a lack of leadership on offense or a lack of talent or both but something is clearly missing.
It will take time before every offensive player is on the same page but I didn't see the leadership on offense that I saw on the defense. Shane Walton was clearly the heart and soul of the defense and his swagger brought an attitude and set the tone for the Irish defense. I didn't see the same swagger on offense. Usually, it's the quarterback and the senior offensive linemen that lead the team. I think Holiday did well in the leadership role. I didn't see that from the offensive line.
Notre Dame had no answers on offense last night. They could not run and they could not throw. Holiday's injury had a lot to do with that but no back up quarterback also had a lot to do with it as well. Notre Dame could not run the football and hasn't been able to run since the Florida State game. Notre Dame could not keep Carson Palmer off the field with any sort of sustained drive from the offense. When that became clear, the outcome was inevitable.
To be successful on offense, the offensive line is going to have to develop. I don't think it's a lack of effort on their part. They appear to be fighting and giving effort on every play. I just don't think they have the personnel to run the type of offense they want to run. Until they develop into the type of personnel needed or they recruit the type of player needed, this offense is going to struggle.
The outcome of this game was simple. Notre Dame did not have the caliber of athletes that U.S.C. had on offense. Even with the 600 yards of offense, I still think the Irish defense is very good. U.S.C. would have had 600 yards of offense on any defense last night including their own if given the many opportunities they were given. The Notre Dame offense just could not make a play and keep the U.S.C. offense off the field. The U.S.C. defense also needs to be complimented because they played a large part in the win as well.
What you saw was a very good quarterback making his reads and an excellent game plan. Notre Dame didn't blitz often because U.S.C. had three excellent wide receivers, a good tight end, two backs who could catch the ball out of the backfield and a quarterback who could find them. They also had a strong rushing threat as well. When Notre Dame did blitz, Palmer found the hot read and made Notre Dame pay for blitzing. Their offense executed better than any offense I have seen this year. Notre Dame could not get pressure on Palmer with their front 4 and could not blitz because Palmer made them pay for it when they did.
At this point, the Irish do not have that type of personnel on offense. I am not sure anyone else in the country does. U.S.C. has a senior-led offense executing at a very high level. They also have a very good defense, which makes for one heck of a team. I am not sure any team in the country can beat them if they execute like this.
Notre Dame should have no shame in this game. They have had an excellent season and deserve their top 15 ranking. They have certainly earned their ranking. Ty Willingham and his staff have done an excellent job of restoring the pride back in the Notre Dame program. He has changed the attitude of this team and that is always the hardest part. He just needs to find the athletes to run the type of offense he wants to run. There is plenty to celebrate with this season. The Notre Dame players should walk with their heads held high. They have done something that nobody thought they would do. Last night was just a reminder that there is much work yet to do.