So where does one start when discussing this game. As a deviation from past opinions, I will discuss the SC coaching first. It seemed like the Trojans were being run like a professional outfit. They come out with somewhat of a base defense, they do what they need to do to stay close for the early part of the game, and then KABOOM. This cycle has surfaced on more than one occasion and it seems that SC plays and is coached as if the second half of their games belong to the Cardinal and Gold. And since USC has won something like 31 of the last 32 games, who can argue with that philosophy? Here and there many fans and internet posters will ask why Chow does this or Carroll makes that decision, but when all is said and done, most everyone loves the results. This USC Trojans team is making history with every outing and this staff has done an incredible job keeping the kids on somewhat of an even keel . The team reflects the attitude of their leaders and the results are simply awesome. With injured players and with a relatively full squad, the team simply marches on and on. Congratulations to the guys who prepare them and come up with game plans. Since there is an old saying that the end justifies the means, this staff gets an A+.
The Trojan defense was on its heels early in the game. The Irish came out and played some physical and error free football. Notre Dame passed the ball enough to keep USC off balance and they were running around and through the vaunted Trojans defense. I could not help but wonder if SC would ever be able to stop this Irish squad. I knew the Trojans were missing Manny Wright and it dawned on me that just perhaps, this would be a real hinderance to stopping the Irish and their attempt at power football. To be sure, Notre Dame did get a season high 201 yards rushing against SC and for that they deserve credit. When their Offensive Coordinator said on a TV interview that he thought the Irish could run on SC, he must have seen something that made him believe it. Although the Irish did block very well on many running plays, the Trojans tackled very poorly on a number of plays. They were in position, but in an uncharacteristic manner, several Trojans who are usually very sure tacklers, simply did not make plays tonight. To my eye, SC was especially vulnerable to the run when Schweiger and Sartz were on the left side together. They overran the play several times and it was their side that was victimized. On the other hand, the final score tells the real story. Despite their good rushing game, Notre Dame Managed only 10 points and when the Trojans had to buckle down they did just that. The Fighting Irish were blanked in the second half and once again the Trojans made several necessary adjustments to help guarantee victory. It was also very apparent that Sedric Ellis got his first extended playing time and he did not disappoint. What he lacks in absolute bulk and size, he seemed to make up in speed and quickness. It was also amazing to see the speed of Lawrence Jackson when he ran down and caught one of ND's tailbacks from behind. All told, any time a team like Notre Dame can be held to only ten points, the Defense has done its job. It should also be noted that the SC defensive backs, especially the corners, were on their guys pretty tightly and both Justin Wyatt and Eric Wright played what appeared to be fine man to man coverage on several occasions which allowed SC to bring heat and really bother Quinn.
What can anyone say about Matt Leinart? I guess some fans of Auburn and Oklahoma and maybe Craig James and Aaron Taylor of ABC might enjoy pointing out that Leinart could have and should have been intercepted two or three times. Well, all that counts in the end are the final results. And in the end, Matt threw for exactly ZERO INTERCEPTIONS and five touchdowns. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 400 yards and he lead the Trojans to its 11th win of this season without a defeat. As has been the case a couple of times this year, Matt Leinart did start off somewhat slowly, but when the going got tough, Matt got going. As trite as that may sound, it is absolutely true. Folks, this guy is money. Whether or not he wins the Heisman Trophy, I absolutely believe that Matt Leinart is the best quarterback that I have ever seen at USC. Once again he stepped up big in a big game and he is a winner. I would imagine those at the game missed one interaction that was quite evident on Televison. In the second quarter as SC was beginning to make a statement, one of the Notre Dame players mouthed off something to Matt and for the only time that I can remember since he became the starting quarterback for USC, Matt answered the kid right back. Leinart might come off as an easy going California Beach guy, but he absolutely showed his toughness tonight. Just as I saw that event, I turned to my friend with whom I watched the game and said that Notre Dame made a huge mistake. And guess what! Matt proved my to be quite right. From that point on, the SC offense was in sync and it was lights out for the Irish.
For much of the season there seemed to be a general consensus that the SC Wide Receivers had to mature and they were not the strength of the team. Well, that may have been a valid argument at one time. However, that is not the case now. I realize that others might vehemently disagree, but right now, I honestly believe that the receivers are a major strength and they will only get better. Note that I said receivers. That includes the talented tight ends, the wide outs, the flankers and the backs out of the backfield. It has been a while since we got to see Reggie come out of the backfield and get isolated on a linebacker or better yet get isolated on nobody, Well, tonight we go to see it again and the result, to quote the Washington State Head Coach , was--"play that fightsong." Not to be forgotten here is the incredible job done by Alex Holmes and Dominique Byrd. Both guys were money and they helped loosen up that tough, pressure defense that ND tried to bring on a regular basis. By forcing the Irish to watch them so closely, it set up the defensive backs with the impossible job of tyring to stay with Dwayne Jarrett, Steve--"I am finally back and playing"- Smith, Chris McFoy, Jason Mitchell and William Buchanan among others. To illustrate my point it should be noted that 10 different players caught balls tonight and that simply puts too much on the defense. Once again the USC Trojans have become and unstoppable offensive machine.
Although USC did not run particularly well, they did not give up on the running game. There were 27 rushes for a net of 82 yards. That does not seem overly potent, but the rushes were set up well by the passes and the Trojans showed a determination to keep the Irish defense off balance. SC did manage to run for a first down on fourth and short and that is a tremendous boost for a team that is having trouble running for major yardage. LenDale White pounded the ball inside on a number of occasions and despite the fact that he did not break any long runs, he ran well enough to drive the Irish nuts. They could never tee off on Leinart. And although Matt was hurried a few times, he was never sacked. In my opinion, this is significant in part due to the fact that SC did not give up on the run. And after having put the ball on the ground far too often in recent games, the running backs did not fumble the ball which is even more impressive considering how cool and wet it was. Kudos for stepping up and solving the turnover issues that had surfaced.
And what about the SC Oline? I think it is very important to note that for more than half the game, the guys playing were Baker, Byers, Kalil, Matua and Williams. The point here is that the entire line consisted of freshmen and sophomores and yet they blocked well enough to allow Matt to pass for some 400 yards and 5 TDs. They also did not allow a single sack and they pushed the Irish off the line well enough to help sustain possession of the ball when SC simply had to do just that. It was obvious that Drake was nowhere near 100% and Kyle Williams seems to be outplaying Lutui because he got most of the minutes. Although he got beat to some extent, the television cameras also showed some excellent blocks that Kyle made which helped spring the running backs. The Irish have a very tough down four but they could not penetrate and get to Leinart and they could not force SC to give up on the running game altogether.
Special teams were a highlight tonight. Just when one might think that Ryan Kileen is down and out, he steps up and surprises the heck out of most everyone. I would love to know what percentage of viewers were going bananas when Ryan was brought in to try his first field goal. I know I was more than a bit concerned. And sure enough, he nailed it. Then when for one of the few times in the second half another drive stalled, Ryan was brought in for a 42 yard kick from a spot which has been very difficult for him most of the time. And what happened? He proved that he has more lives than the nine a cat has. He nailed the second consecutive field goal of the day. And for anyone who watches many games over the course of the season, one knows that having problems with a kicking game is not unique to the Trojans--just ask the guys who play for Iowa State as they don't go to the Big 12 championship game. The Trojans also did a fine job on kickoff return and on fielding punts. Since SC had no spectacular kickoff returns and since not one punt was returned, this might sound like a strange assertion. On the contrary I think not. To keep the ball out of Reggie's hands, the Irish kicked short and SC field every single one without so much as a near miss. And with a wet ball, the punt returners did the smart thing and let the ball bounce For somebody with the skill and drive of a Reggie Bush, that has to be hard to do. Last but not least, how about that fake punt? It was brilliant. Now both of the future opponents have to worry about fake punts. If Willingham and The Fighting Irish did not like it, who cares? It was another great call and it helped the Trojan cause. Ya just gotta love that call if you support the Cardinal and Gold.
So now what? Well, one more game looms large. Next week SC has to go to the Rose Bowl and take on the high scoring UCLA Bruins. They also have a fine running game and they have much better receivers than the Irish. Playing major rivals back to back can't be an easy thing to do. Yet, if anyone in America is up to that challenge, the Pete Carroll coached USC Trojans is just that team. And make no mistake. USC understands how important this game is, and they will be ready. UCLA poses a real challenge. They have had time to heal and time to rest. Perhaps they have also had time to get rusty. If USC can win that game on December 4th, then it's off to the BCS championship game in Miami. Although the Oklahoma Sooners and Auburn Tigers might have gotten a bit excited and they might have chuckled earlier this evening, by the end of the night, I can only assume that neither was in a very good mood. Nobody should ever forget that a game is 4 quarters long. Some teams might get the better of the Trojans for part of the game, but very few teams have been able to handle SC for all four quarters. In fact, if anyone should realize that, it just might be those War Eagles from Auburn. Seems to me, they learned that first hand not that very long ago.