Fight On Jesus

This is a game for the ages. According to one Trojan Great, now sitting at a Poker Table, somewhere in Heaven along side St. John and a few other Cardinal and Gold heroes, every game against Notre Dame, is a game for the ages. And there is no better way to launch this weekend than with a quote from that man, Marv Goux…

"It's exciting as hell to walk down that tunnel onto their field but it is even more glorious to walk back up it, the victor. If you can't get fired up to play Notre Dame, there's something wrong with you…It's a big reason why you came to SC. And I don't care how many guys have worn the cardinal and gold and played in this game before…It's your turn now."

That man could make put fire in the flame. He epitomized what the legend and lore of this game is all about. And like he said, it doesn't matter how many others have played or watched before, or the history that's been written, for this time belongs to us, the players, coaches and fans. Al Qaeda ain't got nothing compared to this. This is the Holy War.

Head coach, Charlie Weis understands the importance of this game and the value of even a little mental edge can provide at the beginning of the season said the one thing he wished for most, was an undefeated Trojan team when they arrived in South Bend come October… What's the saying, "be careful what you wish for…"

Even former coach, Lou Holtz has gotten into the act, albeit strangely…

MR. MOJO CONJURES GREEN MAGIC.

It's a good thing, for Notre Dame that is, that Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame head coach and now college football analyst for ESPN is no longer stalking the sidelines for the Fight Irish because he's turned from football coach to voodoo witch doctor and really lost his mind and focus on what wins college football games…

Holtz, known for normally soft-selling his team's chances of victory, has broken all his former rules and instead of doing it with his long earned football knowledge, he's reached into the black hat, normally donned by magicians, not men of logic or science. "…the Trojans are going to need their worry beads to survive this game…I can't explain it, but there's something about playing against Notre Dame at that stadium, Touchdown Jesus, the green jerseys…it's impossible to explain but it happens over and over…"

Hey Lou, quick note, if Notre Dame has Jesus, the Trojans got his Old Man. In using a quote from a football coach who has nothing to do with this game, Jeff Tedford of Cal University and spinning it for this most recent game… As Tedford took the field with his Bears, he started a chant… "92,000…" that his players would finish: "Disappointed fans…" Now I don't know how many Catholics there on in America but leave it to say, as folks wake up the next morning following the game, it's going to be a very black Sunday.

As I said, luckily for the Irish Weis is now their man. Charlie went on to say that he never lost to Pete Carroll in the pros and he's not going to start now. He was loved by Notre Dame fans and players for that comment. When Pete was asked about the comment, a smile slipped across his face. "I never really felt like, when I was coaching a game that I was coaching against Charlie Weis. I was always more focused on his boss, Parcells or Belichek, so I never felt like it was me against Charlie. But, I do think Charlie should do a little research on wins and losses with me involved.

Weis must have taken the suggestion to heart because he seems to have become sort of an expert on this most recent version of the USC Trojans. The following was from his pre-USC game press conference…

"I have a number of things to talk about with our opponent this week. Obviously, they have been ranked in the top 10 for 37 games. They have won 38 out of their last 39, including 27 straight, which, obviously, is a great accomplishment. They have been at the top of the AP's poll for the last 25 polls, and the biggest out of all the things, they are trying to become the only team to win three consecutive national titles. They have a great head coach, Pete Carroll. He has been there for five years now. His record is 47 and 9, that's an 84 percent winning percentage. And the scary thing, I know one of the big deals or his big deals is emphasis on outscoring opponents in the second half and over his career, they've outscored them 1,041 to 449 which I'd say is quite a difference."

Yep, Charlie's "In". He's done been educated about Pete Carroll and Trojan football, since those first fiery speeches of spring. That said, don't think Weis is overwhelmed by the USC's accomplishments or the numbers the Trojans puts up, week-in-and-out. This revised, inserting me, from Charlie's USC press day…

"Coach, the Trojans have really put up a ton of yards against their opponents this year. How do you plan on stopping them?"

Coach Weis: "You're playing the wrong angle here. You're worrying about stats… Let's look at our record. I think that's more important…

"Coach, ah, you're 4-1. They're undefeated."

Coach Weis: "Just hold on a second, I'm not done. If we're up in a game, which we have been up in a few of them now, what are they going to do? They're going to come out and throw the ball and try to get the yards. Yards don't mean anything. It's how many points you score."

"Ah, Coach, they score more points than you do."

Coach Weis: "Who let this man in here? Do you have credentials?"

"Yessir. I'm with WeAreSC."

Coach Weis: "Ugh… I think it comes right down… give me the numbers… I am not positive, but give me the numbers of scoring defense. Even throwing in the big performance by Michigan State, it's more around 50 and it's more about how many points you give up, not how many yards you give up."

"Coach, they give up less than you and they've played three teams with better offenses than any you've faced, including Michigan State."

Coach Weis: "Whatever. Next question."

Charlie's right; better to just look at scoring. So he did…

USC is the number two scoring offense in the nation, averaging nearly 52 points per game and only one point behind the nation's leader. The Trojans have already beaten a team that scores, on average, more than Notre Dame, who scores 37 points per game, in the Arizona State Sun Devils.

When asked about this Weis was quoted as saying…

"Yeah, but did you see the way those Devils played USC in the first half?"

Quick reminder, coach: There are two halves in football.

"That's what I told my players. Then I sent them out for hot dogs during half-time." Note to self: "If we can just play 60 minutes like ASU played 30."

Don't worry, coach, that's been everyone's lament.

All jokes aside, USC is about to face the best team they have played all year, and according to Carroll, this is the best Notre Dame team they have seen since his arrival…

"This is not the same football team; this is not the same offense. The players are the same but they are performing at a higher level because of the guy who is running the thing. I couldn't say enough positive things about how his abilities show what he is all about, early on. It makes for a great matchup. It makes for a very fun challenge, hopefully for both of us."

But it's not just the NFL past of Charlie Weis versus Pete Carroll that makes this game even more exciting than games in recent history, there's another coach on the Irish sidelines that Coach Carroll has tremendous respect for…Rick Minter, Defensive Coordinator.

"Rick Minter is a terrific defensive football coach. He was a great coordinator when he was at Notre Dame in the past. He carried the load as a defensive-oriented coach when he was the head coach of Cincinnati. He was brought up in the same background system that I was brought up in. He was at Arkansas with Monte Kiffin and we coached together at NC State. We were there together for three years. We have been friends and coaching buddies through the years. He has always been aggressive and effective, innovative and he does a lot of difficult stuff. They made a big jump because they put together a beautiful staff of their own."

It's obvious that USC vs. Notre Dame will present challenges for both coaches. This game, like none other in quite a while, will be heavily influenced by the greatest minds in football, both offensive and defensive. And both head coaches appear up to the challenge.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE.

Trojan fans will be thrust into a mandatory class in patience come Saturday afternoon when USC lines up against Notre Dame. Patience because Pete Carroll coaches to win and not every victory comes as easily as some might think. Troy opened the year with huge victories over Hawaii and Arkansas and in so doing, set the bar too high for fan expectations – the idea suddenly being that every game would be an all to nothing fest.

Playing Notre Dame, with the goal of defeating this new version of the Fighting Irish, will require a game plan that chips away at the clock, while methodically putting points on the board.

This is where a distinct advantage goes SC's way. Leinart is, right now, the best college quarterback in the game. He is "Cool Hand Luke" under pressure and "Lionheart," at crunch time. This team is his to guide and as good as Brady Quinn has been, he has never played in a game of this magnitude. That includes his last starts against the Trojans, which he lost, as well as this year's games against Michigan and Michigan State. Nothing can prepare him for the type of war that is going to take place, come Saturday.

And if you think I exaggerate, Notre Dame has moved the traditional Friday night pep rally from the Joyce Center (the basketball arena) to Notre Dame Stadium, and it's not a stretch to say the 80,795-seat facility will be half full. The featured speaker at the pep rally: Joe Montana.

This is only the third time in Notre Dame history that they have done this. You tell me this game isn't huge to them.

What's interesting, though, is that South Bend is expecting rain Friday night. Let's see, rain and forty thousand people trampling around from goal line to goal line… what kind of condition should one expect their field to be in?

I guess when you don't have speed and your playing a team loaded with it; you do whatever it takes to "level" the playing field.

Speaking of speed, it's not just Leinart who will lead the charge: Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Dominque Byrd, Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, David Kirtman and the best offensive line in the history of Trojan football, all will show Notre Dame that a sloppy field can't slow this club down.

EVERYTHING'S RIGHT WITH LENDALE WHITE.

Petros Papadakis had it right – during last week's game while breaking down another Lendale White touchdown and trying to tackle the best running back at USC, he coined this analogy…Trying to tackle Lendale; "He's laminate and you're water – you just slide off."

It hurts to tackle this Trojan horse. It hurts more not to, because when you don't those runs quickly add up to points for USC. Pete Carroll has it right, too…

"He was a warrior today," Carroll said of White, who has 376 rushing yards in his past two games, the most by any USC player in back-to-back games since Marcus Allen had 398 in 1981.

Despite Bush's gimpy knee, he joined White to record the first back-to-back-to-back 100-plus yard rushing games for two ball carriers in Trojan history.

That's not quite the path USC started down to open the season, throwing more than running, but the Trojans realize that Lendale and Reggie is what they need Saturday.

Don't think that means the Trojans will become a one-dimensional team. Hardly; this is the most balanced offense in USC history. That means when the team puts up an average of 640 yards per game, half of that is rushing and the other is all aerial.

Weis, who, as you may have heard, has had two weeks to prepare, was recently heard asking NCAA officials if he could get one more week before game day. Sorry Charlie, your time is now.

Although the Trojans have won the last three games against the Irish by an average of 31 points, it would be shocking if this battle doesn't go a little like USC's last three outings, with the game staying close for about three quarters before the Trojans pull away.

Anyone expecting a blowout win by USC will probably have to wait until the Trojans play the hapless Washington Huskies.

People are constantly saying the Trojans have issues; right.

This entire media craze of the Trojans' demise reminds me of a time when I was back in college. I was working out, training and had escalated my regimen to an insane level of fitness. I came home for the Holiday and my mother, along with my girlfriend's parents, both of whom were in the medical field, were convinced I was too skinny, unhealthy – something was terribly wrong.

I'd lost my father two years earlier and in an understandable panic, my mother sent me in for a battery of tests. By the time I left, the doctor was laughing – he had never seen someone so healthy, get this much concern. He asked if I was on a diet of fruit and nuts.

Yeah, the Trojans have issues, 640 yards per game along with 51.6 points while cutting every opponent's offensive productivity in half, real issues. We should all be in this much trouble with our lives.

Anyway, today in comparison, I'm fat as hell now, and no one seems to notice. I think this will be the case for the Trojans after they win the Rosebowl and their third national championship - it'll be situation normal - fat city.

Speaking of things larger than, well larger than…nevermind.

Want to get a glimpse of what Charlie Weis is doing with his Notre Dame offense – watch this last Super Bowl. It's the exact same offense, even down to terminology. What's impressive is how quickly Brady Quinn and his other teammates have acclimated to this new system.

"Quinn looks like an entirely different quarterback from years previous." So says Pat Haden, former USC and NFL quarterback. Pat, now the color analyst for Notre Dame games was once a recruit and when he was, he chose USC over the Irish. That doesn't mean, even despite his success in the Cardinal and Gold, Pat doesn't hold a little "candle in the Grotto" for Notre Dame.

Pat goes on to compare Quinn and Leinart…

"Some are starting to compare Quinn to USC quarterback Matt Leinart, a two-time first team All-American, and last year's Heisman Trophy winner. Leinart has played very efficiently this season. He protects the football, throws touchdowns, and makes good use of the many weapons around him in the USC offense."

"Overall, Brady is throwing the football much more accurately, and he's also running the ball much better than he did a year ago. Another huge plus is that he's managing games better. He gets the Irish in and out of huddles without any delay-of-game penalties and he doesn't waste timeouts."

This last quote from Haden, however, is the key and everybody knows it…

"I think Quinn has to carry the Irish more than Leinart does the Trojans. Quinn is the absolute central figure in the Notre Dame offense. He has to have a brilliant game for the Irish to win."

Whew, thanks Pat. That'll about get us done till game time, but I'll leave you all with this final point. Take it however you like.

Marv Goux started us off with an inspirational speech about getting fired up for Notre Dame. He also reminded us, and his Trojan player brethren that no matter who had worn the Cardinal and Gold before you, that this game, this day, was yours…

Fast forward some fifty years after Marv first donned a Trojan uniform and you have this reaction to the coming Notre Dame matchup…

Reggie Bush said the Trojans were ready for the Fighting Irish and offered this about the game...

"The media is going to play it out to be the game of the century or whatever," he said. "But we're just going to take it like another game."

As much as the college football world doesn't get it – for usc, every game is just like every other… a game. Is that sacrilege to compare the importance of say Arizona to Notre Dame?

Well, when you consider that one loss potentially knocks the Trojans out of the national championship game, the answer becomes obvious – no. Each game is equally as important and none more important than the other.

Now, Notre Dame may not be used to this much buzz on campus -- at least not since No. 1 Florida State tangled with No. 2 Notre Dame 12 years ago. The Trojans, on the other hand, have been dealing with big time games and rough house situations since Carson Palmer's victory two Orange Bowls and one Rosebowl ago. Between then and now, USC has won two national championships and two Heisman trophies.

Notre Dame, in comparison, failed to background check one head coach hire, followed that up with the hiring and premature firing of the university's first minority coach, caught a ton of heat for that debacle, and then brought in a man who's never played the game but still boasts some serious Super Bowl jewelry, and from there, really, never felt one pang of guilt.

This mindset will be the difference for the Trojans versus the Irish. The Golden Domers are preparing as if this were the world championship – the Superbowl, if you will. The Trojans are treating just like the next Saturday in a collection of twelve. The pressure's on Notre Dame, not USC.

This was more succinctly put by starting USC defensive lineman, Frostee Rucker…

"They're just next up on the 'Leave No Doubt' tour…" "We just have to go up there, South Bend, and do what we do."

The "Leave No Doubt Tour," about sums it up for these national championship Trojans. It might sound cocky to those on the outside but when you look closely, USC has walked the talk for a long time now. It'll take more than some green jerseys, a couple refs with hundreds in their pocket and a media intent on building a mountain out of a molehill to make this anything more than what it is – just another game on the road to the Rosebowl.

The Leave No Doubt Tour – book my flight. I'm coming to South Bend and I'm bringing the Trojans with me.

USC 41 ND 28


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