One Man's Opinion - Notre Dame review

Before saying anything else, I think it is important to emphasize just how amazing the Trojan victory was and just what an accomplishment it really is. Winning games at Notre Dame Stadium is not something that has usually been easy for Southern California.(the last game's 31 point margin notwithstanding)

It was a game for the ages. Any Southern California fan of this rivalry would be hard pressed to name one that topped this 34-31 victory by USC over the Fighting Irish at the House that Rockne built. For one of the few times in the past couple of seasons, I had the privilege of attending this game in person and folks it was awesome. (special thanks goes to the great guy who made it possible for me to come up with some of the best tickets in the house) The weather was picture perfect, the leaves were turning, the crowd was electric, The Irish came out in their famous Green Jerseys (shades of 1977 and Ken McAfee), and the competition was as tough as it gets. Some of my USC friends really thought that we would win this game going away. After all, SC has more talent, more speed and the best coach in college football. Well, I won't argue those points with any fervor, but I will say this. The Notre Dame Football program appears to be well on its way back to national prominence. After watching several of their games, and after watching Charlie Weis match wits with Pete Carroll, I have to say that I think this rivalry will annually match some of the nations best for many years to come if both coaches stay in place.

By this time, all the newspaper reviews of the game and countless posts regarding this game are already available in either printed form or on the internet. The facts of the game speak for themselves. Notre Dame held the ball for almost twice as many minutes as the Trojans and they executed their superbly conceived game plan very well . USC, on the other hand, again showed that this offense cannot be stopped. Yes, the Irish did manage to put some clamps on. Yes, the Irish did hold the Trojans to more than 100 yards below their average offensive output. However, even with their brilliant approach to this game, the Irish could not keep the Trojan juggernaut in check. In a game during which the vaunted SC passing attack did not always click, it was the running game which proved to be too much for Notre Dame to handle. Prior to this game, former Notre Dame coach, Lou Holtz, stated that he did not think the Trojans could run the ball successfully against this Irish team. Unfortunately I did not get to hear Lou's post game remarks because I was in transit. However, I can state that he was not correct. USC can run on the Irish and they did run the ball. The tailbacks gained 186 yards on the ground--most of them courtesy of Heisman Trophy Candidate, Reggie Bush. On an afternoon during which Reggie seemed especially animated, he was simply unstoppable from the tailback position. He ran inside. He ran outside and he was the one guy for whom the Irish had no answer.

Before saying anything else, I think it is important to emphasize just how amazing the Trojan victory was and just what an accomplishment it really is. Winning games at Notre Dame Stadium is not something that has usually been easy for Southern California.(the last game's 31 point margin notwithstanding) With yesterday's dramatic come from behind win, USC has now managed to win consecutive games in South Bend for the first time in many years. A couple of points need to be made. First, on an afternoon when SC did not move the ball at will for large portions of the game, the Trojans were money when the going got tough. USC actually scored on two long touchdown drives on its last two possessions. With about 5 minutes remaining the Trojans drove some 80 yards to take the lead. Then, after surrendering the lead to Notre Dame following a perfectly executed comeback drive of their own, USC won the game on a 75 yard drive which ended with only 3 seconds remaining on the clock. I can't recall anyone else making a point of mentioning this, but I do believe that this is the first time during Matt Leinart's brilliant career at USC that he had to drive his team the length of the field at the end of a game in a hostile environment to win the game. Well, even with a rumored concussion, Matt was up to the task and he threaded the needle to Dwayne Jarrett on 4th and 8 and the result was a 61 yard gain. Then it was Matt himself, with a little help from his friend, Reggie Bush, who actually scored the winning touchdown. As a USC diehard fan standing in Notre Dame Stadium, it was surreal. First, I was ecstatic when it looked like we were going to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat. Then, when the clock ran out, it looked like the streak had ended, and at the hands of the Irish of all teams. Then , watching as the fans had to be cleared from the field and seeing the SC players and coaches alike celebrating without reservation was just beyond description.

When a team has just pulled out a victory over a heated rival, it might be considered sacrilege to dare question anything . Nonetheless there are some interesting issues that seemed to surface in this game that come to my mind. Regarding USC's defense, I have to wonder aloud about the approach on third and long. The basic defensive unit played incredibly well for long stretches of this game on first and second downs, only to give up far too many first downs on third and long. Watching from seats in the stands, it was obvious that on almost every third and long, Rivers, Lua and Williams came out and were replaced by Ryan Ting, Collin Ashton and Josh Pinkard. Unfortunately, that substitution pattern did not succeed very well. Sometimes, Weis called a draw or some type of run, while other times he countered with passes that took advantage of the new guys in the game. After a while, I could not help but wonder if the guys who held Notre Dame to create third and long might not fair just as well or even better and perhaps they could generate some much needed heat on the quarterback. Obviously, that pattern has worked before, but injuries have caused personnel changes and Weis is no ordinary offensive mind. It is also apparent that SC has to get some steady inside help at the NG and DT position. Notre Dame had trouble running the ball with power for much of the day, but Sedric Ellis and LaJuan Ramsey can't play ev ery down. Hopefully, somebody who plays on the inside of the Dline will take his game to the next level as the season progresses.

The defensive backs have a very difficult job indeed. They are often out on an island and that is tough for anyone. Watching the game as closely as I could, I noted that this appeared to be the best game by the combination of Scott Ware and Darnell Bing that I can recall seeing. Both of these guys played very well. Finally, Scott Ware got to show the fans and coaches alike why he had the reputation of being a ferocious hitter. The hit he put on ND tight end Anthony Fasano was a classic. Listening to the ND post game show, Fasano himself acknowledged that it was quite a lick . Bing also made several huge plays, none bigger than the play during which he stripped Fasano of the ball. Had The Irish scored on that possession, I have to think USC would have lost this game. It is easy to pick on the cornerbacks and say this and that. Obviously, the facts are undeniable. John Walker got called for two pass interference calls. If there was a silver lining to those calls, it might be that Walker was seemingly in position and on his guy. In other words, he was not getting toasted. It seems that he is not yet comfortable with all aspects of being a starting USC cornerback. And to be fair to John, he did make other very nice plays. Meanwhile, Justin Wyatt also get beaten for a touchdown and he also seemed to be on his man. In what seems to be a flashback to a prior era, the SC corners are not always turning their heads to see where the ball is.

Excuses never count for anything, but it is truly amazing that this defense has been able to overcome the incredible number of injuries it has sustained. The list at cornerback and SAM linebacker is serious to say the least. USC has lost two outside linebackers in Sartz and Cushing and both were ahead Thomas Williams at the time of their injuries. The Trojans have also lost cornerbacks Terrell Thomas, Kevin Harris and Mozique McCurtis for various amounts of time and they have also lost freshman Kevin Ellison for the season. This is a talented and deep USC Trojan squad, but this number of injuries is most significant. Hopefully some of the kids will recover and be able to contribute in a positive fashion soon.

Special teams and penalties have been a thorn in the Trojan's side for much of this year. The game against Notre Dame proved to be no exception. Once again, the punt coverage team was burned for a crucial touchdown. (Once again, excuses aren't worth a lick, but the refs missed an obvious block in the back that helped free the ND return man). Once again penalties were really counterproductive to say the least. On one drive, SC gave the Notre Dame 30 yards in gains and that is going to lead to disaster more often than not. On another series. SC's D was really playing lights out ball and pinned ND back for 4th and long on their own 10. Unfortunately for SC, that great defense was negated by a personal foul. It seems like this is a recurrent theme. On a brighter not, USC did seem to contain Notre Dame well on kickoff coverage and Troy Van Blarcom did manage to kick several deep enough to prevent any return at all. USC did not attempt a field goal, but Danelo was forced to kick a long PAT and he missed for the first time all season. I really don't know what the coaches can do to decrease the penalties, but one can just imagine that there will be some very interesting discussions this week.

As far as the offense goes, it was not as unstoppable as usual, but it was potent nonetheless. For whatever reason, USC did not go to the tight end very often. When they did, Dominique Byrd proved to be incredibly difficult to handle. As to why the ball rarely went his way, only the coaches know for sure. As for Matt Leinart, he was not as hot as he is at times, but it's been a very long time since USC receivers dropped at least four or more catchable balls in one game. It is simply a fact that Steve Smith let a couple get away and Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy also dropped one. Thankfully, that has not been a common problem up to this point and there should be no reason to expect more of the same in the future. I am very concerned about the number of major hits Matt Leinart is taking. Hopefully, he will be able to withstand the punishment and he will not get clobbered much more this season. Each person might have individual ideas as to why Matt is taking so many hits and what can be done about it, but I just hope the problem is solved to benefit the individuals and the team. And as stated before, even on a night when not everything went smoothly on offense, Matt was clutch when he had to be. I have never seen anyone do it better than Matt did on his last drive. The call and pass to DJ was simply a thing of beauty and it should go down in the annals of Trojan history as one for the ages.

Although LenDale did not have one of his statistically huge nights, I thought he played a vital role. By pounding up the middle and occasionally going wide, I really think he helped soften the defense to allow Reggie and his quick hitting tactics to break a couple of long ones. Notre Dame is physical on their D line and they deserve credit, but after we pounded them with LenDale on occasions, things did change even if we did not always get big-time yardage. And what can anyone say about Reggie Bush. On a night when his punt returns and kickoff returns were not statistical gems, his play as an every down tailback was classic. I have had the good fortune to see all the great tailbacks at SC since OJ Simpson, and this performance by Reggie Bush against Notre Dame was right up there with all the other great games that I can recall. The guy proved to the nation that he is about as good as it gets. If there is a better football player anywhere is college football, I haven't seen him. And yes, this is an opinion by an SC HONK, but I think that if Reggie does not get hurt, he should win the Heisman. He came up huge in the biggest game of the year so far, and he is a MAN out there.

For a few years, USC had a clear advantage over the Irish, just as the Irish had been far better than SC for far too many years prior to that. Yesterday, Pete Carroll Trojans beat Charlie Weis' Fight Irish in a hard fought, well played football game. Whether or not this will be the first of many classic matchups in the future between teams coached by these two guys remains to be seen. Personally, I hope so. Games don't get much better than the one I saw up close and in person in South Bend on October 15, 2005. For now, it's time to put the game behind us and hope that the injured guys get better and that Desmond Reed can make a full recovery from his apparent ligament damage. This is a very tough USC squad and I am sure they will improve each and every week. The game was draining but if anyone can get the guys ready for the next one, it is Pete Carroll. No matter what quirks somebody might find in a particular game plan or call, the facts are simple. USC is the defending national champion and Pete Carroll's teams rarely lose football games. In a day and age of parity at the collegiate level, Pete has accomplished things that I never thought could be done and so far, there is no end in sight.


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