If Notre Dame truly is the "Fighting Irish" then they are lead by a classic Heavy Weight in Head coach, Charlie Weiss. That comment has nothing to do with Coach Weiss' size but more to do with his attitude. He brings a big punch to his game and once he gets an opponent rocked and reeling he goes for the knockout, using no huddle, quick snap, mis-direction, empty backfield sort of stuff that can drop the best of opponents, teams like USC, to their knees.
The Irish think their eighteen senior starters are the added advantage they need to score the victory they narrowly missed out on in 2005. Logic would say they are right – experience is king in college football. According to his coaches, Trojan Head coach Pete Carroll sees it a bit differently…
"Same Irish players, same playbook; so we're just going to play our game."
As much as they might be the same kids USC played it's worst game against last year and still won, Notre Dame's maturity could wreak havoc with a much younger 2006 Trojan squad simply because these seniors won't be wowed by the crowd or become overwhelmed if they find themselves in a fight come the fourth quarter.
"Until the zeros are across the board, we're not going to lose the game," Quinn said of his on-field mind-set. "Even at that point, maybe we just ran out of time. Really you have to have that sort of mentality, I think, with any type of competition you go through, not just football." It's that sort of composure senior experience brings to a player. But the real question will be whether or not those Notre Dame seniors are any more talented than they were last year. According to one former Trojan great, Pat Haden who calls the Irish games which gives him a bit of insight thinks they just might be…
"I think Notre Dame is very talented. If you want to beat them, you'll have to score 30 points or more, because that's how many they'll put up. This could be one of the great games," Haden said. Haden thinks this is going to be close game with SC pulling out the win. I think he's right, it probably will be a nail-biter but perhaps not as high-scoring as he's predicted.
Why? Because as the Trojans proved last week and the week before, against two of the nation's best offenses in Oregon and Cal, defense wins championships. And right now USC's defense is playing like champions.
Much has been made about Notre Dame's head coach Charlie Weis' game plan. His willingness to go no-huddle and do other things to keep the opposing defense on it's heals. This sort of strategy makes it tough for any defense, especially one like USC's that likes to substitute players, show a variety of defensive packages and basically…bring it.
If Notre Dame does what most expect it means SC will have to stay with the same eleven defenders until a penalty or incompletion stops the Irish' momentum. Without the ability to substitute and bring in players with the hope to confuse Quinn the Trojans will be left with that one last aspect of their defense that has become so formidable in November and I mentioned it earlier. SC is going to have to…bring it.
Bring it they will. Earlier we raised the question whether the Irish seniors were an improved group. In looking at the stats the answer does not appear so. The same cannot be said for the Trojan defense.
If speed kills you might as well break out the bagpipes because Trojans got speed in spades, especially on defense from the line, to the backers to the secondary, this is the fastest team Pete Carroll has fielded since his arrival at USC. Add to that they've suddenly become ball-hawks, winning the turnover margin since this final run began.
So as much as I think Haden could be correct in his close score prediction, I just don't see the Trojans needing more than 30 to put this game on ice. Now ice is going to be tough when you're dealing with a customer as cool as Notre Dame's Brady Quinn.
Quinn began the season covered in Heisman hype. After a record breaking 2005, with more passing yards than any prior Notre Dame quarterback, the hype seemed justified. In 2006 Quinn has hardly disappointed, completing 65% of his passes, throwing 32 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and most importantly, conducting last minute game winning drives time and time again to give his Irish their 10-1 record.
Quinn scores at the end of the first half and at the end of the game, when scoring is toughest. That's the sign of a winner and the mark of kid who's become a man under center. Many believe that he's done enough to take the eighth Heisman home this year for Notre Dame, especially Notre Dame Head coach Charlie Weiss...
"If the criteria is who means the most to his team, Brady Quinn is my winner. But I'm obviously prejudiced. I think there can't be anyone in the country who means more to their football team than Brady Quinn means to Notre Dame. If it is the best player on the best team, well, right now we can't match that."
That last part of his quote caught me when I saw it… "If it is the best player on the best team, well right now we can't match that." For most Catholics and Notre Dame is chock full of them, that's nearly a confession and it raises the question, how does Notre Dame see itself as they head into the biggest game of their season?
It seems obvious that Charlie, like him or not, appears to be fairly objective about his assessments of his program. Perhaps that final assessment, considering their number 6 national ranking might be something he's afraid to say aloud – Notre Dame is overrated.
The nation's media has remained fairly agog with the numbers put up by the Irish this year and fairly unimpressed with those put up by the Trojans. SC must be held to a higher standard because their numbers, overall, are superior to their top ten counterpart.
What's most interesting is that while USC has been going through growing pains, breaking in a bunch of teenagers at key positions, Notre Dame's been playing those darned seniors. And to add insult to injury, the Trojans have been "underperforming" against the near toughest schedule in the nation, while the Irish, quite frankly, haven't.
So, again, who are the Irish? Well, despite their ten win season this year, in Notre Dame's big games from the end of last season and in to this one, including the last time they met SC, Ohio State and Michigan…they lost. And Brady Quinn, Notre Dame's "Great White Hope" has been at his worst in those monster matches. Let's go back to the man who knows them the best, Charlie… "If it is the best player on the best team, well right now we can't match that."
Right on and Fight On, Coach.
What's tough for the Irish and their fans is that this might be their last shot at ending what Coach Weiss labeled "a little four year win streak". If they can't get it now, with all those men playing against our boys, will they ever?
The answer is obviously yes, inevitably they will – just not this time round. There should be concerned that the Trojans are wearing down, now in their third stage of their November to remember but once things settle down, so will these young SC players and in so doing, will take control of the game.
This is not even the best offense the Trojans have fielded, but they are as good, if not better, than anything Coach Weiss can hope to put together by Saturday.
And USC's defense, well as we mentioned, has come to life just in time to snatch all the gold from Notre Dame's pot at the end of the rainbow – which, by the way, ends in Los Angeles on the Coliseum floor, not in some mythic fairy tale.
Even looking at Special Teams, the Trojans get the nod. So unless Brady can finally play the game of his life, when it matters most, or Charlie's got an in with the Coliseum grounds keepers, it appears USC's winning streak over Notre Dame will remain in tact. And it won't even require a Fourth and Nine or Bush Push to get it done.
This time it's just straight up football – Trojan style, fast and furious. It's a great rivalry and will not disappoint. So don't fool yourself into thinking any less of this game.
The Irish will have plenty of fight and it'll take all four quarters of Trojan football to beat them. It's just, at the end of the day, despite Brady, Charlie, Jeff and a prize-fighting punt returner, it will be a Trojan feast and yet another… Irish famine.
The Irish will come out and score first, they will also score last but they won't score in-between or often and that will be the story of this game.
USC 30 ND 20