All week long, I read over and over again now Charlie Weis and his teams are usually unbeatable when he has all the time he had to prepare for USC. According to so many Notre Dame Faithful, Pete Carroll may be very good, but the truth is, he is simply not a match for Charlie Weis. Perhaps the Irish fans forgot that while USC was busy playing terrific offensive juggernauts from the University of Oregon and the University of California, Notre Dame was essentially playing exhibition type games against the Army, Navy and Air Force. To be fair to the Irish, they did not have to play the Merchant Marines. Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish in this game, by the time they realized just how fast the amazing Trojans really are, the score was 21-3 in SC's favor and they had their work cut out for them. On a personal note, I knew it was going to be a Trojan night well before this game ever started. I received a personal call from a great SC Booster at the Coliseum and there was just no way could that call go to waste with a loss.
When trying to discuss a game such as this, it is often difficult to know where to start. Therefore, I will start with the strongest part of this game. The USC defense was terrific. Yes, Notre Dame ended up with decent stats, but there is something somewhat deceptive about those final numbers. For example, The Irish rushed for 134 yards on 32 carries, but 60 of those yards came on a great broken play run by Brady Quinn. The Trojans had a clear shot at Brady behind the line of scrimmage but he escaped brilliantly and he ended up with the longest run from scrimmage for Notre Dame all year long, 60 yards. If one does the math, one immediately sees that for the rest of the night, the Irish ball carriers ended up with 74 yards on 31 carries which is not overly impressive. Likewise, although Notre Dame ended up with 268 yards passing, it took them 44 attempts to gain those yards. To be fair to Brady Quinn, his receivers did drop several catchable balls, but I have to believe that at least some of those drops were the result of the receivers hearing footsteps. Overall, Quinn had some very nice moments but he was under constant pressure and he had to fight for every single thing he got.
It is hard to complain about much of anything that the defense did tonight, but it sure seemed that Notre Dame's final touchdown drive of the night was a concession score given up by the USC coaching staff. That may seem like a strange assertion, but SC went into a definite prevent alignment and one can only assume that the decision was made to make The Irish use some valuable clock as they dinked and dunked their way down the field. Only when ND finally got close to the end zone did SC stiffen and make them work exceptionally hard to finally get the touchdown. I guess for those of us who wanted the margin of victory to be as large as possible, it was a bit aggravating to watch, but, in the end, the coaches made a calculated decision and it is hard to argue with such monumental overall success.
There was simply no part of the defense that did not play well tonight, at least to the extent that one can see when watching the game on television without the aid of slow motion and special game films to watch. Earlier in the year there were complaints that the defensive line had not developed and that it was a weak link on this team. Well, the dline has stepped way up and I did not see any weak links out there. Moala was a man, Jackson looked far too quick for the Notre Dame Oline and Ellis did his best Mike Patterson imitation yet. I know that it is often stated that holding could be called on almost every play, but I challenge anyone to watch number 74 for the Irish and to then not feel like he was holding LoJack on nearly every play.
The linebackers were all over the field. Oscar Lua showed as much mobility as I have ever seen him demonstrate, Rey was fearsome when he was in the game, Cushing played his hybrid position very well and Sartz was in on a bunch of tackles and he disrupted a significant number of plays. In fact, Dallas made a huge play on that poorly conceived option play that Charlie Weis called. He tackled the Irish back for a significant loss and helped prevent the Irish from converting an essential first down.
I was also very impressed with the SC defensive backs. It seems like they played some of the best man to man, tight coverage and some of the best bump and run type of hits that I can remember them playing all year long. It was great to see both Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas make some nice plays when each was isolated out on an island. We don't often get to see SC corners go head to head, one on one, but tonight we did. Yes, Notre Dame got three touchdowns, but the Irish passed it 44 times and only completed 22 of them. Overall, I think I was more impressed with the SC corners than I have been in a very long time.
The special teams were certainly some type of mixed bag. After kicking so very well for much of the season, it looks like Troy VanBlarcom has hit the wall, or he is under orders from Carroll to kick differently than he has for much of the season. I suppose each reader can decide for himself, but I can't remember such an ineffective group of kickoffs in any total game this season. As for Mario Danelo, he hit a vital field goal, but for one of the few times, he missed a PAT. Thankfully, that point was never crucial in this game which is very fortunate for USC. The punting game was nothing special and one punt was blocked and that is never acceptable. As for the punt coverage and kickoff coverage teams, they both did very good jobs. After watching Zbikowski destroy USC on punts last year, I was a bit concerned every time he touched the ball tonight. However, tonight, he was controlled. And then what can one say about Brian Cushing? He made a highlight film type of play when he fielded an onside kick by the Irish and took it to the house. For a guy who is about 240 pounds, he can really move and how happy must he be to have scored a touchdown against the school that he was rumored to have seriously considered attending.
And what about the USC offense? By the way things started out, I wonder if the SC kids just lost focus for a while. I mean Booty came out on fire and before anyone turned around, the efficient SC offense had scored a touchdown on its first three possessions. And to be honest, during those drives, the Trojans really did look like Men playing against Boys. The Irish defenders were simply out of their league and could do nothing to stop the juggernaut. However, something major changed in the second quarter. From the time USC recovered a ND fumble deep in their own territory, the Trojans could do nothing right on offense. It seemed to go sour when Booty rolled to his left and tripped without ever being touched. I don't know whether he was physically hurt, mentally shaken up or both, but from that point until the start of the 3rd quarter, JD Booty was having a very tough time of things. He could not complete much of anything to his own guys, but he did manage to throw picks on two consecutive series. Thankfully, the first half came to an end, and one just had to love what Pete Carroll had to say in his halftime interview. When asked about John David Booty he did not hesitate to say nothing was wrong and JD would be just fine. And as has been the case so many times over the past six years, Pete was right.
Over the years, Notre Dame Fans have learned to despise the name Anthony Davis. Former Irish Coach Ara Parseghian often said that he had nightmares about Davis and that Horse--the White Horse. Well, in my opinion, Dwayne Jarrett certainly deserves to be right up there with Anthony Davis when it comes to being an Irish killer. Last year there was the infamous catch on 4th and 9 that helped USC pull out the victory. Tonight, it was the unbelievable game Dwayne Jarrett had. He made spectacular catch after spectacular catch. His incredible one handed grab has to rival Mike Williams's famous catch against the Beavers several years ago, and he ended the night with 7 catches for 133 yards and 3 touchdowns. DJ's efforts against the Irish are truly what legends are made of.
Overall, the offensive effort tonight was very effective. They ended up with 407 total yards, they ran the ball efficiently if not spectacularly, and for much of the game, I was pleased with the play calling, or at least I understood what was trying to be accomplished (of course, I can't help but wonder why we seemingly never run wide, especially considering how well SC does when they do go outside). One just has to hand it to CJ Gable. The freshman star in the making showed that he is fast, elusive enough and very tough. Gable did not put the ball on the ground and no matter whom else becomes healthy and who is recruited, to my way of thinking, somebody is going to have to be very good to take caries away from CJ. Chauncey Washington, obviously still hurting from his knee injury, was strong enough and healthy enough to help get some tough inside yards here and there. The offensive line did a very good job against a physical and tough Irish down 7. Booty was sacked only once and as the game wore on, USC was able to run the ball more and more effectively. And speaking of Booty, his final numbers were actually pretty darn good, though he did have that very tough stretch in the second quarter where he threw two interceptions and was visibly off his game. However, he led the Trojans to an impressive touchdown on the first drive of the second half and was money for the rest of the night. In fact, I honestly believe that one of the most telling offensive plays of the entire game as the short completion to Fred Davis on the first offensive series of the second half. Had USC gone 3 and out there, the whole game might have been different. But at that particular time, Booty was on the money on third down and SC maintained the crucial drive to regain the momentum which had seemingly swung in favor of the Irish in the second quarter.
So let's take a second to recap what has really happened. First and foremost, SC soundly beat the Irish, and if I am not mistaken, this is the first time SC has beaten them 5 straight. This was especially impressive given the fact that Charlie and company had been pointing to this game for a year now, whereas USC was busy playing one of the toughest stretches in anyone's schedule this year and they had no time to focus on the Irish before this week. USC had defied analyst after analyst by beating three rated teams in succession. Pete Carroll has put this team in place to have a legitimate shot at playing for the title, as in national title-BCS game, in a year that should have been a rebuilding year, at least when one looks at how many guys have been injured and lost prematurely and on schedule to the pros. SC has managed to stretch its home winning streak to 33 consecutive games which is far and away the longest in the nation. They have continued to score 20 points or more in more consecutive games than anyone else in college football history, 63 I believe. All this has been accomplished at a time when the talent on other teams is getting better and better all the time.
Before USC can hope to play for the BCS championship, the Trojans have to win one more crucial game. The next game is against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. USC can win that game and I think they will, but as we all know, anything can happen in a rivalry game and often does. SC has to win that game for several reasons, and one of them is to make sure the Bruins never hold the record for consecutive wins in this series again. SC has beaten UCLA seven consecutive times, but prior to that, the Bruins won 8 in a row. To make matters even more interesting, this is UCLA's chance to ruin SC's run for another championship of college football. I have to believe that Pete and his staff will have the guys ready and on an even keel. It's hard to say this, but I am sure every devoted USC fan is hoping that next week is the last time SC will play in the Rose Bowl for over an entire year.