Saturday night was about as good as it gets for Trojan fans. On a national stage, a young Trojan team who is still growing up in front of our eyes and will only get better next year, absolutely dominated an Irish team that began the season #2 in all the polls, set expectations to their fans all off-season that they would be national title contenders, and has the best team they will have for awhile, as they graduate 15 seniors out of their 22 offensive and defensive starters. I have some friends who are Irish fans, and many of them made comments during the year such as "I wish USC wouldn't have lost to the Beavers, because we wanted them undefeated when we beat them" - - well, my Irish friends, the presumption that you are in the same class as USC was debunked Saturday night. You should spend some time putting some tougher teams on your schedule and try – just try – to beat one team where you aren't favored. In Charlie Weis' two years at ND, that hasn't happened. His reputation has been built by playing USC to a close game last year, and by having exciting comeback wins against mediocre teams such as Michigan State and UCLA. Even more, Notre Dame is still hoping for a Georgia Tech (AP Ranked # 23) win in the ACC Championship Game against mighty Wake Forest this Saturday, so that the Irish can say that they beat a team that ended the season in the top-25… as of now, Charlie Weis can't say that either. By the way, in the last two seasons, USC has beaten 8 teams that finished (or will finish) in the top-25.
But enough picking on the Irish… let's talk about the Trojans. The on-the-field performance of USC on Saturday night was outstanding. For all the talk of offense, USC's defense was dominant. Notre Dame's offense had to fight and claw and make tough play after tough play just to generate the points it did. Outside of Brady Quinn's long run on a busted play, the Irish had less than 75-yards rushing. Brady Quinn connected on less than 50% of his passes. Even when the Trojan offense bungled the 2nd quarter and handed the Irish the ball three times in USC territory, the Irish could only turn it into 7 points. Dallas Sartz, Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Terrell Thomas, Oscar Lua, Kevin Ellison… they all had big games and were relentless in their physical, fast, oppressive play that had the Irish ready to get back on the bus and go home.
And the Trojan offense showed some of its unstoppable form as well. The first quarter was a clinic, and – after struggling in the 2nd quarter with a few forced throws from Booty that turned into interceptions – they returned to form in the second-half and kept putting distance between themselves and the Irish. And I guess I can't talk about the game without mentioning Dwayne Jarrett's phenomenal game… and while this was his third-straight 100-yard game against the Irish, this one was a notch above the others as he was a man-among-boys, and made several catches that were amazing, none more so than his one-hander on the sideline which Trojan fans will all remember forever when talking about D.J.
But the infamous stretch of games isn't over, as the Bruins remain as the last team on the schedule. And while much of the national media are already matching-up USC with Ohio State (which will only add motivation for the Bruins), I am confident that the Trojans won't be looking past Saturday's rivalry game. After all, it's not like there isn't motivation on the Trojans side beyond just making it to Arizona on January 8. This is the Bruins we are talking about – a program that will proudly boast banners saying "City Champs" if they win the game, and whose players and fans will actually believe that they are better program if they can pull off the upset. You don't look past such teams, you use them to prove a point. That's what Pete Carroll has done in tenure at USC, and what I expect on Saturday.
Key questions this week? (1) How will USC's offense perform against a solid UCLA defense? Can they keep protecting Booty and run the ball efficiently? Will Booty be as sharp as he was against Notre Dame, but remove some of the errors? (2) Will USC's defense feast on a struggling UCLA offense? Will they keep the same speed and aggressiveness and physical dominance that's been on a continued build all season? (3) What do we expect from UCLA? Karl Dorrell has yet to show imagination in this rivalry, preferring to match-up as best as he could with the Trojans and see who executed better. But with the talent gap being what it is, with the Bruins' mediocre season becoming an automatic success if they were to pull the upset, and with two weeks to prepare – could we see the Bruins pull out all the stops (trick plays, unusual blitzes, etc.?) If it weren't for Dorrell (who I hope coaches at UCLA for a long time), I would expect it… but with him, we'll just have to see.
Another great week. Beat the Bruins!