Move Those Chains - ND review

I knew that if the Irish came into the Coliseum and went after the Trojans with their typical game plan, Notre Dame would have no shot. USC was far too fast, talented and motivated for this game. I figured the only chance the Irish had was if Weis completely out coached Carroll and the Trojan staff. It didn't happen. But even more than that, it never even came close to starting to happen.

Saturday Night Live: In the parking lot before the game, a Notre Dame fan made his way over to our tailgate and started a conversation about the game.

After a few minutes of pleasantries, he eventually went around and, one by one, asked if we attended USC. It would have been fine if it was just out of curiosity. But the way he did it, insinuating that you're not a real fan if you didn't attend the university, was ridiculous. Especially considering that 80% of Notre Dame fans couldn't tell you in which state the school is located.

When he got to me, he followed up his initial question by asking me what I thought the outcome of the game would be. Now, normally I don't make definite predictions in terms of who will absolutely win the game and by what score. My family has more than their fare share of superstitions and that just happens to be one of mine.

But with this guy standing in front of me wearing his Notre Dame hat and his Notre Dame sweatshirt and his Notre Dame goofy smile, I couldn't hold it in.

I told him that Notre Dame didn't have a chance. It was going to be a blowout. Something along the lines of 35-10, maybe 35-14, but definitely three scores and probably 20 or so points.

He, of course, shot back with all the reasons that I was wrong. I tuned most of them out, but I did catch the one about how Notre Dame's schedule was going to help them out in this game.

You see, according to the smiley Notre Dame fan, the Fighting Irish played a much more difficult schedule in the early part of the year than the Trojans. So, for the past month Notre Dame has been resting up for the Trojans, while USC has been going all out every week.

I tried telling him that you don't prepare for Thanksgiving by eating TV dinners all month. You need to keep your stomach limber and in game-day shape at all times. Notre Dame chose not to do that, and it would eventually come back to haunt them.

I knew the Trojans would win, but the fact that I was just about dead on with my prediction was still something of a shock to me. The fact that my Notre Dame friend decided to skip out on our post-game tailgate wasn't.

I've been hooting and hollering about Notre Dame's schedule and the subsequent "media love" they get for beating terrible teams for years now, just like every other sane college football fan. But after Saturday night, I've decided to embrace it.

Forget the Irish not earning their top ten status every year under Charlie Weis. I want them to be the preseason number one team in the country each and every year. I want them to get huge strength of schedule points when they dig in against The Wharton School next season.

Let's face it; Notre Dame has several different rivals. They play Michigan State for a megaphone, Boston College for a rock-shaped thing and they've apparently joined the hunt for the Commander in Chief's Trophy, but the game with USC is still the biggest regular season game for the Irish. And until the Irish get significantly better or Catholics stop following football, Notre Dame's two must-win games for the next several years will be the game against the Trojans and the random BCS game that they eventually play in without earning.

Very few things are better than seeing a top-five Notre Dame team come crashing down when they're finally put up against a competitive team. In the past five years, they've dropped all five USC games and three bowl games. Sure, they've taken down a Michigan and a Tennessee here and there in the meantime. But how satisfying can those wins possibly be for the team and fans alike when a big-time defeat is waiting just around the corner?

Forget complaining about the Irish not earning their top-ten ranking. For the next few years, I'm going to enjoy watching them in every high profile game they are involved in. Because chances are, just as in their only two tough games this season, they won't be involved for long.

Bewitched: If Charlie Weis really is some sort of coaching genius, you'd have a hard time convincing me of it after Saturday night.

I knew that if the Irish came into the Coliseum and went after the Trojans with their typical game plan, Notre Dame would have no shot. USC was far too fast, talented and motivated for this game. I figured the only chance the Irish had was if Weis completely out coached Pete Carroll and the Trojan staff.

It didn't happen. But even more than that, it never even came close to starting to happen.

Sure, Weis went for six fourth downs, but that's not really something he put in the game plan.

The only thing that I really saw from the Irish was when they would consistently line Jeff Samardzija up in the slot and work him against a linebacker underneath. Of course, the first time that worked was on the very last Irish touchdown drive. Other than that, it seemed like Notre Dame's offensive philosophy was to have Brady Quinn scramble around and toss the ball deep down the sideline.

Honestly, if Quinn didn't possess some serious mobility, would Notre Dame have ended that game with positive yardage? I just couldn't figure out what they were trying to do offensively. Sure, they scored three touchdowns and a field goal, but they truly put together just two extended drives that resulted in points.

I'm not exactly sure how Charlie Weis earned his offensive guru tag during that game.

True, the Trojan defense played lights out all night. They were put in multiple short-field situations and were called upon to defend six crucial fourth-down plays. But it never looked as if they were facing something they'd never seen before. Last year in South Bend, it appeared as if the Trojan defenders were playing a different sport during several Irish drives. On Saturday, there was nothing even remotely confusing about the Irish attack.

Elf: Brady Quinn didn't have his best day as a Notre Dame quarterback, but don't tell that to Brent Musburger or Kirk Herbstreit.

What Brett Favre is to the NFL and guys like Chris Berman, Brady Quinn is to college football and Musburger.

How many times do we have to hear about Quinn being a "warrior" and "gutsy" and whatever other adjective they want to throw around? You would have thought this guy was fighting fires during halftime and curing cancer in the huddle between plays.

Here's an idea. Maybe Quinn is just a good quarterback who decides to be involved in as many plays as he possibly can. I mean, that has to be pretty uncommon, right? I can only think of, oh, thousands of football players who meet that description.

I can honestly say that in five years, there won't be a single play of Brady Quinn's that I'll remember.

I'll remember Carson Palmer's flip over UCLA defenders. I'll remember Vince Young flicking away Trojan defenders all night long. I'll remember Matt Leinart catching the game-clinching touchdown pass against Michigan. But as for Quinn, maybe the honey bears on the sideline will ring a bell. Maybe.

There were plenty of guys who kept getting up after taking physical beating all night. How about every single offensive and defensive lineman on both teams?

Continuing to call attention to Brady Quinn for simply doing what he's supposed to do. Sure, he threw the ball 45 times and ran it 11 more. That's doesn't make him a warrior. That makes him a quarterback.

Do you really think that if John David Booty was taking hit after hit, he would just throw his hands in the air and shout, "I quit," before storming off the field?

Just because a guy is stuck behind a bad offensive line doesn't make him gutsy. It just makes him unfortunate.

I couldn't believe that Musburger insisted on saying that the Irish would come back and win or that the game was still close. Did he even realize that the closest Notre Dame got all game long was when it was 7-0 after the first Trojan touchdown?

Cutting a lead to 11 points isn't exactly putting yourself in position to win the game. A Notre Dame victory in that game was never possible with the way the Trojans were playing – I couldn't believe that he didn't see that. There's a reason that Michigan State and UCLA aren't battling for a spot in the BCS Title Game.

If he was predicting a Notre Dame win when they were down by 11 points, I can't imagine what he must have been thinking when it was tied 0-0.

Superstar: There were several great plays during Saturday's game. Dwayne Jarrett's one-handed catch immediately comes to mind. Terrell Thomas and Cary Harris both had some key pass deflections. Steve Smith went up high to make a catch on the goal line that led to another Trojan touchdown.

But even with all of that, there was no sweeter moment than Desmond Reed's 43-yard punt return.

When Reed was cleared to play before the season's first game, all thoughts went straight to November 25, when he would be able to go up against Charlie Weis and the Irish.

The prevailing thought was that a punt-return touchdown along the Irish sideline would be the sweetest revenge.

It was almost surreal, the way it unfolded. The punt stayed low, the wall formed along the Trojan sideline, and just one final block prevented what would have been the loudest ovation in the Coliseum all season long. Maybe it's a good thing that last block wasn't made. I don't even want to think of the number of injuries that would have occurred as people jumped on top of each other to celebrate.

It was obvious that Reed was emotionally ready to play this game. He wanted nothing more than to get out there and make a big play that would help his team beat Notre Dame just one year after Weis' negligence nearly cost him his football career

. That, Brent Musburger, is a warrior.

Kicking And Screaming: How strange were the special teams for both sides during that game?

With Desmond Reed's return, the blocked punt, Notre Dame's decision to try and kick off out of bounds every time, Brian Cushing's touchdown return, and the Trojans' confusing onside/not onside kick at the end of the game, I think we saw just about every possible scenario for a kick or punt in a college football game.

The most ridiculous, obviously, was when Troy Van Blarcom dribbled his last kick 22 yards downfield. I don't know if it was a miss kick or not, but it certainly looked as if the Trojan coverage team was going after it from the start like an onside kick. I'm not really sure what the idea was there, but I guess I would have been clapping had they recovered it.

The kick return by Brian Cushing was absolutely fantastic. It's nice to get a play like that by a defender, but the fact that it was Cushing made it all the more special.

All season, the one guy who has been most affected by the switch to the 3-4 (outside of Kyle Moore) has been Cushing. He's not a defensive end, but he's lined up there every single game without question. He's throwing himself against guys who are bigger and stronger than him and he's doing it on every play. Cushing is a much better linebacker than a defensive end, but he's helping the team win this season and he's not getting a lot of credit for quietly making that sacrifice.

It was great to see him get some much-needed and earned recognition on Saturday, even if it was for something as out of the blue as a kickoff return for a touchdown.

The Producers: Offensively, there's really not a whole lot to complain about with this game. I wasn't complaining even when there could have been things to complain about, so now it makes it really tough.

John David Booty looked great for most of the game. He made two seriously bad decisions in a very short span during the second quarter, but that's to be expected of a first-year starter in a game like this. Overall, it certainly looked like he was the veteran, fourth-year starting quarterback. (No word yet on whether that makes him a warrior or not.)

As for the running game, C.J. Gable made a few freshman mistakes by cutting back a few too many times and running backwards a lot too many times. But overall, Gable has been outstanding these past two weeks. I'd really like to see him given the ball on the edge a few more times each game. He really seems adept at running the sweep and plays that are designed to hit the corner. On plays up the middle that he tries to bounce outside, he's being stopped for little or no gain, but when he can get the ball and just fly through a hole, he's very dangerous.

Getting him outside immediately on that fourth down call was brilliant. He was matched up one-on-one and there aren't many defenders who will stop that play for no gain.

Old School: Defensively, there's even less to complain about. If the Trojans play like that for their next two games, I like their chances with the result of that Ohio State game.

The cornerback play on some of those deep jump balls will improve. There was just some bad luck against the Irish. But in terms of intensity, hitting and understanding of what the offense was doing, the Trojans are playing as well as they've played all season.

Anchorman: I'm really enjoying the fact that Will Ferrell has taken over as the head celebrity cheerleader for the Trojans this season. I never really had a problem with the abundance of celebrities at USC games last season. It's almost like they were just brought in as props, making sure everyone knew this was still Los Angeles.

Snoop Dogg had that role last season and as much as that team resembled him – flashy, loud, excessive – is exactly how this team takes on Ferrell's personality.

They're nowhere near as flashy as last season. They don't have the star power and they can't beat teams just by showing up.

But this year, they can be goofy and unpredictable. They can still be dominating at times, but they'll make mistakes and read straight off the teleprompter or go streaking through the quad to the gymnasium. All of that just makes them even more lovable and endearing.

This team may not be as flashy as the Doggfather, but I'm having an even better time rooting for them.

You stay classy, 2006 Trojans.

Family Guy: You know it was a good weekend when Notre Dame's Victor Abiamiri getting pelted in the back of the head by a ball thrown in to play by the linesman wasn't even the comedic highlight.

Nope, that honor has to go to Urban Meyer for claiming that he chose not to run up the score against Florida State.

In that game, Florida blew a 14-0 lead and scored the go-ahead touchdown with just over nine minutes remaining in the game. This, mind you, is against a team whose offensive playbook is apparently available in CliffsNotes form on eBay.

But still, Meyer decided to take a knee on the FSU 7-yard line with 23 seconds remaining. What great sportsmanship. That must be the same thing he was feeling when he ordered his team to merely block a game-winning field goal attempt by South Carolina two weeks ago, rather than block it and return it for a touchdown, which would have put the Gators up by eight.

Or maybe he was feeling that same deep sense of sanctity for the game when he ordered his kicker to blast an extra point attempt into the line against Western Carolina, keeping the game close at 20-0, before tacking on an additional 42 unanswered points.

Whatever Meyer was feeling shortly after the 7-point win on Saturday, obviously sanity wasn't playing a big part. No matter the situation, scoring fewer than 30 points in any game can never be construed as running up the score. You'll have to forgive Meyer if he's new to that concept though. His team managed 30 points against Division I teams just twice this season.

Listening to coaches like Meyer, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Texas' Mack Brown constantly complain about the BCS makes me enjoy having Pete Carroll at the helm of the Trojans' even more.

Not only does he know what to say in every situation, he knows what not to say as well. He stays as far away from the BCS conversation as possible and lets his players do his talking each and every week. So many coaches pull the spotlight away from their teams and all Carroll does is keep his team in it.

With all of college football looking for ways to emulate Carroll and the Trojans, let's hope this becomes one of them.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com. He can be reached at erik.mckinney@gmail.com.


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