- The Trojans are still the best team in the land, hands down.
- Matt Leinart is still the best quarterback in the country.
- Notre Dame's defense is still mediocre at best, yielding a ton of yardage and points.
- The secondary is still the weakness for both teams.
- Reggie Bush and LenDale White are incredibly good backs. (Personally, I think White is a better future pro than Bush. Just me.)
- Pete Carroll is still the best coach in the land.
- This is NOT the Notre Dame that suffered three consecutive 31-point beatings at the hands of SC.
- This is Brady Quinn with confidence going against the Trojan D, the pride of Pete Carroll.
- Charlie Weis will enter into this game knowing he can win rather than knowing he's beat, like the three previous matchups under a different guide.
- The Notre Dame players believe they can win and they're ready to prove it.
The whole college football world is cyclical. I can remember a time (1983-1995) when the Irish were 12-0-1 in this series. Simply put, beatings may come and go but eventually the traditional programs right themselves. What this meeting has done is make Notre Dame-USC the game of college football. Gone is OU-Texas, gone is Tennessee-Florida, gone is Ohio State-Michigan, rendered moot by Michigan already having three losses this year. Penn State, Alabama, and Notre Dame are all hot again this year.
I envision the game going against the grain. I dont think USC will start slow. The Trojans will have a halftime lead, but I think in their minds, they will expect the Notre Dame crowd and team to roll over and start questioning in their heads once they score on a long play and put the Irish in a bigger hole. This is where the difference of Charlie Weis takes over. Notre Dame won't roll over. I imagine halftime being something like USC 24-14.
USC's performance in the second half of games this year has been nothing short of phenomenal. 168 points scored after halftime. That line is staggering. However, this is where Notre Dame will try and set the snare. I think Notre Dame will view the third quarter (the Trojans most explosive with 91 points scored) as Armageddon. The mantra of the players will be to take USC's best punch and keep standing. This is the crucial moment of the game. Its late third quarter and the Irish have weathered the storm to some degree. USC leads 34-21. The Trojans are marching for the kill, only to have something go wrong. A fumble, interception, turnover of some kind will befriend the Irish and inspire new life. Notre Dame quickly drives the field, scoring early in the fourth quarter. It's 34-28. Fans believe, players believe, the Trojans believe because they have been here before. They will reach for their patented Bush or White long run through a swiss cheese defense. Only it won't appear. Notre Dame Def. Coordinator Rick Minter will have preached to his boys about staying strong late in the game. A panicky deep bomb will be well defended to the delight of the crowd.
USC will have to send Tom "the Bomb" Malone in to punt. He gets off a beauty with about 8:00 minutes left and everyone in the stadium is now watching the Irish get the ball, down less than one score late in the game. Here is where Notre Dame needs a play out of the ordinary. Carroll will adjust the defense, sensing a momentum shift. The blitz is ready to attack, only Weis calls a draw and Darius Walker takes off. Down the sideline he goes, knocked out deep in USC territory. The fans sense something big, but the USC defense stiffens after two runs and a shot at the endzone to Samardzija. Its about a 40 yard field goal coming up. Take the points you think, but no. Brady gets back in the gun, the SC defense looking to bear down and the call goes out for Stovall in the flat. He catches the ball, twisting and turning and getting the Irish the first down. The place is delirious. When the clock starts again they are under 3:00 minutes. Two soft runs get the ball to the 5-yard line. Notre Dame slips the TE out and Fasano makes the grab in the endzone! 35-34, Irish. 1:56 left.
Too much time left thinks USC. Too much offense ready to dispose of the Irish. The Irish kick the ball off and USC gets a mediocre return to the 30 yard line. A quick slant gets 13 yards. A draw to Bush rips off 10, but he's kept in bounds. A batted ball goes to the turf. 1:03 left. Another run/scramble by Bush and he is tackled in bounds after eight yards. USC takes their final timeout with :37 left. An incomplete pass, Trojan fans want interference and its close, but no call. 4th and 2 on the 39 with :32 left. A quick post goes for 11, saving the season for Troy. The receiver gets out of bounds at the 28 with :24 left. Lendale White gets the ball on a draw, he scampers to the endzone. Touchdown SC! A flag is visible. Touchdown SC! Holding SC is the call.
1st and 20 at the 38 with :16 left. Leinart stays cool, calmly rips a 9-yard out pattern, stopping the clock with :11 left. 2nd and 11. Reggie Bush lines up in the slot. He gets the pass and smartly avoids the seam pattern and turns sharply to get out of bounds. The dilemma exists. Ball on the 24 with :05 left. Pete Carroll has to make a decision.
On trots the field goal unit, previously untested with any pressure kick. The Notre Dame students jump around, waving their keys. Touchdown Jesus stands in the background.
The snap...the hold...the kick...WIDE WIDE WIDE RIGHT WIDE RIGHT...you know it as soon as he booted it...Students mob the field shortly after the gun and the clock reading :00.
Notre Dame wins 35-34.