It isn’t over yet. Not only has that been the theme of the last five games I also think it is the theme for the season as a whole. There are no two ways about the end result of the game yesterday. To say it was a tough loss to take is an understatement. It was emotionally brutal. As a Notre Dame fan USC is the quintessential antagonist. They are a really good football team with a highly successful and very shady coach. They are constantly shrouded in rules violation controversy yet nothing ever comes of it. They also have an extremely annoying tendency to be smiling and joking while they beat you. It doesn’t get any more damn annoying than that. I loathe the Trojans in the same way I loathed Miami in the late 80’s for the same reasons. They are the current Darth Vader of college football and for me that is exacerbated by the fact that they are Notre Dame’s biggest rival. I can’t wait to see ND beat those bastards again and damn if it didn’t almost happen yesterday. I was really hoping this post would have a different feel but it is what it is. Therefore I will discuss it in the manner which has been dictated by the outcome of the game. I haven’t watched the game again yet and I may not it was too brutal.
As for the game itself the Irish offensive line got worked over pretty good for the first three quarters. USC was able to get pressure by only rushing 3 to 4 and dropping 7 to 8 into coverage which made things very difficult for Clausen. Despite this Clausen, Golden Tate and Robby Parris were outstanding. Those guys hooked up for several key completions in tight coverage with a combination of deadly accurate throws and amazing catches. Those three kids in particular left it on the field yesterday. The defense had a tough day but was able to buckle down at key points in the game holding the Trojans to two field goals in the 2nd quarter and forcing a turnover that got the Irish back in the game in the 4th quarter. Overall the front seven did a pretty good job against the run but was generally unsuccessful getting pressure on the quarterback. The combination of USC’s stout offensive line and some very effective play action left a vulnerable Irish secondary on an island and they got worked over pretty good. Harrison Smith had a particularly rough day.
When the Trojans went up 34-14 with 13 minutes left I’ll be the first to admit that I thought that was it. But the team didn’t think that was it and they put together a pretty amazing comeback. If you told me that Clausen would have a first and goal at the 5 with 3 shots at the end zone to tie the game I would have bet my house that the Irish would convert and ride that momentum to a thrilling overtime victory. But it didn’t go down like that this time. Rudolph almost made a great play on the first jump ball and Tate got jammed at the line and never really got out of his break on the 2nd one. The final play was the same high low route combination that the Irish converted on 4th down to beat Purdue only this time Rudolph was on top and Kamara was underneath. Kamara slipped coming out of his break and the Trojans escaped as a result. If Kamara doesn’t slip coming out of his break this post might have an entirely different feel to it.
So where does that leave the Irish? It leaves the Irish in the exact same position as the 2005 squad at 4-2 with 6 winnable games left on the schedule. Inevitably a few of those will end up being challenging but they are all winnable nonetheless. From my perspective to make any declarative statements or final determinations about this team or the state of the program right now would be very premature. There is still a lot of football left to play and plenty of opportunities to keep progressing in a positive manner. They will need to take it one game at a time and getting back up for BC next week will be very telling of how this season is going to shake out. I will be in the stadium next week to watch the Irish face the opportunity to get things back on track.
I said last week that I would make an effort to remind myself that all would not be lost or gained based on the outcome of the USC game and I still believe that remains true. One could argue this team is two plays away from 6-0. The counter argument is that they are three plays away from 1-5. Like all things the truth is probably in the middle and that happens to be exactly where they are. This offense is good enough to trade punches with just about any team in the country and the defense remains a work in progress. In the mean time I remain mindful of the fact that there are only a handful of starters out there that will exhaust their eligibility this season. We are still witnessing the final stages of a program fighting its way back into prominence. It never happens fast enough but two years removed from 3-8 the progress is undeniable and I still believe the program will get there very soon. I try to remind myself that at the end of the day I’m just another passionate fan on a couch that needs to try and enjoy the ride.
Offensive Game Ball- Clausen, Tate & Parris. What an outstanding display of talent and intestinal fortitude from all three of those guys.
Defensive Game Ball- Gary Gray. Six tackles and a key pick that got the Irish back in it. Gray is the best corner on the team right now. Manti Te’o also quietly had 8 tackles and Brian Smith was disruptive. Kapron Lewis-Moore also continues to show up. I really think KLM has the potential to develop into a Justin Tuck/ Victor Abiamiri type force at DE.