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Notre Dame Football: The USC Hangover

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Football players panicking during a business trip to the disco... it will all make sense in a few minutes.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If the USC Trojans would have been a 9 win team this season, the 24-17 win the Notre Dame Fighting Irish put up against them would have been a little more exciting and a lot less frustrating.

At any rate, here’s your hangover:

IAN BOOK THE FOOTBALL PLAYER

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There was an Ohio State quarterback that my best friend and I carried a fan flag for many years ago. His name is Steve Bellisari, and despite not having a good career in Columbus as a passer, my friend and I were enamored by Bellisari’s toughness. We didn’t refer to him (a guy that started his career at safety) as a quarterback — we called him, “a football player.”

Ian Book is evolving into such a categorization.

Don’t get it twisted... Book is a quarterback, and a thumping good one too. But, he showed Saturday night, that he can go above such a label. Two runs in particular showed his toughness, and his willingness to play a physical brand of football not usually reserved for passers. Those both gained critical first downs for Notre Dame, with the first one providing the spark needed to win the game.

Book’s 16 net yards don’t look nearly as good as his 22/39 for 352 yards and 2 TD’s, but they were equally important. It’s what football players do.

PANICKING FOR NO REASON

Perhaps Notre Dame employed Brian VanGorder for too long (there’s no perhaps about it — they did). Irish fans seem to get a little more jumpy than what would be determined as normal during the game if the opposing offense actually does a little something.

The panic was there for Irish fans as J.T. Daniels and the Trojan offense took the opening drive 78 yards for a touchdown. Even though the Irish only coughed up 3 more points until garbage time, you would have thought worlds were ending.

We’re just going to have to trust Clark Lea and this defense — because it’s really good. Notre Dame is ranked #22 in total defense, #5 in pass efficiency defense, and #11 in scoring defense (the most important number).

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

17.3 points per game... so why would anyone freak out at 10-0? Clark Lea made the right adjustments, and the Irish defense clamped down. USC was “Weis ing” us for a half. The top three leading tacklers were Julian Love, Alohi Gilman, and Troy Pride Jr. and took care of everything in front of them.

I mean, they just did what they do.

BUSINESS TRIP DISASTER AVERTED

The ABC broadcast team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit weren’t just making conversation when they were highlighting Notre Dame’s flat play — it was really happening. For the first time since the Ball State game, the Irish looked like a team that wasn’t able to match the emotion and passion of the team across from them.

This was most certainly a business trip, but in a rivalry game, emotion must be available to energize a team’s play. That’s why the fumble recoveries and that Ian Book run when he dropped the shoulder were so important. They helped spark Notre Dame when they had little to no “shine.”

Notre Dame v USC Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Even after the win, the team looked tired and more relieved than celebratory, which maybe shouldn’t be the case in a season ending game that put the record at a perfect 12-0. Brian Kelly said this was a mature team, and that’s why the excitement was less than we would expect, but I’d wager there was something else involved, and most people already know what that is.

The travel this team undertook this season finally showed its teeth in L.A. against USC. The nightmare we thought might bite Notre Dame in the ass almost did just that. The Irish are now 6-3 in the games that follow the Shamrock series, and in those 6 wins the average margin of points is around 7.

Travel sucks. A lot of travel sucks even more, and has a number of effects on the body. Notre Dame was able to overcome all of that, but I think we saw just how critical it can all be. The leadership on this team from top to bottom saved a last game disaster, which given the circumstances, was a remarkable thing.

MOVING FORWARD

Now comes some much needed time off for Notre Dame. Time for a fairly healthy team to fully heal, and time to put in the work to stay sharp for the college football playoff.

It’s also a scary time because there’s a little more free time to maybe get in a wee bit of trouble. The team, and in particular the captains, have to hold everyone accountable and stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Let’s see where this party goes next!

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