Sunday, October 16, 2005

USC-Notre Dame, a Game to Remember

I should preface this with the statement that I am a huge USC fan; one of the few living east of the Mississippi. I first remember cheering for the USC Trojans because my high school team was the Trojans, and as a little kid I cheered on Rodney Peete, Junior Seau and Mark Carrier. It has been marvelous watching Pete Caroll turn the ship around and bring the Trojans back to the top of the college football ranks. Yesterday, the Trojans competed and won one of the best football games I have ever watched. It was a match-up of the no. 1 USC Trojans and the no. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With all of the hype, it would be impossible to live up to, but both teams delivered even more than all the pre-game shows could promise.

I should first link to some articles. This from ESPN really shares the emotion felt by the players and the effort they gave. This article is a little bit slanted in Irish favor, but since it is from the NY Times, I am not surprised. The writer notes the little flubs that ND made that would have sealed the game for him but he fails to mention the odd interception that bounced off of the head/shoulders of a ND defensive back fortuitously into the arms of another DB or the punt return with at least 2 blocks in the back. This article will tell you a little bit about that 4th and 8 play where Leinart went 60 yards to Jarrett. This article I think holds the key: pete Carroll never considered kicking the field goal.

I watched the first 3 quarters of the game and felt like I was watching the New England Patriots of 2001-2002 play against a superior opponent on paper and manage to play the game and define it on their terms. I also felt like I was watching the Patriots-Rams and NY Giants-Bills Super Bowls. Coincidentally, the Parcells/Belicheck dynasty of coaching was involved with both of those Super Bowls. Notre Dame was going to try ball control; everyone in America knew that. The problem with that approach is that USC can score on any given play. The first quarter showed that. USC had the ball 3 minutes and scored 14 points. That is why explosive players are coveted by NFL teams.

After watching the first half, a friend called me and asked how I felt about the game. My thoughts were that everything that could go wrong for USC had gone wrong and there was no way that would happen in back to back halves. USC had a red zone turnover on a freak bounce, gave up a special teams touchdown, and had 8 penalties. Take a look at the box score. Notice the penalties for the whole game. They only had 1 in the second half. While they did have another turnover in Notre Dame's territory, they did not allow ND to capitalize on that mistake. The deep ball was taken away, and USC started to double cover to help defensive back/child actor, no. 18 Walker. Notre Dame was catching every single break a team could catch but were still up only 7 points. For all that time of possession, they still had fewer yards than USC and their QB had poor numbers.

The last few sentences go to a strength of the Trojans; second half coaching adjustments. Pete Carroll does not allow the Trojans to get beat and continue to get beat throughout the game. He understands that if your system is not working in the first half, you have to change it. It might be a tough lesson he learned in the NFL. Some college coaches **cough cough Steve Spurrier cough cough Bobby Bowden** beat their system into a pulp and when they meet a defense or offense that is picking it apart, do not change to give their team a chance to win. They believe that the talent of their team will persevere in all games. What does that make them: coaches or recruiters?

This game will be talked about for a long time. Is it the best game I have ever watched, yes. Is it the best game of all time, no. I would want to watch tapes of the other games or ESPN Classic telecasts of games before I made a decision on that. As good as this game was, each year a bowl game is outstanding. Rarely though, do two top teams meet and it comes down to the final ticks of the clock. It is also rare that storied schools who have returned to the top clash and battle with completely different styles. Maybe if Penn St. had remained unbeaten and could challenge one of these teams in a bowl game would the Beano Cooks and Lee Corsos of the sporting world go nuts once again.

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