Notre Dame vs. USC Preview: The Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh

The setting: my living room. The date: October 15, 2005. The Game: #1 USC at #9 Notre Dame. The stage was set for Notre Dame to catapult themselves back into relevance with a win against the unstoppable USC Trojans, led by Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Pete Carroll.

This game was different than any Notre Dame game I remember watching in my youth. For the first time in my cognizant life, Notre Dame looked good. It was a rare primetime night game in South Bend, Irish rocking their big game green jerseys that I had not seen in years. Charlie Weis and his Super Bowl pedigree had Irish fans excited, and you could feel the energy pulsing from that stadium through the TV screen. Notre Dame was up 4 late in the fourth and had USC pinned back to a 4th and 9 on their own 25. It felt at the time that everyone, even my family of cynics, was ready to believe again.

Then, he said it.

“All right, all we need to do here is not give up a 60 yard play.”

Whistle blows, the ball is snapped. Leinart drops back, and rops in a dime to Dwayne Jarret, who somehow got behind our secondary 61 yard play. The silence in my house was deafening. We couldn’t believe what we just saw. How do you let him get behind you? Did we never see this play on USC’s game tape? It was 4th and 9!

skip to 2:20

And you know the rest. Stopped on the 1, Leinart rolls left on a QB sneak, Reggie Bush pushes him into the endzone, Notre Dame loses 34-31. The infamous “Bush Push” then set off a butterfly effect timeline of misery for we ND faithful. Seasons of making BCS Bowls and losing in punishing fashion, losing to UCONN, people like Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Christ playing QB for us, and to this day still having to pay off Charlie Weis for his mediocre tenure as head coach.

At the time, a 10 year old me blamed my Dad for the loss to USC, claiming he jinxed us and ruined the season. But the jaded, weathered 24 year old me knows better than that. That’s just Notre Dame football. Whenever Notre Dame has you ready to “wake up the echoes” they throw a pivotal INT to lose the game. Whenever they have you convinced they’ll, “win one for the gipper,” they give up a 75 yard bomb on busted coverage late in the fourth. To be miserable is to be a Notre Dame fan, and that’s just the way things are.

But Saturday, things will be different.

USC enters this game battered and bruised, especially on defense. While they’re linebackers are solid (as is tradition), they’re defensive line is crippled. Both their starting and backup nose tackles are injured, and starting d-end Rasheem Green is not playing due to an ankle injury. Additionally, Sam Darnold looks like he’s regressed a little this year without as many weapons on offense, and while still dangerous, that unit is not nearly as intimidating as they were last year. They’ll put up points, but so will the Irish.

The bottom line is there are very few teams that are more athletic than Notre Dame on offense (hope you read that sitting down). Wimbush is the best dual threat QB that will become a wideout in the NFL in the NCAA, and I am of firm belief that Josh Adams is the best pure running back in the country. Considering USC comes into the game starting reserves on the D-Line, I expect Adams to have a HUGE day running in between the tackles.

Which brings us to the “llave del partido.” If Notre Dame jumps out to an early lead in this game, like they’ve been able to against everyone all year, they’ll win this game. In a run happy offense, playing with a lead has been key for the Irish this year as they can control the clock and settle into a rhythm for the offensive line. If not, they’ll be forced to throw the ball in big spots and I’ve already said how I feel about Wimbush’s ability to throw a six yard in route. But, I don’t see the game going so poorly that it gets to that point.

If the definition of insanity is, “to do the same act over and over again expecting a different result,” then consider me a fucking lunatic, because I’m all in on Notre Dame to win this game Saturday night. Hope will be restored yet again in South Bend, Indiana, if only for a week.

Notre Dame: 38 USC: 27

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