October 20, 2007

No. 13 USC pummels hapless Notre Dame

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – They brought out the green jerseys, brought back the 1977 national championship team and looked to former basketball coach Digger Phelps to bring an inspiring message at this week's pep rally.

"We're not dead yet," the undertaker's son proclaimed.

Notre Dame did all that to rekindle history.

Instead, the Irish made history - in a most dubious way – in front of a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, Notre Dame flopped again. The Irish did so with a worst-in-series-history, 38-0 loss to traditional rival Southern California that dropped the Irish's record to 1-7 and officially ended their chances of reaching a bowl game.

"I thought we were on an upswing," Irish senior defensive end Trevor Laws said. "Then to go 38-0 … that's a tough one to swallow."

Oh, it gets tougher. Much tougher.

This historic series usually means so much in the national scope, but this year is mainly significant because of its insignificance. Notre Dame is struggling and USC is ranked just 14th in the BCS standings after losing to Stanford two weeks ago.

Just two years ago USC, which eventually reached the national championship game, rallied for a classic, last-second 34-31 victory, which wasn't assured until the controversial "Bush Push" on the final play.

No. 13 Southern California 30, Notre Dame 0
Player of the game
Sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez, who wasn't sharp in his first start last week against Arizona, completed 21 of 38 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns.
Turning point/key play
Neither team was having much offensive success early and Notre Dame had just forced a Greg Woidneck punt. His 35-yard kick bounced off Notre Dame's Munir Prince and USC's Vincent Joseph recovered at the Irish 10-yad line. Sanchez threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Fred Davis on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
Best coaching move
Pete Carroll decided to go with Sanchez as his starting quarterback. John David Booty, who has a broken finger, could have played. However, Carroll decided it was better to stay with Sanchez.
Surprise performance
USC linebacker Rey Maualuga was struggling with a painful hip pointer all week in practice, but managed to post three tackles - including two sacks.
What this means for team USC
The Trojans joined Michigan and Michigan State as the only teams to have ever posted at least six consecutive victories over Notre Dame. USC also remains in the national championship picture, although perhaps as a long shot.
What this means for team Notre Dame
The Irish fell to 1-7 and are mathematically eliminated from reaching bowl eligibility.
Noteworthy
Notre Dame did not commit a penalty until getting flagged for a face mask violation with just under 11 ? minutes remaining. …Notre Dame won the coin toss and deferred for the first time in Weis' three seasons as coach. … David Bruton recorded Notre Dame's first blocked punt of the season when he literally took the ball off the foot of USC's Wiodneck. … USC freshman running back Joe McKnight scored his first career touchdown on a 51-yard run with 10:57 remaining in the game. … USC's six-game winning streak over Notre Dame is the its longest in the series. Notre Dame still has the longest winning streak in the series with 11 straight victories from 1983 to 1993.
USC doesn't have a star like Reggie Bush this year. And obviously the Trojans don't need one – not against Notre Dame, anyway. That's just one more reason for already despondent Irish fans to slip into a deeper depression.

The Trojans were playing without four opening-day offensive starters, including quarterback John David Booty and All-American tackle Sam Baker, yet still rolled up 462 yards to Notre Dame's 165.

In the second half Notre Dame fans were reduced to cheering for rare first downs and the student section chanted an obscenity – Bleep Pete Carroll (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap) - when the USC coach challenged an official's ruling with five minutes remaining in the game.

They cheered wildly when the ruling was upheld.

Carroll didn't mind, though. He'd already gotten what he wanted.

"We felt coming into this week we were getting stronger, some (injured) guys were returning," Carroll said. "We'll get more guys back next week. We think that we can really start to push in the second half of the schedule and have an opportunity to play some good football.

"We'll see what happens, but I'm really happy across the board for our football team. I thought in all phases we did fine, and there's always stuff to clean up, but the things that we needed to do today, we did."

Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez passed for 235 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Fred Davis had another excellent performance in an All-American caliber season. Receiver Vidal Hazelton made a magnificent run to turn a pass into a 48-yard touchdown. Freshman running back Joe McKnight scored on a 51-yard touchdown run.

Meanwhile, the USC defense posted five sacks of Notre Dame's first-time starting quarterback Evan Sharpley, forced three turnovers and routinely left the Irish facing long-yardage situations on second and third down. Notre Dame converted just four of 17 third downs.

"I think the big thing is on first down we were getting negative yards," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "You run a toss, you lose 3 yards; you run inside, you lose 2; you run a screen pass, you lose 8. I mean, when you're doing that, tell me which one you want to run?"

So despite the green jerseys and pep talks, the Irish were just run over.

Meanwhile, USC, which travels to face Oregon next week, may be able to make a run at another Pac-10 championship and could get back in the national championship picture.

But on Saturday the Trojans were just enjoying their sixth win in a row over their rival.

"I wish there was more time for celebrating," Sanchez said. "But we've got to get going and get ready for the (Oregon) Ducks. I'll celebrate on the plane home."

Well, maybe he should celebrate a little bit longer.

Weis suggested he should.

"Let me just say people better enjoy (Notre Dame's struggles) now," Weis said. "They better have their fun now."

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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