Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Trojan Horse

Though the record will show that USC took the lead over Notre Dame for good with 0:03 left on the clock, following Matt Leinart's QB sneak from the 1 yard line, I knew the game was over when there was still over a minute to play.

USC was facing a 4th and 8 from inside their own 30 yard line. As they broke from the huddle, play by play announcer Tom Hammond specifically noted the fact that Notre Dame, who were wearing their traditional "lucky" green jerseys, had lost their last 3 games wearing those jerseys. They had, however, beat USC the past three times they broke them out for this particular rivalry game. He then mused on how this always brought them luck against the Trojans. (As an aside on the green jerseys, I never wear them with my Irish team in NCAA Football since I lost my first two games using them, then barely scraped out a win over the Army in the third. Not good luck in the EA universe, I guess.)

Now, this wasn't the first time the announcers brought this up. In fact, they mentioned it more than anything, save for Hammond's repetitive use of the phrase "greatest inter-sectional rivalry" to describe the Irish-Trojan series. It was, however, an interesting time to bring it up, given that USC was seconds away from snapping the ball on the play that would decide the fate of the game. If they don't convert, ND runs out the final minute and change. If they do, they have new life and a chance, down by 3, to keep driving the ball, tie and send the game to OT, or win outright with a TD.

Of course, as soon as he said this, I knew the game was over. See, I'm one of those superstitious sports fans. I believe that my actions and words, and those of the announcers, affect the outcome of the game. So much so that I refused to wear my Notre Dame jersey on a game day for about a period of 5 years because they had lost something like 4 games in a row when I had in the late 1990s. I broke that drought last month for the Michigan game, and the Irish reversed the trend and won. So, naturally, I thought it might be good luck again to wear the jersey for the game this weekend. And it worked, for over 58 minutes, until Hammond noted the "luck" of the green jerseys. He might as well have thrown a black cat onto the field, then marched Charlie Weis under a ladder. You just don't mention these things at a crucial time of the game. You don't do it. Especially for an announcer on Notre Dame's home network, this was unforgivable. He did everything but pull the Joe Buck routine of screaming "HE'S THROWING A NO-HITTER!"

Anyway, I don't need to tell you what happened next. A few plays later, Leinart scored, after a fluke play where he was stopped on the 1, but fumbled out of bounce, allowing USC to have one more crack, where the clock would have run out otherwise. Talk about a kick to the gut. This loss is devastating for several reasons, notably the close chances ND had to win the game, or at least be in position to tie. For example:

• On the drive that led to ND's first FG, Jeff Samardzeija caught a pass in the end zone on 3rd down but landed his first foot out of bounds (he successfully dragged the back foot, which would have been enough to make it count had he not landed his other foot first, a fact the announcers completely missed). If he gets that in bounds, add another 4 to ND's total, and the game is tied and going to OT after Leinart's last second TD.

• DJ Fitzpatrick missed a chip-shot in the second half. If he puts that extra 3 points on the board, ND has the opportunity to go for 2 and extend the lead to 7 over USC before giving them the ball back in the final 2 minutes.

• Brady Quinn overthrew a wide open Anthony Fasano on 3rd down, leading to the second FG late in the 4th Quarter. As much as Brady has improved this year, he still does this a couple of times a game.

• Charlie Weis left 2-3 timeouts on the board. After Dwayne Jarrett's reception on 4th down brought USC inside the red zone, they could have burned those timeouts to try and have time for a comeback if the Trojans scored. I will never understand this. What's the worst that happens? They burn their timeouts, hold the Trojans off the board, then take a knee once or twice.

I'm still reeling from the loss. Despite having plenty of opportunities to shut the door for good, ND just couldn't do it, and USC made them pay, like great teams do. Reggie Bush was phenomenal (I was petrified every time he touched the ball), making up for Matt Leinart's average day until the final drive. It was a game the Irish should have won, but let slip away. Between this, and the Red Sox getting swept in the first round, let's just say I've had better 8 day stretches as a sports fan. I try not to let it affect my mood, but I just can't help it sometimes.

A few final comments on the game:

• Reggie Bush is the new Gale Sayers. Gale was before my time, but the highlights of him I've seen are the best approximation to what Bush brings to the table - the combination of speed/explosiveness as a runner, receiver, and returner. He's got a lot of Marshall Faulk in him too. He's going to be a great one in the NFL, though he may have to add 10-15 pounds to be an every down back (and hope it doesn't affect his speed too much).

• I thought USC called a terrible game on offense. They looked really hesitant all game (especially Matty Heisman. Even before he got shaken up in the second half, it looked like his nerves were getting the best of him). In fact, without Reggie Bush's heroics, they aren't even in this game by the 4th Quarter.

• Notre Dame played well on defense (and called good plays too), in contrast to the Michigan State game. It's clear that they're still at least a year away from truly cracking the upper echelon of programs. Brady Quinn still makes some simple mistakes, and the talent isn't quite there yet, though performances like this should help them to attract blue-chip recruits.

• This might be the defining game of the USC dynasty. I had previously thought it was the blowout of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, where they played a near perfect game, but this was a game that proved they knew how to be resilient, come back, and pull out a win when they probably shouldn't have, like great teams too. In other news, I hate USC, but damn if I'm not already psyched for next year's round in the LA Coliseum.


Post a Comment

<< Home