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The good, the bad, the ugly: USC

Nov 29, 2010, 5:36 PM EST

Te'oDiaco

Ronald Johnson still dropped it.

That’s the thing most Irish fans have to be saying to themselves after Saturday’s 20-16 victory over the Trojans, where Notre Dame survived four turnovers to beat USC for the first time since 2001. When wrapping up the game, USC head coach Lane Kiffin had this to say.

“None of them imagined they would lose this game,” Kiffin said. “It’s really hard to picture this happened. The ball is in the air, and everybody’s thinking he’s going to catch it and the streak is alive.”

Usually a head coach isn’t the one that points to one play for reasons why his squad lost, but it’s understandable that Kiffin could feel this way. That said, it’d be hard for an impartial observer to say that USC deserved to win that football game, even if the senior wide receiver had come up with Mitch Mustain’s heave.

To draw an interesting parallel, here’s what Boise State’s head coach, Chris Petersen, had to say after losing to Nevada after his kicker missed a chip-shot field goal to win the game in the game’s final second and another in overtime.

“We told them that one play can never lose the game,” Petersen said. “One play can win a game, but it can’t lose it. There were a lot of chances for us to make plays.”

With that, we’ll take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from the regular season finale, Notre Dame’s momentous victory over Southern Cal.

THE GOOD

I’ll keep beating the defensive’s drum until people get really sick of hearing it. The performance of Bob Diaco’s troops was incredible, and the Irish absolutely shut down the USC run game, something the Trojans needed to establish to help support quarterback Mitch Mustain.

One-time Notre Dame recruiting target and starting running back Marc Tyler had this to say after the game.

““They played eight in the box and they were very physical,” Tyler said. “Linebacker Manti Te’o seemed to be everywhere. He’s got a big frame. We just couldn’t get a push and move them. It’s too bad because our defense played their — off. It just couldn’t put it in the end zone.”

The past three games the Irish defense has been incredible against the run. Take a look at the roll they’ve been on:

UTAH                              Vs. Notre Dame             Vs. Everybody Else
Rush Yards/Game         71.0                                  172.1
Average Per Rush          2.4                                    5.0

ARMY                              Vs. Notre Dame             Vs. Everybody Else
Rush Yards/Game         135.0                                272.8
Average Per Rush          3.1                                     4.7

USC                                 Vs. Notre Dame             Vs. Everybody Else
Rush Yards/Game         80.0                                  192.7
Average Per Rush          2.7                                    5.2

After the game when head coach Brian Kelly and various players were made available to the media, Diaco slid off quickly to the team bus, dressed like Don Draper on a cool fall night in Manhattan. While Diaco’s been off-limits to the press since after the Navy defeat, the play of his unit has done all his talking for him.

THE BAD

We’ll find out in the years to come if Tommy Rees’ legacy is more like Brady Quinn’s or Matt LoVecchio’s. But either way, in the face of adversity, the true freshman quarterback has won three straight ballgames, two of which many thought Notre Dame had no chance of winning.

Rees’ second half numbers were miserable (4 of 10, 2 interceptions and a costly fumble), as both the rain and the moment caught up to the freshman quarterback. But though he struggled mightily until down the stretch, he rallied on the game’s final drive, making two big throws to Michael Floyd when it mattered.

“At times I got a little upset,” Rees admitted. “But you have to stay composed and the coaches did a great job of helping me.”

Help they did, as Kelly and the staff checked the Irish into the proper call on every play from the line of scrimmage, out-scheming both Lane and Monte Kiffin and USC’s defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron.

Rees’ struggles Saturday night help muddy the waters for those that thought the freshman had done enough to walk into fall practice as the starter while Dayne Crist rehabs from another major knee injury. I don’t think Kelly or his offensive staff think there’s any sort of controversy (Dayne’s still the starter), but if we’ve learned anything this season, Kelly has no problems running youngsters out onto the field, and it’ll at least make spring practice worth watching…

THE UGLY

There’s plenty of nits to pick, but I don’t think any deserve an ugly tag. Not for Irish fans anyway, after their first win over Troy in ages.

  1. 1notredamefan - Nov 29, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    Great write up Keith, This has to be the best good, bad, and ugly article I’ve EVER read since finding your blog!!

  2. bernhtp - Nov 29, 2010 at 7:50 PM

    Agreed about the ugly. After all of these years, even an ugly win over USC is a beautiful thing to behold.

  3. tedlinko - Nov 29, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    In my estimation, the Kiffin quote is very revealing. Is it just me or doesn’t he look a bit like a petulant teenager prowling the sideline over there. I know a lot of coaches (including BK) do a lot of jawing at the officials. No issue there. But with Kiffin it seems like there’s this constant whining, eye-rolling, and gesticulating every time a call doesn’t go his way. It doesn’t help that the guy looks like a teenager (he can’t help that part) but does he always have to act like a spoiled teenager as well?

    (I’m not just talking about this week — Living in CA, SC is on all the time out here so I’ve had lots of opportunities to observe. Naturally I’m not exactly unbiased but just wondering if others have observed the same as I).

  4. tlndma - Nov 29, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    I think you’ll see Kelly let his coaches back in front of the media, now that the season is over. I think he may not allow it during the season anymore. The scrutiny this program is under may make that a wise move. The added pressures of facing the media, at ND, can only hurt his staff’s performance.

    • jimkress - Nov 30, 2010 at 10:33 AM

      When the Staff makes really dumb remarks, like those of Diaco after the Navy game, they need to be withheld from the media until they are properly educated on what to say/ not say.

  5. ndnaz - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    The litmus test of this year’s team was to see measurable improvement.

    We finished 7-5. Sure, Stanford and Navy embarrassed us, and we gave the Tulsa game away. But 8-4 or even 9-3 was tantalizingly close.

    Keith’s stats are right-on in documenting how the defense improved. The offense continued to put points on the board in spite of devastating injuries at so many skill positions, and we actually looked pretty darn good at times when in full stride early.

    I am most excited at the resolve this team showed in every game after the Tulsa debacle. That’s a clear sign of tremendous leadership, and a program headed in the right direction.

    Improvement? Darn right, and in spades. Nice work, players and coaches. Bring on next year!

    • dochrd - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:53 PM

      Bring on next year is right! the play of the defense in the last three games gives me hope for a new era in ND football when playing great defense doesn’t rely on a weak opponent, but is the result of a fearsome attitude by the players. This is my 50th year of watching ND football (started when I was eight), and these last three games remind me of the inspired defense of the 1988 team, my favorite defensive squad. A great defense is needed for obvious reasons, but another reason it’s needed is to give the offense the confidence to do it’s job, even when it’s struggling.

      • jimkress - Nov 30, 2010 at 10:35 AM

        Agreed. The vast improvement in defense (except for the bollux-up against Navy) is the best thing that has happened this year.

  6. dochrd - Nov 29, 2010 at 10:47 PM

    Keith, you SHOULD keep talking about the defense. I haven’t been this confident of a ND defense since the early 90′s. Your statistical comparison of the last three opponents is great. These last three games have been awesome on defense, and let’s hope and pray and rub rabbits feet that this is the start of an era in ND football when the defense is feared, can be expected to stop teams in critical situations, and gives us the chance to win games. Putting aside the TD pass that was dropped (and H. Smith slipped and fell, it wasn’t blown coverage), in every other situation against USC the DEFENSE won the game. When’s the last time we could say that against USC? What an inspired three games it’s been on DEFENSE!!

    BTW, this year this site and this blog have been excellent. Seems like there are more video features this year, and your articles have prepared me many times for water cooler debates. I’m looking forward to your coverage of the bowl game.

  7. 1notredamefan - Nov 29, 2010 at 11:03 PM

    The Good, the bad, the ugly………We should add one to this weeks article….”THE BEAST”

    • 1notredamefan - Nov 29, 2010 at 11:08 PM

      err. *Best?

      • papadec - Nov 29, 2010 at 11:56 PM

        How about “Best Beast”?

  8. c4evr - Nov 30, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    I propose a new category – the GOOBUGLY… because Rees was all of those on Saturday. The great thing about it is that it happened in reverse. He was ugly, then he improved to bad, and finally looked good (perhaps great) in the final, inspired drive. A lot may be made of the dropped pass, but to me, the real story is how a true freshman came in to the Coliseum and endured an atrocious night holding on to the ball only to pull it together on the final drive and lead the team to victory. That – unlike Lady Luck intervening on dropped passes – is something upon which you can build a program. Congrats to Rees for showing great composure where others would have crumbled.

  9. glowplugv - Nov 30, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    After the game I was walking to the bus to take me back to the parking lot and an older USC gentlemen (I’m older too!) turned and congratulated ND on the win. Then he said, “here’s hoping that we move this series back to playing for the national championship!” Well put and a classy statement by a USC supporter.

  10. mbadomer - Nov 30, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    “None of them imagined they would lose this game,” Kiffin said. “It’s really hard to picture this happened. The ball is in the air, and everybody’s thinking he’s going to catch it and the streak is alive.”

    As much as I hate USC and Kiffin (lost any shred of respect for the man after what he did to UT), I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that he was blaming this kid for losing the game for USC. If he said something like, “yeah, we would have won if not for that play” then I’d be on board with this analysis. Having said that, good article this week. It’s great to see the Irish pull one out down the stretch after watching heartbreakers like Michigan, MSU and Tulsa this year!

  11. irishfan2791 - Nov 30, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    Imagine when this team gets healthy and finally feels comfortable in the system. BK wants to run this offense as fast as Oregon runs theirs….thats scary. With all the athletes and pure talent on this team it’ll be unstopable. If the Defense plays like they have in the past three games next year (I don’t see why not) Notre Dame is gonna be scary good. Rees has done admirably in his role but I still think Crist is the starter. So with Crist, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, Robbie Toma, Theo Riddick, TJ, Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph…..possibly Mike Floyd plus the freshman coming in (i.e. DeVaris Daniels and George Atkinson Jr.). I’m lookin forward to the bowl game and 2011 season. GO IRISH!!!!!!!

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