Waking up today, it still feels the same way. Another heart-breaker against the hated Trojans, and Irish fans have to be wondering when this losing streak will come to an end. I haven’t rewatched the game yet, but I can’t stop thinking about three or four close plays that the Irish secondary almost made on some of Barkley’s tight throws. While visions of Anthony McCoy galloping down the field with haunt the Irish faithful, it was the near misses and almost interceptions that still get at my gut.
As usual, here’s the good, bad, and ugly from Saturday’s loss to the Trojans.
The spirit of the Irish has to be something that people feel good about. For Irish fans, there had to be a moment in the 4th quarter that was bordering on despair. How can this be happening? How can Notre Dame still be losing by 20 points to the Trojans after five years of Weis? Yet even though most in the stands or in front of their TVs didn’t believe, the Irish did, and they mounted a rally that could’ve been… well, you know. Sorting through the stats, a few things jump out at me. Notre Dame had 6 more first downs than the Trojans, but couldn’t match the massive chunks of yardage that the Trojans were piling up. Jimmy Clausen played courageously, running for his life and still having a great day at the office. But a loss is a loss. Taken as a single entity, I’d argue this game was a good loss (if you believe in those). Yet looking at the totality of it all — eight games and running — and people start getting antsy. If there’s a good, the Irish offense, the heart of both units, and the fight of the team have to be at the forefront.
Schematically, Notre Dame’s passing defense is broken. Matt Barkley had ALL DAY to throw in the pocket, and USC’s ability to create space and throwing lanes on the field just left the Irish secondary hanging out to dry. It feels like a broken record, but Jon Tenuta refuses to hide his intent with blitzes, and the Irish continue to get crushed because of this. Never was this more evident than Damian Williams’ second touchdown reception. It is no secret that USC is dependent on the play-action passing game and rolling the quarterback out, yet for much of the first three quarters, Barkley picked up huge gains on high-percentage throws that had the Irish defense befuddled. Coming into today, the Trojans were only converting 28 percent of their 3rd downs. Today, USC went 6 for 13 — many of those plays huge gainers. While Notre Dame held USC to 3.7 yards a carry, it was the big play in the air that beat the Irish.
What does Notre Dame need to do to get past the Trojans? The Irish must feel like their luck has to be ready to change, and for a while it seemed like it was. Fumbles were being recovered, clutch 3rd and 4th down conversions, including an epic catch by Robby Parris on a 4th and ballgame that got him a well deserved ovation as he was helped off the field after a horrific face-masking penalty contorted his body into a very scary position. Even the additional play at the end of the game — one last second to get into the end zone and get the chance to take the game to overtime or go for the two-point conversion and play for the win. Can you imagine the place in Irish lore this come-from-behind win would’ve had? Can you imagine how long you’d talk about Weis’ decision to go for 2 and the win, or an overtime thriller? There’d be t-shirts selling in the bookstore for years. That’s what hurts the most for Irish fans. One more stomach punch against the Trojans, another year of listening to the taunts and jeers of Southern Cal fans, and another 13 months before the Irish have to travel to Los Angeles and face a team that will then have Matt Barkley playing in his second full season. There was no better time for the Irish to walk away victorious, and that’s the part that has to hurt the most.
Somebody pass me the Advil.