The good, the bad, the ugly: USC

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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.