Irish Shows Plenty Of Fight Against USC—Bad News For The Skeptics
During my year and change on Bleacher Report, I'm sure I've demonstrated some tendencies that anyone watching closely would be able to enumerate quickly and persuasively.
For example, I don't like the Dallas Cowboys, I don't like the Los Angeles Lakers, and I hate the Los Angeles Dodgers. When discussing these franchises, I try to keep it objective, but I'd be lying if I told you I always succeeded.
Of course, there's a double-edge to the sword with which I attack my favorite victims because I can't, in good conscience, ignore them when they impress. Since I don't waste time rooting against bad teams, I'm often in the position of having to heap praise upon organizations on which I'd rather be dumping six feet of dirt.
Which brings me to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program. My distaste for the Golden Domers is a matter of public record, so I won't rehash it here.
Instead, I'll give them a sincere round of applause for their performance against the USC Trojans on Saturday. I expected them to get smoked, even in South Bend, yet they gave the University of Southern California everything it wanted.
If not for a couple bad breaks—some of which were the self-inflicted variety—the Fightin' Irish might have sent the game into overtime rather than have time expire only four yards from the tying tally. Once in OT, who knows what ghosts could've reared up on the hallowed turf?
So, as far as rough losses go, this close-but-no-cigar is right up there. Still, Charlie Weis and his flock should be extremely proud if disappointed.
The Irish student-athletes were obviously overwhelmed by the depth of talent boasted by the Men of Troy. I don't mean that as a slight to Notre Dame—I believe most programs are so disadvantaged when taking on USC. The pride of SoCal is simply amongst the elite of the elite in college football.
If you're not the Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Longhorns, or a handful of other variables from season to season, a victory over USC is going to be a pretty monumental upset.
You could see the Trojans' virtually unfair reservoirs of athletic ability in all facets on the field.
It was evident on defense.
The USC attack made Jimmy Clausen earn every one of his 260 yards through the air as well as his two touchdowns (he had another rushing). The freaks up front planted the Irish quarterback five times despite deploying only a four-man rush for most of the contest.
Nor could the Notre Dame running game exploit the strategy—moving the ball only 82 yards on 31 carries. In fairness, the Domers were dealing with a sizable deficit most of the scrap and were enjoying the aforementioned results of Clausen's arm.
USC's superior depth was also evident on offense.
Clausen proved once and for all that he's the real McCoy behind center, bouncing back from a start that would've rattled many youngsters to have a nice game. Even so, freshman QB Matt Barkley hung right with him—360 yards, two scores, an interception, and a yard-per-completion average more than double his counterpart's.
Likewise, Golden Tate continued to acquaint himself with the rest of the country. The junior wide receiver caught eight balls for 117 yards and both of Clausen's touchdowns. Additionally, senior Robby Parris chipped in a nice effort—nine passes for 92 yards.
Unfortunately, the Men of Troy had emphatic answers for Irish dynamic duo.
Anthony McCoy trumpeted a wake-up call for those National Football League scouts still sleeping on the senior tight end, catching five passes for 153 yards and looking like an agile wideout in the process...at 6'5", 250 pounds.
Damian Williams played the Parris to McCoy's Tate—joining the party for four catches, 108 yards, and both of Barkley's scores.
The retort didn't stop there.
Barkley completed tosses to nine receivers compared to only six for Clausen. Meanwhile, the Trojan running game managed 121 yards on 33 carries—not spectacular, but substantially more effective than Notre Dame's version.
USC's talent advantage could even be seen on special teams.
The Trojan punter launched a 59-yard punt off a botched snap at one point. Why in the name of all that's holy would the team have a gifted punter? I don't imagine punting figures too heavily in the preseason plans, but that's what makes programs like USC (for whom I have no love as a Stanford alum) what they are—extraordinary.
They get one of the best for every position because they can. Whether you approve of their methods or not.
Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish took some of the Trojans' best shots, tasted canvas several times, and kept picking itself off the mat.
Aided by the interception and a disturbing number of incredibly stupid personal fouls, Notre Dame fought all the way back from a late deficit with 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and put every USC fan's heart in his or her throat with the final drive. Twice.
I'm sure several remote controls will need to be replaced after that last second was put back on the South Bend scoreboard. One last hurrah to finish the comeback.
Alas, Clausen and company needed 20 unanswered points and the last seven proved too tall an order. Consequently, the squad suffered its second loss of the season.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that, if the Notre Dame Fighting Irish keeps playing like it did against USC, Charlie Weis and his kids are going to make a lot of people look very foolish by the time bowl season is over.
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