Where does one start with this game? Well, let me say the 2009 matchup between Notre Dame and USC played out almost exactly like I thought it would.
I know a lot of people will be chastising the Irish for losing eight in a row to the Trojans and the continuing lack of a big win against a top team. And many will say this is the end of the line for Weis and that there are no moral victories in defeat.
However, I’m not buying any of that. I never thought you could go from zero touchdowns in two years worth of games to a victory despite USC losing a handful of key players. The talent gap is smaller now, but Notre Dame still has a bit more to go to defeat top 10 teams.
Here’s what I take away from this game:
The Irish defense just is not good enough to win big-time games. The secondary continues to be dismal and is clearly the Achilles' heel holding Notre Dame back from taking the team as a whole to the next level.
They did an admirable job bottling up the Trojan running game but allowed a freshman quarterback to scorch them in the biggest of moments. And although the tackling was slightly improved, it is still too weak and it cost the Irish once again.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line had a hard time containing the USC defensive line, particularly early in the game. As improved as the Irish offensive line has played this year, they still struggle mightily against quick defenses coming off the edges.
You have to be impressed with the way Notre Dame fought back in this game, even if they couldn’t score at the end of the game. With the effort, the Irish showed that they can hang with the best of teams in the country and that is promising.
And given the circumstances (Clausen’s injury, no Floyd) it is still exciting that Notre Dame could put almost 400 yards and 30 points up against one of the nation’s best defenses.
Up front on defense, the Irish played pretty well against the Trojan rushing attack, limiting them to only 3.7 yards per rush and was able to get decent pressure in the face of Barkley after being blocked for the good part of the first half.
Manti Te’o : Another strong game from the Hawaiian linebacker, as he seems to be getting better and better each week. He’s not a dominant player by any means but for a true freshman, he is a vicious tackler and solid playmaker on defense.
Robby Parris : Just an all-around gutsy effort by Parris as he stepped up and had a huge game finishing with nine receptions for 92 yards. Hopefully in the coming weeks he will become a more reliable target in the passing game.
Armando Allen : Not an outstanding performance by Allen, but he showed a lot of grit and toughness when his number was called. Fifty-one yards on 12 carries isn’t going to blow anyone away, but he averaged a better YPC than the mighty McKnight.
Harrison Smith : Flat out bad day and season for Smith at the safety position. Can you think of one marginally important tackle or pass breakup that he has had through six games? I don’t think there’s any doubt that H. Smith is the biggest liability on the defense.
Golden Tate : How can he not be considered one of the best receivers in the country? Back to back elite games by Tate, all without the presence of Floyd, make him a truly special player. Golden should probably be getting some Heisman votes as well.
Jimmy Clausen : He struggled early against a strong pass rush, but settled in and came away with another strong performance. It would have been nice to see a touchdown at the end of the game to force overtime and a possible miracle comeback, but in no way did Clausen play poorly.
A lot of people are going to write Clausen off and he probably won’t win the Heisman, but he’s still the best quarterback in the country in my mind.
For some reason, I wasn’t that heart broken after this loss. I think this had to do with the fact that I expected a close loss and that it was nice to see a strong comeback after it looked like USC was going to run away with the game in the second half.
Obviously, the Irish defense needs to play much better or games against BC, Pitt, Stanford, and even Navy could be closer than they probably should be. It’s almost unfathomable how awful the Notre Dame secondary has been all season long and something needs to change.
Right now, I have to say that the play of Harrison Smith is absolutely killing Notre Dame. He’s a complete non-factor in coverage and has been the most unreliable tackler on the whole roster.
As much as McCarthy has been a hero on defense, his play isn’t helping the situation either. He is the team’s most sound tackler but has been playing too close to the line of scrimmage and hanging Harrison Smith out to dry in coverage.
So while McCarthy may be doing an admirable job, I think we have to face the facts that Notre Dame doesn’t have REAL safeties playing right now.
We’ve seen the defensive line improve significantly throughout the season and even the linebackers have improved slightly (although they’re still not great in coverage either). The way these two units played against USC’s top flight offensive line is very encouraging.
But the play of the corners and safeties has been about as bad as it can get. How does a giant tight end get behind the entire defense TWICE in the biggest of moments? How has Notre Dame’s supposed strength on defense turned out to be such a liability?
At this point, I don’t know how much of this is coaching but this team does not tackle well and there is constant blown coverage all over the place. If it were up to me, I would start looking to get someone else playing time at safety and I would force them to stay deep in coverage.
And despite McCarthy being such a great tackler, I would keep him back in coverage as well and help the passing defense. With the improvements of the defensive line I feel pretty confident that this team can stop the run.
The only problem is Boston College, Pitt, Navy, and Stanford are all going to try and run the ball down Notre Dame’s throat, so we probably won’t be seeing the safeties deep in coverage.
On offense, I came away pretty impressed with the way Notre Dame made adjustments and mounted a comeback in the second half. Once the line started giving Clausen time and room to throw, things really started to open up and the offense looked very strong.
All in all, I’m very happy and excited with the way the offense performed. There were a lot of questions and accusations coming into this game that Notre Dame couldn’t play against an elite defense. I don’t think there are many questions anymore.
Plus, let’s not forget Notre Dame was playing without the services of Michael Floyd, who, by all accounts, could have been the difference in this game. With Floyd in the lineup, this team can hang 30 on any team in the country, and yes that includes the likes of Florida, Alabama, and others.
Barring more injuries, this offense is about as good as you’ll see in college football. They don’t turn the ball over and there is finally enough balance to open up the passing game. This bodes well for the future.
In regards to Weis, I think he has shown that he can develop talent and make Notre Dame very competitive with the elite teams when he has veteran guys to work with. Perhaps a different coach would have the Irish playing better defense, but you’d be hard pressed to find one who could get this offense playing as well as it has.
I was of the opinion that, unless this game was a complete blowout, I would still have confidence in Weis as coach. Yes, Notre Dame desperately needed a win in a game like this, but all is not lost.
Weis needs to come back and run the table the rest of the season, or at least, finish the regular season 9-3 (I still think it will be 10-2). Doesn’t everyone remember how bad this team was only 12-20 months ago? The Irish need to start beating good teams before the giants can be slayed in the future.
I know a lot of people are chomping at the bit wanting Notre Dame to get back to a top team, but the defense just isn’t close to being good enough for that to happen. If Weis can pick up double digit wins this season and get Notre Dame to a good bowl game there will be a lot of promise going into next year.
Anyway, there is still a lot of promise left for this 2009 season.
*How nice was it to see John Goodman get some playing time and have an impact on the game? Even Kamara had a couple strong receptions that helped Notre Dame move the chains. I think the rest of the year Weis should develop Goodman, Evans and Walker as much as possible.
*Does Kamara stay on his feet and catch the last throw of the game if Notre Dame Stadium had field turf?
*Anyone else sick and tired of listening to NBC’s broadcast team?
*How about the pro-style socks Notre Dame wore? I’m usually very critical of the socks NFL teams wear, but I thought Notre Dame looked really good with the blue on top of the white. It made the players looks bigger and faster.
*Nobody, and I mean nobody, throws the deep ball better than Clausen. Bradford, McCoy, Tebow, Snead and others could get ten chances each to make the throw Clausen did to Tate and there wouldn’t be one ball thrown as perfect as Clausen’s was.