I was at work on Tuesday filling out some papers when I turned and ask my co-worker what the date was. He answered “The 15th”, and upon hearing that my mind went into a completely different place.
October 15th, 2005 is a day I will always remember. It is the day that the ninth ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish hosted the top ranked USC Trojans in one of the most hyped games in recent Irish history. I was fifteen years old at the time. Prior to this game, I never really understood the Notre Dame/Southern California rivalry. I thought rivalries had to involve two teams being close in proximity, or the series would have to be constantly competitive. All I knew was that USC was located on the other side of the country, and they usually beat up on my team every year. It didn’t strike me as much of a rivalry. This was the case until October 15th, 2005.
The Trojans carried a roster full of NFL talent into South Bend and a nation high twenty-seven game winning streak. They were the defending national champions, and seemingly untouchable. The Irish were rejuvenated by new coach Charlie Weis. With three wins over top 25 teams in their first five games, and an offense that was scoring at will, the national media thought that maybe, just maybe, this Irish team could finally be the team that made Troy fall.
The pre-game hype was unlike anything I’d ever seen as an Irish fan. I was not yet born when Miami traveled to South Bend in 1988, and I was in diapers when “The Game of the Century” took place, so as I saw College Gameday broadcasting live from campus, and the USC/Notre Dame matchup previews headlining every newspaper, I started to get a sense of how special this game really was. The pep rally took place in Notre Dame Stadium. Every miniscule detail regarding the game was debated (“The grass on the field is awfully long!”), and when the Irish took the field wearing green, I knew it was on.
The game itself remains, to this day, the most intense Notre Dame I’ve ever watched. Neither squad held more than a one score lead at any point. There were incredible defensive plays, like the Trojans forcing Fasano to cough up the ball deep in their territory. There was special teams magic like when Tommy Z gave the Irish the lead in the second quarter with a bruising punt return. There were clutch plays; I thought my television screen was going to shatter from the noise in the stadium when Brady Quinn ran in the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth, and you could hear a rat pee on cotton when Leinart found Jarrett on 4th and 9. Every star player on each team came to play on that day, from Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija, to Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
I’ll never forget the final moments of that game. We all remember it; Matt Leinart gets hit short of the end-zone, and in the midst of about a dozen different bodies and complete chaos, the NBC clock hit zero, and fans started spilling onto the field. For a few moments, it looked as if Notre Dame had beaten SC and ending their winning streak. Eventually, the officials huddled and put time back onto the clock, the Trojans run one final play, and we all know what happens next…
I was near tears. The only thing that kept me from crying was the fact that I had friends over watching the game with me. I retreated to my room for the rest of the weekend and left only to eat and use the toilet until school came on Monday. How could the officials just let Reggie Bush push his quarterback past the goal line the way he did? I knew it happened all the time, but it was just so damn OBVIOUS in this case. What about the assistant coach for the Trojans motioning for a timeout after the Leinart fumble? They had none left; how could that fly? I was the most bitter and angry teenage boy in the world after that game, and my feelings toward USC were official; I hate that stinking team.
Time has passed and I have grown up. I realize that complaining about the Bush Push was just me being bitter, and that I was being a sore loser. But one thing that hasn’t changed is my attitude toward Southern Cal. I still hate that team. It made me sick every time they blew out ND since that October night, and even the thought of losing to them makes me sick to this day. This week’s game doesn’t have any Heisman hopefuls, or national title implications, or pre-game trash talk, but it’s still USC week, and I’ll be as excited on Saturday morning as I was in the moments leading up to that game on October 15th, 2005.
Game Balls: Week 7
Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M: Was 31-39 for 346 yards and had 19 carries for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Aggies’ 41-38 win at Ole Miss. Manziel led them on 2 game tying drives and the game winning drive in the last ten minutes.
Terry Baggett, RB Army: Had 18 carries for 304 yards and 4 touchdowns in Army’s 50-25 win over Eastern Michigan. That is not a misprint.
This week for the Irish
I’ve said most of what I wanted to say in the opening, so I’ll now try to give a bit of an unbiased preview. The Trojans, while a complete mess as recently as two weeks ago, are actually not a great matchup for Notre Dame stylistically. They feature an offense that is not short on talent, and now that they have Lane Kiffin out of their hair, it may start to thrive. They boast an experienced offensive line and have arguably the best receiving duo the Irish will see all year in Marquise Lee and Nelson Agholor. In addition to stopping them, Notre Dame also has to account for the Trojans’ rushing attack, which boasts a number of backs that can hurt you in Silas Redd, Tre Madden, and Justin Davis.
The Trojans defense has pretty good numbers against the run, but they have been gashed the past two weeks on the ground. Perhaps this could be just a hiccup for what was thought to be a very good defense, or perhaps this is the real SC defense, and the one we saw earlier in the year was just the benefactor of a soft schedule. Hopefully it’s the latter, because as I’ve mentioned several times, the offense has to run the ball for Tommy Rees to be successful. If the Trojans stymie the running game like Michigan State did a few weeks back, it will be another ugly offensive performance and that won’t be enough to win the game.
This has been a very tough game for me to pick. We can all point and at the misfortunes of SC earlier this year, but with new guidance, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they can get things together and make a late season run. They are not short on talent, especially offensively. However, I think the key advantage for Notre Dame in this year’s matchup is experience at the quarterback position. Cody Kessler, the starter for the Trojans, has never played in an environment like the one he will play in Saturday. I’m sure the jet lag is weird in Hawaii, and Sun Devil Stadium is no picnic, but they just don’t compare to a night game in Notre Dame Stadium.
On the flip side, Tommy Rees has played against the Trojans before and won. He has also been tested about a dozen other times. He’s played in the Big House, he’s played in Yankee Stadium, he’s seen enough in his time at Notre Dame that no atmosphere is too big for him anymore. All of this, plus the fact that I truly believe in this coaching staff to have this team prepared after a bye week, and I think the Irish beat the Trojans in South Bend for the first time in over a decade.
Prediction: Notre Dame 21 USC 20
What else I’m watching this week
#5 Florida State @ #3 Clemson
This game has about all you could as for in an October contest. Two explsoive offenses, two heisman hopefuls, two national title contenders, and one of the best atmospheres for a game in the nation. Jameis Winston is an absolute stud and one my favirote players in teh entire country to watch; but can he handle Death Valley? This game could go a long way in deciding who wins the Heisman, the ACC, and the National Championship. It overlaps with the Notre Dame game, so be sure to either set your DVR and avoid twitter, or have your remote handy during commercials.
Week 8 picks
Last week: 1-1 (lost on Arkansas, won on Penn State)
This week: West Virgina +6, hosting Texas Tech
May post more picks on twitter by the end of the week.