Luck of the Irish wears off against Trojans
Itâs a script that has been written before â so often, in fact, it has become almost clichĂ©.
The echoes have been awakened, Notre Dame is back.
That much was indicated prior to Saturday nightâs grudge match against USC.
Facing a USC team that had been underwhelming for much of its first six games, Notre Dame, near-double-digit favorites, hosted the Trojans in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years.
The Fighting Irish had a bye, they had homefield advantage and they had nearly 20 recruits on official visits, including Scout.comâs No. 1 overall prospect Arik Armstead who recently decommitted from USC.
Except, by the end, they didnât have much fight.
âThey just quit,â senior linebacker Chris Galippo said following the Trojansâ 31-17 win. âAnd thatâs what Notre Dame football is about. Theyâre not anything like USC.â
If Notre Dame football is anything, it is a perpetual tease.
It looks flashy â overflowing with tradition. It has the Golden Dome. It has the Grotto. It has Touchdown Jesus.
But last year aside, it still doesnât have the upper hand on USC, which has beaten Notre Dame nine times in the last 10 years.
Thereâs luster, sure, but at this point, thereâs not much substance.
Itâs hard not to become fixated on Notre Dame, especially at first sight. Call it easy on the eyes, quintessential college football from the golden helmets to the âRakes of Mallowâ played by the marching band.
Maybe all thatâs what spawned the never-ending nationwide love affair with the Irish to begin with.
The Four Horsemen, however, havenât been seen roaming the Indiana countryside in nearly 100 years.
In the last decade, USC has become an annual nightmare for Notre Dame in its never-ending quest to climb back to the top of the college football ladder.
In 2009, the Trojans handed No. 25 Notre Dame a 34-27 loss â its then second of the year.
In 2006, they routed the No. 6 Irish at the Coliseum by a score of 44-24.
In 2005, they broke the Irishâs hearts on the infamous âBush Pushâ (no further explanation warranted).
Heck, even back in 2002, USC upended No. 7 Notre Dame convincingly, 44-13.
The sportâs arguably best rivalry isnât supposed to be this one-sided. Itâs supposed to be competitive, an annual back-and-forth heavyweight fight between two of the sportâs titans.
Except, the Trojans knocked out the Irish in the early rounds yet again.
Notre Dame had chances, sure, but USC â in a reflection of what has become almost habitual â stepped on its throat. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley and company marched out to a 17-0 lead, scoring on their first two possessions of the game. Then, when the Irish made it close, trailing by just seven and holding the ball at the one-yard line, quarterback Dayne Crist fumbled, leading to a Jawanza Starling touchdown return for a 14-point swing.
USC coach Lane Kiffin â almost as a fault â has been dubbed simply a good recruiter and smart playcaller. But if that is a recipe for success against Notre Dame, it certainly can suffice.
Kiffin has strung together two highly regarded top-five recruiting classes, and they more than delivered Saturday night.
Sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods finished with 12 receptions for 119 yards. Sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey, facing wide receiver Michael Floyd, limited the All-American to just four receptions for 28 yards.
In terms of recruiting, Notre Dame is supposed to be more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with USC.
But for 60 minutes, it looked more than evident: USC has the athletes and the speed. USC, as has been plainly evident over the last decade, is just better than 4-3 Notre Dame.
It has Woods, Robey.
It has freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee, who finished with two catches for 36 yards. It has Pete Carroll holdovers at tailback in junior Curtis McNeal and senior Marc Tyler, who finished with a combined 185 yards on the ground.
Perhaps, more surprisingly, it appears as if associate head coach Monte Kiffin also has his defense, which has forced eight turnovers in the last two weeks in addition to allowing just two touchdowns.
This is what Lane Kiffinâs USC was always supposed to look like: an efficient offense that struck early, a defense that bent â and bent plenty â but never broke.
And quite honestly, itâs something the Trojans can revel in. After all, they are now ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press top-25 poll as undefeated No. 4 Stanford marches into the Coliseum on Halloween weekend.
For now, this was unquestionably Lane Kiffinâs signature win. It took 20 games, but he got it and he got it convincingly.
âI would say so,â the second-year coach said when asked whether it was his biggest win as the Trojansâ head man. âWe have not gone on the road with so much stuff going on. Thatâs why I would say itâs our teamâs biggest win since weâve been here because of all of the stuff around it.â
It might not be 2005, but with six wins, 2011 isnât too shabby, either.
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