Sunday, November 26, 2006

Trojans Drill Irish Dreams 44-24

Any California dreamin' of a National Championship by the Notre Dame team or Fightin' Irish faithful was quickly dismissed by a Trojan squad that displayed both superior talent and warrior-like tenacity. Although Weis had drilled into his team the need to play their best to have a chance against USC, this was far from the case as South California scored early and often before finishing off the Fighting Irish 44-24.

The Trojans hit pay dirt on their first three possessions and jumped to an early 21-3 lead. After a costly fumble by the usually sure-handed Darius Walker at the Southern Cal 5-yard line, the Irish actually got back in the game when a different Quinn, Steve, not Brady, blocked a Trojan punt and recovered it at the SC 7-yard line. This led to a touchdown pass from the familiar Quinn to Marcus Freeman, but although a twisted ankle temporarily rattled Trojan quarterback John David Booty into two 2nd-quarter interceptions, the mistake-plagued Irish "O" could not capitalize on the turnovers and trailed 21-10 at the half.

A stop by the Irish defense on the opening drive in the 3rd quarter would have put ND right back in the game, but Booty regained his touch and marched the Trojans 65 yards in 10 plays to go up 28-10 and effectively end Irish hopes. True, the die-hard Irish fans wouldn't admit defeat until late in the 4th quarter. But after a Quinn to Jeff Samardzija touchdown pass cut the lead to 37-24, the ensuing onside kick, one of the worst in Irish history, went straight to a Trojan named Cushing, who returned it 42 yards virtually untouched for the final SC TD.

Quinn threw for 274 yards, 3TDs and no interceptions, but in completing only 22 of 45 attempts, Brady finished under 50% for the first time in 2-1/2 years. Rhema McKnight caught 6 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, but also had several costly drops that killed Irish scoring drives. Darius Walker (14-56) was actually out-gained on the ground by Brady Quinn who had a 60-yard scramble in the 2nd quarter. But whether it was dropped passes, Walker's fumble or Ryan Harris' three procedure penalties, the Irish offense hurt themselves and couldn't bail out an over-matched Notre Dame defense, which "watched" the spectacular All-American Trojan receiver Dwayne Jarret burn them for 7 catches, 132 yards and 3TDs.

At 10-2, the Irish must now regroup and refocus, and try to finish off their season with their first Bowl victory since 1994. And after such a demoralizing defeat, Weis' squad will need all the motivation, inspiration and intercession heaven and earth can provide to accomplish that suddenly daunting task.

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