Saturday, October 19, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Smackdown Edition

I have an extremely short time in which to write almost everything I should have said these last two weeks.

Let's start with the important stuff: GO IRISH BEAT TROJANS.

If the last decade of Notre Dame football has taught me anything, it's that playing the Trojans does not necessarily make or break your entire season.* There are things in the world of Notre Dame football that feel worse than losing to USC (assuming USC is good that year), and there is at least one thing that would feel better (like winning a national championship).


It has been a long time since we gave the Trojans a good old-fashioned smackdown. I would really, really like to see us send those cocky, latex-ridden little pustules home with a big fat lopsided score--or, better yet, a big ol' goose egg tucked between their legs.

I am sick--dead SICK--of these close-scoring games. We've put up with five or six long years full of nailbiters--against good teams, against mediocre teams, against teams we have no business coughing up the ball to--and it is time. To. Stop.

I don't care what USC's talent level is like this year. I don't care if they have a stable filled with five hundred running backs. I don't care whether they've got a strong offense or a weak defense or whatever the hell it is they have--and no, I don't particularly care whether their head coach just got fired, or whether their hometown's just been sacked and burned by a bunch of angry Greeks--I WANT. TO KICK. THEIR ASS.

I want to kick their ass for so many reasons. For 2005 when they really didn't beat us and 2007 when they really did; for the entire first decade of the 2000's when Pete "cut-and-run" Carroll was busy parlaying his juvenile shenanigans all over the Trojans complex (and kindly turning a blind eye to all the NCAA rules violations taking place under his distinctly post-pubescent nose); for every idiotic sports reporter who thinks the ND-USC rivalry has somehow waned in recent years; but most of all I want this for the players.

I mean--I'm sure I have slightly different priorities than the players. And at the end of the day, if it's a win--well, I'll take it. But I'm tired of people saying that if we beat the Trojans, it's because we're lucky, or because their starting quarterback was injured, or whatever. I'm tired of railing against the nay-sayers and I'm tired of waiting for another decade of dominance and I want us, for once, to be able to go out there and not have to battle on a goal-line stand in overtime in order to make a statement. I want us to make a statement on the board that NOBODY CAN REFUTE.

It'd be nice for them to have a game that leaves an indelible mark upon the psyche of the fans, so that the next time we have a highlight reel showing the great matchups in Notre Dame-USC history, we don't have to hearken back to the 1977 green jersey game or the 1988 #1 vs #2 game or--God forbid--the 2005 game to talk about a classic in the rivalry's history.

I guess what I really want is for this team to be the team that goes out there and makes a statement and then backs it up with a series of successive victories culminating in a quality bowl win against a ranked opponent. (It's on my Christmas wish list.) And there's no obvious indication that this year's team will necessarily be the team to do this thing. But there's no indication that they can't be the team to do this, either.

On paper, ND and USC look sort of similar. Both teams are both 4-2 and unranked after starting the season ranked. USC has had lopsided victories against Hawaii and Boston College, close wins against Arizona and Utah, a 3-point loss to Washington State, and a funtime touchdown carousel sort of game against Arizona State, which resulted in a 62-41 loss and the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin.

So I'd say the on-paper crap means next to nothing. Notre Dame's pair of losses this season were both coulda-woulda-shoulda games against ranked, then-undefeated teams (who both decided to lose last weekend), in which our main deficits were A) turnovers, and B) lack of team identity. Both of which can be fixed.

Keep in mind that this is an Irish team that's beaten USC in 2 of the last 3 meetings. Tommy Rees has more victories against the Trojans than losses. That hasn't been true of an Irish quarterback since last century.

Guys, I know this has no basis in reality, really--but we are DUE. It is our TIME. Let us go forth and make this smackdown happen.

I mean, did you see what we did against Arizona State?

*except in 2005

Right, so about that thing that happened in Dallas


I don't care that it ended up being a 3-point victory and I don't care (much) about Arizona State's late-game surge; DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED OUT THERE? That was OUR--GAME. It was not Arizona State's. Five sacks, three forced fumbles (two recovered by ASU), three interceptions, three pass break-ups, and seven tackles for loss? YEAH. That was our game.I don't know where that defense came from, but they came BACK.

Maybe they've finally figured out where their nucleus is. Or maybe they were really fired up about Jarrett Grace's injury. Grace being out is a huge blow for the team; by all accounts, he was becoming a real leader and a real presence at the linebacker position (which, as you can imagine, is where the attention of the defense gravitated over the last couple years). But just as important as having those leaders on your team is having a team that gets fired up and rallies when a player goes down.

But of course we don't want players going down. We want our team to get fired up and fly around and play more like they did against Arizona State EVERY WEEK.

It wasn't perfect, of course. We had one stellar interception/pick-6 on ASU's 4th down attempt late in the game; on ASU's other 4th down attempt they scored a touchdown. So, obviously, room for improvement. But we're getting closer. SO MUCH CLOSER. (And just think--if our defense had played like that against Oklahoma...well, but never mind the past-tense hypotheticals; they will get us nowhere.) ASU was kind of like a coming-out party; now we just gotta bring that shit hoooooooooooooome. You realize we haven't beaten USC inside Notre Dame stadium since 2001?


One last word on the yin and the yang

Speaking of it being time for things--and the notion of ebb and flow--if you look back on the history of the ND-USC rivalry (, the peaks and troughs have become more pronounced over the last four decades--in the 70's, the Trojans dominated; by 1982, they'd closed the gap in the all-time series record to 27-23. Then they didn't win another game against the Irish until 1996, at which point the momentum of the series began to shift again, and by the early 2000's it was Notre Dame's turn to flounder.

A "great rivalry," according to certain sports writers, shouldn't have such large spikes of victory and defeat. It should be made up of smaller peaks and valleys; more evenly-spaced interstices of light and shadow.

But hey look, buddy--MOUNTAIN RANGES AIN'T SYMMETRICAL, all right? Sometimes you have to climb a REALLY REALLY REALLY high peak before you get to the next one. Sometimes one side of the mountain just kicks your ass for a while. It ain't all gently rolling foothills, or evenly-spaced rest stops, you big whinerbaby.

And besides--what makes a rivalry a rivalry isn't something you can define by how close the games are, or how evenly the wins are swapped back and forth. A rivalry is about the feeling in your gut and the energy in the game and the endless roar of the crowd, so loud and pervasive and enduring that you start to wonder--WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? Week in and week out, we have nearly the same demographics--nearly the same mix of first-timers and alumni and students in the crowd--but when we play the Trojans, that crowd is not the same. It becomes a tempest--a maelstrom--and in the center, the eye of the storm--that's where the game takes place. And we, the howling winds, we beckon--we challenge--we dare both teams to grapple for control of the storm.

Even in the worst of our years, I have seen this storm come alive.

THAT'S a rivalry game.


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