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Defensively Speaking: Notre Dame review

Our opponents always talk about our team speed and quick strike big play ability. What they never talk about is how physical we are or how surprised they were about how hard we hit them. That’s because we don’t hit them hard. And we don’t surprise them with our superior physicality and toughness either. A lot of metaphors would fit a description of last night’s game but I rather like “we got clubbed like a baby seal” except the seal put up a better fight.

This game wasn’t about X’s and O’s. It was about a culmination of our coaching mistakes starting with trying to play a very physical game without 1) a real off season commitment to win the one-on-one battles no matter what and 2) recruiting and training the kind of players that will only accept winning the physical contest first before anything else. If you don’t practice physical football you don’t play physical football. If you don’t practice and demand proper technique and assignment football Sunday through Friday don’t expect it on Saturday. And if you don’t like getting run out of town by Notre Dame then you darn well have to urgently do something about it…which starts with an honest assessment of the team. So, think about this, what would an opponent right now fear about our defense?

I couldn’t help but note Coach Helton’s comments about needing to look at the film to see what happened to our “gap control” with regards to the poor run defense. Really? Everybody who watched the game can tell what happened. We got blown off the ball and no measure of gimmicky safety blitzes and slants will make up for defensive tackles blown 7 to 10 yards downfield and then pancaked, or linebackers skating backwards, or secondary unable to close on an athletic QB. Before the game people close to the ND program said quite clearly that they had no respect for our defensive LOS (line of scrimmage) toughness and had even more disdain for our offensive line calling it “at best a bunch of guards”. We should be so lucky.

We’ve seen this divergence from historical Trojan toughness over the past five years though somewhat masked by the effects of sanctions and scholarship reductions. I point to the ASU debacle when we gave up 567 yards or so of offense leading to the Lane Kiffin tarmac dismissal, or later on the 352 yards of rushing given up against Boston College in yet another embarrassing defeat, or Alabama putting 52 points on us last year. And now add last night’s total domination by a very well rested, well prepared and well coached Notre Dame team to that litany. The message from Notre Dame couldn’t have been any clearer, “we are going to beat you up and then beat you on the scoreboard…in that order and we will accept nothing less.” And our answer to that to play the victim and provide some of the best Notre Dame recruiting material imaginable on prime time national television. They’ll be talking about this USC beat down for generations to come.

So, what’s next? Another game…ASU to be precise, in Tempe and at night. Sends chills down my spine. This is the ASU team that just dismantled Utah on the road yesterday with a tough stifling defense, effective special teams and an excellent balanced offensive attack. Looking at our defense I see one quality win against Stanford, sprinkled with some good quarters of defense but with some glaring challenges. Example, last week’s win was at the end based on a great tackle on a running QB for a two-point conversion after Utah scored a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. My point is we didn’t stop the touchdown just the extra point. Last night we didn’t stop anything really. And if folks say we stopped ourselves last night I would just point out that without those three turnovers in the first half the score may have been closer but we still don’t beat ND…it’s not in us right now and is plain to see.

Right now, these are not teachable moments, that comes later. We’re just in survival mode and that doesn’t feel good but it’s the truth. So, Coach Helton, what are you and the staff going to do? Any personnel changes to consider? Or how about a commitment to starting players that play physical football not just the best athletes? How about communicating a sense of urgency?

Kevin Bruce

Kevin earned his MBA and BS in Business Administration/Finance & Econometrics from the University of Southern California, where he also played four years of varsity football, serving as co-captain and playing in three Rose Bowls. Kevin’s college honors included All-American (AP-Honorable Mention), All Pac-8 Conference - Linebacker (1st) and Academic All-American, two NCAA National Championships (football), NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship recipient and Trojan Diamond Award-outstanding graduating senior. He is a member of Football Writers Association of America and is a contributor to WeAreSC.com.

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