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IMHO Sunday: An Irish stew

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC columnist

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

The analysis: Forget that Notre Dame was decimated team on defense entering Saturday’s game against the Trojans. Forget that Notre Dame had turnover issues entering Saturday’s game against the Trojans. And forget that Notre Dame’s special teams, especially the placekicking, had become as reliable as a Midwest weather report. Trojans earned and deserved their 49-14 demolition of the Irish and presented Irish head coach Brian Kelly his worst loss in his five seasons in South Bend. Kelly is now 3-2 against the Trojans.

The analysis – Part 2: Bottom line: Beating Notre Dame under any circumstances is a time to rejoice and celebrate and don’t feel sorry for the Irish, they certainly didn’t feel sorry for the Trojans entering on the ASU Hail Mary, the Utah disaster, and last week’s UCLA mugging. The only thing worse for Notre Dame is if they return to South Bend and find the Golden Dome painted cardinal and gold.

The analysis – Part 3: This was by far the worst Notre Dame I’ve seen in quite some time. If you think the Trojans were a disappointment in 2014, the Irish have established themselves a far more disappointing team, injuries or no injuries. Late Saturday night, even the hometown South Bend Tribune was calling into question the future of the Irish program under head coach Brian Kelly.

The analysis – Part 4:
One could argue the Notre Dame victory was Cody Kessler’s signature win up to this point of his Trojans career. The Trojans offense was highly efficient and, perhaps more importantly, the defense seemed to blitz more in this game than they did in the entire season. Given the circumstances, this was probably the best and most satisfying game of the season for the Trojans.

Derriere issue: After the game, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said, “Today, we got our butts beat, and it wasn’t even as close as the score. I thought Coach (Sarkisian) was very generous today running the football to keep the score where it was.”

Derriere issue – Part 2: Said Notre Dame sophomore defensive lineman Isaac Rochell, “I think we just got punched in the mouth. I don’t think there’s anything specific, when a team beats you by 35 points, you just got punched in the mouth.”

More Kessler: Not only did Cody Kessler establish a new single-game passing touchdown record for an opponent against the Irish (6), but he also established a new Irish opponent’s single-game record with 16 consecutive pass completions.

Let’s get physical: The Trojans played as physical as any game this season. It seemed like the Irish were going down like tin soldiers. Among those Domers that were knocked out of the game were sophomore safety Max Redfield (broken rib), senior safety Austin Collinsworth (separated shoulder), freshmen middle linebackers Greer Martini (quad) and Nyles Morgan (unknown), and defensive linemen Jay Hayes (high ankle sprain) and Jacob Matuska (shoulder).

J.R. did it: Boy, did Trojans senior rush end J.R. Tavai have one helleva game against the Irish or what. The Redondo Beach native finished with five tackles, four of them solo and for good measure four of those tackles were for Notre Dame losses totaling 31 yards. No wonder the usually reserved Tavai was all smiles after the game.

The logic: Okay, once again, in 2014 the Trojans beat Pac-12 South Division champion Arizona and Stanford, which crushed UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Friday, and don’t tell me that the Trojans “barely” beat the Wildcats and Cardinal. You know anybody that’s “barely” pregnant? Either you win or you don’t, and the Trojans beat Arizona in Tucson and Stanford in Palo Alto.

The Logic – Part 2:
So, was the Trojans humiliating loss at UCLA just a case of bad matchups, one team knowing it could crush the other and the “other” also knowing it? Then again, you could say the same as it applies to Stanford owning UCLA, and the Bruins losing the its biggest game of the season in the Rose Bowl, no less.

Recruiting quandary: UCLA’s huge loss to Stanford at home and the Trojans big win against the Irish in a two-day span probably stopped some of the Bruins recruiting momentum against the Trojans.

7-win Sark: At least for the 2014 season Trojans first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian can’t be called “7-win Sark.” We’ve never seen Sark run up the Coliseum tunnel after a game looking so happy, looking like a man that just had a 500-pound guerilla lifted off his shoulders. Yeah, eight wins will do that, especially for the former 7-win Sark. Now, about that bowl game, Steve….

The shillelagh returns: With the huge Trojans victory, it means that Heritage Hall will see the return of the jeweled shillelagh, which is given to the victor of the USC/ND game.

Wheel of Misfortune: You knew it was the Trojans’ day when Irish placekicker Kyle Brindza missed 44-yard field-goal attempt when the pigskin hit the left upright just before halftime.

MIA – Part 2: The announced official Coliseum attendance (79,586) on Saturday was the was the smallest for a USC/ND game played in Los Angeles since 1984, when under Trojans head coach Ted Tollner, just 66,342 watched the Irish beat the Trojans, 19-7, on a Nov. 24.

Farmer’s field: Trojans junior wide receiver George Farmer, who had Trojans career-best two-touchdown day with scoring receptions of 48 and 31-yards, said he “definitely” plans on returning to Troy for his senior season.

2015 question: After Cody Kessler’s record six touchdown passes against Notre Dame, will that qualify him as a legitimate 2015 Heisman Trophy candidate?

Big Sark props: Give Steve Sarkisian big props for playing his backups for the later half of the fourth quarter. What a thrill for walk-on quarterback senior Anthony Neyer from Palm Desert, who actually got a Coliseum response when he ran for a first down.

Fortunate son: Notre Dame is lucky it doesn’t play in the Pac-12 South Division after having been beaten badly by the Trojans and Arizona State on the road and barely defeating Stanford in South Bend.

Shocking: Prior to Saturday’s USC/ND game, ESPN’s Lou Holtz, the former legendary ND head coach, predicted the Irish would beat the Trojans. Lou Holtz would pick the Irish over the Seattle Seahawks even if the two teams played in Seattle.

Justin case: I would be surprised if Steve Sarkisian made a change at defensive coordinator. The win over the Irish seemed to temporarily sooth some of the discord over defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s scheming and defensive calls during the course of the 2014 season. Of course, it could all return depending on the bowl game results.

And now from the press box…

MIA: The 1974 Trojans national champions were recognized in the third quarter, but there was no sign on the field of quarterback Pat Haden or tailback Anthony Davis, both of whom were reportedly seen at the Coliseum. The 1974 team is known for its legendary 55-24 comeback against ND, scoring 55 unanswered points in a 17-minute span after being down 24-6 at halftime.

Cover boy: On the cover of the official USC/ND game program on Saturday was silhouette of legendary Trojans tailback Anthony Davis and inside the silhouette was a collection of pictures from the Trojans 1974 comeback victory over Notre Dame.

Parking sharks: Naturally, the private parking lot pirates were at their best for the Notre Dame game, some charging as much as $70 per car.

Tradition: Thank goodness the Trojans returned to their traditional helmets against Notre Dame rather than those Christmas bulbs with the chrome facemasks. It’s not that the bulb helmets were that bad, they just didn’t look good contrasted with the faded jerseys. The traditional helmets seemed brighten up the Trojans traditional home jerseys.

The post-game show…

The comparisons: In his first season as Trojans head coach, Steve Sarkisian finished the regular season 8-4 and 6-3 in the Pac-12. In his first season as Trojans head coach, Lane Kiffin finished the regular season 8-5 and 5-4 in the Pac-12. In his only season as Trojans interim head coach, Ed Orgeron finished the regular season 6-2 and 6-1 in the Pac-12.

Comparison – Part 2: Unlike Sarkisian and Kiffin, Ed Orgeron didn’t have the benefit of a spring practice and off-season strength program to get ready for his first season of being the head coach at Troy. Only Orgeron had to make changes in the middle of the stream.

Comparison – Part 3: In his first season as Trojans head coach, Steve Sarkisian blasted Notre Dame 49-14 in the Coliseum. In his first season as Trojans head coach, Lane Kiffin lost to Notre Dame 20-16 in the Coliseum. In his only season as Trojans interim head coach Ed Orgeron lost to Notre Dame 14-10 in South Bend.

Don’t bet on it: Despite the publicity surrounding it, don’t expect Ed Orgeron to return to the Trojans.

Having a holiday: It appears that the Trojans have positioned themselves nicely for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27. We say “positioned” because a Holiday Bowl representative said before kickoff that if things go well and the Trojans beat the Irish and win convincingly, they’ll have a very strong opportunity to be one of the participants against a Big 10 representative (Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Iowa).

Sunny side down: There are other industry publications that are proclaiming the Trojans are headed to the Sun Bowl for a rematch with Boston College. Can’t think of a worse matchup, and it will be reflected by the lack of ticket sales from the Trojans end of it. Can’t believe even the Sun Bowl would touch this matchup with a fork.

The final word: So now the Trojans await which bowl game they were be assigned, and the perception of that bowl game will be critical to fan response and player focus. Will it be the Holiday, Sun, or San Francisco Bowl? The sense here is that Trojans fans would, given the bowl choices, be highly receptive to San Diego’s Holiday Bowl and the Holiday Bowl knows it.

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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