Thursday, October 06, 2005

Go Irish - Beat Trojans | by Jay

(Okay, enough statistical minutiae -- time to focus. The following Southern Cal warm-up comes from our friend Paul.)

For some of you younger fans out there, it may seem unfathomable that the Fighting Irish spent almost two decades dominating the series with the University of Southern California. Southern Cal fans might also have conveniently forgotten this fact (easy to do with three straight 31-point stompings and a championship-and-a-half fresh in their memories). But I have not; nor should you.

Here is how the series played out from 1983 to 2001:

ND rank
SC rank
1983 Home Faust W 27-6 NR NR
1984 Away Faust W 19-7 NR 14
1985 Home Faust W 37-3 NR NR
1986 Away Holtz W 38-37 NR 17
1987 Home Holtz W 26-15 10 NR
1988 Away Holtz W 27-10 1 2
1989 Home Holtz W 28-24 1 9
1990 Away Holtz W 10-6 7 18
1991 Home Holtz W 24-20 5 NR
1992 Away Holtz W 31-23 5 19
1993 Home Holtz W 31-13 2 NR
1994 Away Holtz T 17-17 NR 17
1995 Home Holtz W 38-10 17 5
1996 Away Holtz L 20-27 10 NR
1997 Home Davie L 17-20 NR NR
1998 Away Davie L 0-10 9 NR
1999 Home Davie W 25-24 NR NR
2000 Away Davie W 38-21 11 NR
2001 Home Davie W 27-16 NR NR

So, Notre Dame went 15-3-1 against the Trojans over that span...including a 12-0-1 stretch. Yes, the Notre Dame-USC series went thirteen years without a Trojan victory. Three in a row by this current batch of Trojans is nice for them, but the Irish had a string of 11 wins in a row in this great rivalry. I hope this serves as a good reminder for Irish fans that once-great programs can lay dormant for awhile, be dominated by their main rival and even be written off as has-beens, before rising once again to championship-level football.

For the purposes of bar-room argumentation, I've ranked the Top 5 Irish wins in the series over this time frame.

5. October 21, 1995
Marc Edwards and the Irish Defense Pound USC
#5 Southern California at #17 Notre Dame

USC came into South Bend with National Championship hopes. They left the rain-soaked field at Notre Dame Stadium with a devastating loss. Notre Dame’s defense, led by Paul Grasmanis, Shawn Wooden, and Kory Minor, gave up only one touchdown (a 17-yard Keyshawn Johnson reception), came up with four Trojan turnovers, and scored a safety. Ron Powlus went 18 for 29, 189 yards, with 1 TD, 1 INT, and a two-point conversion reception. Irish fullback Marc Edwards minced the Trojan defense for 82 yards and 3 TDs, plus a trick two-point conversion pass to Powlus. The Irish put up 17 fourth quarter points to close out the victory. USC coach John Robinson said, “They overwhelmed us, there’s no question….The difference in the game was their ability to run at us.”

4. October 21, 1989
Top-Ranked Irish Come Back to Win
#9 Southern California at #1 Notre Dame

As part of Notre Dame Stadium's 75th anniversary celebration this season, compiled a list of the greatest wins in Notre Dame Stadium history and asked Irish fans to vote on the most memorable victories. This one came in at number 8. The University’s athletic web site describes the game: “This game had everything -- a pre-game confrontation in the tunnel, a comeback victory by the Irish and a satisfying win over one of Notre Dame's biggest rivals. Trailing 24-21 with nine minutes remaining, Tony Rice leads the Irish on a 15-play, 80-yard drive culminated by his 15-yard touchdown run. The drive comes after Rice starts the contest just four of 15 in passing attempts and turns the ball over twice on a fumble and interception. D'Juan Francisco bats away Todd Marinovich's pass in the end zone with 1:40 to play to ensure the victory. Rice rushes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while Rocket Ismail adds 33 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving. The Irish also rush for 266 yards as a team against the Junior Seau-led Trojan defense.”

3. October 16, 1999
Tubas Silenced: Great Comeback II
(Unranked) Southern California at (Unranked) Notre Dame

The day started as a beautiful, sunny, picture-perfect autumn afternoon. I attended this game at Notre Dame stadium, sitting in the first row of the seats in the southeast corner of the endzone, with the tubas of the USC band directly in my face. Those tubas played and played and played as the Trojans jumped out to a 24-3 early third quarter lead. But, as can happen in October in our beloved South Bend, the weather rapidly deteriorated. Southern Cal self-destructed in the sudden darkness, the rain, and the wind, and the Irish capitalized. With the bad weather at his back in the third quarter, Irish quarterback Jarious Jackson hit tight end Dan O’Leary on a seven-yard touchdown strike. When the teams switched sides to start the fourth quarter, the wind shifted with them, and remained in the face of the USC offense. After the game USC coach Paul Hackett, commenting on the miraculous wind shift, stated, “"It was remarkable. Someone elbowed me and said, 'Now they've changed the wind too.' That is what happens when you play at Notre Dame Stadium." Sheets of rain came down, and a blitzing Ron Israel forced a USC fumble…leading to a Tony Driver rushing touchdown (the Irish missed the extra point). The Irish later kicked a 33-yard field goal (with that wind). Notre Dame then completed the comeback when Jackson scrambled toward the end zone from the 18 yard line, was hit at the 1, and fumbled into the end zone…where tight end Jabari Holloway came up with the recovery and the touchdown. “It was a mad scramble for the ball,” Holloway said. “There was a lot of pushing, punching, kicking. But I fell on the ball and that was that.” A two-point conversion failed yet the Irish held on for Notre Dame’s biggest comeback victory since the 35-34 win over Houston in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, Joe Montana’s “chicken soup” game. And, thank God, those Trojan tubas were drenched and finally silent.

2. November 29, 1986
Brown, Beuerlein, and Carney: Great Comeback I
(Unranked) Notre Dame at #17 Southern California

Irish center Chuck Lanza called the victory “the springboard” to future success. “It showed the resiliency of our team,” Lanza stated, “when we were able to come back in the second half.” Irish halfback Mark Green called it “the real turning point” under first-year Coach Lou Holtz. Holtz brought his 4-6 Fighting Irish team to Los Angeles to play the #17 Trojans. With four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Irish were down 30-12. Notre Dame rallied behind quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who threw for four touchdown passes during the game. And future Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown returned a Trojan punt 56 yards late in the fourth quarter (Tom Pagna, on Westwood One Radio: “Everything green in this stadium is absolutely rockin’!”), setting up a John Carney 19-yard field goal as the clock ran out. Holtz would lead the Irish to 35 victories over the next 40 games.

1. November 26, 1988
Underdog #1 Irish Play like Champions
#1 Notre Dame at #2 Southern California

Before L. Tyrone Willingham and Kent Baer ensured USC quarterbacks two Heisman trophies, the Notre Dame defense under Lou Holtz once ruined a USC Heisman campaign (Rodney Peete would finish second to Barry Sanders in 1988) on the way to winning a National Championship for the Irish. Amidst controversy that Thanksgiving weekend, with Holtz suspending Tony Brooks and Ricky Watters for showing up late to a team meeting, the Fighting Irish jumped out to a 7-0 lead on quarterback Tony Rice’s 65-yard option keeper. Tony Roberts’s call is forever etched in my brain: “...and he out-legged the ENTIRE Southern Cal defense.” But it was the punishing Notre Dame defense that made play difficult for Peete and the Trojans. Frank Stams had two-and-a-half sacks, and buried Peete with a block on a key interception by Stan Smagala late in the first half. Smagala returned Peete’s errant throw 64 yards for the Irish touchdown and a 20-7 lead. The Irish capped the scoring with a Mark Green plunge and a 27-10 victory. Of course, Notre Dame would go on and defeat West Virginia in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl, and the Fighting Irish would again be National Champions.

-- Paul