Commentary

Irish hope to feast on Trojans

Originally Published: October 14, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Lo, the seven years of famine hath ended. So hopeth Charlie Weis.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCharlie Weis knows how big a win over USC would be for everyone.

"Lookit," began the Notre Dame coach, "USC is one of the best teams in the country. They beat us seven times in a row. Some of them have been ugly. Beating them would do wonders for my spirits. It wouldn't be just my spirits but everyone affiliated with Notre Dame."

Notre Dame has about had it with Joseph, the dream interpreter who first predicted the seven years of famine in Genesis 41. Weis said Tuesday that the No. 25 Fighting Irish will not wear their amazing technicolor green dreamcoats on Saturday when they play the No. 6 USC Trojans. And there is no truth to the suggestion that Joseph's original interpretation of Pharaoh's dream about seven lean and ugly cows referred to the Notre Dame offensive line.

Not any more, anyway.

There is a buzz around the fabled South Bend campus that hasn't been there in a while. Senior offensive tackle Sam Young saw it at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, when he walked into the Guglielmo Athletic Complex and found the sidewalk had been chalked up overnight by students urging on their Irish. Young hears it inside the Gug, too.

"The nice thing is," Young said, "every year if you were to ask, whether it was USC or any other game, 'You think we're going to win?' Everyone would say, 'Yes,' whether they believed it or not. You got the lip service.

"This year," Young said, "they're believing it."

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies lost 37-30 in overtime in South Bend on Oct. 3, noticed it as soon as his team arrived at Notre Dame Stadium. Sarkisian had been an offensive assistant with the Trojans on four different trips to Rockne's House.

"I would say this: I feel an energy there I haven't felt since 2005," Sarkisian said Tuesday. "On Friday before the game, when we go to walk-through, people are standing around outside the stadium. The last time [2007], they weren't there. For Washington to show up and have people stand around the stadium, there's an energy around the team that hasn't been there the last couple of years. ... That 2005 game, the energy in that case was unbelievable."

A lot has transpired for the Irish since their 2005 home loss against USC, that 34-31, green-jerseyed, Bush-pushed thriller. Most of it has transpired in the wrong direction. Last year, in losing a 38-3 wipeout at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Notre Dame didn't move the first-down chains until the last play of the third quarter. The Irish finished with 91 yards of total offense.

"I actually thought our defense hung in there for awhile in that game," Weis said. "I thought the offense just got manhandled. From start to finish, we just got manhandled. They were able to manhandle us without having to bring a lot of pressure. With four guys ... I think they completely controlled the line of scrimmage. I'd like to think that won't be the case this week."

Here's a description of "manhandle" that has nothing to do with lean, ugly, bovine offensive linemen -- five of the Trojans' seven straight victories over the Irish have been by margins of at least 31 points. Notre Dame believes this week will be different. The Irish are 4-1. Four games have come down to the final seconds. Notre Dame has won three of them.

"The biggest difference between this year and last year is confidence," said fifth-year senior strong safety Kyle McCarthy. "...This team has the confidence that we can go out and compete with anyone on our schedule. We finally have the talent. ...The talent on this team is the most since I've been here. As a football player, you can just tell when the tempo is up and guys are making plays and the offense is more athletic."

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart and Reggie Bush
Andy Altenburger/Icon SMIThe closest Notre Dame has come to a win over USC recently was in 2005, but then Matt Leinart found the end zone with some help from Reggie Bush.

Two weeks before Washington lost at Notre Dame, the Huskies upset USC, 16-13. Having played both teams, and coached at USC, Sarkisian believes Notre Dame's talent level remains closer to his current team than his former one.

"I don't know. I kind of thought they would be a physically better-looking team," Sarkisian said. "We kind of went toe-to-toe with them and we shouldn't be able to do that, in reality. It would be interesting to see if USC's physical dominance shows up. In my opinion, it should. That doesn't mean it does. Our 11 guys and SC's 11, SC's are a lot better."

His point being, Washington found a way to win. For Notre Dame to find a way to win would be an upset, no matter the rankings. Weis discussed the enthusiasm, cockiness and confidence with which USC plays. Asked how those traits in his own team have changed since last season, Weis said, "Every time they go out there, there's an expectation where good things are going to happen instead of hoping bad things don't happen."

In the public eye, a victory by the Irish would make history in a rivalry that has been vibrant since the teams first played in 1926. It even might be an upset of, yes, biblical proportion.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com