Just in case anyone didn’t believe me about that “blue-gray sky” thing…
(For those who don’t know the reference, click here.)
More photos from today’s game to follow shortly. [UPDATE: Photo gallery here.]
…and it’s still a close, competitive game. USC 21, Wazzu 15, 6:47 left.
I must admit, I’m markedly unimpressed with USC’s play today. From what I’d seen before, I felt confident that the defense was good enough to carry the team until the offense, which is clearly capable of brilliance but needs time to mature, comes into its own. Now, I’m not so sure. Washington State is the first team to really challenge USC’s secondary, and the results have hardly been consistently encouraging. Nor has the defensive line looked particularly stellar. The first-half red-zone defense has been a highlight, but if you imagine a better offensive team like Oregon or Cal in Wazzu’s shoes, these Trojans won’t be able to really shut them down without some marked improvement on defense, which until now I thought we’d already made. So the offense, which has continued to show flashes of brilliance tonight — but only that, flashes — will need to score more than 21 points to win those games.
Luckily, Oregon and Cal are in November at the Coliseum… as is Notre Dame. That’s a big deal. But for now, let’s just focus on beating the Cougars. (Breathe, Brendan… breathe.)
UPDATE: And, just as I post that… touchdown USC!! Trojans lead, 28-15.
Re: my analysis above, I offer a major grain-of-salt alert: I suck at football analysis. :) So perhaps I’m wrong in some of the details above, and I stand ready to be corrected if someone offers a better analysis. But I think my general impression that USC has not looked terribly impressive tonight is certainly correct. I just hope they can hold on for the win.
On the other hand, Wazzu has also played well. No denying that. But I don’t think the Cougars are sufficiently talented that, even playing well, they should be able to put this good of a scare into the Trojans. Unless the Trojans aren’t as good as we thought they were.
UPDATE 2: Where is the pressure on the WSU quarterback??
UPDATE 3: Touchdown Wazzu. 28-22 USC with 4:07 left. I don’t like the fact that it’s a six-point game, rather than seven. Makes me nervous.
Still, a couple of first downs will ice this thing. C’mon now, don’t Coug it, Trojans!
UPDATE 4: 1:10 left, and USC has to punt. So it’s up to the Trojan defense to prevent the upset. Yikes.
UPDATE 5: White men can jump! If USC holds on, player-of-the-game honors go to the punter who snagged that bad snap.
UPDATE 6: 3 seconds left, Hail Mary coming…
UPDATE 7: Trojans survive!!!
Lots more Spartan misery, and calls for Smith’s head, here and here and here. On the MSU boards, they’re beyond demanding that Smith be fired, and are already speculating about who will replace him. (Anyone for Teddy Ruxpin?)
Here, via ESPN, is a clip of the MSU-Illinois flag-planting incident (more on that momentarily) and Smith’s self-slap.
[UPDATE, 3:11 AM: Larger, longer video clip after the jump.]
The self-slap (animated GIF here) is an obvious — and obviously classless — reference to the ridiculous slap controversy that developed after Saturday’s ND-MSU game, a controversy that was shamelessly stoked by Spartan coach John L. Smith in a transparent attempt to distract attention from his team’s incredible choke job against the Irish.
Even if we give Smith the benefit of the doubt (which I’m not inclined to believe he deserves) and assume that this most recent, post-Illinois-game “slap” was intended entirely as a joke, it’s still unbelievably inappropriate under the circumstances. Take your pick: either Smith is reacting to this week’s devastating loss by clinging bitterly to an irrelevant perceived slight stemming from last week’s devastating loss, or else he’s reacting to this week’s devastating loss by joking about an irrelevant issue leftover from last week’s devastating loss! Either way, if I were a Spartan fan, I would incredibly embarrassed to have this guy as my team’s coach.
Of course, it isn’t just about the slap. The other issue is the whole ridiculous flag-planting thing. As anyone who read my MSU pregame post is well aware, the Spartans planted their flag at Notre Dame Stadium last September after beating the Irish, a controversial action which caused a significant kerfuffle that became a major subplot of this year’s pre-game hype. What I haven’t previously blogged about is last Saturday’s post-game addendum to flag-gate: the absurd decision by Coach Smith to send three Spartans out to the 50 yard line to “defend the S” in the middle of the field after Notre Dame completed its improbable comeback victory at Spartan Stadium.
This has been widely commented upon in the Domersphere, with the main theme being how telling it is that Michigan State apparently assumed Notre Dame’s players would be as classless as the Spartans had been the year before — a false assumption, as no attempt was made to plant an ND flag, nor would it have been, “defenders” or no “defenders.” While I often get annoyed at the holier-than-thou attitude of some Domers vis a vis other football programs, in this particular case it’s completely appropriate. Michigan State’s behavior in “defending the S” was some combination of hilarious and pathetic.
But something else occurred to me as I considered the “defend the S” fiasco: suppose Notre Dame’s players had wanted to plant our flag on the Spartans’ field. Granted, we wouldn’t do that, because we’re classier than that. But what if that weren’t the case? What if we were just as trashy as those MSU players, and we decided to plant our flag? Whatever anyone else might say about our hypothetical classless action, Michigan State’s players and coaches would have no right to be angry about it, let alone “defend the S” from us. They did the same thing to us! Who the hell do they think they are, demanding that we treat their stadium with a respect that they failed to accord ours! It’s totally absurd!
Now, fast forward to today’s Illinois game. After the game, the Illini tried to plant their flag on Michigan State’s field. Was that classless? Yes. Should it be criticized by analysts and pundits and talking heads? Yes. But should the Spartans, themselves, say a freakin’ word about it? NO! Absolutely not! They don’t have the moral standing to do so! They’ve clearly demonstrated that they believe such behavior is acceptable for them, when they win a big road game. Well, guess what guys, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it!
And yet the Spartans didn’t merely complain about the Illini’s flag-planting; they actually started a pushing and shoving match at midfield, trying to physically stop the Illinois players from planting their flag.
Seriously: what the hell were the Spartans thinking, basically going out there and starting a riot to prevent the defacement of their field? It’s not like this was a small, isolated group of players, either. The apparent sentiment — “how dare you plant your flag on our field?” — was evidently widely shared on the team. How hypocritcal! They are demanding a level of respect which they have not earned, nor shown to others.
The Spartans apparently believe that a different set of rules apply to them. Why? Because that’s what their coach has taught them. It was the implicit message of their pathetic “defend the S” stunt the week before, and it came to fruition this week with the shameful display at midfield after the Illinois game. (Remember, although today’s post-Illinois brawl could be seen, if viewed in isolation, as simply a spontaneous emotional response by college kids — making my point about “respect they have not earned” arguably irrelevant — the “defend the S” business was anything but spontaneous; it was a premeditated decision by the coaching staff. Viewed in the context of that ridiculousness, today’s fiasco becomes much harder to defend or dismiss.)
If I were a Spartan fan, I would be demanding the immediate firing of every member of that coaching staff, not just because of the inexcusable choke job against the Irish followed by the inexcusable home loss to lowly Illinois (both of which occured in the context of various other inexcusable collapses in recent years), but also — perhaps even moreso — because of the inexcusably poor example that is being set for those kids by their coaches. By laughing off the original flag-planting rather than taking a stand (as Illinois’ Ron Zook did today) against it, by engaging in that “defend the S” absurdity, by stoking a stupid “slap” controversy as a distraction from his team’s problems, by breezily laughing off today’s incident as “a little pushing and shoving,” etc. etc. etc., Smith & co. are condoning behavior that makes their program look like utter trash.
P.S. In case anyone is wondering, Sports Inferno with Mike Valenti — you know, the Teddy Ruxpin guy — airs at 10am Monday on 1270 AM in Detroit, and you can listen live over the Internet here or here. I’m thinking he might have a few things to say about that Illinois game. Just saying. :)
FIGHT ON TROJANS, BEAT THE COUGARS!!!
No score yet, early in the first quarter. Gamecast here.
UPDATE: Wazzu struck first with a field goal, but then USC got an awesome kickoff return for excellent field position, and took advantage of it with a perfect, lightning-fast offensive drive, the likes of which we haven’t seen since last season, for a touchdown. 7-3 Trojans.
The game is on TBS, by the way. That’s Channel 22 here in South Bend.
UPDATE 2: It’s 14-12 USC at the half. Wazzu cut it to 7-6 with another field goal, then USC went up 14-6 with a TD, then Wazzu scored a touchdown in the final minute, but failed on the two-point conversion. So the Trojans lead by 2. The much-ballyhooed defense is looking decidedly ordinary thus far, except inside the red zone, where they’ve held the Cougars to two field goals and one hard-earned 3rd-and-goal touchdown.
If I were a Cougar fan, I’d be happy that my team is in the game, but also concerned that we didn’t take fully advantage of our red-zone opportunities. A 21-14 lead over USC would be a lot better than a 14-12 deficit (obviously). You gotta take advantage of your chances when you get them against the #2 team in the country, especially given USC’s well-deserved reputation for Pete Carroll Second Half MagicTM.
But, that said, the Trojan defense is going to need to toughen up, or else this is going to be a competitive game right down to the end.
Meanwhile, the night’s marquee game, #1 Ohio State at #14 Iowa — this week’s only battle of unbeatens — is underway in Iowa City (and on ABC). The Buckeyes lead, 7-3.
Speaking of unbeatens, Virginia Tech, Purdue and Texas A&M lost today, reducing the Elated Eighteen (formerly the Nifty Nineteen, prior to TCU’s loss on Thursday) to a Fickle Fifteen. Why fickle? Because it won’t stay that way for long: soon the list will be down to 14 at most, after the Iowa-OSU game, and it could fall further, with Houston trailing Miami in the fourth quarter, and various others (USC included) still in action or yet to play.
UPDATE 3: Trojans now up 21-12.
Also, Houston just lost. So, we’re down to 14 unbeatens. Will it be a Lucky 13 by night’s end (once Iowa-OSU ends), or will someone else (namely USC, Michigan or Georgia) also lose?
Under a blue-gray sky at Notre Dame Stadium, Becky FINALLY gets to see an Irish victory! ND 35, Purdue 21, final! WOOHOO!
The rain has stopped, and the fourth quarter is underway. Notre Dame leads by 21. Now, let's not pull a Sparty…
It's officially pouring. But it looks like the dangerous weather will miss us to the south. The fans' attitude toward the rain seems to be, "bring it on!"
The rain has started.
It's 28-14 Irish at halftime, but the bigger issue is an approaching severe thunderstorm which may force us to leave the stadium and take cover! More in my audio post below.
Woohoo! Notre Dame has scored TDs on three of its four offensive possessions so far. And Meg just did 21 pushups. :)
Finally, a decent start… on offense at least. In other news, Illinois beat Michigan State! Holy crap! That crazy radio guy is NOT going to be happy. John L. Smith is so fired.
Becky's here… cross your fingers. :) GOOOO IRISH, BEEEAT BOILERS!!!
Before we focus all our attention on today’s games, let’s take one final look (or rather, listen) back to last week’s incredible Irish comeback at Michigan State. Everybody’s been sending me this hilarious audio clip of a Spartan radio guy totally melting down on the air talking about the ND-MSU game, so I finally listened to it, and it was definitely worth it. Heh. Best line: “What the hell are you doing in the shotgun in a monsoon? You’re asking Drew Stanton to run the option in Hurricane Katrina!” LOL!
Now then… about those Purdue Boilermakers and their dumb-ass drum. Game previews from around the Domersphere: Kanka Sports, Kelly Green, Irish Insights, The Blue-Gray Sky, Her Loyal Sons, Rakes of Mallow, Domer Law Blog, and Domer Law Blog again.
Meanwhile, in the Trojansphere, Conquest Chronicles and TrojanWire preview the USC-Wazzu game, which, alas, will not feature Dwayne Jarrett. I saw on ESPN earlier that Kirk Herbstreit thinks the Trojans had better come to play, because the Cougars are capable of an upset — though he admits it’s a “longshot.” One possible reason to worry: the game is on TBS, and the Trojans don’t tend to do well on TBS.
Oh, and considering USC and Notre Dame are both playing today, I’d better post last week’s update to the Irish Trojan prediction contests. :) In the Notre Dame contest, not much changed from last week; gahrie is still on top. In the USC contest, however, Coach Leahy has taken the lead. So, a Trojan leads the ND contest and a Domer leads the USC contest. Heh.
Looking ahead, Coach Leahy’s fortunes will rise or fall with today’s game, as he is the only contestant (outside of Brian Kiolbasa’s facetious picks) who picked USC to lose to Wazzu. On the ND side, nobody picked Purdue; indeed, nobody even predicted a single-digit margin. The average MOV prediction is 19 points. (Of course, all these picks were made back in the pre-9/16 era, when Brady Quinn was the consensus Heisman favorite and Notre Dame was #1 in the country…)