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USC Is Pushed Around Bend : College football: Trojans commit four turnovers and Powlus has a big game as Notre Dame extends unbeaten streak to 13 seasons with a 38-10 victory.

October 22, 1995|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In the wreckage, shell-shocked USC players and coaches were answering the question without being asked.

Namely, is the shock and disappointment of Saturday afternoon's 38-10 embarrassment at Notre Dame curable? Was this merely a bad day, one simply to be written off . . . or a derailment?

The consensus in the Trojan locker room seemed to be that this team--which hadn't had a close game in winning six in a row--could bounce back. But not everyone agreed with Keyshawn Johnson, who said the scar would be healed by Monday.

For the Trojans, this was one of the most painful of all losses to Notre Dame. It's now 13 years without a victory against the Irish (there was a tie last year). You have to wonder if sons of USC players will carry this streak into a second generation, into the 21st Century.

"After Monday, we can shake this off," said Johnson, who had his 14th 100-yard receiving game as a Trojan but got little help.

"They won today. OK, fine. This was one of 12 games for us. And our goal all along was to win the conference championship and go to the Rose Bowl."

Suddenly, that looks like a taller order than it did Saturday morning. The Trojans play atWashington next Saturday.

Offensive tackle John Michels joins a long list of seniors who have never beaten Notre Dame.

"It breaks my heart to leave here as a senior and never beat Notre Dame," he said. "Notre Dame played its best game of the season and we played our worst."

Nobody would argue that.

Notre Dame (6-2), led masterfully by quarterback Ron Powlus and an offensive line that ground up USC's proud rushing defense with precision trap blocks and draw plays, achieved domination.

No one discounted Notre Dame's chances of winning Saturday. But a rout? Not even Notre Dame fans were prepared for this.

This USC team was believed to be superior by a wide margin to the 1993 team that was pounded here, 31-13. And this Notre Dame team was rated inferior to the '93 team.

So how could 38-10 happen? How could the Irish run up the middle of USC's defense all afternoon?

"There's not much to say," Trojan Coach John Robinson said. "They had a good game plan, they executed it, and they overwhelmed us.

"We fumbled it away twice inside the five, but it was not our mistakes, it was their play. Their offense executed almost perfectly."

USC quarterback Brad Otton, who had a second consecutive sub-par game (eight for 17, an interception and some inaccurate throws) was nearly speechless.

"I don't know how to react right now," he said. "The thought never entered my mind that we'd lose. I'm in shock right now."

While USC lamented its season-high four turnovers, Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz wanted some credit for them.

"Yes, they had four turnovers, but we created those turnovers," he said.

"The guys really hung in there and I am happy for them, especially the seniors. You really cannot stop us when we execute."

Powlus, the sophomore who had taken considerable heat from Irish faithful after two losses, battled, scrapped and prodded his offense until the game was out of reach. At the finish, he had a dressing covering an eight-stitch gash on his still-bleeding chin.

He was 18 for 29 for 189 yards and a touchdown, but more important, he kept Robinson's defense on its heels in two critical first-half scoring drives from which the Trojans never recovered.

Kyle Wachholtz had just put USC up, 7-6, with a pass to Johnson when Powlus took over.

Using 11 consecutive run plays, he took Notre Dame 60 yards in 13 plays, and then caught a two-point conversion pass from Marc Edwards. That made it 14-7.

After Wachholtz and the Trojans lost the ball on downs at the Notre Dame 41, Powlus called five pass plays in a nine-play drive, getting three first downs with passes. And the touchdown was perhaps the best play of the day, a delay to Autry Denson, who burst seven yards up the middle to give the Irish a 21-7 lead.

It came one play after USC defensive end Marcus Bonds had flattened Powlus as he threw incomplete to the end zone.

Those two drives occupied the meat of the second quarter. USC seemed poised to jump back in it when, on its first play after the kickoff, Wachholtz and Johnson connected for a 37-yard play. The Trojans reached the Notre Dame two, but Rodney Sermons was tackled after catching a deflection and the half ended.

Adam Rendon's field goal made it 21-10, but that, for USC, was it. The USC offense was 0 for 6 on its final possessions.

While Notre Dame's 38 points were perhaps the most stunning number of the day, its 216 rushing yards were a close second. The Trojans came to South Bend with the nation's third-best rush defense, 81 yards per game. And they were second in scoring defense, 9.5 points per game.

Denson had 95 yards in 27 carries, Marc Edwards 82 in 17.

"Their trap plays and those draws, they ran 'em right at us, between the tackles," defensive coordinator Keith Burns said.

"I think when we see the film, we'll see we didn't tackle well. They had big, tough offensive backs and I don't think we tackled well all day. They executed flawlessly, and they mixed up their pass and run plays very well."

Said sophomore defensive tackle Darrell Russell: "Every defense has flaws, and they felt they could run traps and draws on us, and they did. But I'm not going to sit here and worry about a lot of losses to Notre Dame--I wasn'there."

Said Johnson, who had six catches for 122 yards and a touchdown:

"Any team that has four turnovers against a good team can't win. It just doesn't happen. We were in the red zone five times and got three points. We played horrible."

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