Advertisement

Last Stand?

Even Upset Over Notre Dame Might Not Be Enough to Save Hackett's Job

November 25, 2000|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carson Palmer chooses to remain optimistic, wanting to believe today's game against Notre Dame will not be Coach Paul Hackett's last game at USC.

"We hope that Mike Garrett is going to come out and say that he'll be here," Palmer said. "We all hope so."

But the quarterback and his teammates have heard that Garrett, the athletic director, is expected to fire Hackett. They suspect that even an upset of the Irish might not save their coach.

"A lot of teams would go in the tank hearing rumors like that," fullback Charlie Landrigan said. "We've tried to block it out."

That's because they also have No. 11 Notre Dame to worry about.

With a victory in this historic rivalry, the 5-6 Trojans can salvage a measure of satisfaction by avoiding a losing record and becoming the first USC team to defeat UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season in almost two decades.

They can also play the role of spoiler.

The Irish come to the Coliseum fighting for a big-money spot in the Bowl Championship Series. They have put themselves in this position by rebounding from a 2-2 start, winning six games in a row.

"No one wants to win this game . . . more than I want to," Coach Bob Davie said. "But also I appreciate what these players have done to make this such a big football game."

A large part of their success stems from an offense that excels at taking care of the football. Notre Dame has thrown four interceptions and lost four fumbles, tied for best in the nation. Compare that to USC, which has committed more than four times as many turnovers.

The Irish rely on two running backs--Tony Fisher and the injury-hampered Julius Jones--as well as a conservative passing game that features freshman Matt LoVecchio, among the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. They employ just enough option plays to worry USC, which has never fared well against that kind of attack.

"They don't run it as much as they have in the past," USC defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "But if they run it on a critical play, you've got to be ready."

The rest of the time, the Trojans face a strong, steady offensive line.

"They like to pound the ball down your throat," defensive end Sultan Abdul-Malik said.

USC hopes to counter with a more explosive offense that gained 557 yards--and some needed confidence--against UCLA's porous defense last week.

"I look at USC, I see a football team that is as talented as any team in the country," Davie said. "Maybe the fastest football team in the country."

Last week, the Trojan linemen made their blocks, the running backs hit their holes and the receivers got open, all of which translated into 105 yards for tailback Sultan McCullough and a career-best game for Palmer.

"I can't put my finger on it," he said of his success. "I just want to do it again."

Palmer will face an Irish secondary that has surrendered big plays--the team lost to Michigan State on a long pass in the last two minutes--and had an experienced cornerback, Shane Walton, break his arm last week.

Special teams could also come into play. While USC has struggled because of missed field goals and sloppy punt coverage, Notre Dame has found a way to make big plays in the kicking game.

Joey Getherall, a dangerous receiver, ranks among the nation's top punt returners. Nick Setta, an otherwise shaky kicker, has passed and run for touchdowns in the last two games.

Hackett calls it "one of the big keys," saying, "They went out and really found a way to improve on special teams that have put them in position to win some games."

But football is only part of the equation, sharing time this week with questions about the coach's future.

Speculation has been rampant since a home loss to Washington State earlier this month. It's not only Hackett on the hot seat--if he goes, his staff is in jeopardy too.

"Yeah, it crosses your mind," running backs coach Kennedy Pola said. "You're talking about the future of your family. The holidays are coming up and now you've got to move your kids?"

Hackett has tried to deflect all of the rumors. Support from players such as Palmer is appreciated, but with Garrett keeping mum on the situation, insisting the matter will not be settled until after today, the embattled coach does not want his team distracted.

"The issue right now is that we have the chance to win these two games back-to-back for the first time in a long time," he said. "This team will not let the opinion of people on the outside affect what they do the day of the game."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE SERIES

Overall Notre Dame leads, 40-26-5

USC's record at home 17-16-4

Paul Hackett vs. Notre Dame 1-1

Bob Davie vs. USC 1-2

HACKETT AT USC

Seasons 3

Record 19-17

Bowl Record 0-1

Pacific 10 Record 10-14

AROUND THE NATION

Nebraska 34, Colorado 32

After Buffaloes take the lead on a two-point conversion, Cornhuskers win it with Josh Brown's 29-yard field goal on final play. D7

Arizona State 30, Arizona 17

Bruce Snyder, who already has been fired, will coach the Sun Devils in a bowl game, but the Wildcats' Dick Tomey resigns after 5-6 season. D6

Texas 43, Texas A&M 17

In what seems to be a coming-of-age performance, Chris Simms passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns, all to freshman receivers. D7

Rivalry Tale of the Tape

A look at the rivalry between USC and Notre Dame, which began in 1926:

*--*

USC Category Notre Dame 26 Rivalry Wins 40 5 Longest win streak 11 6 Longest unbeaten streak 13 1 1920s wins 3 5 1930s wins 4 0 1940s wins 6 3 1950s wins 7 3 1960s wins 5 8 1970s wins 2 3 1980s wins 7 3 1990s wins 6 5 National Titles 8 4 Heisman Winners 7

*--*

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|