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You look upset, Los Angeles. Why the long fall from grace?

October 07, 2007|Chris Dufresne | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

To borrow (OK, steal) from Jack Buck's famous call of the home run Dodger Kirk Gibson hit in Los Angeles in 1988:

"I don't believe what I just saw."

Only add to that, I don't believe what I. . .

Oversaw.

Heard.

Sensed.

Witnessed.

And may never fully understand.

Saturday night in L.A. had to be the craziest since Gibson went deep.

Only it was football this time, not baseball, and two local teams involved, not one.

And, this time, the vibe was vicious rather than victorious.

Saturday could not have been more shocking if its soaking-wet feet were wired directly to a power pole.

The college football landscape, rocked last week when nine teams in the top 25 lost, got plowed under again on Saturday.

Had No. 1 Louisiana State not rallied late to beat Florida in Baton Rouge, the No. 1 team in the country today might have been California, which had the weekend off.

As it stands, Northern California should move to No. 2 and supplant Southern California as the West Coast's preeminent college franchise.

You think they might throw a party in Berkeley?

Or maybe you didn't hear the news.

Second-ranked USC and used-to-be ranked UCLA lost on the same night, only miles apart, after being favored by 60 total points over Stanford and Notre Dame.

Maybe we need to spell this out:

Stanford 24, USC 23.

Notre Dame 20, UCLA 6.

Stanford football hasn't had a football pulse in years. Two years ago, it lost to UC Davis, which was just moving up from Division II.

Notre Dame was off to its worst start in history, losers of seven straight games dating to its last win, Nov. 18, against Army.

This was impossible stuff.

With the Rose Bowl game mired in 6-6 slog, UCLA and Notre Dame fans collectively erupted with 4:46 left in the third quarter at the Rose Bowl when Stanford's epic upset at the Coliseum was announced -- Pete Carroll's first home loss since Stanford beat the Trojans in 2001.

"Listening to the crowd, I knew there was at least one upset," Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said later.

Weis found out, on the field, that USC had been toppled.

His son, Charlie, told him.

"It didn't hurt my feelings," Weis said later.

Notre Dame?

It ought to get to Pasadena more often.

Nearly 83 years after its historic 1925 Rose Bowl win, the Irish returned to the Rose Bowl and made national news again.

Last time it was Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen.

This time is Charlie Weis and the Seven Turnovers.

How could this happen?

Wasn't Notre Dame hapless?

"When you're 0-5 everyone is laughing at you," Weis said as he walked off the field.

The Irish had scored six touchdowns all season before walking into the Rose Bowl.

Consider Notre Dame's first tally:

UCLA all but handed the Irish a touchdown when quarterback Ben Olson's first-quarter fumble set the Irish up with first down at the UCLA one.

Instead of plowing in for the touchdown, as Rockne's Boys might have done in 1925, Notre Dame lost seven yards on the drive and settled for a field goal.

But as bad as Notre Dame's offense was, UCLA's was worse, as seven turnovers undermined anything a stout Bruin defense could overcome.

Notre Dame won with 140 total yards.

The Irish's two touchdowns and two field goals were direct room-service gifts after UCLA giveaways.

The game took on a different feel after Olson left the game for good with a sprained left knee with 1:20 left in the first quarter.

Backup Patrick Cowan was already out with a knee injury, so UCLA turned to walk-on backup McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

It was a turn for the worse.

The Irish defense mercilessly harassed Bethel-Thompson, who finished with four interceptions.

"You try to get in their face a little bit," Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said. "We wanted to get after them, be aggressive and force turnovers. We were not going to be denied."

You could say the Irish were hungry, and they gobbled UCLA turnovers up like a dog does table scraps.

The Irish improved to only 1-5, but afterward pranced and danced around the Rose Bowl.

"I never thought I would be as satisfied with one win," Notre Dame tight end John Carlson said.

Maybe Saturday was a start. In football they call it forward progress.

Weis sensed during the week his Irish could pull something like this off.

"The only thing is the unknown when you've lost a lot of games," he said. "But it kind of scared me. How can you be 0-5 and have the best practice in three years?"

No one is South Bend is making bowl plans just yet.

Notre Dame plays undefeated Boston College next week and then, after that, a USC team that just lost to Stanford.

But when you're as down as the Domers are, you'll take Saturday and run back to South Bend.

"Now they've won," Weis said. "Now the pressure isn't to win a game, it's to win the next game."

Incredibly, bad as it seems, bad as it is, UCLA is still leading the Pacific 10 Conference with a 3-0 record.

Can you call for a coach's head, as UCLA fans were doing in the waning seconds, and still hope your team wins the Pac-10?

The Bruins' big problem is they are 0-2 against Utah and Notre Dame. Scored six points against each team.

Now, after an off week, UCLA faces Cal at the Rose Bowl.

Will it be more turnovers?

Or one last chance to turn it around?

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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