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USC adds a dubious chapter to Notre Dame football history

October 21, 2007|Ken Fowler | Special to The Times

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- USC's antidote for three consecutive weeks of struggles was one of the worst Notre Dame teams in history.

The Trojans tore through the Irish defense Saturday, handing Notre Dame its second 38-0 loss of the season. Combined with Michigan's victory over Notre Dame by the same score Sept. 15, it marks the first time Notre Dame has lost two shutouts by at least 38 points in the same season.

In 2003, Notre Dame lost to Michigan, 38-0, and to Florida, 37-0.

Before that, it had been 99 years since the Irish had shutout losses of a similar magnitude. In 1904, Wisconsin beat Notre Dame, 58-0, and Purdue topped the Irish, 36-0.

"We know it's not acceptable to play the way we played today," fifth-year tight end John Carlson said. ". . . I will never accept or get used to losing in this fashion."

USC's win Saturday was the second largest in this series, behind only Notre Dame's 51-0 victory at the Coliseum in 1966.

For USC, the performance represented a major change from its struggles in wins over Washington and Arizona and in its loss to Stanford.

For Notre Dame, it was more of the same, despite a change at quarterback.

"You see where they are and you see where we are, and we're at different ends of the spectrum at this point," Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis said of USC. "They are where we want to be, and that's what we're going to shoot for and that's what we're going to drive for until we get to that point."

Weis benched highly touted freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen in favor of junior Evan Sharpley, but Sharpley had a game similar to what had been Clausen's middling performances.

In his first start, Sharpley completed 17 of 33 passes for an average of only 3.5 yards a pass. He had one pass intercepted.

Clausen walked the sidelines alone for much of the game, watching from a distance when the Notre Dame defense was on the field.

After the game, Weis pulled Clausen aside and told the freshman that the apparent slower speed of game when watching from the sidelines is what good quarterbacks see on the field.

The Irish starters had no such advantage.

The nation's worst offense gained only 165 yards -- 36 less than its season average.

Still, Notre Dame trailed only 17-0 at halftime and received the ball to start the second half.

But running back Travis Thomas' fumble on the second play of the third quarter set up Mark Sanchez's five-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Havili that put the Trojans ahead, 24-0. And another blowout loss for the Irish was underway.

"As a matter of fact, there weren't a lot of positives that came out of there," Weis said. ". . . Probably the best thing for this team is they don't play this week."

After that, Notre Dame (1-7) plays Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford, needing to win all four to avoid their first season of fewer than five wins since 1963.

For a team that has been outscored, 237-80, a sweep seems unlikely.

Against USC, Notre Dame's woes on offense were evident even before the game began.

Weis, who long has insisted he would never defer receiving the ball to the second half after winning the coin toss, did just that for the first time in his three seasons with the Irish.

Weis said he thought his team's best chance of winning would be in a ball-control, defensive struggle.

Instead, the struggle -- as it has been most the season -- was only Notre Dame's.

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