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BILL PLASCHKE

They need bigger New Year's party

November 30, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE

Fight yawn.

The USC slogan may have to be temporarily changed after a chilled Saturday night that featured busted noses, farewell poses and, sigh, Roses.

Playing for the last time this season on a Coliseum field that has become their fortress, the Trojans scored a 38-3 victory over a Notre Dame team that appeared to have neither coach nor clue.

But on another field up north, USC's chances of a truly big finish were going south.

With Oregon State's championship-costing loss to Oregon, the Trojans are but a slam-dunk victory over UCLA next week from returning to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season, a development that can elicit only one bit of intelligent analysis.

Whoop-de-darn-do.

As written here before, Pasadena is a nice place to visit, but the Trojans don't want to live there.

They don't need it for reputation. They don't need it for recruiting.

They needed a Fiesta against a high-scoring Big 12 team, some Sugar against a traditional SEC power, anything that could enhance their national presence and propel them into next season's polls.

They don't need another Rose bouquet against another Big Ten vase.

At this point, I should apologize to those e-mailers from Penn State, who were outraged when I included the Nittany Lions in a list of slow teams from the Midwest.

I was wrong. They're not really from the Midwest.

The point is, USC won an emotional game Saturday night, only to discover that this might be as emotional as it gets, and that's too bad.

"It would be nice," defensive tackle Fili Moala said of a berth in another bowl. "But what can we do?"

They could have beaten Oregon State back in September, that's what.

And that black eye became a complete disfigurement Saturday when the Beavers gave up 694 yards and 65 points in their biggest home game in decades.

How did they lose to Oregon State? Nobody has yet to figure it out, the only certainty being, it could be a chapter in a book titled, "Cardinal and Beavers and Bruins, Oh My."

"I know nobody wants to play in the Rose Bowl, but to me, it's home, our families can come, our friends can share, I want to play there," protested linebacker Rey Maualuga, one of several departing senior defenders who wore his Saturday emotions on his tackles.

Well, certainly, as long as they don't confuse Penn State with Illinois or Michigan -- the Nittany Lions are a little better than both -- the Trojans will do just fine in Pasadena.

But Maualuga's defense, the best in the country, deserves a bigger stage. The evolving Trojans' offense deserves a better test. And, really, who wouldn't want to end this cross-country smack talk once and for all?

When asked if he wanted to go to the Rose Bowl, Coach Pete Carroll smiled.

"It's the only place for us right now," he said.

At least they'll all still be working, which is probably more than Charlie Weis can say, the Notre Dame coach almost surely having worked his last sideline after directing the team to the worst two combined seasons in school history.

His team showed plenty of emotion, from their pregame scuffle with the Trojans to the final moments, when ejected running back Robert Hughes screamed at a taunting crowd.

Emotion, but no execution, no understanding, seemingly no game plan for any of it, as if Weis were going to let this team coach itself.

"We knew exactly what they were going to do on every play," defensive end Kyle Moore said. "We had something for everything."

No first downs until the final play of the third quarter? Twenty-three total yards at that point? Ninety-one total yards for the game?

"They weren't going anywhere, and they knew it," said Brian Cushing, another USC senior playing his last home game with a vengeance. "It was just a matter of time before they were deflated."

Defensively, the Irish gave up 449 yards to a Trojans offense that is still suffering an identity crisis. There were an equal number of USC rushes and passes Saturday, but once again there seemed to be little rhythm to the attack.

With Joe McKnight scoring his first rushing touchdown of the season and Damian Williams catching everything and even Marc Tyler showing up at eight yards per carry, they could have pinned 60 on the Irish.

They certainly would have scored more if it wasn't for penalties, eight more, for 80 more yards, including two of seemingly historic proportions.

When is the last time you've seen a team have a punt return touchdown called back because of clipping . . . and also be penalized for excessive celebration? That run was by Stafon Johnson, who had a second touchdown called back because of holding.

"We had the energy flowing, the energy pumping," said Kaluka Maiava, the linebacker who had one of two Trojans interceptions.

Sometimes, yes, Other times, it just seemed as if the Trojans just got bored, and who can blame them?

They could be the best team in the country, yet for a third consecutive January, they won't even be allowed to leave town to prove it.

Fight yawn.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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