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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Charlie Weis' Irish may need to win one for the skipper

A victory over USC on Saturday would give the Notre Dame coach's job security a desperately needed booster shot.

October 17, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

No one can deny fifth-year Notre Dame Coach Charlie Weis' dedication or intellect.

His breakdowns of upcoming opponents at weekly news conferences are pommel-horse displays of brain gymnastics.

Position by position, detail by detail, name by name, he deconstructs the enemy's strengths and weaknesses.

"Sixty-five yards rushing a game, two yards a carry, 173.8 passing a game, 238 a game total, 29% of third downs, 21 sacks, 23% touchdowns in the red zone," Weis spoke this week of USC's defense.

Special teams minutia?

"They got two snappers -- long snapper is [Cooper] Stephenson; the short snapper is [Chris] Pousson."

Offensive line insight?

Weis: "You have [Charles] Brown at left tackle. He is a big guy, moves well, he is athletic, has good feet."

Equipment men, trainers, song leaders, tuba players -- nothing gets by Weis.

Here's something else you can't deny: Weis is 33-22 as Notre Dame's coach. Too many times, after he has shown you how much he knows about the opponent, it's his team that has had a breakdown on game day.

Weis' signature "win" at Notre Dame is still the 34-31 loss to USC in 2005, a game in which he brilliantly matched wits with Pete Carroll . . . and then what?

Notre Dame had an open week and Weis parlayed "Bush Push" and return-to-NFL whispers into a contract extension that had such a pricey buyout it probably bought him this year.

That brings us full circle, again to USC at Notre Dame, with a chance to change the 2005 ending, with Weis' future dangling in the outcome.

After the 2005 loss, Weis made a classy visit to USC's locker room to congratulate the victorious Trojans.

You think it was easy for a disciple of Bill Parcells?

"I was just absolutely, completely miserable," Weis reflected this week of the agony of that day.

What appeared to be a renewal of a classic rivalry, though, dissipated in more recent seasons to the point today's game just might well be the coach's last goal-line stand.

Since that magical day four years ago, USC has three times had its way with Notre Dame: 44-24, 38-0 and 38-3.

Who thought "Bush Push" might render "Charlie's Shove"?

Since the promise of 2005, Notre Dame has gone 10-3, 3-9 and 7-6. The Irish's most impressive win has been . . . ?

You could argue last year's 49-21 Hawaii Bowl win over Hawaii to cap a 7-6 season.

A victory against USC would be Notre Dame's first over a top-10 team since the Irish beat No. 5 Michigan, 17-10, in Weis' second game as coach.

A victory over USC would improve Weis' record to 5-10 against the top 25.

A loss to USC would . . . not be advisable.

It's hard to imagine a game in which the pendulum swings so dramatically for coach and program.

Victory pushes Notre Dame from No. 25 to somewhere near the top 10, with a 5-1 record and a schedule that leans favorably toward a major bowl game.

Defeat drops Notre Dame to 4-2 and crank-starts the calls for a search to find Weis' successor. The short list might start with Brian Kelly, the Cincinnati coach, who is on an Urban Meyer-like ascent to stardom.

Like Meyer, Kelly made his reputation in the Mid-American Conference, jumped to the next level and positioned himself for the next big job.

Notre Dame, of course, lost the battle for Meyer to Florida, and the Irish wouldn't want to lose another prodigy, especially one named Kelly.

Could it be Notre Dame's future hinges precariously in the next 24 hours?

Then again, why shouldn't Weis beat USC?

He finally has his team in place, with experience at the key positions.

Weis, not Carroll, has the quarterback who could stake his Heisman Trophy claim with a victory on national television. Irish junior Jimmy Clausen leads the NCAA in passing efficiency; USC counters with true freshman Matt Barkley.

"I think our players believe they're going to win," Weis said this week. "I don't know if that's always been the case."

Despite seven straight losses, Notre Dame still leads the series, 42-33-5, and it wasn't that long ago that Notre Dame had an 11-game winning streak against USC.

Sleep doesn't come easily for Weis these days.

"I get my four hours in," he said.

Rest will come only in the form of a victory that really matters, in front of millions, in the soft evening glow of Notre Dame Stadium.

"I think our university really, really could use the win," Weis said. "Not me personally."

No, actually Charlie, you really need it.

Weis keeps a baseball cap in his office someone sent him: "USC owns N.D."

He has vowed to keep it until that's no longer the case.

Charlie could chuck the hat today -- or it might be a same-old-story that leads to Notre Dame's next chapter.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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