Chow Mixes a Mean Planner’s Punch
USC’s Trojans should take their offensive game plan from Saturday, frame it and send it down the road to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Better yet, they should send it to the Louvre or the Getty.
It was a work of art, perhaps the most impressive of all offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s masterpieces.
USC beat Notre Dame, 45-14, the most points the Trojans have ever scored on the Fighting Irish’s home field. None of their six touchdowns came cheap. They drove 80 yards for five of them and 61 for the other.
They needed 13 plays to score the last one. What took them so long? Maybe they were tired. They scored twice after only four plays, once after seven, once after eight and once after 10. Those aren’t drives. They’re sprints.
Until they took a 38-14 lead midway through the third quarter and began practicing their clock killing, they had faced fourth down only twice. Heck, they had faced third down only four times. In the first half, they gained nine yards per snap. During one stretch in the third quarter, they made first downs on seven of eight plays.
What does Chow have against Notre Dame?
Last season at the Coliseum, the Trojans gained more yards, 610, than they ever had against the Irish and won, 44-13. Carson Palmer threw for four touchdowns and 425 yards. This year, the Trojans gained 551 yards. Matt Leinart threw for four touchdowns and 351 yards.
For Chow, the most impressive numbers were Leinart’s 26 completions in 34 passes with no interceptions.
Leaving the locker room after the game, Chow tapped Leinart on the shoulder and pointed to the 76% that one of the coaches had written on the chalkboard as a key to the victory.
“That’s all because of you,” Leinart told Chow.
After starting the season with three losses in four games, the Irish thought they had woken the echoes in a 20-14 victory last weekend at Pittsburgh.
Officials said ticket demand for this game was the fourth highest in Notre Dame history.
Joe Theismann, elected this year to the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, chose this day to be honored inside the stadium. So did Notre Dame’s national championship team from 1973. Rudy was here too.
Notre Dame fans still talk about the 23-14 victory over the sixth-ranked Trojans in 1973, when defensive back Luther Bradley’s ferocious hit against Lynn Swann on the first play from scrimmage separated the USC receiver from his helmet.
But Bradley and the other defensive stalwarts from that team -- Ross Browner, Steve Niehaus, Mike Fanning and Willie Fry -- wouldn’t have made the difference Saturday. Not even Rudy would have helped. USC had a perfect game plan that it executed almost perfectly.
Notre Dame Coach Tyrone Willingham was still in shock after the game. Going into it, he didn’t think his problems against the Trojans would be on defense. The Irish were ranked 14th in the nation in total defense after allowing Pittsburgh a mere 175 yards. The Trojans gained 240 in the first quarter.
“It’s disturbing, surprising,” Willingham said. “I don’t think I anticipated -- we had great respect for their offense -- but I don’t think I anticipated they would be able to play in that manner.”
The Irish never figured out how the Trojans would attack.
Or who would do the attacking.
As soon as the Irish would get used to the smash of tailback LenDale White, the Trojans would switch to the flash of Hershel Dennis and Reggie Bush. Leinart threw to seven receivers. In a brief appearance at the end, freshman quarterback John David Booty threw to an eighth. Receivers Mike Williams and Keary Colbert lined up in the slot on occasion instead of outside. Colbert even threw an end-around pass, overthrowing an open Brandon Hancock.
“I loved our offense today,” Coach Pete Carroll said. “Just the mix. Matt Leinart doing his stuff, all the guys making plays.”
“We didn’t adjust very well to their subtle personnel moves,” Willingham said.
The result was as subtle as a Quentin Tarantino movie. But Chow said the Trojans didn’t unveil a special offense for Notre Dame. It was, he said, the offense they have been developing since the opening game, the offense he hopes to see for the remainder of the season.
“We had a new quarterback, new receivers, new running backs,” he said. “We wanted to go slow, just do as much as we knew we could do until we felt we were ready to open it up.”
Carroll said USC’s highly touted defense “rode the coattails of the offense.” Those are words he probably didn’t expect to come from his mouth this season, but this team is beginning to look a lot like last season’s.
Asked about the Trojans’ only loss, to Cal in overtime, Carroll said, “It sickens me because our football team is so capable of being undefeated at this time, but we played poorly one time. The three games after the loss have been terrific football games for us. We’ve been physical, tough on defense, and the quarterback has played just beautifully.
“It’s no fluke, we’re a pretty good football team.”
He will hear no arguments in the echoes.
Randy Harvey can be reached at email@example.com.