As games go, this was a tough one for Shaun Cody.
First, the USC defensive tackle had to fight his way through 1,500 pounds of Notre Dame offensive linemen. Then he had to face his parents.
“My mom was crying and my dad was crying,” Cody said. “I had to choke back some tears.”
Cody was one of three seniors in USC’s defensive front seven who played the final home game of their college careers and got all they could handle -- physically and emotionally -- in a 41-10 victory over the Irish on Saturday night.
“It was weird,” nose tackle Mike Patterson said. “I couldn’t believe it was my last game in the Coliseum.”
Cody, Patterson and the third senior, linebacker Matt Grootegoed, have been the cornerstone of the Trojan defense and a big reason for the team’s recent upswing.
This season, the defense ranks in the nation’s top five in every statistical category.
“We built our program on them,” said Ed Orgeron, the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. “They helped turn this thing around.”
But before the three seniors could get sentimental about it, they had to deal with a Notre Dame offense that rushed for 195 yards on Saturday, by far the most USC has surrendered this season.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” Cody said.
It started with the first possession, the Irish driving 92 yards, much of that on the ground, for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Notre Dame’s second possession was more of the same.
Running back Ryan Grant broke free for 32 yards. Quarterback Brady Quinn was able to sit in the pocket and find his receivers. He also had success rolling out and running upfield, scrambling for 22 yards to put his team in position for a field goal and a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.
“They had us,” Grootegoed said. “They were almost running at will.”
At that point, the Trojans made adjustments. The line shifted to stop the run. Zone blitzes helped put pressure on Quinn.
More than anything, the front seven had to stand up to Notre Dame’s smash-mouth play.
“We had to answer the call,” Cody said. “It wasn’t anything big
After those first two scores, the Irish lost control of the line of scrimmage and mounted only one more serious threat, a 58-yard drive in the third quarter that ended with a missed field-goal attempt.
“They started being more active after we hurt them early,” Notre Dame center John Sullivan said. “They showed why they’re a good team.”
Patterson put it this way: “As the game went on, we felt like we were getting to them ... like they weren’t coming at us as hard.”
With the victory secured, the three seniors were left to face the other part -- the fast-approaching end of their USC careers.
They have one more regular-season game against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Then a bowl game.
Walking off the Coliseum field for the last time, Patterson got a bear hug from Orgeron.
Cody got a welcome from the crowd chanting his name, at which point he went for a little more physical play, barreling into the stands, charging through a swarm of USC fans.
“They were so great,” he said. “It was emotional.”
A fitting end to a rough game.