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Guest SirJohn

From the South Bend Tribune.




USC's Carroll wary of ND future






USC coach Pete Carroll left town Saturday night feeling relieved, but more than a little wary about what Notre Dame could become.


Wardrobe change aside, the Irish looked like a different team in a 34-31 loss to the top-ranked Trojans.


Carroll saw changes in Notre Dame much deeper than the gratuitous green jerseys Charlie Weis provided for the occasion.


He saw an offense efficient in design and crisp in execution.


He saw a resilient defense that gave up one too many big plays, but prevented enough to hold USC to its lowest point total of the season.


And he saw headaches in his future as the days of 31-point wins over Notre Dame disappeared before his eyes.


"They may be a thing of the past," Carroll said as he split for the locker room and a flight back to Los Angeles, packing USC's 28th straight win that took a little longer than usual to secure.


Until quarterback Matt Leinart leaned into the end zone in the last seconds, the Trojans teetered on the brink of a historic loss against the awakening Irish.


Notre Dame found no solace in that.


"If you're looking for me to say this a great loss," Weis said, "you'll be waiting a long time."


Let somebody else say it then. Just about everybody outside the solemn Irish locker room, in fact, recognized the revelation this game represented.


It resonated with Carroll in particular because he will be an annual competitor with Weis, which should complicate things at USC and elsewhere around the country.


"They're going to be a real problem for everybody," he said. "I don't see any way that they're not going to be a really good program."


Credit for that transformation goes to Weis, who validated all the flower petals tossed at his feet so far this season with a game plan that neutralized USC, no small task.


Before the game, he refused to divulge the most important goal on his list of ways to beat the Trojans, but the final statistics gave him away.


"It was trying to possess the ball," Weis said, which sounds almost timid in its basic objective.


He wanted to play keepaway from USC.


Smart football that he learned from his mentors, including Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, among the brains Weis picked in preparation for the biggest game of his career.


Time of possession favored Notre Dame by more than 17 minutes, a testament not just to his mind for the game, but to his knack for imparting it.


To put it another way, the Irish executed, a term more familiar to the program in recent years for its connotation of capital punishment.


Under Weis, the offense has come alive, sending Carroll into an extended soliloquy marveling at the remarkable difference in Notre Dame.


"He did a wonderful job, just pecking away with the personnel, keeping the ball moving. ... It was never big chunks, it was just making first downs like he does. I thought it was a remarkable display of his philosophy on offense. ... They're so well suited on offense. They've really changed."


Not just in the efficiency of the offense, but in pure effort.


On defense, Notre Dame knocked Leinart around and kept the damage from USC's usual hunks of yardage to a relative minimum.


"They slugged it out," Weis said. "That was a street fight."


Going the distance didn't dull the sting of defeat, but the strides evident from the brutal knockouts of recent seasons revealed a program developing into a legitimate contender.


In another example of Weis getting through to them, the Irish wanted none of the moral victory angle.


"They expected to win. Maybe everyone else didn't expect us to win, but we expected to win," Weis said. "They didn't, so I like the fact that they're as disappointed as they are right now."


External expectations didn't match Notre Dame's. With the exception of true believers, of which there must be many more now, prevailing opinion promised a more competitive game against USC, but not a win.


That seemed like too much to expect this soon into a new coaching regime, but Weis restored more in a few short months than most imagined, even if that sounded hollow to him under the circumstances.


"Losing's losing," he said, but in defeat Saturday the Irish gained more than they lost.

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