Tuesday, October 18, 2011
First look: Notre Dame
By Pedro Moura
USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin says it right away, like you're actually supposed to believe him when he says it.
"This has nothing to do with last year," he says of his team's opportunity to revenge last year's last-minute loss to Notre Dame at the Coliseum this weekend in South Bend, Indiana.
Then, a short time later, he contradicts himself. This really is about last year, it becomes clear.
"This isn't about me, this is about the players, us getting them ready and going out and playing," Kiffin said as he continued on with his initial charade and then broke away from it. "Sure, we felt at the time that we handed one away -- the ball was in our hands to walk into the end zone and finish the game. But unfortunately we didn't finish it off and even after that play had another chance to go down there after making the fourth down.
"Obviously it was heartbreaking, the worst loss that I've been a part of (as a head coach) ever probably, because of what was going on with the streak, but it's over now, this is a new team and going in this is a huge game."
Let's get it straight: This isn't about last year -- yet, when asked about this year's game, he goes off on a tangent about how close his Trojans were to winning last year's game and extending their streak of victories over Notre Dame to nine?
It sure sounds like USC's head coach still has that 20-16 loss on his mind -- not that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily. It's on a lot of fans' minds. It's on a lot of players' minds. It's on a lot of people's minds, in general.
"That one was different," Kiffin says, as he defends his terming it as his worst-ever loss while in charge of a team. "Because of the feeling of letting so many people down. Because so many coaches and players have been involved to take that streak over the years and then for it to be right there with so many opportunities for us to win that game, even with the backup quarterback and the backup right tackle, it was right there.
"It was tough."
It was tough, and it was right there. With Matt Barkley out because of a sprained ankle, the Trojans had struggled to run their offense with backup Mitch Mustain. But they really did have a real chance to win it late, when Mustain threw to a wide-open Ronald Johnson at the Notre Dame 15-yard line for a sure touchdown with just over a minute left in the game that would have put them in the lead. But Johnson dropped the ball in the pouring rain and USC went on to lose.
Now, 11 months later, the Trojans will get the opportunity to avenge that loss. And it'll come in a high-stakes environment, too, with the night-game atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium sure to add intrigue to an already enticing game.
The two teams enter the game a combined 9-3 on the season, the Irish really just a few unlucky seconds away from being a 6-0 and the Trojans having put up arguably their best performance of the season a week ago against Cal.
"They've made it, I'm sure, their Super Bowl, by putting a bye before it and putting it at night for the first time in  years," Kiffin said of Notre Dame. "I'm glad to be a part of their history."
Glad to be a part of their history, and glad to get a chance to erase from history a little bit of what happened last year.