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Irish ready for revenge after last year

Joe Hettler | Friday, October 17, 2003

USC quarterback Carson Palmer drove the train that ran over Notre Dame’s season in 2002.

Just to put into context how dominant the Trojans were against the Irish in late November of last season, USC put up more total yards of offense – 610 – than any other opponent had in the previous 1,081 games of Irish football history, dating back to 1887. Much of that credit went to Palmer, who wrapped up the Heisman Trophy with last year’s big win against the Irish.

The Irish offense didn’t help the cause, either, by gaining all of 109 yards and scoring as much as the club chess team.

After that thrashing, you better believe the Irish want revenge.

“We went out there and got our butts kicked,” Dwight Ellick said. “I feel like they tried to embarrass us on national television. We really didn’t like that. We are going to come out this week and try to show them that last year’s game was not Notre Dame football.”

Throw out Notre Dame’s sub-par 2-3 record. Who cares that the team has tough games against Boston College and Florida State left on the schedule. None of that matters Saturday.

That’s because the players from the 2002 Notre Dame team still have vivid memories of that terrible game. They remember what it felt like to have USC knock them on the ground, then kick them in the head.

They remember the signs that said, “The glory stops here.”

They remember the hope they had entering that game – a chance to earn a BCS bowl berth – and the empty feeling they had leaving it, as a team that had just been embarrassed in front of the nation.

And they remember trying to figure out how that beating could happen.

Graduated offensive lineman Jordan Black simply said he wanted throw up after the game. He and every other Notre Dame player and fan in the country felt the same that night.

The USC loss has been on the Irish players’ minds this week. Notre Dame may have had several big games this season – Washington State at home, Michigan and Pittsburgh on the road – but none of those will mean as much to the players as facing USC Saturday.

Linebacker Courtney Watson had to be shocked at the way the Trojans offense moved the ball up and down the Rose Bowl field all night. After the game, he tried to justify that the Irish defense was still a good unit – few believed him.

Vontez Duff couldn’t stop USC’s star freshman receiver Mike Williams from grabbing 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns during the game or stop him from ripping the Irish secondary after the game, saying the unit wasn’t good at all.

You better believe those two, along with all the 2002 players will be rallying around last season’s game.

The Irish find themselves in a very different position heading into this season’s game than in 2002. They aren’t ranked in the top 10 in the nation. There will be no BCS berth opportunity. And they aren’t expected to give the Trojans much of a game.

But Notre Dame has something very crucial in its favor. The Irish faithful have been waiting almost a year for USC to march its Trojan horse back into South Bend. The players have been waiting a long time for a chance to knock down some yellow and red jerseys. The chance for payback is inching closer.

When the Irish take the field Saturday, they will have a mission. It will be more than just winning the football game and upsetting a top five team at home. It will be getting back at a team that trashed them in front of the nation and sent a near-fatal blow to an otherwise successful season. It will mean an opportunity to win for the seniors of last year that still feel hatred for USC. But most importantly, the game is a chance for Notre Dame to get revenge on a team that disrespected them. A chance to ruin USC’s season.

A chance to take down Troy.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Joe Hettler at jhettler@nd. edu.