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Leinart makes his case for Heisman

Justin Schuver | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

LOS ANGELES – It took 117 years before Pittsburgh’s Tyler Palko became the first quarterback to throw for five touchdowns against the Irish.It only took two weeks for USC’s Matt Leinart to repeat the feat.Leinart passed for 400 yards and five touchdowns Saturday as he made his case for the Heisman Trophy in No. 1 USC’s 41-10 rout of Notre Dame. “He played an excellent ball game,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said of the Trojan quarterback. “What he was so strong at was that he did not turn the ball over. [USC] is No. 1 for a reason.”The Irish all but stopped the Trojan ground game, keeping running backs LenDale White and Reggie Bush corralled for only 83 rushing yards. But Leinart was more than up to the task, shredding the Irish secondary as he completed 24-of-34 passes with no interceptions. His 400 yards Saturday were also a career high.”I was very proud of the way we played,” Leinart said. “We knew that [Notre Dame] had a very tough defense, especially their front seven, and so we had some difficulty running the ball at times. “We just kept pounding and knew that things would start to open up eventually.”Leinart was aided by a bevy of talented and speedy wide receivers – headlined by true freshman Dwayne Jarrett, who had two touchdowns of 12 and 57 yards. Sophomore running back Reggie Bush, and wide receivers Steve Smith and Jason Mitchell also scored for the Trojans.Leinart’s touchdown pass to Bush was perhaps the play that broke Notre Dame’s resolve. The quick back lined up in the slot on third-and-two and caught a short pass from Leinart before outrunning Irish defensive backs Quentin Burrell and Dwight Ellick to the endzone.The touchdown made the score 27-10 in favor of USC, and all but eliminated any hope the Irish would pull off the upset of the top-ranked Trojans.”We ran that play earlier in the game and this time when they lined up we knew that [Notre Dame] was in man-to-man,” Leinart said of Bush’s touchdown. “I could tell that they were in man-to-man coverage when they motioned out, and all I had to do was get [Bush] the ball and he’d do the rest.”Leinart’s performance Saturday evoked memories of USC quarterback Carson Palmer’s game against the Irish just two years earlier.Palmer threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns as the No. 6 Trojans defeated No. 7 Notre Dame 44-13 in Los Angeles on Nov. 30, 2002. Palmer’s performance all but wrapped up his Heisman Trophy award, and Leinart’s impressive showing could do the same for him this season.But Leinart and his Trojans still have bigger fish to fry. With a victory this week against rival UCLA, USC will finish the season No. 1 and head to the Orange Bowl, the national championship game.”We’re going to relish this victory, but then we have to get ready to play against [UCLA],” Leinart said. “I wouldn’t really focus on [talking about the Heisman]. I just wanted to go out there and do the same thing I’ve done for this team all season – lead the offense, make plays, hit the open guys.”All that other stuff is more what other people say; I just want to go out there and help this team to win games.”