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ND FOOTBALL: Fourth and long

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, October 12, 2005

After taking over a team that had lost to USC by 31 points three straight years in a row, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis had some convincing to do during last week’s bye week.

“My biggest job was getting the team to believe they have a chance to win the game,” Weis said. “Just getting them to believe they had a chance to win the game is easier said than done.”

Weis said this after he spent a good seven minutes Tuesdayrattling off facts about the No. 1 Trojans, including mentioning the Trojans’ 27-game win streak that dates back to 2003 when USC lost to California 34-31 in triple overtime.

And senior defensive tackle and California native Derek Landri acknowledged that a lot of times teams beat themselves before even stepping on the field to play the Trojans.

“This game’s a very mental game,” Landri said. “A lot of times [USC] will beat a team before they play because they just psyche themselves out mentally.”

Landri is familiar with winning streaks. He played for De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., which held a national record 125-game winning streak when he graduated.

“Mentally, you have to know that they have a lot of talent, but we’re just as good,” he said of the mindset he takes to the USC matchup.

Irish safety Chinedum Nduwke took note of the Trojan offense, which averages 640 yards of total offense per game.

“You can’t really be intimidated in general, but you have to respect them,” Nduwke said.

And so to motivate his players, Weis began with what he deemed the “magic” number – 31.

“I think the first thing you have to do is embarrass them,” Weis said. “We all know the magic number 31. We all know that number. So I basically told them, ‘You’re already down 31, let’s see where we can go from there – let’s see if we can close the gap a little bit.'”

Running back Darius Walker said he doesn’t think the No. 9 Irish doubt the fact they can beat the Trojans.

“We understand that if we can just go out there and play our part, we can beat these guys,” Walker said Tuesday. “All the talk in our off week was that we can play with these guys. That’s what has changed so much about this team is our confidence. Our confidence is so high right now that we feel like we can play with anybody.”

Finding a way to beat USC has been the focus since the Oct. 1 win against Purdue, as last week the Irish had their first bye week of the season. Weis acknowledged that this extra time has not only helped him preparation-wise, but also given his team a chance to rest physically.

And so now Notre Dame begins the first of a five-game stretch at Notre Dame Stadium.

“We’re looking forward to this home game stretch,” defensive end Chris Frome said. “We don’t have another away game until after Thanksgiving, I think, so it’d be nice to start it off with a big win against USC.”

To do so, the Irish will have to play their best football against a team with two Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush.

“They’ve got firepower, and you have to try to negate some of that firepower,” Weis said. “We are going to have to play very well. We’re going to have to play at the top of our game to have a chance of winning. You’ve got to take care of the football, hope some things go your way. But that’s why you play the game, because just because those stats, that doesn’t mean it’s a lock as to who wins and who loses.”

Notes:

u A number of Irish players were recruited by the Trojans, including Landri and Walker. Landri chose Notre Dame because of its tradition.

“Notre Dame, just the overall tradition and the kind of place it is here [was the final factor],” Landri said.

For Walker, it came down to the Irish and the Trojans.

“It’s an interesting game for me because I could be on the other side,” he said.

But in the end it was Notre Dame’s academics that lured the Georgia native away from the West Coast.

“What made me come here was the education part,” Walker said. “And being able to become an overall person, an overall man, an overall individual coming to a place like this. I mean Notre Dame is one of those schools where you can’t pass this up. You’d be kinda crazy to pass this up.”

u Walker’s dad Jimmy played for USC head coach Pete Carroll during Carroll’s tenure at Arkansas, where Jimmy Walker was a defensive lineman. Carroll was a graduate assistant for then-head coach Lou Holtz in 1977. Led by the former Irish coach, the Razorbacks finished 11-1 and went to the Orange Bowl.

“He had good things to say about [Carroll],” Darius said of his dad’s relationship with Carroll.