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USC reaping benefits of Bush’s decision

Matt Puglisi | Friday, October 14, 2005

Notre Dame’s 44-13 loss to Southern California in Nov. 2002 hurt the Irish in more ways than one. Not only was the Trojan pounding the first of three straight 31-point Notre Dame losses to rival USC, but it also gave the Trojans the edge in a tight recruiting battle for the services of Helix High School running back Reggie Bush.

South Bend’s distance from home – sunny San Diego – Notre Dame’s struggles and Southern California’s success at the end of 2002 combined to put the Trojans over the top.

The Irish have since experienced firsthand the skill of a player they almost had their hands on. On only six carries in USC’s 45-14 throttling of the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in 2003, Bush tore up the Irish run defense to the tune of 89 yards, including an untouched 58-yard touchdown gallop on a brilliant cutback.

While he didn’t have the same success on the ground in his second game in 2004 against Notre Dame – Bush picked up just 25 yards on eight attempts – he managed to hurt the Irish in the passing game, snagging a 69-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to put the Trojans ahead 27-10. USC would go on to win the contest, 41-10.

Bush’s ability to burn the opposition in a wide variety of ways makes him particularly dangerous.

“Everyone knows about Bush,” Irish safety Tom Zbikowski said. “He can line up at receiver, line up at running back and hurt you in various different positions.

“He’s a great running back. He’s powerful. He’s also got that speed and that burst where he can make a long run.”

Notre Dame right tackle Derek Landri knows Bush has the potential to change the complexity of the game with every carry.

“Every time he touches the ball, it turns into a highlight reel,” Landri said.

Bush garnered national attention as a sophomore, recording 908 yards (6.3 yards per carry) on the ground and 509 yards and through the air. He found the end zone 13 times last season, nearly doubling his total from freshman year.

Through five games in 2005, Bush is on pace to obliterate the marks he set sophomore year, posting 601 rushing yards (8.5 yards per carry), 191 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

Irish free safety Chinedum Ndukwe points to Bush’s unparalleled drive as the root of his success.

“He plays so hard,” Ndukwe said. “He has so much passion for the game it seems.

“I’ve never spoken to him in my life, but the intensity he plays the game with is so fierce and so competitive – I’ve never even met him – but I respect him.”

As effective as Bush has been in shredding opposing defenses this season, fellow junior running back LenDale White – the thunder to Bush’s lightning – has been equally, if not more impressive.

While White doesn’t offer the same versatility as Bush, his powerful running style coupled with Bush’s quick cutting ability can exhaust defenses.

“Looking at it, a lot of their yards are coming in the third, fourth quarter, wearing down teams, beating up teams,” Zbikowski said. “That’s kind of what we’re preparing for.”

After recording more rushing yards and touchdowns than Bush as both a freshman and sophomore – White ran for 754 yards and 13 touchdowns his freshman year, followed by 1,103 yards and 15 scores as a sophomore – he’s once again leading Bush in both categories, pounding out 616 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He’s been an integral part of our offense for a few years,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “Always when we’ve been effective offensively, we’ve had a guy who’s real physical running the ball. He compliments what we do with Reggie and what we do with the passing game.”

The USC rushing game is currently No. 1 in the country at 291.2 yards per game.

Factor in a potent passing attack led by Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, and the Trojans have more offensive weapons that any team in college football.

But, in the end, the running game is the key.

“It seems like they start out trying new things on offense in the first half and if those things don’t seem to go well … they try to go back to the run,” Irish defensive end Chris Frome said.