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Football update: Troy topples Notre Dame

Dan Murphy | Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It bears repeating.

No. 9 Southern California’s 38-0 drubbing of Notre Dame was the worst loss the Irish have suffered in the rivalry’s 79-game series.

The Trojans have now reeled off six straight wins in the series . The last time Notre Dame claimed a victory was a 27-16 home win in 2001.

“My hat’s off to them,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “They are where we want to be, and that’s what we are going to shoot for and that’s what we’re going to drive for until we get to that point.”

The Irish were neck-and-neck with the Trojans throughout the first quarter as the two teams battled for field position early on.

The Trojans finally opened up the scoring with 3:40 left in the quarter when a misplayed punt gave them a first down on the Irish 10-yard line. USC’s punt bounced off of Irish sophomore Munir Prince, who was blocking a gunner, and the Trojans fell on the loose ball.

On the next play, Mark Sanchez hit tight end Fred Davis in the corner of the Notre Dame end zone.

Sanchez, who made his second start in place of injured John David Booty, threw for 235 yards and four touchdowns against the Irish secondary.

“It was great,” Sanchez said. “It was a total team effort. I mean, the guys up front … I think I only hit the ground once, maybe. Running backs were playing a great game, receivers making huge plays.”

Big plays were a theme for the Trojans Saturday, with four of their five touchdown drives taking three plays or fewer.

Senior linebacker Keith Rivers recovered a Travis Thomas fumble on the first drive of the second half, setting up a short field for the Trojans again. Three plays later, Sanchez hit fullback Stanley Havili on a play-action, roll-out pass, and Havili barreled five yards to give USC a 24-0 lead.

The Trojan offense came up with another home run on the next drive when Sanchez found sophomore Vidal Hazelton wide open down the sidelines. Hazelton avoided the majority of the Irish secondary and broke three tackles on an impressive run after the catch.

“That was a sick play,” USC coach Pete Carroll said.

Freshman running back Joe McKnight capped off the scoring with a 51-yard sprint to pay dirt with 10 minutes left in the game. McKnight, who led the Trojans with 68 yards rushing on seven attempts, was untouched on his way to his first career touchdown.

“It was a butt-kicking today,” Weis said. “Today they were the far superior team, and give them credit.”

Notre Dame had a few chances to get on the scoreboard early but was unable to capitalize.

Junior safety David Bruton blocked a punt at the USC 30-yard line, but the Irish offense was unable to move the ball. Four plays later, the Trojans blocked Brandon Walker’s 40-yard field goal attempt.

Notre Dame’s finally made it into the red zone with just over two minutes remaining in the game, but once again the offense faltered.

Junior quarterback Evan Sharpley completed 17-of-33 passes for 117 yards in his first start. Sharpley was sacked five times and threw one interception – on Notre Dane’s final offensive play.

“It was a struggle. It was difficult. They’re a very good defense, kudos to them, and we had a tough time,” Sharpley said.

Despite the scoreless day, Weis did not indicate he would return to freshman Jimmy Clausen behind center.

“I would imagine Evan would be the [starter] going into the next game,” he said. “I don’t think when I go back and watch the tape, I don’t think I’m going to find enough evidence that he’s the sole responsibility for us splitting the bid on offense.”

The loss dropped Notre Dame to 1-7 this season and officially eliminated them from bowl contention.

“It’s disappointing to close out my career this way,” senior captain John Carlson said. “But, right now the focus is to win the next game. That’s really all we can do.

Notre Dame will take a week off before putting their 43-game winning streak on the line against Navy at home Nov. 3.

Weis will meet with the media Monday to officially announce a starting quarterback to face Navy.