An old adage says to never look a gift horse in the mouth, and in this case, it is a white horse presented by a crimson-clad swordsman. On Saturday, Notre Dame's football team did something it had not done for eight years, doing its best impersonation of Mongo from Blazing Saddles, and smacked Traveler's team in the mouth.
The 20-16 Irish victory over the Trojans was long overdue, although hardly a show of gridiron artistry. Four Notre Dame turnovers, numerous dropped passes by Southern Cal receivers, and a second half monsoon produced a game that was just as sloppy as the field conditions.
Fortunately, style points are meaningless, and no such qualification can take anything away from the Irish victory. Make no mistake, this win was very much needed and very much earned.
It was earned by an Irish defensive unit that has gelled into a force that has not allowed an offensive touchdown in three consecutive games with the exception of a drive that started on their own 2-yard line (and even then forced a fourth-and-goal conversion).
It was earned by a running back driven for redemption. Robert Hughes spent most of the season on the bench, and then nearly became the goat of this game after whiffing on a block that resulted in Rees's fumble and subsequent Trojan touchdown.
However, he would not let that be his senior legacy; he put the Irish offense on his broad shoulders, channeled Notre Dame legend Jerome Bettis and carried the team for the go-ahead touchdown.
It was earned by a head coach who stressed player fundamentals through the ups and the downs. Brian Kelly showed he could adapt mid-season, developing a greater reliance on a running game and refusing to let the defense be mediocre.
Some will still say this win in the Coliseum was not earned, that Notre Dame was lucky. Are they right? It would appear so, since not one but two Southern Cal receivers dropped what could have been game-winning touchdown passes.
But luck is just the facade on top of hours of game preparation, or in this case, lack thereof. Just as Trojan fans would say that it was all skill that allowed Matt Leinhart to drop a perfect pass to Dwayne Jarrett on 4th-and-9 in 2005, so they must also acknowledge that those drops on Saturday resulted from the absence of that same preparation and discipline.
Notre Dame has been living with empty excuses for losing to Southern Cal for the last eight years, including the "Bush Push" and recruiting scandals. It's nice to have the shoe on the other foot for a change.