Let me set the stage:
Matt Leinart and the USC Trojans were about to invade South Bend, Indiana, riding high on a 27 game winning streak. The country was anticipating the possible end of one of college football’s greatest streaks.
Before the 2005 season began, newly hired coach Charlie Weis raised more than a few eyebrows with a bold statement. At his first press conference he told the Notre Dame faithful, "I surly hope when that team from California comes to town that they’re still undefeated." Charlie’s statement set the tone for what was to be one of the most epic games in college football’s history.
A LOT was riding on this matchup, and to add to the drama…the Nation’s TOP high school recruit at the time Jimmy Clausen, had recently committed to Notre Dame OVER his hometown powerhouse USC. The hype was building, ESPN’s College Game Day was to be on site as well as a plethora of highly ranked high school football players.
Behind the scenes, Matt Leinart was starting to feel the burden of it all…A 27 game winning streak, a possible Heisman Trophy repeat winner, and a rivalry game hosted in enemy territory. On top of everything there was a huge demand for tickets (for family and friends) and interviews that came with being the leader of a “defacto” NFL team, (since Los Angeles had none).
Yes, the pressure was mounting and Matt was starting to feel the weight of the city on his back. I remember getting a phone call from Matt on the Sunday night leading up to the big game, he said he was having trouble with his spiral and was hoping I could meet him at USC’s Howard Jones Field. Quite naturally I said yes, but before doing so I called Steve Sarkisian, Offensive Coordinator for USC and former client of mine to make sure this was ok. After checking with Pete Carroll they cleared the workout unaware of a rule about “outside consultants working on campus directly with their student athletes.”
When I met with Matt I noticed a few problems:
*Matt wasn’t squaring his front shoulder to his intended target.
*This was caused by having his feet improperly placed at the point of release.
*Ironically, one of the things that we particularly paid close attention to were his fade passes. The ball was consistently sailing out of bounds due to bad footwork.
*The other thing we worked on was his ability to read the safeties in their Cover Two look. (Notre Dame did a nice job of mixing up all the variations of that coverage.)
Matt had a great workout, and was more than ready for the challenge of Charlie Weis and Notre Dame.
October 16th, 2005- PREGAME: This was my first trip to the Golden Dome stadium and it came with mixed feelings. It would be my first meeting with Charlie Weis despite Jimmy Clausen being my client since he was 13 years old, so this meeting was little different to say the least. Obviously Charlie knew my ties to USC and was sympathetic to the situation.
During pregame warm ups, I was throwing the football on the sidelines with Pete Carroll and I could tell he was a little apprehensive. We both noticed that we could not see our shoes due to the high grass.
Yeah, Coach Weis was no dummy, he knew Notre Dame couldn’t match up with the Trojan’s speed.
Pete also wanted to know how Matt was doing and was he ready??? I assured him he had been prepared his entire life for this stage…
Then the scene was being set inside the stadium and resembled a Hollywood Premier. The who’s who from the rivalry’s history were in attendance: Joe Montana, The one and only Rudy, and Joe Theismann for Notre Dame. Anthony Davis aka (The Notre Dame Killer), Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott for USC. The stage was set for what was to be an ESPN instant classic.
THE GAME: The game was a slugfest from the start to the very end. Reggie Bush was having the first of what would be many “Heisman moments” during his final year at USC.
On the Notre Dame side, Brady Quinn was having a Heisman day of his own, and had just led the Fighting Irish to a late forth quarter lead. Irish faithful were on the edge of their seats anticipating a possible victory and end to college football’s longest winning streaks.
I was on the sideline for this game just like so many before, but this one was and always will be special. The knot in my stomach was so large I could only imagine what these players were feeling.
FINAL DRIVE: Before Matt took the field on his final drive I pulled him aside and reminded him to remember why he came to USC…for moments just like this!
"Don’t play like you have something to lose …
Play like you have something to win!
Don’t play like there’s a chip on your shoulder!
Play like there’s an F….in bolder on it!”
I also took the time to remind him of that Cover 2 look, and that in reality what Notre Dame was REALLY playing was the Cover 1, which was MAN FREE.
USC’s Dwayne Jarrett was beating his man all day and had a height advantage over his man on our sideline. The first three plays netted a whole one yard and this prompted Pete Carroll to call a time out to design a 4th down play.
Meanwhile Dwayne Jarrett was trying to pull himself from the game because he had been previously poked in the eye. I told him he HAD to play and that Matt was going to check out of the play called, only if he thought he could beat his man on a fade pattern. I washed out Dwayne’s eye with a water bottle and back on the field he went. Matt indeed had noticed Notre Dame DB Tom Zbikowski cheating towards the middle of the field, which meant Dwayne would have single coverage. Matt gave the fade signal behind his back and the rest was history…setting up the most dramatic seven seconds in college football.
On the next play Leinart would scramble towards an apparent touchdown only to be hit in mid air and fumble the ball out of bounds at the one yard-line. The clock struck zero and the Notre Dame fans stormed the field. That’s it! Game over!…
“Not so fast,” as Lee Corso would say. Pete Carroll managed to argue that there should have been time left on the clock giving Trojans just enough to run another play (or possibly two) if they spiked the ball. Pete won the argument and the black and whites put seven seconds back on the clock.
During all the commotion the #Field General, Matt Leinart was quietly whispering to his lineman that he was going to sneak it in, but was going to make the kill sign which was to spike the ball and stop the clock. I remember watching Pete on the sideline giving the kill signal, he too had no idea what Matt had privately instructed his o-lineman to do. The most important player to all this was Reggie Bush, who until right before the snap was unaware of Matt’s plan.
What would happen next, no one could have ever predicted. The ball was snapped to Matt and you could see Reggie flying towards Leinart’s back, providing huge momentum for Matt to cross the goal line. The outcome would stun the fighting Irish, for only seven seconds earlier they were celebrating the end the USC 27 game winning streak.
This moment will be forever remembered as the “Bush Push.”
Make no mistake about it for me, the game will forever be known as 4th&9!
One last footnote: Not everyone at Notre Dame was a loser. Charlie Weis was given a 30 million dollar extension because of how they played against USC…HELLO!!!