4th & 9 What You Didn’t Know About One of College Football’s Greatest Rivalries

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.

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     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.

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     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. 

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      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). 

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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.” 

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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.

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     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.

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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.image

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. 

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     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. image

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. 

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      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.

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This moment will be forever remembered as the “Bush Push.” 

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Make no mistake about it for me, the game will forever be known as 4th&9!  

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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!!!

2013 Quarterback Draft Diagnosis

Several months ago, I wrote about the impact a proper game plan can have for quarterback prospects heading into the draft.  I also noted some of the more important things to add to their “to do successfully “checklist.  At this time, I’d like to give my most recent report on how a few of the top QB prospects performed, and how their preparation affected them.

Geno Smith 

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I thought Geno did the best overall.  Smith was the top QB heading into the draft and didn’t do anything to drop from his spot.  However, he may not go as early as people thought due to free agency signings, and recent trades to “quarterback hungry teams”.  For the most part, Smith’s workouts were solid, but he did leave many pundits questioning his ability to grasp NFL offenses.  I find this a bit premature, and feel that if given the right situation, Smith has a chance to be a solid NFL Quarterback.

Notes to consider for Geno Smith: (Strong arm, has shown the ability to throw a variety of touch passes, teams must be careful in thinking he is the next Kaepernick….Smith is not nearly the athlete.) 

Matt Barkley

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This one is a little closer to home so it’s a bit difficult to say the following.  I think the world of Matt and he’ll go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in school’s history, but clearly not the best (when compared to former Trojan alums such as Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer).  I make this statement based off of what these players brought to USC Football.  Palmer and Leinart will always get higher marks due to their outstanding achievements i.e. Heisman Trophy winners and National Championships, (and of course, ultimately they were 1st rounders in the NFL Draft).  I wish I could say this about Barkley, but his senior season and his Pro Day workout would make that a “reach” at this point.

Notes to consider for Matt Barkley: (4 years starting quarterback for both programs he played with i.e. Mater Dei HS (first 4 year starter) and USC , despite senior year…he should not be undervalued, Barkley is an intelligent player and has a  ”Manning” like control & feel for the game)

 

Ryan Nassib

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This guy could be a sleeper in this year’s draft class.  Nassib has a very strong arm with Steve Young like athleticism.  While in college, Nassib lead his undermanned Syracuse football team to a bowl game in 2012.  He ended his college career breaking the school total passing yards record (9,060), pass completions (780), and passing yards per game (201.3). Clearly, with this much talent, the early 2nd round if not late 1st would be a realistic choice for someone of his skill set and upside.

Notes to Consider for Ryan Nassib: (He may be a steal in the 2nd round, his old coach from Syracuse, Doug Marrone is now head coach for Bills, Nassib has a gunslinger mentality similar to a famous 2nd rounder who played for the Packers…Brett Favre ring a name??)

 

Sounding Off:

Unfortunately and interestingly, the best quarterback in this draft may be a veteran.  If all indicators are correct about the Philadelphia Eagles leaning towards drafting Geno Smith with their 1st round pick, then Nick Foles will be a hot prospect!  Remember Matt Hasselback’s early career?  Matt started his career in Green Bay before he was traded to Seattle and there his Pro Bowl career began!

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On the surface this quarterback draft class appears to be weak, but I’m betting that after all the dust is settled…these guys will be solid productive starting quarterbacks in the NFL……. in the very near future.

The Evolution of A Quarterback: Matt Barkley


By: Steve Clarkson

 When the USC Football season started, quarterback Matt Barkley was regarded as the Top Quarterback in college and possibly the number one pick overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.  At this time, USC was also picked to run the table on the way to a National Championship and Matt Barkley was expected to win the Heisman Trophy for a storybook ending.  That was then and this is now.  USC ended the season on a four game losing streak and finished with a 7-5 record.  To make matters worse Matt Barkley was injured in the UCLA loss and his availability for the Hyundai Sun Bowl game is in doubt.

The Critics have come out, and like always, the starting quarterback becomes the culprit, trying to make us believe that Matt Barkley’s stock may have fallen at such a rate that he may no longer be a first round look. 

The Evolution of A Quarterback is a long process.  Before I dive into it, I would like to mention that this is free advice for Matt, his family, and all who represent him.  This is what I would like to see happen between now and April’s draft….   

 1st Prediction

When all is said and done, Matt Barkley will not only be in the first round, but a top 20 pick in April’s draft.

The last time the Spirit of Troy witnessed Matt Barkley, he was walking out on the field with arm in sling to the chorus of a standing ovation, in recognition for all he sacrificed for the good of the Cardinal & Gold. 

Matt came back under the mantra of “unfinished business”.  Of course, this season isn’t what he and his teammates had in mind, but I’ll argue that Matt accomplished quite bit given the situation of USC.  I’m sure Matt has the urge to play in USC’s bowl game and be in that uniform one more time, but that would be a mistake!

 1st Piece of Advice:  Matt should continue to do what he’s always done, which is to keep USC moving forward.  In my opinion, Matt playing in the bowl game is meaningless for his career.  Playing too soon after his injury could do a lot of damage if not 100% healthy.

 2nd Piece of Advice: The next game Matt should play in is the Senior Bowl, period!  This will give Matt and his agents enough time to survey the landscape and come up with a proper strategy for Matt leading up to April’s draft. 

 I’ve been a part of this process for more than 25 years and what history has shown us is that trends change.  Each quarterback has their own trend and it is ever changing.  Barkley was the “can’t miss kid coming into college.  Now, there are whispers that Matt’s stock has fallen, and people are questioning his ability and thus his future quarterback success.

3rd Piece of Advice:  There is no better time than now to take these months and get back to the “can’t miss kid coming into the NFL.”

Matt Barkley’s Check List:

  •  9 weeks to prepare for the Senior Bowl-This is a time to work on all your weaknesses while still  maintaining all the things you have done well up to this point.
  •  Re-introduce the public to Matt Barkley-Highlight the attributes that have made you so special, i.e. all your charity here in the United States, overseas, your work with the Marines, and of course why you came back to USC in the first place…
  • Senior Bowl should be where you shine the most.- Your ability to communicate to your coaches will be noticed.  This is the time where the evaluators will be more than impressed with your ability to make and execute all the plays.
  • Next up is the NFL combine.  To work out?  Or not to workout?  That is the question-This question will be answered based on your performance at the Senior Bowl.  Let’s assume the game went well, very well…Because you played so well at the Senior Bowl, everyone will have just seen the incredible talent you have, with doubters hiding for the shadows.  Your performance you will then be enable you to take the NFL combine as a time to focus on the personal interviews etc.  Make sure to have your agents notify the NFL that you will only be participating in the physicals and the interviews at the combine.
  • Moving onto the Pro Day workout.  This is more like a “Performance.”The key is to write your script that highlights the needs of teams that are most likely to select a quarterback in draft.

NOTE: This process is made easier when your agents send out a request to the      coaches asking for what they would like to see in your Pro Day workout.

  • Make sure your “Performance,” leaves the coaches and evaluators wanting to see more. 
  • Always leave enough room in your “script” to execute the unexpected, i.e., coaches may request for a specific throw or movement
  • If you do well at the Pro Day, you will be invited to perform a private workout with those teams that are very, very interested in you. 

NOTE: These workouts will most likely be with the coaches and the offensive coordinators.

  • Finally at the end of the day, everything that you’ve displayed over the last 8 years of your quarterbacking life will come down to this question…

 How will they view Matt Barkley as the LEADER of their franchise?

         -His character

         -Work ethic

         -Ability to reach a higher ceiling

         -Intelligence on and off the field

         -The intangibles

         -Marketability

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, PEOPLE WILL FINALLY COME TO THEIR SENSES…THAT YOUR BODY OF WORK OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS WILL PROVE, ONCE AGAIN THAT YOU ARE WHAT THEY THOUGHT YOU WERE…”THE CAN’T MISS KID COMING INTO THE NFL.”

-By: Steve Clarkson

Steve Clarkson Academy in The New Yorker by Ben McGrath
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/15/121015fa_fact_mcgrath

Steve Clarkson Academy in The New Yorker by Ben McGrath

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/15/121015fa_fact_mcgrath

“Lighting Strikes Twice.”

While travelling across the country looking for the next great quarterback one of the most common things I look for an important key attribute:

 Do they command the room?  At one of my most recent football camps I came across a young aspiring quarterback by the name of Tate Martell.  There were over 300 quarterbacks in attendance and he absolutely owned the room. 

Some of the things I immediately noticed:

  • He was a fierce competitor, pushing his way through all the quarterback drills
  • He never walked anywhere on the field
  • His athleticism and accuracy was advanced for his age

First thing I wanted to know about Tate was what grade he was in? I was guessing he was a sophomore in high school.  When I asked him how old he was he said he was in the 6th grade and he was 12 years old.  I immediately asked myself, “Does lighting strike twice?” 

In trying to make an assessment of young Tate and what quarterback he compared to, I couldn’t come up with anyone.  After some thought the answer was quite clear, no single quarterback can best describe this young man’s talent.  Therefore I came up with two that fit the bill:  a perfect hybrid of Brett Favre and Fran Tarkenton. 

Remember when I referenced “lighting strikes twice?” i.e. David Sills? David was 10 years old when he came to me for quarterback training, three years later in 2010 he was making national news headlines.  It was during Super Bowl XLIV…#44 (Colts vs. Saints) that the young David stole the spotlight from Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.  A small one liner scrolled across the bottom of ESPN, “13 year old David Sills verbally commits to Lane Kiffin and USC Class of 2015.”   Again….this was 2010

Fast forward…two and a half years later and Tate Martell verbally commits to Steve Sarkisian and the University of Washington Class of 2017.

Coincidence?  Or planned?  You be the judge.

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