USC Win Tops Frantic Football Weekend

USC's Tom Malone tries to wrestle the ball out of the hands of Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski. i i

University of Notre Dame punt returner Tom Zbikowski races for the end zone on a 61-yard touchdown run while the University of Southern California's Tom Malone ries to take the ball away during their game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters
USC's Tom Malone tries to wrestle the ball out of the hands of Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski.

University of Notre Dame punt returner Tom Zbikowski races for the end zone on a 61-yard touchdown run while the University of Southern California's Tom Malone ries to take the ball away during their game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday.

Reuters

A last-minute win over Notre Dame keeps the University of Southern California's long unbeaten streak alive. The wild ending was just one of several in a big week of college football. John Feinstein and Steve Inskeep discuss the developments.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We just have to spend a few minutes this morning talking about an unbelievable weekend of college football. The University of Southern California extended its winning streak to 28 games on Saturday. USC defeated Notre Dame in the final seconds, 34-to-31. It was a dramatic win by the top-ranked Trojans, and it was one of several amazing college football finishes. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now.

Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Did your television blow up or anything like that from all the excitement?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I thought my marriage was going to blow up at about 7:20 Saturday night because my wife and I were supposed to go out to dinner, and we were late. And my wife kept saying, `John, we have to go.' And I said, `Mar, I am not leaving while this football game is going on,' because Southern Cal and Notre Dame took four hours--those games on NBC take forever because of the commercials--but it was well worth it because of that extraordinary finish.

INSKEEP: Now let's just run through this finish, for people who did miss it. Notre Dame is winning, Southern Cal is deep in its own territory, it's fourth down, what happened?

FEINSTEIN: Fourth and nine on their own 26, and Matt Leinart throws a timing pattern. In other words, the receiver had to run under it in just the last second. It looked like it was going to be broken up. Makes the catch, takes the ball down to the 13-yard line. Under a minute to go, Southern Cal has no time-outs. They eventually get the ball down to the three. Leinart gets tackled, the ball goes out of bounds on the one-yard line, and the clock runs down to zero. Notre Dame thinks they've won. They storm the field. The students storm the field. Charlie Weis, their coach, storms the field, and it looks like they've pulled one of their great upsets, only the officials, quite correctly, get together and say, `No, no, there's still seven seconds left.'

They line up again. Pete Carroll, the Southern Cal coach, is signaling Matt Leinart, the quarterback, who won the Heisman trophy last year, to spike the ball so they can get their field-goal team onto the field and tie the game and go into overtime, except that it was a fake. Leinart takes the snap, goes into the end zone, scores the touchdown, Southern Cal wins. If they don't score, Pete Carroll would have been criticized from stem to stern for not kicking the field goal. But now everybody at Southern Cal's a hero and they've won 28 in a row.

INSKEEP: Just amazing. Now the man at the center of all this, Matt Leinart, could have been in the NFL this year instead of playing college ball.

FEINSTEIN: Would have been, without question, the number-one pick in the NFL draft. As I said, he won the Heisman last year, Southern Cal won the national championship. He's considered a great pro prospect, but he wanted to play one more year of college football. He only needed one course to get his degree. He's taking ballroom dancing, Steve, but that's legitimate under NCAA rules. But he wanted to be a part of games like this, and that's why he came back for one more season. He decided the money could wait, which, as you know, nowadays almost never happens in college football or basketball.

INSKEEP: Well, it certainly was quite a graceful dance into the end zone there.

Now that wasn't the only wild finish on Saturday, either, was it?

FEINSTEIN: There was just a whole list of them. It looked like Penn State, which is making such a great comeback under Joe Paterno this year, was going to go to 7-and-0 against Michigan. They went ahead with 53 seconds to go. Michigan drove the length of the field and scored on the last play of the game to pull that one out. Wisconsin looked like they were beaten against Minnesota and blocked a punt at the very end to win that game. Alabama, which--another old power which is still undefeated, beat Mississippi on a last-second field goal, and West Virginia upset Louisville, which was supposed to be a national title contender at the start of the season, in three overtimes. So as you said, you could get dizzy spinning the TV set on late Saturday afternoon.

INSKEEP: John, why don't you go see if you can make it up to your wife, OK?

FEINSTEIN: I'll do the best I can, Steve. Thanks very much.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein. His new book, "Next Man Up: A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL," is in bookstores beginning today.

This is NPR News.

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