It was a crusade. All week long the Notre Dame campus was draped with signs to remind the Fighting Irish of what happened a year ago in Los Angeles—as if they could forget. USC was coming to South Bend, and USC was the team that upset Notre Dame last season 20-17, costing it the national championship. The signs hung from ancient Sorin Hall, and from the freshman dormitories, Farley and Breen-Phillips, as well. Priests strolling through the trees wore large white buttons that said simply, "Remember." And Coach Ara Parseghian even had the word repetitiously pasted across rows of lockers in the varsity dressing room. Then came Saturday, and Notre Dame remembered, all right, but the player who seemed to want revenge the most was a fullback named Larry Conjar who didn't even make the California trip in 1964.
Conjar, a 204-pound junior from Harrisburg, Pa., bruised his way to all four Notre Dame touchdowns and 116 yards, as the Irish pounded previously undefeated (but once-tied) USC into submission 28-7. To the delight of 59,235 in the South Bend stadium on a gray, rainy afternoon, and much to the astonishment of a national television audience that had every right to expect a close, thrilling game, things went almost exactly as Parseghian—but almost nobody else—had planned.
"You can't let Mike Garrett have the ball 30 times," warned Ara before the game. The reference was to USC's splendid runner who had averaged 30 carries and 170 yards gained in each of his five previous games. "And," said Ara, "the only way to do this is to hang onto the ball ourselves. Ball control is of the most importance."
To control the ball, Parseghian installed some new wrinkles in his offense. For one thing, instead of splitting his ends out from the power-I formation, he sent them out, then curiously shifted them back in tight before the snap of the ball. He also unbalanced his line frequently, but in a different way—using both tackles on the strong side. Notre Dame is big, anyway, and with this heft up front to block for a full-house backfield of Bill Wolski, Nick Eddy and Conjar, it was Parseghian's simple plan to try and blast out USC with a ground attack that would eat up both yards and minutes.
To enhance the plan, he made another change, switching back to Bill Zloch at quarterback. Zloch is a so-so thrower, and a player who had lost the job to sophomore Tom Schoen two weeks before in the Army game, but he is a sure ball handler, and just the man, Parseghian thought, to direct this uncharacteristic rushing game.
Zloch directed a good one. Forsaking the pass (he threw only seven), he sent Conjar plowing through USC's middle and inside the tackles 20 times in the first half alone as the Trojans seemed overly conscious of Wolski's sweeps and Eddy's counters. Behind the especially fine blocking of Tackle Tom Regner, Conjar jarred and bulled and occasionally slipped his way for three, four and five yards at a time. Notre Dame scored the first three times it got the ball, with Conjar squeezing over from the two-, two-and one-yard lines.
By the end of the third quarter the Irish were ahead 28-0, and had run 58 plays to Southern Cal's 26. For all practical purposes, the game was over. And Mike Garrett had not yet seen a glimmer of daylight, though in USC's behalf it can be said that Garrett was slowed slightly by a pulled muscle, and Rod Sherman, the Trojans' other top runner, was bandaged and slowed even more.
Garrett was held to only seven yards in nine carries in the first half, and not until well into the second half when Notre Dame fell back in a "baseball" defense, did he squirt through in that peculiar, jittery style of his for two 12-yard gains, winding up with a mere 43 yards in all. Not only Conjar, but Wolski, the sparingly used Eddy, and even Zloch, running keepers, out-gained him.
Conjar, a scrapping, workhorse-type runner somewhat remindful of Emil Sitko from the Frank Leahy days, though not as nifty, is a shy lad who says, "I still have a lot of improving to do." Actually, he gave USC a tip-off on what it might expect in the 17-0 victory over Army. Playing ball control then, too, in the late stages of that game in New York's Shea Stadium, Notre Dame called on Conjar eight consecutive times. He gained 52 yards, to set up the field goal that completed Notre Dame's scoring for the night.
"Notre Dame," said USC Coach John McKay, "is, of course, the strongest team we've played. I didn't think anybody could run on us like that."