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In chronological order, Mr. Fling's frustrations went like this: with a third down and four yards to go at the USC 18-yard line, Hanratty threw the ball to Adrian Young. With a first down and four yards to go to the Trojan end zone, Hanratty and his fullback, Jeff Zimmerman, fouled up a handoff and USC recovered the fumble. With a first down near mid-field, Hanratty threw the ball to Adrian Young. With a second down at the USC 10-yard line, Hanratty threw the ball to Adrian Young. With a first down at mid-field, Hanratty threw the ball to—oops—Bill Jaroncyk, a USC defensive back. And, finally, with a third down at mid-field, Hanratty threw the ball to USC Safety Mike Battle, who wove back 36 yards with it, running over Hanratty in the process and knocking him as cold as Notre Dame's hopes. Benevolently, some said. In all, the interceptions not only ruined two splendid scoring opportunities for Notre Dame in the first half, they set up the second-half points for USC.
"We had them figured," said John McKay, "and our people were able to get in the right places. Hanratty was off, and we got him to throw impatiently on a few occasions," which was a simple and straightforward explanation for the fact that Hanratty constantly aimed at the wrong receiver.
Hanratty's unusual bad form had the effect of keeping an abnormal amount of pressure on the Notre Dame defense, which was led by the second busiest linebacker in the stadium, Bob Olson, a dandy sophomore from Superior, Wis. Over and over Notre Dame's defense rescued the day, keeping the clamps on Simpson, just giving him bits and chunks, shutting him out on key downs and staying up with Earl McCullouch when he raced deep.
Notre Dame's Friday night pep rally had exploded when Defensive Coach Johnny Ray, a husky fellow who jumps up and down and hollers and hugs his defensive unit when it comes off the field, had said, "Our defensive team is embarrassed because of the Purdue game. It won't be embarrassed tomorrow." And it wasn't, really. It just had to keep going back in—and nearly always in moments of stress. In addition, there is ample proof that nobody stops O. J. Simpson all day long. Without him, USC might be an ordinary team, but O. J. now has slashed and darted for 762 yards in only five games, which would be a whopping figure for a whole season.
When USC recovered that second-half fumble of the kickoff at the Irish 18 it was trailing 7-0, and it went to O. J. exclusively to get back into the game. He ran for three yards, for 11, for a loss of four, for six, for one. It was O. J. butting into those big blue shirts and Notre Dame was growling back, and every inch seemed precious. Finally, on fourth down for the final yard, O. J. somersaulted over the left side and scored his first of three touchdowns. He carried 38 times during the day for 160 yards, and McKay has run him like that all year. "He is not in a union," smiles John. "He can carry the ball as many times as we want him to."
Down on the sideline, where things are always frantic around the Notre Dame bench, all of the defensive concern was naturally over Simpson, who has skinny legs but 9.4 feet. As a play developed, Johnny Ray, on the headset to the Notre Dame coaches upstairs, would shout as if he were yelling to the players. "Too many yards," he would say. "Too many." Or he would bellow, "Good, good...good shot, Bobo, no gain," when Olson slammed into the Trojans.
Johnny Ray was on the headset when O. J. broke away on an option sweep for the 36-yard touchdown that sent USC ahead. Quarterback Steve Sogge, a gritty 5'10" junior who was unawed by the atmosphere of South Bend ("I thought the stands would be a mile high and they would throw rocks and bottles at us," he said), worked the pitchout just right. O. J. had it—and daylight. "Too many yards," shouted Ray. "Too many." Simpson sprang clear. "Oh, no," Ray said. "Oh, no...No...!" Simpson was gone now, and so, for all purposes, was the ball game, and Ray screamed, "No...! Oh...damn...Geeeawed!"
A trifle more philosophical about the ordeal was Roger Valdiserri, Notre Dame's smiling publicity director, who named Hanratty and Seymour the Baby Bombers last year after deciding against the Two Horsemen. " Simpson's nickname shouldn't be Orange Juice," said Roger. "It should be Oh Jesus, as in 'Oh Jesus, there he goes again.' "
But where, oh where, has Notre Dame gone? Where did the Irish leave it? Weren't there all these stars back from the 9-0-1 team of a year before, not just Hanratty and Seymour, but Coley O'Brien and Kevin Hardy and Tom Schoen and Rocky Bleier, plus the fiercest sophomores anyone had ever seen, and Ara Parseghian's program in the full flower of its fourth year? Wasn't everybody in an absolute flap that Notre Dame, with Parseghian, with the recruits pouring in, with the legends resurrected, would dominate the college sport until there is a bowl game on the moon? So in just four games how did the empire crumble? It surely has, and the Irish look like they can lose again any Saturday if Hanratty is not hitting.
Part of the answer, say the coaches, is that Notre Dame is fighting a lot of myths. Their recruiting is not that successful, they say. Their sophomores are coming too slowly, they say. Their spring game, which was on national TV, blew their potential all out of proportion, they say. They knew they weren't a No. 1 team all along. They sadly miss Nick Eddy and Larry Conjar, who gave them running, they say. They sadly miss blockers like Tom Regner and George Goeddeke, they say.