Game of the Week – (1) Notre Dame at USC

By Josh Adams -
Notre Dame-USC
No. 1 Notre Dame travels to L.A. to face USC. Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Series History: Notre Dame leads 43-35-5
Time/TV: Sat., Nov. 24, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

All eyes turn to Hollywood Saturday night as the long time rivals Notre Dame Fighting Irish battle the reeling USC Trojans. These two programs have engaged in some historic games throughout their rivalry. Usually, one or both of these teams are highly ranked and this game has national title implications. This year is no different, but it has bucked the recent trend of USC being the team that is ranked.

The Irish have put together a remarkable run in 2012 and a win over USC would propel them into the BCS Championship. The only thing that stands in their way to glory is a USC team that went into this season ranked #1, but have had several disappointing losses and have put their head coach’s job in jeopardy. While USC may not be as deep with talent due to scholarship reductions, they have some dangerous weapons on offense that could give the stout Irish defense all they can handle. With a win over the Irish, Coach Kiffin can salvage the season, and use the win as a starting point for next year. Coach Brian Kelly of the Irish has returned the team to it’s past glory, and will use his defense and running game to try to grind out another win and a perfect regular season. The Irish are in control of their own destiny, while USC would like nothing better than to make it 10 wins out of the last 11 against Notre Dame. Here’s what to look for from each team in the historic L.A. Coliseum on Saturday Night.

When Notre Dame is on Offense

The Four Horsemen: Notre Dame has been using a four-pronged rushing attack for most of the year, and has used a two back format with their speedy quarterback Everette Golson also capable of pulling off a big run. Tailbacks Theo Reddick and Cierre Wood have led the running game with 734 and 720 rushing yards between them. The fastest member of their rushing attack is George Atkinson III who has five rushing touchdowns. Notre Dame has been excellent in having Atkinson III running a sweep pattern where Golson can either pitch or tuck it in and run it himself. Reddick has been solid with running the ball up the middle and Wood has the speed and agility to catch passes out of the backfield and make defenders miss once he gets his legs going. The passing game has been a work in progress all year, but Golson has show he has the ability to hit his receivers while scrambling out of the pocket, and TE Tyler Eifert is Golson’s go to target when the Irish need to pick up a first down through the air. I’d look for Notre Dame to go with an up-tempo gameplan this Saturday against USC, and try to gain an early lead. The Irish will always have fresh legs in the backfield, and it will be only a matter of time before one of their four horsemen gets a big gain.

When USC is on Defense

Trojan War: USC’s defense doesn’t get the same kind of press and accolades the Notre Dame defense gets. That doesn’t mean they’re not a pretty good group. USC’s defense has 42 sacks and 88 tackles for a loss so far in 2012. Their defense has also caused 29 turnovers, tied for 6th nationally. The bad news is that USC’s defense has allowed an average of 40.3 ppg against playing opponents ranked in the top 25. The best players for the Trojans on defense are in their secondary, so they hope to negate the Irish passing attack and hope that they can goad Golson into throwing an interception. Their cornerback, Nickell Robey, has shown he can get to the ball, and has returned several interceptions for touchdowns. Unless the defensive line and linebackers can step up and contain the running game, Notre Dame has the clear advantage on offense. It will take a great gameplan by the defensive coordinator at USC to keep the Irish from running all over them.

When USC is on Offense

It’s my First Day: With the loss of Matt Barkley to injury, redshirt freshman QB Max Wittek gets his first start against the tough Notre Dame defense. This is the equivalent of taking your drivers exam on a NASCAR track. The Trojans still have two great wide receivers in Marquise Lee and Robert Woods.  The offense has averaged 36 points a game with Barkley under center, but with the inexperienced Wittek, it will be tough for him to show patience and find his spots where he can hit Lee and Woods for big gains. Wittek will get no doubt get his share of blitzing and pressure from the Irish defense, and he has to play under control. The 1st quarter will probably tell the tale on what to expect from the USC offense. Look for a whole bunch of slants and screens to keep the Notre Dame defense honest. The thing going for Wittek is he will have a home crowd behind him, and will not have to deal with noise fr0m fans while calling audibles or during a long snap count.

When Notre Dame is on Defense

Licking their chops: USC starting a redshirt freshman QB against this year’s Irish defense is probably the best news for Manti Te’o’s Heisman campaign. It’s no secret that the bread and butter of the Irish success this year has everything to do with how great their defense is. Led by Te’o, the Irish are tied with Alabama for points allowed per game at 10.1. The defense has allowed only 8 touchdowns for the entire year. Lost in the great play of Te’o has been the year DE Stephon Tuitt has had, leading the Irish with 12 sacks. Look for Tuitt and linebacker Prince Shembo to give the freshman Trojan QB a rude welcome to the world of big time college football, and the defense should cause turnovers and lead the Irish to victory and a BCS Championship birth in 2012.

Laying the Wood (Facts that will knock you off your feet)

  • Every Notre Dame coach who has won a national championship has won one in their third year of coaching the Irish. It’s Brian Kelly’s third year at the helm in South Bend.
  • The Irish are 11-0 and #1 in the polls for the first time since 1993.
  • USC and Notre Dame have combined to win 22 national titles.
  • The winner of this rivalry gets a jeweled shillelagh. This is a tradition that started in 1952. If USC wins, a ruby Trojan head is added to to the shillelagh. If the Irish win, a emerald studded shamrock gets added to the shillelagh. Oh, a shillelagh is an Irish walking club.
  • USC has spoiled Irish title hopes before. In 1938, 1964, 1970 and 1980, the Trojans defeated the Irish in the last weekend of the season to spoil the Irish campaign for a national title.

The Football Mentalist Predicts (record 2-5)

Notre Dame will triumph over the Matt Barkley-less USC Trojans, and will play in the BCS Championship.  This game would’ve been much more competitive with Barkley, but USC will keep it close. Turnovers will kill them in the end…

Notre Dame 23, USC 21

Josh Adams is a contributor to and Stadium Journey. Follow him @Joshthescribe.

Comment (1)

Count me in the column of those who are amazed at ND’s success this season. For the past 10-15 years, the narrative has been…”they can’t compete because of their higher academic standards”. This comment usually was meant as a more PC way of stating a slightly more racially tinged main point. Can academic achievers, many of them white dudes from the northeast compete with the pure athletes (many of them black dudes from Dade County) that SEC schools and USC can recruit? Have standards been lowered or is the coaching just that much better, no question that Kelly is a great coach.