(Photo by Icon Sports Media)
This is the best Notre Dame team USC has played since the Trojans barely escaped South Bend in 2005 with a win. Quite a few experts are picking a Notre Dame victory due to the Irish being led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jimmy Clausen, the Trojans playing back-to-back road games (please note the bye in between) and this being a landmark game for the Irish program.
The experts who are predicting a Notre Dame upset must also think the Trojans are going to revert back to penalty and turnover laden football. If the Trojans keep penalties down and win the turnover battle, they will win the game. Unless the Trojans get up big early, I expect it to be a tight battle that will come down to some classic 4th quarter drives.
1– Play Disciplined Football: #1 priority every week! Limit turnovers and penalties.
2– Contain ND’s running game: Though Jimmy Clausen has thrown 12 TD’s only 2 Int’s and leads the nation in passing efficiency, he will only have success against the best secondary in the country if the Trojans give up over 120 yards on the ground. If the Trojans put Clausen in obvious pass situations, he will make mistakes. The throws he has gotten away with against much lesser defenses will not happen against the Trojans.
3– Don’t Let the Golden One get loose in the Red Zone: Wide Receiver Golden Tate is having a phenomenal year. He is a big and athletic and Clausen loves to throw him fade routes and he is great at catching high passes. The Trojans need to make sure he is well covered in the red zone and force other ND players to make plays when it counts.
4– Stay aggressive and balanced offensively: QB Matt Barkley is playing with a swagger after the Cal game and the Trojans need to take advantage of that. Barkley seems to have his hands around most of the playbook and with Ronald Johnson back, the Trojans need to stretch the field early. Even if some of the deeper throws are incomplete, it will soften the ND defense up and the Trojan running game should be able to have a great day. The Trojans should be able to run for over 200 yards.
5– Avoid the 2nd and 3rd quarter lull: The Trojans cannot suffer some of the 2nd and 3rd quarter lulls they have had this season. The best case scenario for the Trojans is to get up early on the Irish and not let them back in the game for a 4th quarter run. The Trojans are best to avoid the 4th quarter magic that Clausen has been mastering this season.
More notes after the jump…
*The weather at kick-off calls for a temperature of 45 degrees that feels like 40 degrees. A 20% chance of showers exist. Since we are talking about South Bend, where mysterious weather can happen out of nowhere, I would increase that chance to about 40-50%. It is good the Trojans had 2 solid days of practice in wet and cold conditions this week.
*Linebacker Malcolm Smith will start this week after missing the past two games with a sprained ankle.
*Wide Receiver Ronald Johnson will definitely be in the rotation after missing most of the season with a shoulder injury. It will probably take a few games for him to get to 100% in terms of conditioning.
*Defensive Lineman Armond Armstead will also play on Saturday after being out with an ankle injury. This is the healthiest the Trojans have been all season.
*Mitch Mustain is clearly the #2 QB this week. Former back-up Aaron Corp is not too happy about it and it will be interesting to see how he responds to this recent demotion.
*Mustain Part II: Mustain’s brief run at the punter position was the best thing he could do for himself in the eyes of his teammates and coaches. As the #3 QB who had not met the high expectations set for him after transferring from Arkansas, Mustain had drifted into a bit of a cocoon and alienated himself from teammates and didn’t show the leadership qualities coaches want in a quarterback. When he got involved with special teams, he reengaged with his teammates and showed a willingness to do anything to help his team. Though his rise to the #2 QB position might have more to do with the coaches losing confidence in Corp, it does give Mustain hope that opportunities will present themselves during his Trojan career.
*Expect the typical tall grass at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it around the 2005 height which claimed the knee of return specialist Desmond Reed. Notre Dame is a much faster team offensively since that time so it will be interesting to see if they resort to that tactic.
*Redshirt Freshman Curtis McNeil will be returning kick-offs. Look for him to possibly get a couple of carries that would normally have gone to CJ Gable.