Thursday, October 18, 2007
Southern Cal vs. Notre Dame Preview
University of Southern Calfornia
Ranking: BCS #14, AP #13 Coaches #9
Head Coach: Pete "The Poodle" Carroll
Coaching Record: 69-13, 7th season
Last Year: 11-2 (7-2 Pac-10)
Last Week: Beat Arizona, 20-13
University of Notre Dame
Fighting Irish (1-6)
Head Coach: Charlie Weis
Coaching Record: 20-12, 3rd season
Last Year: 10-3, Lost to Louisiana State in Allstate Sugar Bowl (#17 AP / #19 Coaches postseason ranking)
Last Week: Lost to #4 Boston College, 27-14
Location: Notre Dame Stadium (aka The House That Rock Built)
Date and Time: October 20, 2007 3:43 p.m.
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 42-31-5
Notre Dame Quarterback and Receivers vs. Southern Cal Secondary
Notre Dame is starting their third quarterback this season, as Junior Evan Sharpley got the nod over Freshman Jimmy Clausen on the heels of his second comeback leading performance of the season against Boston College.
The hope out of South Bend is that Sharpley will continue to show the poise and confidence that he showed in relief, and will finally give Coach Weis the confidence to open up the passing offense. However, we don't know if Sharpley will show up all game like he did when the pressure was on with a big lead to overcome.
Southern Cal has a very good secondary, but they haven't picked off a lot of balls. Their pass efficiency defense is one of the best in the country, and that makes this a tough challenge for Sharpley in his first start. However, they give up about 200 yards per game through the air, so there is some hope that we can move the ball in the passing game, especially if the Coach finally opens up some intermediate and deep routes early in the game.
Notre Dame Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Southern Cal Linebackers
Notre Dame's rushing offense continues to sputter this late in the season, and I haven't seen anything that gives me confidence.
Southern Cal is loaded at linebacker, althought they have been banged up. Maualuga has a hip pointer, and is a game-time decision (although it doesn't look like he will play at this point). Brian Cushing has been practicing, and it looks like he will go, but his injury may slow him down a bit. Either way, this matchup looks to favor the Trojans.
Edge: Southern Cal
Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Southern Cal Defensive Line
Southern Cal hasn't put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and Notre Dame's blitz pickup has been steadily improving over the last three games, so Sharpley should have some time to throw. However, the big hosses in front are very good at shutting down the run, spearheading one of the nation's best rushing defenses.
Notre Dame Defensive Line vs. Southern Cal Offensive Line
Laws and Kunz are beasts, and the Southern Cal O-line is shallow and pretty banged up. Hopefully, this will present an opportunity for the D-line to disrupt the Trojan's powerful running game. I expect the Irish to once again win the battle in the trenches, but the question is whether it will be enough to slow them down.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame Linebackers vs. Southern Cal Running Backs and Tight Ends
Any other team in the country, faced with the number of injuries to the running backs that Southern Cal has faced, would be struggling to run the ball. However, SC is so deep at the postion that it hasn't hurt their production that much, with them averaging almost 200 yards a game on the ground.
Hopefully, Mo Crum will be back from injury and able to play at 100%. It is because of this question mark and our history of struggling against the run that I'm giving the nod to SC here. However, if Mo Crum can show up like he did against UCLA, this could change.
Watch out for Fred Davis, the USC Tight End, who creates some matchup problems over the middle. Also, they have a fullback in Stanley Havili who has soft hands and can create some problems for us in the flat.
Edge: Southern Cal
Notre Dame Secondary vs. Southern Cal Quarterbacks and Receivers
This is the big matchup in this game, once again. Booty is trying to get back on the field, despite a broken finger on his throwing hand. Sanchez is waiting in the wings if Booty can't be productive, but his inexperience limits the offense somewhat.
If Booty isn't 100%, this matchup should go to the Irish, although they are facing the biggest receiving corps of the year so far, and will struggle to defend against jump balls with leadng receiver 6'5" Patrick Turner and 6'4" David Ausberry. With Fred Davis also standing at 6'4", we are going to need a solid pass rush to stay competitive in this game.
All of that said, the Irish secondary has continued to be solid against the pass, ranking in or near the top 25 in both total pass defense and pass efficiency defense. This will be interesting to watch, as this is the most talented receiving corps we've faced.
The big question here is whether Booty can be effectve as a passer with a broken finger. If not, the Irish should win this matchup going away.
Notre Dame Coaches vs. Southern Cal Coaches
Although Coach Weis out-coached Pete Carroll in their first meeting in 2005, over the span of their careers as head coaches, Carrol has proven to be by far the more consistent coach across the board, leading Div I-A in winning percentage.
Carroll is struggling a bit this year, with a loss to Stanford and struggling last week against a bad Arizona squad. While I'm giving this edge to SC, this game presents an opportunity for Coach Weis to salvage the season and silence some of his critics, by placing this team in a position to battle for a bowl game down the stretch of this disappointing season.
I know that Weis wants this one more than any of the others, although he'll never say so to the media.
Edge: Southern Cal
Quarterback and Receivers vs. Secondary: Edge Draw
Running Backs and Tight Ends vs. Linebackers: Edge Southern Cal
Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line: Edge Draw
Defensive Line vs. Offensive Line: Edge Notre Dame
Linebackers vs. Running Backs and Tight Ends: Edge Southern Cal
Secondary vs. Quarterbacks and Receivers: Edge Draw
Coaches vs. Coaches: Edge Southern Cal
Analysis and Prediction
This is the granddaddy of them all, the greatest rivalry in college football.
It's become cliche, but it is often true that when these two teams meet, you can throw out the records.
Notre Dame wants to win this game for respect. Respect for their coach, and respect for the rebuilding they have done to this point in the season.
With only one loss, Southern Cal is still thinking national championship, although their confidence is shaken.
With the lone exception of Ty's blowout loss to the Trojans four years ago, the Trojans do not come into Notre Dame Stadium and beat up on the Irish. Here is a list of the last 10 games played in Notre Dame Stadium:
2005: SC 34-31
2003 (Ty): SC 45-14
2001: ND 27-16
1999: ND 25-24
1997: SC 20-17
1995: ND 38-10
1993: ND 31-13
1991: ND 24-20
1989: ND 28-24
1987: ND 26-15
Therefore, despite this being a down season for Notre Dame, I expect a competitive battle in Notre Dame Stadium. There is no atmosphere in sports that compares with gameday between Notre Dame and USC in South Bend. It is quite simply magical.
Thus, despite the fact that the matchups appear to favor the Trojans, I simply refuse to allow myself to believe that we will lose this game. It means too much to the players and coaches for them not to come out and play the game of their lives on Saturday morning.
I'm hoping that a couple years from now, when we are celebrating our 12th national championship, I'll be able to say that I was in Notre Dame Stadium for the turning point in this program, when the Irish started something special that woke up the echoes, not just for a fleeting week or two, but for good.
This week could serve as the foundation for the building of a dynasty. It's that important.
Notre Dame 24
Southern Cal 20
Final - Overtime