U-S-C at Notre Dame 10-17-09

October 17, 2009

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(6) U-S-C (4-1) at (25) Notre Dame (4-1)

Saturday, October 17th, 3:30 p.m. (et)

GAME NOTES: The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football adds its 81st chapter this weekend, as the sixth-ranked USC Trojans head to South Bend to take on the 25th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Pete Carroll’s Trojans were idle a week ago and enter this game with a 4-1 overall record. USC dropped a stunning decision to Washington in its Pac-10 opener (16-13), but that contest followed an emotional high at Ohio State the week prior (18-15 win). To USC’s credit, the team bounced back with two straight conference wins, taking out both Washington State (27-6) and California (30-3) with relative ease before getting a week off.

The Irish are also coming off a bye and are 4-1 on the young season. The lone loss came at Michigan in early September (38-34) and Charlie Weis’ squad has responded with three straight victories, including a 37-30 overtime decision against Washington back on October 3rd.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series by a count of 42-33-5, but USC has closed the gap some with wins in each of the last seven meetings, its longest win streak in the series.

The USC offense is not overpowering like in years past, but does possess great balance, with over 200 yards per game both on the ground and through the air, although the team is averaging just 28.8 ppg.

Freshman signal-caller Matt Barkley has played well despite his youth, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes, for 958 yards and three TDs. Sophomore Aaron Corp has also spent time under center this year.

Regardless of the QB, the top target downfield is WR Damien Williams (24 receptions, for 359 yards, one TD).

The ground game, which churns out 208.0 ypg, took a big hit with a freak accident suffered by tailback Stafon Johnson (4.9 ypc, five TDs), but the backfield is chock-full of able rushers like Joe McKnight (7.1 ypc, six TDs) and Allen Bradford (6.5 ypc, one TD).

The USC defense had a lot of questions heading into the season, but those have all been answered, as the Trojans are ranked among the top eight teams in the country in most statistical categories. In addition, the team has given up just three rushing scores and has yet to give up a passing TD in five games.

The unit has done a remarkable job getting after the quarterback, with a hefty 21 sacks thus far. Leading the way in that area are freshman end Nick Perry (7.0 TFLs, six sacks) and junior end Everson Griffin (4.5 TFLs, four sacks).

Linebackers Chris Galippo (team-high 32 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, one sack, one INT) and Michael Morgan (25 tackles, team-high 9.5 TFL, three sacks) have made plays all over the field, while perhaps the nation’s premier safety resides in the USC secondary in the form of two-time All-American Taylor Mays (28 tackles, one INT).

Getting pressure on the quarterback is something USC will need to do this week, as the Trojans face the nation’s top passer in terms of efficiency (179.25) in Irish signal-caller Jimmy Clausen. The junior continues to get better and better, having completed 67.6 percent of his passes thus far, for 1,544 yards with 12 TDs and just two INTs.

Coach Carroll is impressed with the Irish aerial assault.

“You can’t be much better than they are. The efficiency he’s throwing at right now, Clausen’s on it. He’s finding receivers. They’re protecting him well. He’s keeping the negative plays down. Only two picks in all the plays he’s made so far. These guys are loaded.”

It doesn’t hurt to have an unrivaled stable of receivers to throw to, although the loss of All-American candidate Michael Floyd (119.3 ypg, five TDs) to injury cannot be minimized. Still, junior Golden Tate (120.4 ypg) is as good as it gets on the outside, averaging 18.2 ypc, with four TDs. Sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph (21 receptions, for 267 yards, three TDs) has also emerged as a favorite target of Clausen’s.

In all, the Notre Dame passing attack is among the nation’s best at 322.0 ypg. The ground game is solid as well (148.0 ypg), spearheaded by tailback Armando Allen (91.2 ypg). The offensive line for the Irish goes 300-plus pounds across the board and how well they protect Clausen will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.

The defensive numbers aren’t great for the Irish, with the team allowing over 400 yards per game, including 263.9 through the air. While the defense may be a step or two behind the offense in terms of productivity. there are still playmakers on this side of the football, headlined by senior strong safety Kyle McCarthy. The 6-1 veteran leads the team in tackles (49) and interceptions (three). Free safety Harrison Smith (32 tackles) is another key performer in the secondary, while LBs Brian Smith (28 tackles, four TFLs, one sack) and Darius Fleming (team-high 7.0 TFLs, two sacks) are the players to watch in the middle.

Charlie Weis knows that this could be a statement game for his team.

“USC is one of the best teams in the country. They’ve beaten us seven times in a row, really, the bottom line. Some of them have been ugly. So I think winning this week would do wonders for my spirits. But it wouldn’t just be my spirits, it would be everyone affiliated with Notre Dame. So that is what we’re going to try to do.”

While Clausen will likely have a solid statistical day, the Notre Dame defense will have its hands full with USC’s diverse attack. It may be a close one for awhile, but expect the Trojans to distance themselves down the stretch and knock off the Irish once again.

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