A rival game is like none other. Anything can happen in a rival game and why the Notre Dame/USC game is always considered one of the top games per year. Last year the Trojans hung 610 yards against the Irish defense in a 44-13 blowout win at the Coliseum. The Irish were embarrassed and hopefully that bitterness will be remembered in this game.
The good news is the Trojans don't traditionally play well at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish are 23-9-1 when the game is played in their house. The Irish have won nine of the last 10 games played at Notre Dame Stadium.
The Trojans don't appear to be the dominating team on offense they were last year when these two teams met. However, they have started to find themselves offensively over the last two games. USC rolled up 529 total yards against Arizona State including 205 on the ground. They also hung 493 yards against the Stanford defense with 220 rushing yards on the ground. The Trojans appear to have a very balanced attack and plenty of weapons on offense.
The USC offense is averaging 406 yards per game and an impressive 38.5 points per game. They are moving the ball well and their improving running game will only make them more dangerous.
Quarterback Matt Leinart is completing 59 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,473 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Trojan rushing attack is a three-headed monster with Hershel Dennis, Lendale White and Reggie Bush all sharing carries. None are averaging more than 55 yards per game on the ground but all have the speed to make big plays.
The one area where the Trojans hurt the Irish last year was throwing to their backs out of the backfield. Dennis has the most catches this year with five so they don't throw nearly as much as last year to the backs.
The Trojans do have some weapons in the passing game. Mike Williams is the next #1 Vontez Duff will have to face. Williams has 39 catches on the year for 631 yards and seven touchdowns. Kerry Colebert is the second-leading receiver with 29 catches for 438 yards and four touchdowns. The Trojans also throw to their tight end, Dominique Byrd, who has caught 14 passes for 269 yards (19.1 yard average) and one touchdown.
Williams scored three touchdowns last week against Stanford catching seven passes for 129 yards. He's starting to become the big factor he was last year after a slow start.
The defense is still very impressive. They are ranked 5th in the country in rush defense allowing just 73.67 yards per game on the ground. Their ranking is impressive but the last five opponents (ranked 109, 101, 100, 79, 77) are not considered good rushing teams.
Their defense does create a lot of turnovers. They have 11 interceptions on the year and have recovered 10 fumbles in their six games. They have also recorded 24 sacks and 55 tackles for loss which is impressive. They have a swarming defense with a lot of speed making it difficult for any team to get outside.
They are allowing just over 20 points a game and have posted a 37 percent third down conversion rate—a good, but not a great number.
When looking at this game, the best thing the Irish offense could've done was to rush for 352 yards against Pittsburgh. The Irish couldn't run the football last year against the Trojans gaining just 39 yards on the ground. The Irish will need a much better performance to win this game.
The Trojan defense has plenty of speed and the way to attack their defense is to run right at them, just as the Irish did against Pittsburgh. The confidence the offensive line gained against Pittsburgh should boil over into this week. The Irish will need to run the football effectively to beat the Trojans.
The Irish seem to be up and down with the passing game but will need to be able to throw the football as well as run to beat USC. We don't see Notre Dame rushing for 352 yards against a good Trojan defense so they will have to be able to pass the football as well.
The Trojan offense doesn't appear to be as potent as last year. Carson Palmer dismantled the Irish defense and kept them back on their heels all game. Leinart doesn't appear to be good as Palmer at this point and if the Irish defense can get to him and force him to make decisions quicker, they could force him into making some bad decisions.
The big question will be which Irish team will show up for this game? Have they regained their confidence from last year? Will they doubt themselves and play like they have much of this year? Nobody is certain which Irish team will show up.
Notre Dame gained confidence against Pitt because of two things that happened early. The Irish defense force some three-and-out series against the Panthers, and more importantly, the Irish offense took the ball down the field and scored. Both the offense and defense had confidence and will need confidence in this game.
The Irish will need to slow down the USC offense early like they did last year and the Irish offense will have to score some points early if they want to win this game.
The season now becomes an eight-game season. The Irish are 1-0 and the way they should be looking at the season for the rest of the year. Hopefully this coaching staff can get their players to buy into the eight-game season.
The Irish have a much better chance to win this game than they did last year out in the Coliseum. We saw a different team against Pittsburgh and a different team outside the locker room after the game. If that team shows up to play on Saturday, the Irish have a chance to win another game and start their season 2-0.