The question is not how will the Irish win this game. The question is--can the Irish win this game.
When we look at this game on paper, the Irish could be in trouble. USC dominated the Irish in every aspect of the game last year, and the Irish looked out-classed in every facet of the game.
The Trojan offense rolled up 610 total yards on the Irish defense, the Irish offense managed just 109 yards in total offense and just four first downs. The Irish will need a much better performance and we think you'll see that.
We've gone over the key players in this game in a previous article so we won't bother you with that. The key to this game, as always, will be attitude.
Traditionally, this game boils down to heart, and the team that wants this game more. Turnovers usually play a factor but this is almost always a game of guts, emotion, and momentum.
The stats suggest the Irish have little chance to win this game. USC is averaging 406 yards of offense and 38.5 points per game. The Trojans also have a very sound defense allowing just 73.67 yards per game on the ground and 20.33 points per game.
The Irish have struggled on offense this year. They are currently ranked 104th in the country averaging just 297.80 yards per game in total offense. They are ranked 111th in the country in scoring with just 15 points per game. The Irish defense has been very robust, however, ranked 14th in total defense, but are allowing 24.5 points per game.
The Irish have played a much more difficult schedule so far—playing five teams ranked in the top 25. The Trojans have played just one team ranked in the top 25—Auburn, currently ranked 25th.
How can a team averaging just 15 points per game defeat a team averaging 38.5 points per game? How can a 2-3 team defeat the fourth-ranked team in the country that is 5-1? If USC wins this game, they have a shot at the National Championship. If the Irish win, they can improve their record to 3-3. It's not difficult to figure out which team should be the most motivated.
How can the Irish win this game? We have gone back and looked at the previous games played in Notre Dame Stadium. USC is 1-9 in their last 10 games played in Notre Dame Stadium and 9-23-1 all-time.
USC has not scored a lot of points in their previous games at Notre Dame Stadium. Since 1960 (20 games), the Trojans have averaged just 16 points per game. The Trojans have scored more than 30 points (42 points in 1979) just once. They've scored more than 20 points just five times. They've scored more than 15 just nine times. In the last five games, the Trojans have averaged just 14.6 points per game when the game was played in Notre Dame Stadium.
We usually don't put a lot of stock in statistics because each team, and year, is different. The trend, however, is startling and worth mentioning. The Trojans, traditionally, don't play well at Notre Dame.
So you say what about the emotion? USC has everything to gain by winning this game—the Irish have no chance for the National Championship. Normally, we would agree with you but this is a rival game. This is "the" game and always has been. Everything is thrown out the window in this game and it becomes a one-game season.
We think the Irish can look to the Florida Marlins for inspiration. Not one expert that we saw picked the Florida Marlins to beat the Chicago Cubs, and we doubt that any expert will pick the Irish to beat USC.
Chicago had too much pitching, too much experience, and home field advantage. The Marlins were down 3-1 in the series with the series returning to Chicago. The Marlins had to face the Cubs' two best pitchers at home and nobody gave the Marlins a chance. The Marlins took advantage of every mistake the Cubs made and are now playing in the World Series.
The Marlins were a young and inexperienced team—much like the Irish. They weren't supposed to be there according to most and had nothing to lose—neither do the Irish. The Cubs had everything to lose, and they did just that.
We haven't picked a game right all year—we don't expect that to change any time soon. Irish win a close one: Notre Dame 24 USC 21.