Notre Dame vs. USC Preview

A Preview of the game between the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the USC Trojans

#9 Notre Dame vs. #1 USC
Fighting Irish   Trojans
 
Saturday, October 15th
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN.
2:30 EST
NBC

 
 

USC On Offense:

USC Offense '05 Rank Per Game ND Defense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #1 291.2 Rushing Defense #31 116.6
Pass Offense #4 349.2 Pass Defense #114 305.6
Pass Eff. #6 166.59 Pass Eff. #54 123.5
Total Offense #1 640.4 Total Defense #94 422.2
Scoring Offense #2 51.6 Scoring Defense #54 24.0

Although Norm Chow is gone, Irish fans can expect a similar looking offense with Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin calling plays for the Trojans. USC runs out of the "I" formation or the offset "I", using two wide receivers, and a tight end. They will use three wide receivers, and occasionally go to two tight ends or four wide receivers.

USC strives to be as balanced as possible between the run, and pass and there isn't a better, more balanced offensive unit is college football today than the one Notre Dame will face on October 15. The question isn't how you stop the Trojan offense, it's can you slow it down enough to stay in the game? USC has the top ranked offense in the country, averaging over 640 yards per contest. It probably wouldn't surprise many that USC is fourth in the country in with 349 passing yardage per game. What would surprise most is the PAC-10 school is No. 1 in the nation in rushing with 291 yards per contest.

Running the show for the Trojans is Matt Leinart, the best quarterback in the country bar none. Leinart won the Heisman trophy last season and the only thing that will prevent him from picking up his second is if the voters decide to give it to LenDale White or Reggie Bush. Leinart is the nation's sixth rated passer. He is not only a physically gifted athlete, but he is a leader. As the starting quarterback at USC he has a record of 38-1.

At Leinart's disposal is a plethora of weapons. Starting in the backfield USC probably has the two best running backs in the country with LenDale White and Reggie Bush. Both are big-time playmakers, and it's not if they will make a big play, but when. White is ranked sixth in nation in scoring and eight in rushing yards per game (123). Bush is ranked second in all-purpose yardage per game (194), 11th in rushing yards per game (120) and 18th in scoring.

USC doesn't have a deep group of receivers, but the players they have are outstanding. Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy are the top three wide receivers. Dominique Byrd is his big athletic tight end.

A team can't average 640 yards per contest if the offensive line isn't great, and USC certainly has a talented group. I wouldn't be shocked to see all five starters and two of the reserves in the NFL in the next couple years. Winston Justice and Sam Baker are the tackles that protect Leinhart; Justice will likely head to the NFL after this season,while Baker won't be far behind. Center Ryan Kalila and guards Taitusi Lutui and Fred Matua are the guys knocking people off the ball in the middle and why USC has been successful running right at people. The line has only given up six sacks on the season.

The USC offense has scored 36 touchdowns on 62 drives this season where they attempted to advance the ball. They have 20 touchdown drives of 70 yards or longer. The USC offense can take it's time scoring; they have seven touchdown drives of 10 plays or more -- they can cover distance rapidly as well; they have seven touchdown drives, four plays or less, that have been at least 64 yards long.

Key match-ups: The Irish defensive tackles against USC's interior offensive linemen. Stop USC's running game and ND's defense must force everything inside. If you can't stop a running game that is averaging 300 yards per game on the ground, the team won't need to throw the ball. Trevor Laws and Derek Landri must penetrate and disrupt. Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte must clean up.

Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +.


  QB ATT-COMP-YRD TDs/INTs Comp %
  +Matt Leinart, 5th 108-166-1,646 12/3 65.1
  John David Booty, So.* 9-17-96 2/0 52.9

Matt Leinart (6-5/225, Sr.*) is a complete quarterback. He understands what defenses are trying to do which allows him to check into the right play and then get the ball to the right player. A team simply can't blitz every play and hope to get to Leinart. If you do, he'll hit the vacated area every time. You have to blitz judiciously and disguise where the blitz is coming from. When Notre Dame blitzes, they better get to him. If they don't Leinart will get the ball to the right player to beat the blitz. And because USC has so many playmakers, when Leinart beats you, it generally ends up being a big play. Notre Dame must avoid big plays. If you sit back in coverage, he is very accurate with his passes and he'll simply pick a defense apart. Leinhart doesn't have a storng arm, but his passes have plenty of zip to get through defenses. In two games against Notre Dame he has 50 completions in 68 attempts (.735) and nine touchdowns. He's USC's all-time career leader in touchdown passes (83), and second in completion percentage (.645). He's thrown 83 career touchdowns and only 18 career interceptions. The only way to stop him is to knock him down and attempt to rattle him. The problem is not many teams have been successful doing that and his offensive line protects him well.

John David Booty (6-3/195, So.*) Notre Dame fans should hope that they don't see Booty. If they do, it's likely the Irish are looking at their fourth straight loss to the Trojans. Booty is a solid back-up with a good arm and good mobility, but there is a drop-off from Leinart. The difference between the quarterbacks has more to do with experience than physical talent.

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  +Reggie Bush, Jr. 6-0/200 71/621, 6TDs
  LenDale White, Jr. 6-2/235 81/620 10TDs
  Desmond Reed, So.* 5-9/180 19/141 1TD

Reggie Bush (6-0/200, Jr.) Is he the best player over the past 10 years? Is he the best of all time? He might not be the best running back on the team, but as far as great offensive threats, if there has been a more dynamic player than Reggie Bush over the last ten years, I haven't seen him. He can change a game instantly. USC will do a variety of things to get the ball in his hands because he does everything well. He is one of the fastest players in college football with the ball in his hands, so he's a threat to go the distance every time he touches it --tremendous quickness. USC has worked harder to get him involved in the running game this season and it's paying off as he's averaging 120 per game and an amazing 8.5 yards per carry. If it's possible to find some perceived weakness it would be his ability to work between the tackles. This season Carroll seems determined to let Bush prove that he can be an effective runner inside, and Reggie has responded with some long runs. If he runs inside it's generally on a delay or draw. Notre Dame would be more than happy to see Bush get the majority of his carries between the tackles, regardless he is dangerous anywhere he gets the ball.

LenDale White is different than Bush, but equally impressive. White is overlooked by many because Bush has the flash, but LenDale is one of the top players in the country. He is more power than speed, but he can get the corner on a defense without any trouble. Once in the open he can beat the secondary to the goal line. He's a hard-charging runner that does his best work between the tackles, and he will make his own yardage if there isn't a hole. He has very good vision, and if he decides to, he can bounce a play to an open hole if his first option is closed. He breaks a lot of tackles so the Irish defense needs to flow to the ball. He will punish defensive backs. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, but his opportunities have been limited because USC has so many weapons and only one ball. He's averaging 7.6 yards per carry and 123 yards per game. In two games against Notre Dame he has 30 rushing attempts for 125 yards (4.2 per carry).

Desmond Reed is a smaller version of Reggie Bush, and he'd probably start for almost any other school in the country. He has good quickness and speed and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Notre Dame might see Reed on a couple of plays, but White and Bush will get the bulk of the work.

  FB Hgt/Wgt Recpts-Yards
  +David Kirtman, 5th 6-0/230 12 recpts/169 yrds 1TDs
  Brandon Hancock, Jr.* 6-1/230 5 recpts/60 yrds 0TDs

David Kirtman is another offensive threat. He won't get many carries, but he's threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. USC will bleed him out of the backfield and get him the ball. He has sure hands and he'll turn it up with authority. He led USC in receptions and receiving yardage against Arizona State. He has plenty of playing experience; he caught 19 passes last season. While Kirtman can do damage to a defense, I think the Irish would settle for having the ball in his hands.

Brandon Hancock will be more of your blocking fullback, but he is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. He started eight games in 2003, before being sidelined with an injury in 2004.


  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Dwayne Jarrett, So. 6-5/210  35 rcpt/467 yds/ 9TDs
  +Steve Smith, Jr. 6-0/195  27 rcpts/575 yds/1 TDs
  +Chris McFoy, Jr.* 6-1/200  5 rcpts/50 yds/0 TD
  Patrick Turner, Fr. 6-5/220  3 rcpts/45 yds/1 TD

Dwayne Jarrett has been compared to former USC receiver Mike Williams, but I don't see many similarities other than their height. Jarrett is more of a finesse wide receiver; He has a great feel for the game and he seems mature beyond his years. He understands where he needs to be on the field. He's a long-strider, with above average speed. USC likes to get him the ball just about everywhere. If you give him a 10 yard cushion, Leinart will simply get him the ball on a hitch, a stiff arm on the cornerback and suddenly the play is 15 yards down field. Very similar to what Notre Dame did to Purdue with Stovall. If you press him, he'll get off the line and beat you inside or outside. He will bring down most balls, but he has periods where he is inconsistent. He can be pushed off the ball, but a very difficult match-up for any cornerback because of his size and speed. If he's on, he's dominant. He killed Notre Dame last season with six catches for 102 yards. He took one of those receptions 57 yards for a touchdown. As a freshman in 2004, Jarrett led the Trojans in receptions (55) and receiving yardage (849). He was second on the team with 13 touchdowns.

It's difficult not to be impressed by Steve Smith because of the way he plays the game. He reminds me of Rhema McKnight in the way he goes about his business and gets things done – he's a football player. He has very good speed, he runs great routes and he catches everything. Leinart throws a lot of balls to Jarrett, but I'd have to believe that if the game were on the line, Smith would be the guy I'd look for. Although he only has one touchdown this season, he's having a huge year averaging 21.3 per reception and 115 yards per game. In last year's game against Notre Dame he had four caches for 96 yards and a touchdown.

Chris McFoy is probably the possession receiver on the squad. He's the third receiver when the Trojans go to three-wide. He started several games last season and he has a bunch of playing experience. He quietly does his job. USC does have confidence in him, and he will catch the ball when it's thrown to him. Last year he had 21 receptions for 272 yards.

Patrick Turner was last year's version of Dwayne Jarrett. He's a tall, rangy receiver that has impressed the coaches at USC early on, but he hasn't seen extended playing time because of the talent in front of him. He'll likely get some snaps against the Irish, and they will throw him the ball, but if the game is on the line, he probably won't be in.

William Buchanon and Whitney Lewis are the other options at wide receiver. Buchanon has great speed but he has switched between wide receiver and defensive back his entire career. Lewis has struggled to establish himself at USC.

  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  +Dominique Byrd, Sr. 6-3/260 10 rcpts/95 yds/ 0TDs
  Dale Thompson, So. 6-4/255 - -
  Fred Davis, So. 6-4/225 2 rcpts/23 yds/ 0TDs

Last season the USC tight ends had over 60 receptions. Dominique Byrd had 37 catches for 384 yards and three touchdowns in 2004. This season, it doesn't appear that Leinart is using the tight ends as much since Byrd only has 10 catches on the season. That doesn't mean he won't look for him against the Irish. Byrd is a big, athletic player that has the ability to get down field and stretch the defense. He's seems to catch just about everything thrown his way. He's a better receiver than blocker, but they will run behind him. He won't block a defensive end by himself and he can have trouble with linebackers. USC has thrown a couple tight end screens, but they prefer to find him dragging across the middle of the field. He's a very good prospect, but he has been injury riddled throughout his career.

Dale Thompson is USC's blocking tight end, although if he's on the field it doesn't mean that USC will run the ball.

Fred Davis can be effective, but he's really a wide receiver playing tight end right now. He played last season as a true freshman, but he's was really too light to be effective. He could see some action against ND, but he'll likely see most of the game from the sideline.


  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +LT Sam Baker, So.* 6-5/305/ 18 Starts
  +LG Taitusi Lutui, Sr. 6-6/365 18 starts/ Limited Exp
  +C Ryan Kalil, Jr. 6-3/285 18 Starts
  +RG Fred Matua, Jr.* 6-2/305 26 Starts
  +RT Winston Justice, Jr.* 6-6/300 28 Starts

Sam Baker had a fairly impressive season last year, and he just keeps on improving. He is very nimble and does a great job in pass protection. His ability to handle the best defensive ends by himself allows USC to release their backs in passing situations. He's more finesse than power, although he'll knock you off the ball. This will be a very difficult match-up for Chris Frome, and I don't expect him to be able to generate much pressure. Frome should be able to hold the edge on Baker but he has to avoid giving the Trojan running backs a running lane inside of him.

Taitusi Lutui is a former junior college transfer. He is a big, massive player that simply engulfs defensive tackles. He started at tackle last season so he has very good feet and quickness, which means he doesn't need help in pass protection. He can handle most defensive tackles by himself. He can pull or get out to linebackers. If I need a yard, I go over Lutui.

In a wall of stars Ryan Kalil is generally the guy that gets overlooked, but he's as solid as they come. He played as a true freshman and started last season as a true sophomore. You don't do that if you don't have talent.

Fred Matua is the emotional leader of the offensive line and no one will out work him. He's a guy that will scratch and claw until you're on your back or the whistle blows. He's aggressive, which can get him in trouble. He's a better run blocker than pass blocker, so if you're going to create pressure you might look at this spot.

Since Matt Leinart is a lefty quarterback, Winston Justice has his backside at right tackle. Justice started as a true freshman in 2002, and at that time I knew he'd be a good one. He's big, athletic, mobile and very good on the corner -- agile. He had a little trouble last week against a smaller rush defensive end, but I don't expect that to be a problem moving forward. He can be a punishing run blocker, but does his best at hooking the corner. He has a natural feel for the game and understands where he needs to take his man. This will be a very difficult match-up for Victor Abiamiri. Abiamiri doesn't have to sack Leinart, but he needs to generate some pressure from this corner. When they run at Abiamiri, he must force the running back inside. When USC runs the other way, he must crash down and contain the cut back lanes.

Kyle Williams (6-6, 295, Jr.*) backs up both tackle spots and is very good. Matt Spanos (6-5, 300, So.*) backs up Kalil and Chilo Rachal (6-5, 300, Fr.*) is a back-up guard.

USC On Defense:
USC Defense '05 Rank Per Game ND Offense '05 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #11 90.8 Rushing Offense #35 174.4
Pass Defense #83 246.2 Pass Offense #8 329.8
Pass Eff. #53 123.26 Pass Eff. #12 154.65
Total Defense #38 337.0 Total Offense #9 504.2
Scoring Defense #32 19.2 Scoring Offense #17 37.0

Pete Carroll is the mastermind of the USC defense and his philosophy is speed -- the more the better. He believes in good, solid defense, and he believes that the offense will generally make a mistake before they get to the end zone. He believes in reducing big plays and keeping the ball in front of the defense. He'll blitz, but it will be selective and it's generally when the offense is building momentum or getting near the red-zone. The USC defense will blitz from anywhere on the field; cornerback, linebacker or zone blitz.

Pete Carroll's defenses are annually one of the best in the nation against the run and this season is no different as they are limiting their opponents to 90 yards per game. The USC front seven lost a number of players from last year's squad, and with the addition of some injuries, they could have difficulty matching up with the Irish offense. They are solid along the defensive front, but not nearly as good as the unit from last season and they lack depth. They don't really have a speed-rushing defensive end, but both Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson are outstanding and can hold the corner. Sedrick Ellis and La Juan Ramsey (if healthy) are serviceable interior linemen. If Ramsey can't go the Trojans will be even thinner along the line and will use red-shirt freshman Fili Moala.

If Dallas Sartz can't go at SAM backer, USC will have three starters that have limited experince. It shouldn't matter much since USC has tons of talent at linebacker and they are deep. All the players can run and punish the ball carrier. They are young and tend to be a little aggressive so they will find themselves out of place from time to time.

Like Notre Dame, the big concern for USC has to be the secondary. They have already lost one starting cornerback and have shifted several players around to build depth. The USC secondary gave up a lot of yards last season and they are repeating their performance again in 2005.

Key mach-ups: Notre Dame's offensive guards vs. USC young linebackers. Can Dan Stevenson and Dan Santucci get out and effectively block the USC linebackers. A subtle element to Charlie Weis' game plan will be how he attacks the group of linebackers. They are young and aggressive, and I believe Weis will use their aggressiveness to his advantage. Look for Quinn to hit several delay patterns in their coverage area.


Anticipated Depth Chart. Returning starter = +


  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  +DE Lawrence Jackson, So.* 6-5/265 17 Starts/ 4 sacks
  NT Sedrick Ellis, So.* 6-1/285 5 Starts/ 4.5 TFL
  DT Fili Moala,Fr.* 6-4, 300 2 Starts/ 3 tckls
  +DE Frostee Rucker, 5th.* 6-3/260 22 Starts/ 4 sacks

Frostee Rucker is a big, strong defensive end that makes a lot of plays on the corner. He's isn't a speed rusher and will work his way back to the quarterback with his strength. He'll likely go up against Notre Dame's best offensive lineman, Mark LeVoir. Rucker does have four sacks and seven tackles for loss already this season, but LeVoir doesn't let many pass rushers around him and Mark has been dominating people in the running game. This is going to be a match-up to watch. Rucker is second on the team with 27 tackles.

Sedrick Ellis is starting for this first time in his career after seeing limited action in 2004. Ellis is a little light for an interior lineman, but he is active and he will make plays in the backfield. He'll likely be lining up against Dan Stevenson. Ellis has 14 tackles on the season.

LaJuan Ramsey is the starter, but an injured ankle has kept him out of the past two games. I expect him to be back against Notre Dame. He's a solid interior player and works hard. If he's ready, I expect him to be somewhat limited in what he's able to do. If he can't go, the Trojans will put in Fili Moala (6-4, 300/Fr.*). He's done a decent job filling in for Ramsey the past two games, but there is a drop off in ability. This spot seems to be where Notre Dame likes to run, so Dan Santucci could be counted on to lead the Irish rushing attack.

Lawrence Jackson is another big, strong defensive end. He isn't a speed guy, and like Rucker, he'll try to overpower the offensive lineman instead of going around him. He's very difficult to move off the corner and he's got a nose for the ball. Jackson will likely line up across from Ryan Harris and Harris has had success against power rushing defensive ends, so I don't think Jackson will put a lot of pressure on Brady Quinn. I do think Harris will have trouble moving Jackson off the ball if the Irish decide to run at him.

Jeff Schweiger (6-4, 260, So.) was back in action last week after missing the first four games of the season with a broken foot. He could get the call at either defensive end spot. Schweiger comes off the corner really well and could give the Irish trouble.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt Experience
  SLB Thomas Williams, So.* 6-3/230 3 Starts/ 12 tckls
  MLB Oscar Lua, Jr.* 6-1/240 5 starts/ 32 tckls
  WLB Keith Rivers, So. 6-3/220 5 Starts/ 25 tckls

Thomas Williams gets the call because Dallas Sartz has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. Sartz could be back, but it really doesn't matter as Williams has a ton of talent. He's big, he's fast and he hits like a ton of bricks. Williams has played extensively this season, but he is still learning and he can get out of position because of his aggressiveness. Nonetheless he's a playmaker.

Oscar Lua has been battling injuries since he arrived at USC, but he's ready to go this year. He is another guy that can run and hit. He explodes through the ball carrier. He does a good job of keeping blockers away from him and plays well in traffic – dynamite player and a terror on defense. He leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.

Keith Rivers could probably play any of the linebacker positions, and last year he was even used at rush defensive end. Rivers is a player and if he can put everything together he'll be an All-American. Like the other two starting linebackers, Rivers can run and hit. Rivers plays well in traffic and he has superior instincts. His quickness makes him difficult to block in space. He's third on the team in tackles with 25. He can be too aggressive at times and get lost in coverage.

Dallas Sartz (6-5/230, Sr.) is a two-year returning starter for the Trojans at SAM linebacker. Sartz doesn't have the athletic ability of the other linebackers, but he has a nose for the ball and makes a lot of plays. He had 48 tackles in 2004 and 60 tackles in 2003.

Brian Cushing (6-4/235, Fr.) also has a shoulder injury, and might be held out for this game as well. Cushing has impressed the USC coaches and saw early playing time before getting injured. Ryan Powdrell is a junior college transfer that came to USC with a ton of potential, but he hasn't been able to get on the field. Powdrell (MLB) has the talent to play.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt Experience
  CB John Walker, Sr.* 6-1/200 5 Starts/ 2 INT
  +CB Justin Wyatt, Sr. 5-10/185 18 Starts/ 1 INT
  FS Scott Ware, Sr. 6-2/215 8 Starts/ 16 tckls
  +SS Darnell Bing, Jr. 6-2/220 31 starts/ 12 tckls

John Walker didn't begin the season as the starting cornerback, and only took over when Terrell Thomas went down with a knee injury. He's switched back and forth between wide receiver and safety and now finds himself as the starting cornerback. He's solid, but won't make a bunch of plays, and he'll try to keep the play in front of him. He generally does a good job, but he has been beaten deep this year.

Justin Wyatt returns as the starter from last season. He's a smaller corner but he has very good speed and is USC's cover corner. Like Walker, he'll try to keep the play in front of him so as to avoid the big play over the top. Last week he was beaten, so if that is in the back of his mind he could give Notre Dame room to work in front of him. He might have a difficult time with Notre Dame's bigger receivers.

Scott Ware, a former junior college player, started three games last season and saw extensive playing time. He is a big hitter and plays the run well. If Notre Dame is successful running the ball he will bite on the play-action. He can get out of position, so if you're going to throw deep you will want to try his side.

Josh Pinkard might be the next star in the USC secondary. He's kind of a hybrid of a cornerback and safety. He has very good instincts and plays the ball well. When USC goes to the nickel defensive back Pinkard will be the guy.

Darnell Bing started as a freshman and he has All-American ability. He has very good instincts and plays the ball well. He tends to let the play come to him. He has a knack for stepping up at the right time and making a play when the defense needs it. He is very good in run support, but not overly aggressive. He won't get beat deep, and if you challenge him, he'll likely make you pay.

William Buchanon is also listed at wide receiver, but he would likely be the next option at cornerback.



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