Preview: Notre Dame vs USC

Notre Dame takes on Southern California in the final 2006 regular season game.

#6 Notre Dame vs. #2 USC
Fighting Irish   Trojans
 
Saturday, November 25th
L.A. Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA.
8:00 EST
ABC

 
 

USC On Offense:

Trojan Offense '06 Rank Per Game ND Defense '06 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #54 142.20 Rushing Defense #49 126.82
Pass Offense #18 250.00 Pass Defense #39 186.09
Pass Eff. #30 142.07 Pass Eff. #81 132.73
Total Offense #23 392.20 Total Defense #44 312.91
Scoring Offense #19 31.10 Scoring Defense #47 20.45

Forget about Ohio State and Michigan. Look past your natural distain for USC. Stop the chest pumping and bravado. Just for a second, think about why you watch college football. As much as last season's game in South Bend bothered me, I walked away knowing that I had witnessed something special. They all won't live up to the 2005 battle, but as long as Pete Carroll is at USC and Charlie Weis is at Notre Dame, it is likely that the games will be exciting and memorable. These games will add to the amazing history of this series. If you can't appreciate this game, you are missing the point.

Much has changed with USC since the Irish last played in Los Angeles. Tyrone Willingham received his final pounding as Notre Dame's head coach; Norm Chow, Matt Leinart, LenDale White and Reggie Bush have moved on to the NFL. Despite being in a transition phase, and USC has a depth chart filled with young, talneted bodies, and Irish fans should expect the same type of team that has been dominating college football for five seasons.

USC runs out of the "I" formation or the offset "I", using two wide receivers, and a tight end. They will use multiple wide receiver sets, and occasionally go to two tight ends. USC strives to be as balanced as possible between the run, and pass. On the season, the Trojans have 332 rushing attempts and 335 passing attempts. The offense is still very productive, but there has been a considerable drop-off from last seasons totals (total offense 580 yards, 260 rushing yards, 320 passing yards).

John David Booty (6-3/210, Jr.*) won the quarterback derby this summer over another terrific prospect Mark Sanchez (6-3, 225, Fr.*). Booty's career is off to a very solid start with a 9-1 record as the Trojans starting quarterback. Booty was widely considered the top quarterback prospects in the country coming out of high school, and he's certainly meeting the lofty expectations he had upon arriving in Los Angeles four years ago. 

No disrespect to the running back tandem Chauncey Washington and C.J. Gable, but they aren't White and Bush. Then again, who is? Washington was splitting carries with true freshman Emmanuel Moody, but Moody went down with an injury several weeks back. Gable stepped in for Moody and he hasn't missed a beat. 

USC has a deep group of talented receivers, but a lot of the talent is young. The players the Irish secondary will need to concern themselves with are the same guys that caught most of the balls last year; senior Steve Smith, junior Dwayne Jarrett, sophomore Patrick Turner, and senior Chris McFoy. Fred Davis is their athletic tight end, while Dale Thompson is primarily used as a blocker.

The muscle up front has experience with tackles Sam Baker and Kyle Williams, guards Drew Radovich and Chilo Rachal. Senior Ryan Kalil is the man in the middle.

Anticipated Depth Chart.

  QB ATT-COMP-YRD TDs/INTs Comp %
  John David Booty , Jr. 324-202-2,417 22/6 62.3
  Mark Sanchez, So.* 7-3-63 0/1 42.9

John David Booty (6-3/210, Jr.*) can do everything from a physical standpoint and he appears to have a handle on the mental side of the game. He throws a good deep ball, he has touch and he can put plenty of zip on the ball when necessary. Booty does seem to run hot and cold at times. There are stretches where you're not sure where he's throwing the ball, and then he'll come back and make some incredible throws. Booty has been in the system and he appears to be well on his way to adding to the string of big-time quarterbacks at USC.

Mark Sanchez (6-3, 225, Fr.*) is the next guy in line. I'm not sure if Sanchez doesn't have more ability than Booty. The only thing keeping him on the sideline is experience. 

  RB Hgt/Wgt Rushes-Yards
  Chauncey Washington, Jr.* 6-1, 220 144/703, 8 TDs
  C.J. Gable, Fr. 6-1, 190 59/250 3 TDs
  Allen Bradford, Fr. 6-0, 230 8/19 1 TD

Chauncey Washington is the 2006 version of LenDale White. Washington is the power guy that does most of his work between the tackles.  He's doing an solid job this season with 4.9 yards per carry, but he just doesn't bring it like White.  Washington isn't used in the passing game often, but he does have nine receptions for 93 yards

C.J. Gable is the speed back. He has a lot of talent, but he's young. He's more of a slasher. He needs a lane to be effective, but if the offensive line gives him a crease he can get to the safeties quickly. Gable averages 4.2 yards a carry and he has three catches for 40 yards.

As mentioned, Emmanuel Moody is injured, but prior to going down, he carried the ball 79 times for 459 yards (5.8 pre carry).

  FB Hgt/Wgt Recpts-Yards
  Thomas Williams, Jr.* 6-3, 240  - -
  Allen Bradford, Fr. 6-0, 230 2 recpts/29 yrds 1 TDs

Thomas Williams is USC's version of Travis Thomas...only in reverse. Last season Travis Thomas played a big role in the Irish backfield and this season he moved to linebacker. Thomas Williams started at linebacker for USC against the Irish in 2005 and registered eight tackles. Due to depth issues and injuries Williams made the transition to fullback. He does a decent job as a lead blocker, but he just doesn't appear to be completely comfortable in his new role...it could be that he lacks confidence and that he's still settling into the position. He hasn't touched the ball on offense.

Allen Bradford has carried the ball eight times for 19 yards and one touchdown. He will be used in a one-back set and he will lead block, although he isn't really excited about this role. Williams gets most of the reps as the blocker.

 
  WR Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Dwayne Jarrett, Jr. 6-5, 215  48 rcpts/610 yds/7 TDs
  Steve Smith, Sr. 6-0, 200  55 rcpts/874 yds/8 TDs
  Patrick Turner, So. 6-5, 230  28 rcpts/252 yds/2 TD
  Chris McFoy, 5th 6-2, 200  10 rcpts/99 yds/1 TD
  Travon Patterson, Fr. 5-11, 180   3 rcpts/63 yds/0 TD
 

Dwayne Jarrett is 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, Booty will simply get him the ball on a hitch, a stiff arm on the cornerback and suddenly the play is 15 yards down field.  He has been much more consistent catching the ball this year, although he can be pushed off the ball. He's a very difficult match-up for any cornerback because of his size and speed. Jarret hasn't caught many balls against Notre Dame, but when he has they have been huge. In two game against the Irish Jarrett has 10 catches for 203 yards.

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. Smith is the money man when the game is on the line. Other guys are flashy, but give me three receivers like Smith and I'll win a lot of games.

Turner is similar to Jarrett at this stage in his career, but probably not as dangerous. Once Jarrett and Smith move on, Turner will probably be the next great USC receiver.

Chris McFoy is the possession receiver on the squad. His totals haven't ever been huge, but they have slipped this season with the emergence of Turner.

  TE Hgt/Wgt Stats
  Dale Thompson, Jr. 6-4, 255  2 rcpts/14 yds/ 0 TDs
  Fred Davis, Jr. 6-4, 260  26 rcpts/212 yds/ 3 TDs
  Jimmy Miller, So.* 6-5, 260  - -

Dale Thompson is USC's blocking tight end, and he appears to be receiving most of the snaps as of late. The only problem with that is that USC doesn't appear to get him involved in the passing game...although that doesn't mean USC won't put the ball in the air when he's in the game.

Fred Davis can be effective, but he really isn't a complete tight end. He definitely can catch the ball, in fact he came out of high school as one of the top wide receivers in the country, but Davis isn't a very good blocker, which is why Thompson seems to be receiving more snaps. 

  Offensive Line Hgt/Wgt Experience
  LT Sam Baker, Jr.* 6-5, 305 18 Starts
  LG Drew Radovich, Jr.* 6-5, 305 18 starts/ Limited Exp
  C Ryan Kalil, Sr. 6-3, 285 18 Starts
  RG Chilo Rachal, So.* 6-5, 300 26 Starts
  RT Kyle Williams, 5th 6-6, 300 28 Starts

Sam Baker is very nimble and does a great job in pass protection. He's more finesse than power, although he'll knock you off the ball. Chris Frome did have some success against him last season before he went down with a knee injury. Frome should be able to hold the edge on Baker but I don't expect him to generate much pressure.

Kyle Williams has experience and talent, but he just never put things together... until this season. Williams pairs with Baker as one of the top tackle combinations in the country. 

On a team of stars, Ryan Kalil is generally the guy that gets overlooked, but he's probably the player along the line. He has started since his first season and he hasn't left the lineup since. One of the top linemen in the country. 

The guards are little questionable and why I think the Trojan running game has struggled to really get going. Drew Radovich just seems to lumber. He doesn't appear to be a strong run blocker, and he seems to get a lot of help in pass protection. Rachal is much more athletic, but he doesn't appear to really knock people off the ball. 

Alatini Malu (6-4, 330, Jr.*) will mix in at guard, and based on his performance in the Cal game, he'd be my choice at guard.

USC On Defense:
Trojan Defense '06 Rank Per Game ND Offense '06 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense #13 92.10 Rushing Offense #79 123.73
Pass Defense #57 196.50 Pass Offense #9 273.73
Pass Eff. #19 106.22 Pass Eff. #12 153.84
Total Defense #21 288.60 Total Offense #21 397.45
Scoring Defense #11 14.20 Scoring Offense #12 33.18

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. The USC defense will blitz from anywhere on the field; cornerback, linebacker or zone blitz. In the past Carroll waited to blitz until the offense got moving, but this season, he appears to be more aggressive.

Pete Carroll's defenses are annually one of the best in the nation against the run and this season is no different. There was a stir that USC was moving to the '3-4' this season, but they really run multiple fronts. The Irish will see a '4-3, a '3-4' and a '5-2' front throughout the game. Because Notre Dame's strength is the passing game, I expect to see a lot more true '3-4' from USC than they have used with other teams. They are solid along the defensive front, but not nearly as good as the unit from last season and they lack depth. 

The talent and depth at linebacker is incredible. There is also a wealth of experience. Dallas Sartz, Rey Maualuga, and Keith Rivers will likely start, but the three behind them are probably just as good.

Like Notre Dame, the big concern for USC has to be the secondary. This unit has talent, but they are really young. Taylor Mays is a true freshman who is playing like a much more mature player. Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas are more talented than the corners Notre Dame saw last season, but they are learning.

Anticipated Depth Chart. 

  Defensive Line Hgt/Wgt Stats
  DE Lawrence Jackson, Jr.* 6-5, 265  35 tackles/ 4.0 sacks
  NT Sedrick Ellis, Jr.* 6-1, 295  24 tackles/ 2.5 sacks
  DT Fili Moala, So.* 6-4, 295  13 tackles/ 1.0 sacks
  DE Brian Cushing, So. 6-4, 245  47 tackles/ 7.5 TFLs

This unit is playing very well, but they aren't getting into the backfield like they should. Lawrence Jackson is a big, strong defensive end. He isn't a speed guy, but he has the ability to overpower the offensive lineman. 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 Sam Young, and this could be a trouble spot for the Irish. Young is having a solid year for a freshman, but Jackson is a difficult match up for a seasoned player.  Notre Dame will need to give Young help on this corner.

Sedrick Ellis is a little light for an interior lineman which means that he isn't an ideal nose tackle for the '3-4', but he is a disruptive. Notre Dame had difficulty with him last season, and this Irish line isn't nearly as dominating. Fili Moala is struggling to establish himself on the inside. He plays a little upright, but he does take up space. 

I wasn't impressed with Brian Cushing as a linebacker, and I'm not sure he concerns me on the edge. Cushing just appears to be more of a finesse play than I had expected. This is the type of player Ryan Harris can handle.  

Chris Barrett (6-5, 265, Jr.*) will work into the middle of the line and Jeff Schweiger (6-4, 255, Jr.) could be used to relieve Cushing.

  Linebackers Hgt/Wgt  Stats
  SLB Dallas Sartz, 5th 6-5, 240  50 tackles/ 5.5 TFLs
  MLB Rey Maualuga, So. 6-3, 250  66 tackles/ 4.0 TFLs
  WLB Keith Rivers, Jr. 6-3, 230  67 tackles/ 5.5 TFLs

Dallas Sartz has a lot fo experience, but he's been bothered by injuries. He doesn't have the athletic ability and this season he appears to be a step slower. He does have a nose for the ball. I just think he's a liability in the passing game.

Rey Maualuga is second on the team in tackles. He's what you think about when you start looking for middle linebackers. He got his feet wet last season as a true freshman, and now it looks like he's going to be around for awhile. Not a good thing, because he can bring it with the best of them.

Keith Rivers could probably play any of the linebacker positions, and he's even been used at rush defensive end. Rivers is a player and if he can put everything together he'll be an All-American. Rivers can run and hit. He plays well in traffic and he has superior instincts. His quickness makes him difficult to block in space. He leads the team in tackles (67). He can be too aggressive at times and at times he tries to go under blocks and finds himself out of place.... that's being picky though. He had a huge game last year against Notre Dame.

Oscar Lua (6-1, 245, Sr.*) started at middle linebacker last year. That should be an indication of how good Maualuga is. Lua will rotate in and he has 25 tackles on the season. Kaluka Maiava (6-0, 225, So.) will also work into the game. He has 30 tackles on the season.

  Defensive Backs Hgt/Wgt  Stats
  CB Cary Harris, So. 6-0, 180  39 tackles/ 1 INTs
  CB Terrell Thomas, Jr.* 6-1, 200  39 tackles/ 2 INTs
  FS Taylor Mays, Fr. 6-4, 225  48 tackles/ 3 INTs
  SS Kevin Ellison, So. 6-1, 220  52 tackles/ 1 INTs

Terrell Thomas and Cary Harris have been bitten by the injury bug. Both have a world of talent, but they're just getting settled in. Once they have more experience, they will make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Like the corners, the safeties are young and inexperienced. Mays has been making plays and has shown to be everything Trojan fans expected him to be. Ellison doesn't get the press that Mays does, but he might be a little more steady. These two work to keep everything in front of them. Pete Carroll will accept having balls caught in front of his safeties, but he doesn't not want anything to get behind them.




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