USC Also Has Its Hands Full

While all the talk has been about how the Notre Dame defense is going to have its hands full this Saturday, things aren't going to be easy for a young USC defense either.

The Irish attack has been potent this season as well as inconsistent, but in a game of this magnitude, with the team already laying an egg once this season, and the thought of Brady Quinn and his fellow seniors leaving Notre Dame without ever beating USC, expect the offense to be on point Saturday night.

Look forward to another back-and-forth shootout similar to USC's 34-31 victory last season, with the game being settled in the fouth quarter.

"We've improved in a lot of ways," quarterback Brady Quinn said of the offense. "But I think the biggest change that's come is really how we kind of approach each game now, going in knowing we're going to win no matter what. We faced some pretty tough odds, I think especially Michigan State, being down by that much on the road like that, then coming back. That just gave us a lot of confidence in our ability to really come back from being down, being able to play in adverse conditions.

"The team has a lot of confidence," Quinn continued. "We've improved so much over the past couple months where we feel we're at a pretty good spot right now."

A spot to show the nation that No. 5 Notre Dame (10-1) does indeed belong in the conversation when discussing the nation's elite programs. Beat No. 3 USC (9-1) and the Irish will earn everyone's respect.

The Irish offense hasn't been tested much the last two weeks in easy wins over Air Force and Army. Like the defense, Quinn and company will have to adjust to a bigger faster defense on the fly.

"This team does a great job of adapting to whatever environment it's in," Quinn said. "I think that's been the case all season.

"Our biggest thing is just being able to get rid of all the distractions around it, really just executing our game plan, going in there and taking care of our part of the deal."

"They are a little more talented, they got a little more speed," receiver Rhema McKnight said. "You just have to adjust to the speed of the game.

"We have a veteran group. We understand what we have to do to get in position for us to win. That's what we're going to do."

In last year's game, Irish head coach Charlie Weis was able to dictate the flow of the game with his play-calling. The Irish dinked-and-dumped, and ran the football 52 times, owning the game's time of possession, 39 minutes to 21.

That could be the philosophy again this year, as Weis said you don't want to get into a shootout with USC. Or he could be baiting the Trojans into thinking that. Weis could feel that his offense could go blow for blow with USC's, now that the Trojans don't have Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. This year Weis has the best player in Quinn.

If Weis chooses to air it out with Quinn, McKnight and Jeff Samardzija, it will be against a young but talented USC secondary. The Trojans rank 19th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.

"They're real aggressive," Samardzija said. "I think they've had a couple injuries back there but it always seems like the mentality we have where they plug another guy in. They keep plugging guys in, they keep playing aggressive they're always swarming to the ball and they're always trying to make plays and they have a lot of speed back there."

Samardzija noticed they like to get up and jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage.

"That's one part of it," he said. "If you can just watch film and see the overall impression of a defense, whether they're aggressive or not, it just seems like you get a feeling when you watch a team if they run around, if they're making plays on the ball and making plays other defenses wouldn't make. That's kind of how I qualify a team that as aggressive and they definitely fit under that category."

Weis could stick to what he's been saying and try to control the clock by running the football. Darius Walker got 18 carries last season while Travis Thomas ran 17 times. With Thomas at linebacker and nobody else with over 32 attempts, Walker (219 carries for 1,083 yards and seven touchdowns) would probably carry the load as usual.

The USC defense has been stout against the run, holding opponents to 92.1 yards per game (13th in th nation). The USC front seven also applies a lot of pressure on the quarterback, totaling 23 sacks.

"Their front seven is very fast and they know how to get off blocks very well," Walker said. "We know that this is going to be a task, and we know we're going to have our work cut out for us.

"

They are really one of those physical teams, they remind me a lot of Tennessee from last year."

Quinn compared the Trojans to Michigan and Georgia Tech.

"Michigan is a good example of some of the speed you see definitely with the front seven and also with the secondary," he said. "We've played with some similar teams with some speed like that in the secondary. I think Georgia Tech was also a good comparison, and a few other teams.

"Really they're a solid team all around. You can't just look at one particular position and point it out as overwhelming compared to the rest."

Saturday's game could come down to who's offense overwhelms the opposition the most.


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