Saturday's Keys

Nobody in the Notre Dame locker room has ever beaten USC. If the fifth-ranked Irish (10-1) lose to the third-ranked Trojans (9-1), Saturday night in Los Angeles , they will tie a series long five-game losing streak to their hated rivals.

Both coaches, Charlie Weis and Pete Carroll haven't lost in November at their respective programs. Something's gotta give. Here are the keys to the game.

1. Charlie Weis said if you get into a shootout with USC, you lose. That means the Irish will have to execute very efficiently on offense, no drive-killing penalties, while running the football and completing short passes. No three and outs, and absolutely no turnovers. With the exception of Michigan, the Irish have been very good at protecting the football. Quarterback Brady Quinn isn't due to throw an interception for awhile after seeing his NCAA leading interception streak snapped last weekend against Army. At the same time, receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight will have to get behind the defense and make a big play or two.

2. Receiver Dwayne Jarrett's is going to make a few plays. So is receiver Steve Smith. The Irish just can't afford to let running backs Chauncey Washington and C.J. Gable get on Sportscenter. If those guys become household names, like Michigan 's Mario Manningham did against Notre Dame (three receiving touchdowns), the Irish's chances are slim.

3. A special-teams score in the return game would be huge. The Irish only have one this season. This could blow open a tight game, or be the deciding touchdown.

Prediction: USC 28, Notre Dame 24: The Irish can win this game three-out-of-10 times. Just not sure Saturday is their night.

Offensive MVP: Darius Walker will carry the ball at least 20 times and catch another five passes to the tune of 150 yards and a couple touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Tom Zbikowski registers double-digit tackles while finally forcing a turnover.


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