Saturday's Keys

Enough is enough was the mantra stated by defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and Pat Kuntz this week when asked about the improvement the Notre Dame defense has shown since the second half of the Purdue game. If the Irish (1-6) suffer yet another setback this Saturday against No. 9 USC (5-1), head coach Charlie Weis may have to say the same thing for the season.

Enough is enough in regards to 2007.

Though this is likely far from the Irish players and coaches minds, a loss to the rival Trojans this weekend will completely end all postseason hopes. If Notre Dame can win the last five games on its schedule, and they should be favored in the final four, they'll become bowl eligible. Although the bowl would be of the .com variety played in mid-to-late December, it would be an extra few weeks of crucial practice for a young-developing team.

A loss to USC, in what would be the sixth in a row to the Trojans, and maybe with the exception of John Sullivan depending on Dan Wenger's health and Trevor Laws, John Carlson and Tom Zbikowski, Weis moves forward and starts playing guys he knows will be on his roster next season. Without a bowl game, there won't be any time to get in any extra work.

So here are the keys to Saturday's game.

***Somebody has to become a cult hero: Whether it's first-time starting quarterback Evan Sharpley, freshmen running backs Armando Allen or Robert Hughes, or freshmen receivers Duval Kamara or Golden Tate, someone has to come out of nowhere and have an amazing game. Even someone not listed, but it's going to take somewhat of a heroic effort to beat a USC team that is ripe to play well after three-straight sub-par performances.

With starting running back James Aldridge doubtful for the game with a high-ankle sprain, Hughes and Allen are the likely candidates. The offensive line hasn't been able to get any kind of push this season as the rushing attack ranks last in the nation, but maybe Hughes can bulldoze his way to a couple of phenomenal runs or Allen gets loose through a seam or two, or finally makes a big play on the screen passes thrown to him they run every week.

If Notre Dame can pull off the upset, most fans are going to leave the stadium with a new favorite player. Whoever just had a career game and gave a glimpse of the future to come.

***Pressure, Pressure, Pressure: Last week, Brown had his guys blitzing from all over the place, but Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan saw the field so well and got rid of the ball with a quick release, the pressure wasn't much of a factor. It's uncertain who will start at quarterback for the Trojans, but whether it's John David Booty or Mark Sanchez, under the circumstances, neither are as good as Ryan.

If Booty plays, he'll be playing with a broken finger. Sanchez will be making his first career start on the road, just a week after his first start in general.

If the Irish can pressure the quarterback, which they haven't been good at this season, it could force a turnover or two, and plenty of negative plays.

***Solid special teams play: In an upset, field position is key. Punter Geoff Price will have to do his job in pinning the Trojans inside the 10-yard line when he has the opportunity. The tackling will have to be sure on kickoff and punt coverage, as USC has several game-changing options with its return men. A big play from Tate, Allen or Zbikowski in one facet of the return game could set up a quick and much needed score.

Prediction: USC 23, Notre Dame 17: The Irish defense will do a good job of holding the Trojans to field goals instead of touchdowns, but the offense won't be able to run the football, have a key turnover, and will lose in a close one. Top Stories