Game Forecast: Southern California Week

Irish Eyes takes a look at Notre Dame's (6-5) final game of the regular season this weekend against No. 5 Southern California (9-1).

 Notre Dame vs. Southern California
Fighting Irish   Trojans
 
Saturday, November 29th
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles , Calif.
8:00 EST
ESPN


 
 

  On Offense:

 Offense '08 Rank Per Game ND Defense '08 Rank Per Game
Rushing Offense #18 208.80 Rushing Defense #55 139.73
Pass Offense # 34 242.20 Pass Defense #22 176.73
Pass Eff. # 9 162.01 Pass Eff. #14 102.40
Total Offense # 16 451.00 Total Defense #28 316.45
Scoring Offense # 12 38.40 Scoring Defense #31 20.82

Threat(s): The stable of running backs, the trio of receivers and a deep offensive line.

Every single year, the argument can be made that USC is the best team in the country, and this season is no exception.

However, a loss to Oregon State in the third game of the season has head coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans, needing a few things to happen that is out of the team's control, mainly an upset in the Big 12 title game, to sneak in the backdoor of the BCS championship game.

Sometimes USC plays down to its competition, hence the loss to the Beavers, but they never seem to do it against Notre Dame. With the Irish limping into this rivalry game, it could be another brutal one for the Notre Dame program.

The Trojans aren't lacking playmakers on offense, and have a deep offensive line that normally dominates at the point of attack.

Three running backs will see time against the Irish defense. C.J. Gable (574 yards rushing, 7 TDs) and Stafon Johnson (569 yards rushing, 7 TDs) are the every-down backs. Those two will rotate, with sophomore Joe McKnight (484 yards rushing) sprinkled in. McKnight has been battling turf toe all season but will be his healthiest this weekend, and has missed time earlier in the year against Washington State and Arizona. Carroll will try and get McKnight 10-to-15 touches against Notre Dame.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez runs the offense, beating out Mitch Mustain during camp. He completes 65 percent of his passes, and has thrown for 2,258 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has seven interceptions, but three of them came in the win over Arizona State.

Sanchez has four favorite targets. Damian Williams leads the team with 38 receptions for 553 yards and six touchdowns. Patrick Turner is beginning to come into his own, with 34 catches for 503 yards and a team-high eight scores. Ronald Johnson is the big-play threat, catching 23 passes for 407 yards and six scores. Fullback Stanley Havili isn't really a factor as a runner, but he has 23 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

Carroll has a lot of guys he can rotate along an offensive line that isn't very big, but is certainly athletic. Sophomore Kris O'Dowd (6-5, 300) is one of the best centers in the country. Alex Parsons (6-4, 300) will get the start at right guard, with Jeff Byers (6-4, 285) starting at left guard. Charles Brown (6-6, 295) is the left tackle and Butch Lewis (6-5, 300) is the right tackle. True freshman Tyron Smith (6-6, 270) has played a lot at right tackle as well, and guard Zach Heberer (6-5, 300) and tackle Nick Howell (6-5, 280), will also play some against the Irish.

Achilles Heal(s): The play calling.

When you're talking about a team as good as USC, you have to nit pick when trying to find something negative.

With Sanchez, an emotional player that likes to throw the football all over the field and into tight spots, the Trojans coaching staff has made the offense a little more conservative after the three interceptions against Arizona State.

If Notre Dame can force Sanchez into a few turnovers, they could have a chance.

The offense has been a little inconsistent. It seems like every other game is a big outing. Against Oregon they scored 44. Then against Arizona State it was 28. Then it was 69 against Washington State, followed up by just 17 against Arizona. USC then posted 56 against Washington, but only 17 at home against California. Last game, it was 45 against Stanford, so the Irish are hoping the trend holds true this coming weekend.

Miscellaneous: USC has converted on 45 percent of its third downs this season. They are 40-of-49 in the red zone (82 percent), including 34 touchdowns. Running back Allen Bradford is out for the year with an injury. Running back Broderick Green is on campus but isn't practicing because of family issues. Receiver Vidal Hazelton hasn't been involved much in the offense because of a string of injuries. More than 50 percent of David Buehler's kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. He has also made 7-of-8 field goals with a long of 43. C.J. Gable and Ronald Johnson are both big-play guys in the kick return game, and Stafon Johnson has been very good as a punt returner. Tight ends Anthony McCoy and Blake Ayles don't play a huge role in the passing offense. Ayles is a little nicked up, but will play against the Irish.

 On Defense:

 Defense '08 Rank Per Game ND Offense '08 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense # 6 90.20 Rushing Offense #91 119.18/td>
Pass Defense # 1 132.30 Pass Offense #28 248.73
Pass Eff. # 1 84.34 Pass Eff. #55 126.36
Total Defense # 2 222.50 Total Offense #57 367.91
Scoring Defense #1 8.30 Scoring Offense #71 24.45


Threat(s):USC has perhaps the best linebackers group and safety duo in the country..

Linebackers Rey Mauluga and Brian Cushing are two of the nation's best defensive players. They both lead the team in tackles with 66 and 60 respectively. Cushing has eight tackles for loss. Completing the trio is Kaluka Maiava, whose 53 tackles ranks third on the team.

Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison are the safeties, and both have seven pass breakups to lead the team. Mays has 46 tackles, ranking fourth on the team, and Ellison has 45 stops. Both are great against the run and pass. The Irish might not see Ellison, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, and is hoping to be back for the Notre Dame game. Will Harris would play in place of Ellison.

Bringing pressure off the ends is Everson Griffen, Clay Matthews Jr. and Kyle Moore. Matthews has 7.5 tackles for loss including four sacks. Moore has a team-high 8.5 tackles for loss including four sacks. Everson Griffen leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Those three will rotate.

Fili Moala is one of the better defensive tackles in the country. He also has 7.5 tackles for loss, clogging the middle, as the Trojans rank fifth nationally in stops behind the line of scrimmage at 8.1 per game.

Cary Harris starts at one cornerback position, and Kevin Thomas, who has a team-high three interceptions, is the other corner. Josh Pinkard will come in and play nickel.

Achilles Heal(s):Teams have been able to run the ball up the middle at times against the Trojans.

Again, we're nitpicking here, especially when the defense ranks second nationally, first against the pass and sixth against the run.

In the loss to Oregon State, Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 186 yards with an inside-zone play that the Trojans couldn't stop. Toby Gerhart of Stanford ran for 101 yards two weeks ago against USC.

Next to Moala at defensive tackle, USC has been a little suspect. Jurrell Casey, Averell Spicer and Christian Tupou will all get some time against the Irish.

Notre Dame has really struggled to run the ball, but this could be their chance on Saturday, with Armando Allen possibly getting loose on a zone run or two.

Miscellaneous: Teams are converting on just 29 percent of their third-down opportunities against USC. Teams have only been in the red zone 21 times against the Trojans, scoring on 15 of those trips including 10 touchdowns. The USC defense has allowed just 19 second-half points all season. Punter Greg Woidneck is averaging 36.8 yards per punt, with 13 of his 37 boots being downed inside the opposition's 20-yard line.

Game Notes: This is the 80th-ever meeting between Notre Dame and USC. The Irish lead the series with a 42-32-5 record. The Vegas line has USC opening as 29-point favorites. The L.A. Memorial Coliseum sits around 98,000 people. Charlie Weis' record against USC is 0-3. Pete Carroll's record against Notre Dame is 6-1.

Prediction: USC 42, Notre Dame 7: Coming off a bye week, the Trojans will be ready for the Irish, dominating in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Irish will move the ball a bit early, but yards will be tough to come by from the second quarter on. Big plays finally kill a Notre Dame defense that has been pretty good all season. Sanchez throws for three touchdowns, and Gable and Johnson each add a rushing score. Jimmy Clausen will throw a couple interceptions, and will be sacked four times.


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