Straight off its toughest loss of the season, Notre Dame will face its toughest opponent of the year in Southern California on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Charlie Weis, along with everybody else, has been impressed with the job that Pete Carroll has done in eight years at USC.
"Besides having an 85-15 record, one stat that I found a bit overwhelming is the fact he's undefeated in the month of November as the head coach of USC," said Weis.
The Trojans come into the matchup with a 9-1 record and are currently ranked fifth in the BCS with an outside shot at playing for the national title. Aside from the outstanding record USC also is ranked nationally in a number of categories and unlike some other teams, Weis said that the rankings are legit.
"Those numbers are validated on tape," he said. "Sometimes I give you numbers, and people say, ‘Yeah, but who were they playing, this and that.' This is a team that shows up every week. They show up on offense. They show up on defense. They show up on special teams."
The offensive line is experienced and allows for USC to strike a balance in both the running and passing games. The Trojans are 14th in the country with 38 points per game, 18th in the nation with 209 rushing yards a game, 30th nationally in passing yards with 242 an outing and 14th in total yards with an average of 451 yards.
"A lot of that starts with Mark Sanchez at quarterback," Weis said. "Mark played against us last year. He has a good, smooth release. He moves well in the pocket, moves well out of the pocket. He's got a very strong arm.
"I've liked Mark for a long time as a player. He's got a lot of moxy. I think within their system, you know, like some teams in the past where they've thrown the ball for 300 plus yards a game, he doesn't have to do that with this team right here because they're so good at the running back position. I think he does a nice job of managing the team."
USC's backfield is always crowded, but it seems that the Trojans have settled in to playing three guys.
"Looks like (C.J.) Gable, as of late, has been the number one go-to-guy, although Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight, all three of them, see extensive time," said Weis. "Gable has got great speed, he's athletic, he can make you miss. Stafon is a little bit bigger, he goes at 215. Joe has that breakaway speed. That's a very good complementary group of running backs. All three of them end up being in there."
USC also uses its fullback Stanley Havili as a weapon.
"They've got one of the better fullbacks in the country with Havili," said Weis. "He's more of a halfback than a fullback, too. He has the ability to run with the ball. He runs hard and he's a legitimate receiver, as well."
There certainly is no lack of receivers on the edges either.
"Patrick Turner starts at X for them. He's the most experienced guy plus he's 6'5", 220, got great size," said Weis. "Damian Williams is the guy who has really come on for them. At the beginning of the year, you heard a lot about Patrick Turner and (Vidal) Hazelton and (Ronald) Johnson. Those guys are all big-play receivers, but Williams has almost become like the go-to-guy. Starting at Z, and when they go to the three-wide receiver sets, he goes into the slot. He's really having a heck of a year for them."
"They just replace those tight ends and they always seem to get the same type of body type and athleticism every time," said Weis.
As good as the offense is, the defense is even better.
"They've got big numbers now," Weis warned. "They're first in the country in points per game, 8.3, sixth in the country in rushing yardage at 90.2, giving up 2.7 yards per carry. First in the country on pass defense at 132 (yards), they're second in the country on total defense at 222 (yards). 24 sacks and they're only letting people convert at 20% on third down."
"They're both big bodies that are aggressive," Weis said of Moala and Tupou. "Those guys, their size, allows these linebackers that they have to really run to the football."
"Maiava, you can just group him in with Cushing and Maualuga because these three linebackers are as good a combination of linebackers as you can get," he said.
It's not clear if safety Kevin Ellison will be available for USC, but the Trojans have plenty of talent in the secondary. Josh Pinkard and Cary Harris will start at corner with Will Harris filling in for Ellison at strong safety and the talented Taylor Mays at free safety.
"Everyone knows about Taylor, who is one of the bigger, more physical safeties in college football," said Weis.
USC completes the three phases of the game by playing more than solid on special teams.
"The first number that sticks out to you right off the bat is their kickoff return group, which is first in the country. They're averaging 30.1 per kickoff return," Weis said. "They put their good guys back there on returns. Johnson and Gable are back on kickoff returns. Ronald Johnson and Gable are back on kickoff returns. Stafon Johnson handles their punt returns."
"Woidneck handles their punting. He doesn't have to punt very often. He's only had to punt 37 times. 13 balls being caught inside the 20, and 10 more being fair caught. They usually have very good field position, so when he does have to punt, he's usually in plus 50 punting," Weis said. "Buehler doesn't have to kick very many field goals, he's usually kicking extra points. When he does, he's seven for eight."
OFF TOPIC: Weis was asked how much contact he has with the university regarding his job status and revealed that he and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick meet on a weekly basis.
"Jack and I meet every week. Just like Kevin (White) and I met every week, the difference is Kevin was an early bird, Jack's a night owl," he said. "So where Kevin and I used to meet at 5:30 in the morning, Jack and I meet at 6:00 at night. I used to meet Kevin Monday mornings at 5:30. Now I meet Jack Monday night at 6:00.
"We've just been going along as is. The intent is to go out there and do all we can to beat USC, stay out there on the road and go out recruiting. That's what the plan is."
Weis also addressed the injury situation on his team. According to the head coach, Michael Floyd and Brian Smith are doing better than expected, but will still be out for this week's game. But cornerback Terrail Lambert could be back as well as right guard Chris Stewart.
"Lambert is going to practice today. We'll see. He'll be out there today. How good he'll be, I told Corwin to let me know because this will be the first day he's out there really running around in a practice environment," he said. "If (Stewart) can go, he's starting. So he's back today. He's been itching to get back. He probably could have been an emergency guy last week, but he didn't practice at all last week. I thought that probably the best thing for him would be, you know, to start off this week. So he's practicing today."