The Notre Dame offensive output has dropped in recent weeks with the loss of wide receiver Michael Floyd, but they are still one of the most potent offenses in the country. The Notre Dame offense has averaged 470 yards per game (148 rushing, 322 passing), while averaging 32.6 points in its first five contests. This weekend the Irish will be facing their toughest test of the season as they face a defense that has yet to give up a passing touchdown and that has only surrendered three rushing touchdowns.
USC plays a base "4-3" with head coach Pete Carroll being the architect of the Trojan defense. USC defenders will try to limit big gains, while trying to keep the play in front of them. They'll let Notre Dame drive between the 30's, but once the Irish get a sniff of the end zone, USC will start to create pressure by sending linebackers and defensive backs on a variety of blitzes. Despite losing eight starters from last season's unit, the 2009 Trojan defense is one of the best in the country. USC is ranked highly in every defensive category by holding teams to a paltry 238 yards per game (sixth nationally). The Trojans have held opponents to less than 65 yards rushing per game (sixth nationally) and less than 175 yards passing per game (25th nationally). They are ranked first in the country in sacks per game (4.2), second in tackles for loss (9.8) and eight in pass efficiency defense (90.0).
Front Four… and more.
Defensive end: Wes Horton (6-5, 255-pounds, Rs-Fr.) Very solid against the run, but an average passer rusher at this time. He does do a good job of keeping contain on the edge, so this will be a challenge for Sam Young if Notre Dame decides to run to his side. Horton will rotate with Nick Perry, especially in passing situations. He's a hard worker, a solid lineman, but he won't make a ton of plays. On the season, Horton has six tackles.
Nick Perry (6-3, 250-pounds, Rs-Fr.) He hasn't had a ton off playing time, but what time he has had has been productive. Perry leads the team and with six sacks which ties him for fifth nationally. He doesn't have great technique, but he gets by with athleticism. He could be limited due to a bruised knee that kept him from practicing earlier in the week. He could also slide down inside and play the 3-technique.
Armond Armstead (6-5, 295-pounds, So.) Armstead would have been the starter at the beginning of the season, but he broke his foot just before the season started. He is going to be back, so expect to see him at strong-side defensive end or the 3-technique.
Nose tackle: Christian Tupou (6-2, 285-pounds, Jr.) should start, but missed practice time this week with a knee injury. He's a high energy guy, that's solid against the run and can be disruptive in the backfield… never takes a down off. Tupou has nine tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss this season.
Defensive tackle: Jurrell Casey (6-1, 295-pounds, So.)is probably the best player up front for the Trojans. He is very solid against the run and has the ability to get to the quarterback. He's very difficult to contain in the middle. Casey has 16 tackles with 3.5 coming from behind the line.
Averell Spicer (6-2, 295-pounds, 5th-Sr.) is another guy that is banged up for the Trojans. He's been dealing with an ankle injury, but he'll likely be in the rotation Saturday. Started three games in 2008 and is one of the few guys on the defensive line that came into 2009 with experience. He'll clog the middle, but won't make a ton of plays.
Defensive end: Everson Griffen (6-3, 280-pounds, Jr.) has started 10 games for the Trojans and he's starting to develop into the top player he was expected to be coming out of high school. He's very active, so Paul Duncan will have his work cut out for him. He does lack discipline and he'll play outside the system at times, but the talent is there. He's fifth on the team with 17 tackles and second on the team with four sacks.
SAM backer: Michael Morgan (6-4, 220-pounds, Rs-Jr.) He's really quick and athletic and one of the faster guys on the roster. A tremendous pass rusher off the edge, but somewhat susceptible to teams running right at him. He'll chase plays all over the field, and he is disruptive, but at times he'll miss tackles. Morgan is third on the team with 25 tackles. He leads the Trojans with 9.5 tackles for loss including three sacks.
Mike backer: Chris Galippo (6-2, 250-pounds, RS-so.) Prototypical middle linebacker. He's fundamentally sound in just about every aspect of the game. Despite this being the first year as a starter, he's the leader of the defense. He has been dealing with back problems at USC, but he's healthy this season and he'll be ready to go this Saturday. Leads the team in tackles with 32 with five coming from behind the line. Galippo's lone interception came against Ohio State which set up USC's first score.
Will backer: Malcolm Smith (6-1, 225-pounds, Jr.) is coming back from an ankle injury. He's a very solid, yet unspectacular player. He does a solid job against the run, but Notre Dame might be able to run right at him… He does however drop into coverage very well. Smith has 12 tackles with 1.5 coming from behind the line.
Luthur Brown (6-2, 235, 5th-Sr.) has been battling injuries throughout his career at USC, but he has the tools to be a very good player. He can play all three linebacker positions. If he's ready he'll be the first guy off the bench.
Jarvis Jones (6-3, 225-pounds, Fr.) is another guy that Notre Dame may see at either outside linebacker spots. He's played in every game this year, and has contributed. Good instincts and solid against the run.
Free Safety: Taylor Mays (6-3, 235-pounds, Sr.) everyone should be familiar with Mays. He's played since day-one at USC. He's on every All-American list and likely the best safety in the country. He's second on the team in tackles with 28. His numbers would likely be better, but teams generally use good judgment and attack the other side of the field.
Strong safety: Will Harris (6-1, 210-pounds, 5th-Sr.) solid, physical safety that does a very good job in run support. He hasn't played a lot in his career, but played well last year when he filled in. Harris is fourth on the team in tackles with 18.
Cornerback: Josh Pinkard (6-1, 215-pounds, 6th-Sr.) has played just about everywhere in the USC secondary and this season he finds himself back at corner. He used to have more speed, but has been slowed by two knee surgeries. He's a very solid cover guy, and plays the ball well when it's in the air. Pinkard has one interception and 17 tackles this season.
Cornerback: Kevin Thomas (6-1, 190-pounds, 5th-Sr.) tall slender corner that is very good in coverage. He doesn't come up and play the run, but he's probably been USC's best corner over the past couple years. Thomas has 15 tackles on the season.