Four Downs: Notre Dame

Can the young Trojans avoid getting caught up in the moment in South Bend? It will be one of the keys to a win Saturday.

Stay Grounded
It's hard not to get caught up in the majesty of Notre Dame. The Golden Dome, the Grotto, Touchdown Jesus, and especially Notre Dame Stadium carry an aura with them unlike any other venue in college football. Mix in the first night game in South Bend in 21 years and the young Trojans cannot get caught up in the atmosphere and let it interfere with their responsibilities.

Given the sheer number of USC players that have never played against the Fighting Irish, let alone stepping foot on such a historic field, and their inexperience on the road and in big games, head coach Lane Kiffin will have to keep the team grounded aside from having them prepared.

Notre Dame will be tough to beat as it is, let alone if USC decides to oblige with extra mistakes because of the environment.

Fluster Floyd
Michael Floyd owns every significant Notre Dame receiving record. His 11 receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown in his first appearance against USC last year were crucial in breaking the streak.

Now he has the benefit of a year in head coach Brian Kelly's spread offense, a year working with sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees.

Sophomore corner Nickell Robey is tasked with containing Floyd. He has talked about the need to be physical with the 6-foot-3 wideout, disrupting his timing.

Robey, despite his size, is more than capable of doing that if coaches will allow him to do so. If they insist on "bend and don't break" pass defense, Floyd will break the Trojans.

Find a Ground Game
Aside from Marc Tyler's terrific outing against Utah, the running attack has been mostly ineffective this season. Blame the backs, blame the offensive line, but the lack of consistency was devastating in the road loss at Arizona State.

You have to run successfully in the red zone. You have to run successfully at the goal line. USC couldn't against the Sun Devils and it ultimately cost them the game.

Now with redshirt junior Curtis McNeal expected to start, he has provided a spark every time he touches the ball. While the obvious matchup to exploit is the passing offense of Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, McNeal needs to convert at the most critical moments.

Push the Special Teams Edge
For all the improvement Notre Dame has shown this season, its special teams have taken a major step back. Kicker David Ruffer was 23 of 24 on field goals in his first two seasons, but is a lousy 4 of 8 this year, including a critical miss in the loss to South Florida.

The Irish are 103rd nationally in net punting and next-to-last nationally in punt returns.

Aside from the fake field goals and extra points, the Trojans continue to be fantastic under coordinator John Baxter. With the big-play ability of Woods, Robey and George Farmer, USC needs to make things happen here to make up for deficiencies in other areas.


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