O/NSO - Notre Dame preview edition

Hoping "that team from California comes to South Bend undefeated," Notre Dame head coach coach Charlie Weis and his Fighting Irish (4-1) get their wish as the top-ranked USC Trojans (5-0) and their 27-game winning streak arrive in the land of the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, and Notre Dame Stadium for Saturday's 77th renewal of college football's greatest intersectional rivalry (12:30 p.m. PDT, NBC).

The Obvious – Hoping "that team from California comes to South Bend undefeated," Notre Dame head coach coach Charlie Weis and his Fighting Irish (4-1) get their wish as the top-ranked USC Trojans (5-0) and their 27-game winning streak arrive in the land of the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, and Notre Dame Stadium for Saturday's 77th renewal of college football's greatest intersectional rivalry (12:30 p.m. PDT, NBC).

The Not So Obvious – Stir in the realization that Notre Dame has never beaten a No. 1 Trojan team in four tries, comments by Weis that he has never lost to Pete Carroll, some New Jersey braggadocio versus California cool, and Saturday's game becomes cardinal and gold personal. Word out of South Bend is that the South Bend population is pointing to the1998 Irish upset of then defending AP champion Michigan as inspiration. One would think that past three 31-point Trojans whippings of the Irish would be enough of an incentive for the sons of Knute Rockne.

The Obvious – The Trojans held their final local practice at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday before boarding their 2:30 p.m. Delta Airlines charter to South Bend.

The Not S Obvious – The Trojans will arrive in South Bend around 9:00 p.m. and then bus to the Holiday Inn in Michigan City, Ind., about a 34 mile trip. On Friday, they'll bus to Notre Dame Stadium for a brief walk-through and then go into hotel seclusion.

The Obvious – There is no greater picturesque setting than the University of Southern California at Notre Dame in mid-October.

The Not So Obvious – Oh sure there are the wonderful regional rivalries such as Oklahoma/Texas, Ohio State/Michigan, and Miami/Florida St., but when it comes to the pinnacle of the college football experience, nothing compares to USC at Notre Dame. People have asked the O/NSO if they could attend one Trojan game, which would we recommend? No brainer, folks, this is gridiron nirvana regardless of the records. The real experience on a South Bend game day makes the movie "Rudy" look like a KCET fundraiser. Add to the mix the fact that this is the highest combined rating of the two rivals in the coaches' poll since 1988 and it's back to the future. ESPN's GameDay isn't showing up on Saturday for a special edition game of South Bend monopoly.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened as 13 1/2-point favorites to prolong the Irish torment and send Charlie Weis back to the quotebook for next year's encounter in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – Well in a perfect Trojan world, the Men of Troy could point to their past 31-point blowouts and provide the "been there, done that" mantra. However, what Charlie Weis is doing with the Irish is what Pete Carroll has already done for the Trojans. He gave them a personality, style, and a no-quit pro education. No sir, this one really does figure to be a Trojan War and the Trojan team walking down the second most famous stadium tunnel in America, Notre Dame Stadium, better be chanting, "Wartime….Let's take it outside" with some hostile intentions.

The Obvious – The weather forecast for Saturday's rivalry in South Bend, which was originally known as Southhold, calls for a high of 68 degrees and partly sunny.

The Not So Obvious – The real whether report is how cold-blooded and consistent will Carroll's team be after all the verbal gymnastics. What it really gets down to is whether the Notre Dame defense, namely the Irish secondary, can slow Matt Leinart and company and whether the Trojan defense can limit quarterback Brady Quinn and the explosive Irish from timing consuming drives which end up in points. Although the Trojans have prepped for this challenge with trips to Autzen and Sun Devils Stadiums, another factor is whether the Trojans can keep their poise, as Notre Dame Stadium figures to be rockin' like the Beatles first USA concert. Whether Reggie Bush is really near full speed could provide an insight to the fate of the Trojans' quick-strike ability to quiet the rabid Irish following in the first half.

The Obvious – The base ticket price for Saturday's game is $56.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans' athletically endorsed Stub-Hub ticket exchange saw a low of $300 and a high of $1,800, as of Wednesday.

The Obvious – The Irish, who lead the series 42-29-5, are pulling out all the stops, switching their traditional 6:00 p.m. Friday prep rally from the "ACC" to Notre Dame Stadium, weather permitting.

The Not So Obvious – This switch is a Coach Weis idea. Weis informed, "It was kind of my idea. At the Michigan State pep rally, about five or six thousand people got turned away from the pep rally. If that many people got turned away from that game, I could be oblivious to the magnitude of this game, but I think the fans want to be going to the pep rally - they should have a venue to be able to go to the pep rally. So, in anticipation of more people being antsy before this game, by going outside, weather permitting, we get more people an opportunity to be part of that experience. We thought it would be the best thing for our fans."

The Obvious – One of the main attractions for Saturday's game, of course, is the ultimate coaching battle between the Trojans Pete Carroll and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis.

The Not So Obvious – In a recent poll conducted by SI On Campus.com, the Trojans Pete Carroll was voted as college football's best coach (47 percent) and Notre Dame's Weis was second (25 percent).

The Obvious – The Irish offense, under offensive coordinator and head coach Charlie Weis, averages 504.2 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – Earlier in the week, Pete Carroll gave a unique overview of the Charlie Weis attack. Carroll said, " They are a very patient football team. They like to pick away and move the sticks." Carroll had his own views on the alleged slow-footed Irish. Carroll added, " They have plenty of speed."

The Obvious – The Trojans defense, under defensive coordinator and head coach Pete Carroll, allows 337 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious - The Trojan defense will be facing the ultimate challenge in Charlie Weis, who may be college football's new Norm Chow. Conversely, the Irish offense will be facing Pete Carroll, the best defensive coordinator in the college ranks.

The Obvious – Notre Dame is coming off a bye week and Irish coach Weis used it to do more homework on the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious – Weis told the South Bend Tribune, "There are pros and cons. As far as game-planning, I like it because by this time I have already watched a bunch of Southern Cal tape. Before we get through the middle of the week, I will have watched everything I have needed to watch. Now the question is whether or not you can come up with enough good stuff to stop them."

The Obvious – It's just like old times when these storied gridiron giants collide with national championship implications.

The Not So Obvious – In a new Street & Smith publication entitled " 50 Greatest College Football Programs of All Time, the Trojans were ranked No. 2 behind the top-dog Irish.

The Obvious – On the option of a winning coin toss before the game, Pete Carroll generally elects to defer to the second half so his Trojan defensive will take the field first.

The Not So Obvious – On the option of a winning coin toss before the game, Charlie Weis generally elects to receive the opening kickoff so his Irish offense can be on the field first. So go tell your friends and make a small wager that you know who will receive the opening kickoff.

The Obvious – Almost assuredly the Irish will go on offense first and put Trojan freshman kicker Troy Van Blarcom under the Notre Dame Stadium spotlight.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans kickoff coverage right from the get-go could very well set the tempo of the game. If Van Blarcom is forced into trying to make tackles, it could be a bad sign for the Trojans. Is it possible that Van Blarcom may be the Trojans leading tackler on kickoffs by the end of the season?

The Obvious – The Trojans offense averages 51.6 points per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish defense allows 24.0 points per game. Giving up points has not been lethal for the Irish except against Michigan St., which beat the Irish 44-41 in overtime at Notre Dame Stadium. If the Trojans get in the groove, and the past three years they have managed to do so, young offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will score some big brownie points. If the Trojans offense rolls up yards and fails to get into the end zone, fair or unfair, the Norm Chow comparisons could be on the way.

The Obvious – The Trojans high-powered offense is averaging a nation's best 640.4 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Notre Dame defense is allowing 422.2 yards per game.

The Obvious – The Trojans have been drilled into believing the game is won in the second half, and it has shown to be true with Thunder White and Lightening Bush wearing worn opponents down.

The Not So Obvious – Physical Irish junior safety Tom Zbikowski (5-11, 202), who was once a nationally ranked boxer in high school, believes the Irish are ready for the Trojan express. Zbikowski says, " Everyone knows about Bush. He can line up at receiver, line up at running back and hurt you in various different positions. He's a great running back. He's powerful. He's also got that speed and that burst where he can make a long run. Looking at it, a lot of their yards are coming in the third, fourth quarter, wearing down teams, beating up teams. That's kind of what we're preparing for. Our defense is going in with the mindset that all we need is a field goal to win. We're not going in there to just hold them a couple times. We're going in there trying to dominate the game."

The Obvious – The success of the Trojans offense will rest in the body and brain of quarterback Matt Leinart, who comes into Saturday's game completing 65.1% of his passes, 12 touchdown passes and averaging 329.2 yards through the air.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish will be led on offense by junior Brady Quinn (6-4, 232), who has improved greatly under the system of Charlie Weis. Quinn is completing 65.3% of his passes, having thrown 13 touchdowns and averaging 324.1 yards through the air. If the Trojans don't get to this guy, the Irish could put up points…lots of points.

The Obvious – During Saturday's game, only Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart will have a wristband with the plays attached.

The Not So Obvious – During Saturday's game, all Irish skill players wear a wristband with the plays attached.

The Obvious – The Trojans passing offense averages 349.2 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – Let's not forget that Washington Husky quarterback, Isaiah Stanback, burned the Irish secondary for 408 yards, a major warning sign with the Matt Leinart Air Force coming to Notre Dame Stadium.

The Obvious – The Irish pass defense allows 305.6 yards per game, ranking 114th out of the 117 Division I-A teams.

The Not So Obvious – Saying the Irish secondary is bad is like saying Dr. Phil is overbearing. If ever there was a glaring Irish defensive weakness that needs SoCal sunglasses to avoid retina damage, it's the Irish secondary consisting of corners Ambrose Wooden (5-11, 195, Jr.) and Mike Richardson (5-11, 193, Sr.) and safeties Chinedum Ndukwe (6-2, 219, Jr.) and Tom Zbikowski (6-0, 208, Jr.).

The Obvious – The Irish will be severely tested by the Trojans' array of outstanding receivers like Dwayne Jarrett (13.3 YPC) and Steve Smith (21.3 YPC).

The Not So Obvious – In their big win at Michigan, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter, the former head coach at Cincinnati, chose to double-cover the Wolverine split receivers. If Minter elects the same strategy, look for Trojan tight end Dominique Byrd to be a significant impact on Saturday.

The Obvious – Saturday's game will also spotlight two of the premier tight ends in college football, the Trojans Dominique Byrd (6-3, 260) and Notre Dame's Anthony Fasano (6-4, 257).

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans are still looking to get the ball to Byrd while the Irish have found Fasano a number of times this season. Fasano, who had three catches for 33 yards and a spectacular touchdown grab the last time the Men of Troy came to South Bend, says of the rivalry with the Trojans, "I think it's one of the best rivalries out there. Everybody talks about Michigan and Ohio State. I think this is one of the best rivalries. When both teams are in the top 10, you can't ask for anything more."

The Obvious – One of the intriguing questions for USC freshmen is who is the Trojans greatest rival, Notre Dame or UCLA?

The Not So Obvious – In a poll of Notre Dame freshmen football players in the Irish Sports Report's Notre Dame 2005 Football Annual, the question was posed: Who is Notre Dame's bigger rival, Michigan or USC? Seven Irish freshmen said Michigan, six said USC, and two said they were equal. Perhaps linebacker Kevin Washington of Austin (Sugar Land), Texas, put it best. Washington said, " USC, because I remember last year's game (41-10) and I didn't like watching it."

The Obvious – The Irish offense is rushing for 174.4 yards per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojan rushing defense allows just 90.8 yards per game. Trojan coach Pete Carroll will need to shut off the running of Darius Walker, but stopping the run is always Carroll's goal The return of starting defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey should help improve not only the run defense but the pass rush, too.

The Obvious – The Trojans will challenge the Irish defense with the best tailback combination in the country in Reggie Bush (8.5 ave.) and LenDale White (7.6 ave), backed by arguably the finest offensive line in the country.

The Not So Obvious – Irish coach Charlie Weis does not believe in tailback by committee and believes sophomore tailback Darius Walker (5-11, 205), who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, 105 yards per game, and has a unique ability to follow his massive blockers and show patience in hitting the hole.

The Obvious – The Trojans offense is rushing for an average of 291.2 yards per game, best in the nation.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish rushing defense is allowing 116.6 yards per game. Depending on how Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter, in his second tour of Notre Dame duty, wants to play it, trying to stuff the Trojan running game could be a big mistake, if the idea is for the Trojans' offense is run clock and shorten the game. If Minter does attempt to do this, the porous Irish secondary will have its hands on the Trojan waffle iron with Leinart play-action.

The Obvious – The "hammer" for the Irish is senior weakside linebacker, captain Brandon Hoyte (5-11, 235) from Parlin, New Jersey, who had five tackles against the Trojans last season.

The Not So Obvious - A fifth- year senior, Hoyte, a native of Trinidad, is a former high school quarterback who led his Sayreville War Memorial High team to the New Jersey 2000 state title game. Hoyte will be in charge of trying to stop White and Bush. Hoyte says, "It is thunder and lightning. They both possess different strengths and I think the combination of their strength and speed is what makes USC such a tough team. You can't just say that LenDale White is a power back, because he is one of the best in the country. You can't just say that Reggie Bush is all about speed. They can do different things. The way I look at it is, it is always 11 on one. How fast can our team get to that ball carrier?"

The Obvious – Pete Carroll has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic over the job that new offensive line coach Pau Ruel has done, molding the Trojans front into the irresistible force.

The Not So Obvious – The Notre Dame offensive line has stepped up with the addition of line coach John Latina. Latina is a disciple of the legendary Joe Moore, the late Irish offensive line coach who used to annually take apart Trojan defensive lines during the Lou Holtz era. Latina, who worked under Latina, has brought forth the intense single-mindedness of Moore, much the way former Trojan OL coach Tim Davis brought the cardinal and gold.

The Obvious – The Trojans offensive line consisting of tackles Winston Justice and Sam Baker, guards Fred Matua and Deuce Lutui, and center Ryan Kalil have been recognized by Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis as the motor that drives the Trojan attack.

The Not So Obvious – The Notre Dame offensive line is stock full of former prep All-Americans, including some that received recruiting attention from the Trojans. The Irish have a capable offensive line of tackles Ryan Harris (6-5, 292) and Mark LeVoir (6-7, 315), guards Dan Santucci (6-4, 297) and Dan Stevenson (6-6, 302) and John Sullivan (6-4, 294). Harris and Levoir received recruiting attention from Troy with Harris even taking an official Trojan visit.

The Obvious – The Trojan defense will be on the lookout for screens and draws to tailback Darius Walker to try and confuse the Trojans rush and blitz packages.

The Not So Obvious - Of the Trojan defense, Walker says, "I think what impresses me about them is their speed on defense. Not only their safeties and their corners, but their linebackers, defensive linemen and ends move very well, they can run very well. That always poses a problem for running backs and offenses in general when you have a defense that can run and flow to the ball very quickly."

The Obvious – Under Charlie Weis, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has elevated his game and is a major threat to the Trojans' defense.

The Not So Obvious – Quinn recognizes the challenge of the Trojan defense led by defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson. Quinn says, "They put a lot of guys in the box. They like to free up a lot of guys on the outside. Obviously, they have a lot of talent all over the field. They have speed and get to the ball quickly. They like to man up on the outside receivers and shut down the run. Their front four do an extremely good job of rushing the passer and finding ways to create hurries, knockdowns and sacks. A lot of times, it gets to the point where they don't need bring pressure, they can create pressure just by their front four."

The Obvious – The Trojans' secondary questions have been well documented, although Pete Carroll has continued to put a positive spin on his defensive backs.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojan senior corners, consisting of 5-9 Justin Wyatt and 6-1 John Walker, will face two 6-5 talented Irish receivers in Indiana native Jeff Samardzija (17.8 yds per catch) and Philadelphia native Maurice Stovall (16.9 yards per catch). Samardzjia (pronounced suh-MARR-zhuh) has been especially effective against smaller defensive backs, especially down near the end zone.

The Obvious – Two Trojans secondary members that figure to be really tested by Weis will be strong safety Darnell Bing and free safety Scott Ware.

The Not So Obvious – Of the complete Trojan secondary, wide receiver Maurice Stovall says, "A lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of other teams say that USC has a very weak secondary. But from watching film, I feel as though they're very solid. They gave up some big plays like any other team, but I still feel as though they're a solid secondary. They have big corners, very physical safeties. They have a solid defense overall."

The Obvious – Pete Carroll is aware that Charlie Weis has viewed the past three years of Trojan football and says, "You don't know what they're going to do. They will run things we haven't practiced."

The Not So Obvious – Irish receiver Stovall added, "I think that all has to do with Coach Weis' scheme, how he will approach USC's defense. Obviously, I can't tell you how we'll do that. But, I think any team we play, we change our scheme a lot. Some games we might run the ball a lot. You have games where we pass a lot. We'll also have games where our run and pass is balanced."

The Obvious – Saturday's game could come down to an accumulation of field goals and extra points.

The Not So Obvious – If this becomes the case, the Trojans, who won at Notre Dame in 1997 on a last second 37-yard field goal by Adam Abrams, may be challenged by the experience factor. The Trojans have sophomore Mario Danelo (2-of-3 field goals in 2005), who will be getting his first taste of the Irish and Notre Dame Stadium, while the Irish have experienced senior D.J. Fitzpatrick (6-of-7 field goals in 2005), who had a 28-yard field goal last year in the Coliseum. Neither kicker has missed an extra point this season.

The Obvious – The last time the Trojans came to South Bend, Pete Carroll's boys crushed the Irish under Ty Willingham, 45-14.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans are 10-23-1 in Notre Dame Stadium. Having been to Notre Dame Stadium, it has been more ambiance than the crowd participation, although that should be an anomaly on Saturday. One of the unique traditions at Notre Dame Stadium since1960 is a fourth quarter public address message from Sergeant Tim McCarthy of the Indiana State Police, who uses "atrocious puns" to remind the crowd of auto safety. Some of his best lines: "Drive like a musician: C Sharp or B Flat," and "Those who have one for the road may have a policeman as a chaser."

The Obvious – For Trojan coach Pete Carroll, USC practices are a welcome open house where fans routinely come and inspect their heroes, some on a daily basis.

The Not So Obvious – For Irish fans and especially media, getting into a Charlie Weis practice is as tough as tackle as Reggie Bush one-on-one. Even Weis' August scrimmages were off-limits for media inspection. What a difference between the two coaching philosophies. Pete Carroll with two national titles and a 27-game winning streak under his open door policy, while Charlie Weis is working old school to get old school results and a No. 9 ranking.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll is very pleased with middle captain linebacker Oscar Lua who continues to lead the Trojans in tackles with 32 and will also return to the kickoff team on Saturday.

The Not So Obvious – Boy, the Trojans are taking this one serious with the immediate return of Lua to a leadership role on kickoffs. In fact, starting linebacker Thomas Williams could see action on the kickoff team as well.

The Obvious – Freshman linebacker Brian Cushing has been cleared to play Saturday.

The Not So Obvious – Calling it an unexpected power of healing, this is the game that the New Jersey native has always wanted to play in, especially since he decided on the Trojans over the Irish in the recruiting process. Of course it didn't hurt that his parents had planned to go to the game and you know you don't want to disappoint dad and mom.

The Obvious – The Trojans are averaging 70.2 yards in penalties per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish are averaging 51.4 yards per game in penalties per game.

The Obvious – Thus far this season, the Trojan fullbacks have played a big role in the offense, especially David Kirtman who is a major receiving threat.

The Not So Obvious – Even Charlie Weis acknowledged Kirtman earlier in the week. Perhaps the surprise of the Notre Dame freshmen has been fullback Asaph Schapp (6-0, 250) from Hartford, Connecticut (Weaver). Schwapp stunned the veteran Irish players in the summer by bench pressing 455 pounds. Perhaps more impressive, has been Schwapp's physical nature in attacking middle linebackers for Irish tailbacks Darius Walker and tailback-fullback Rashon Powers-Neal. The former Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year, Schwapp originally committed to Maryland.

The Obvious – The College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend.

The Not So Obvious – Although Pete Carroll won't take his team for a visit to the hall, there will be a Trojan flavor as former USC All-America players Anthony Davis and Marlin McKeever will sign autographs on Friday until 3 p.m.

The Obvious – Many Trojan fans are staying at the Chicago Sheraton, just a stone's throw from the Navy Pier, a tourist trap that extends into Lake Michigan.

The Not So Obvious – The Sheraton is the latest of the Chicago hotels that have hosted the ND Weekender. Two years ago, the Trojans fans headquarters was at the Chicago Hyatt and not too many years before that at the Marriott.

The Obvious – No matter what has happened in the past, Lou Holtz will always be recognized as the former successful head coach at Notre Dame, and USC will be always be referred to in this part of the country as Southern Cal. Promo for a Thursday local event said "Join former Notre Dame Head Coach Lou Holtz for an intimate gathering at outback Steakhouse in Mishawaka before the Fighting Irish square off against Southern Cal." Most Trojan fans agree, as long as Pete Carroll's lads are victorious on Saturday, they can say Southern Cal all they want.

The Obvious – Saturday's big game at Notre Dame Stadium is also the big Irish recruiting weekend and many of the prep stars in attendance are being recruited by both the Trojans and the Irish.

The Not So Obvious – It was only two years ago that the Trojans saw another big recruiting weekend at Notre Dame, which included current Trojan offensive guard Jeff Byers, who is currently being redshirted. It is best remembered here that Byers accompanied the Irish from their traditional on-campus church service to the game. On Saturday, it is expected that local Trojan recruits Terrence Austin, Long Beach Poly wide receiver, and Allen Bradford, Colton linebacker, will be part of the Irish pregame process, as well as Colorado lineman Butch Lewis to name a few. Could another Byers' recruiting repeat story be in the works?

The Obvious – Saturday's game will be televised on NBC at 12:30 p.m. PDT.

The Not So Obvious – Former Trojan All-America quarterback Pat Haden will handle the color along with play-by-play man Tom Hammonds and sideline reporter Louis Johnson. Traditionally, the game has been played at 11:30 a.m. LA time, but NBC decided to buck heads with ABC's usual 12:30 p.m. window.

The Obvious – There will be two television offerings colliding with the Trojans/Irish telecast on NBC.

The Not So Obvious – Like you're really going to watch ABC's 12:30 p.m. game featuring "When does basketball start" Oregon State at No. 18 "Was the loss to Westwood a dream?" Cal? Okay, if you need a Pullman look-in while there is a break in the fourth quarter at South Bend, there is No. 12 "We can be undefeated on Dec. 3" UCLA at "We think we smell an upset" Washington State (3:30 p.m. PDT, FSN).

The Obvious – Trojan public address announcer Dennis Packer has also done voice background for Hollywood sports movies.

The Not So Obvious – Notre Dame public address announcer Mike Collins, a 1967 ND grad and in his 24th season as the voice of Notre Dame Stadium, is also a news anchorman for WSBT television in South Bend.

. The Obvious – And finally, "Be careful what you wish for" is one of the best of the old sayings.

The Not So Obvious – Pete Carroll and his Trojans will attempt on Saturday to make ND coach Charlie Weis the old proverb's poster boy. With a national television audience and the rivalry again playing a huge part in the national championship topography, this latest edition of college football's most storied intersectional rivalry may also be this season's best philosophy lesson.


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