The USC Trojans take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this Saturday in South Bend at 12:30 p.m. PST, on NBC. The Trojans are coming off of a victory in the Coliseum, which featured Quarterback Mark Sanchez in his first start as a Trojan. The Fighting Irish have struggled this year, posting a 1-6 record thus far.
Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover
This game could be a classic, hard fought Trojan-Irish battle. Although Notre Dame has a pitiful 1-6 record, they did topple UCLA two weeks ago, and looked good against Boston College last week. The Irish are on the rise. The Trojans on the other hand have gone through three difficult weeks, struggling against Washington, losing to Stanford and pulling off a close win against Arizona.
Both teams have a lot of pride to play for. They have excellent coaching staffs. Finally, both rosters are filled with great athletes. Whenever these two teams get together, you can throw won-loss records out the door and expect great games. The following are the keys to a Trojan victory in South Bend.
KEYS TO A TROJAN VICTORY
It looks like Mark Sanchez will lead the Trojans this weekend. Sanchez is an able quarterback with virtually no college experience. He started his first game last Saturday against the Wildcats and pulled off a close victory.
Sanchez needs to play under control and keep mistakes at a minimum. He threw two interceptions in the first half against Arizona and pitched a ball to Joe McKnight, which he fumbled. It is important, then for Sanchez to limit mistakes and to bring his fiery leadership style to lift the Trojans to victory.
John David Booty is available for this game, but it would be better for the Trojans if Sanchez can complete this game, giving Booty another week to recover from a broken finger on his throwing hand.
Tailback Who? The much talked about nine High School All-American tailback group the Trojans boast has been bothered by injury all season. Stafon Johnson has proven himself as the most prolific running back but will probably not be available for full-time duty.
Chauncey Washington has been the workhorse for this group and Joe McKnight is coming off of a great game against the Wildcats. Two running backs need to be at or over the 100-yard mark for this game. Look for McKnight to be a factor in this game.
The best receiver by far for the Trojans this season has been tight end Fred Davis. The wide receivers have been spotty at best. The receivers need to get on track. Two receivers reaching close to the 100-yard mark would help free up Davis. Look for Davis to surpass 100 yards, but one or two wide receivers need to step up in this game.
Plagued by injury but always coming through this season has been the offensive line. Pete Carroll stated that they started the season with 14 linemen and were down to seven linemen this week in practice.
The second-line offensive line unit needs to come up big, protect Sanchez and open holes for Washington and McKnight.
Another position that has been plagued with injury is the linebacker corps. Mostly at the strong side, where Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Thomas Williams have all suffered injuries. This week middle linebacker Rey Maualuga has been nursing a hip pointer.
Williams will start at the middle, Clay Matthews on the strong side and Keith Rivers will be at his usual weak side. Cushing will be available this game.
Rivers, Williams and Matthews will be counted on to be the strength of this group. Cushing, Kaluka Maiava and Luther Brown need to play up in relief of the various linebackers.
Managing the Environment
Notre Dame Stadium is a great venue. USC needs to get off to a quick start to hold the home crowd at bay. It can be a very tough stadium to play in if you fall behind or are hanging by a thread at the end of the game. The Trojans need to make the crowd a non-factor by building up a good lead in the game.
If it rains, hails, sleets or snows, the quarterback and skill positions need to take care of the ball and not fumble or allow interceptions if the weather becomes difficult.