On paper, the Trojans are one of the most talented teams in the country, if not the most. Their overall talent level exceeds that of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, games aren’t won on paper and there is a reason why the games are still played.
To say that the Trojans have underachieved this year is an understatement. This was a team expected to be in the hunt for a coveted spot in the national championship game. There is a litany of things that could be pointed out to illustrate why the Trojans are now playing the role of spoiler.
On the flip side, the Irish have overachieved to this point and have turned the polls upside down. No one expected them to be in the position that they are in, and they are one win away from securing a spot in the title game. Ironically, the team standing in their path is USC.
After facing the spread offense the last four weeks and getting exposed in three of those weeks, the Trojans’ defense has a more favorable match-up against a pro-style attack. This more conventional style of offense should limit the chances of the Trojans playing in space, which has been problematic for them this season.
The Irish have a very balanced attack, averaging 219 yards through the air and 201 yards on the ground each game. Stopping the run will be important for the Trojans this week if they are to stop the Irish and the numbers aren’t in the Trojans’ favor as they are giving up 222 yards on the ground over the last four games.
When your defense can’t stop the run, it makes it very difficult for your team to win, and so Notre Dame will be looking to unleash Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood on a rush defense that as of late has been rather porous.
The Trojans’ offense will face their stiffest challenge of the year as the Irish will bring the nation’s top scoring defense and the sixth best total defense to the Coliseum. They are a fast, swarming defense led by Heisman candidate Manti Te’o at middle linebacker.
With the struggles the Trojans have had this year on offense, this would be a big challenge with Matt Barkley under center. Due to an injury suffered last week against UCLA, Barkley will not be available to play, which eaves back-up Max Wittek to lead the offense.
It will be important for Lane Kiffin to establish the run with Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd to ease some of the pressure on Wittek. Whereas Barkley was intent on getting the ball to Marqise Lee no matter what, Wittek will need to utilize all of his weapons if the Trojans are to have a chance to challenge this defense and eliminate unnecessary interceptions.
So,do the Trojans have what it takes to beat the Irish? After seeing the product that has been placed on the field this year, I do not think that they do.
Through 11 games we have seen the same inconsistent play calling on offense. The only thing consistent about the play calling is its inconsistency and I see no reason why that will change now. Each play should set up the next or set the stage to attack something later in the game, building blocks to offensive success. There is no connective fiber to the plays that are called offensively. At times it seems the Trojans are chalking up plays in the dirt and hoping they work.
While Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense should be more within its wheel house against the Irish, the Trojans haven’t shown that they are able to stop the run. This will be a straight downhill rushing attack very similar to what the Trojans saw against Stanford, when the Trojans really struggled against that style and gave up 202 yards to the Cardinal.
Throw in the fact that Wittek gave the Irish some billboard material by ‘guaranteeing’ a victory, the chips appear to be stacked against the Trojans. Either way this will be a great test for Wittek and a measuring stick for the Trojans as a whole as they start building for next season.
Tune in to your local ABC affiliate on Saturday at 5 pm PT to watch the Trojans take on the Fighting Irish for the 84th time. You can also follow us on Twitter for in game commentary @ReignOfTroy.