With USC’s big match up against the Fighting Irish on Saturday looming, we caught up with Andrew Hall, lead editor of Notre Dame’s Fansided site Slap The Sign for a Q&A on the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football.
Q) Notre Dame has had a disappointing season thus far with neither defense nor offense standing out. How much have the losses of Manti Te’o and Everett Golson contributed to that or are other factors to blame?
A) There are a lot of factors that go into why the 2013 version of the Notre Dame Football team is not as good as the 2012 version. But, the loss of Te’o and Golson have been critical for the team so far. On Offense, the team has been predictable so far. This is most likely because of the limitations of Tommy Rees. Teams do not fear Rees hitting the homerun pass or getting out of the pocket. Therefore, teams have mainly stacked the box against Notre Dame. This has slowed the progression of the Offense but it has had its bright spots. On Defense, the middle linebackers have been the worst part of the unit thus far. Regardless of Manti’s off-season, he made a significant amount of plays for the Irish. No other player has been able to diagnose plays like he did.
Q) The Irish have done a great job protecting the quarterback this season. They rank among the top five in sacks allowed nationally. USC, on the other hand, fields one of the top pass rushes in the country. Can Notre Dame keep Tommy Rees upright?
A) Based Tommy Rees complete lack of mobility, the fact that the Irish O-Line has been able to keep Rees clean is nothing short of spectacular. However, in my opinion, Notre Dame has not played a dominant pass rushing team this season. The Irish have played some great individual players such as Arizona State Defensive Linemen Will Sutton but not a complete unit. So far, the Irish have been adept at picking up the blitz as well. The Offensive Line certainly feels like an athletic pass blocking group (only if they could figure out how to be as dominant in their run blocking). Tommy Rees is also not holding on to the ball very long. As long as Notre Dame is not in obvious pass downs, they will keep him upright. If not, the Trojans will probably get to him a few times.
Q) What is Notre Dame’s biggest area of concern when it comes to facing USC?
A) In 2011, Notre Dame fell flat on its face. The biggest concern is that they will have a repeat of that performance. Brian Kelly and his staff have been trying to manage the gameday experience for the players. As many fans know, Notre Dame has a lot of tradition but occasionally it takes away from the players ability to focus on the task at hand. As for an area of on-the-field concern, the Irish should be worried about the combination of Lee and Agholor. Lee may not be 100% but his 80% is better than most people’s 100%. Notre Dame has not been great in the secondary this year. The Irish have attempted to play more 1-on-1 coverage. If they do not respect the deep ball against USC, they will get burned badly.
Q) Statistically Notre Dame’s strength on defense is against the rush, while USC’s strength on offense is the ground game. Can the Irish hold the Trojan stable which averages 200 yards per game?
A) The wealth of productive talent that the Trojans have at the Running Back position is impressive. Notre Dame has a wealth of unproductive talent at Running Back. Notre Dame’s Defensive Line has gotten better as the year has progressed. Everyone knows the combination of NG Louis Nix and DE Stephon Tuitt. But, the Irish will get maybe the most important cog in the line back this week in DE Sheldon Day. Against a traditional running attack, Notre Dame should be pretty good. USC will get their plays but Notre Dame should be able to hold them under 200 yards.
Q) Who wins and why?
A) This seems like a game that Notre Dame should win. 2011 seemed like a game that Notre Dame should have won. The Irish need to win this game more than the Trojans do. The most interesting part of this game will be to see how the Trojans respond to adversity. Last week, they played well in the first half and every thing was coming up aces. But, what happens when they get “punched” in the mouth again? Notre Dame is definitely going to try to get tough with USC early. If Notre Dame plays physical and wins the turnover margin, they will win. I would pick Notre Dame but with a very low confidence. USC has so much potential to make huge plays. Therefore, the game could really go either way.
Be sure to follow @SlapTheSign on twitter and check out their USC-centric Q&A with Reign Of Troy editor, Alicia de Artola.