Gameday Preview: USC vs Notre Dame 2012


Original photographs by Rich Barnes, US PRESSWIRE. Photoshopped by Michael Castillo, Reign Of Troy.

USC Trojans vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Los Angeles, Calif.5:00 PM Pacific | ABC

All-time Series: Notre Dame leads 35-43-5Last meeting: USC 31, Notre Dame 17 in 2011

Rivalries are only as good as their stories. They’re only as good as the tales of last second should-have-beens and unexpected triumphs. They’re only as memorable as the moments that make you remember where you were when they took place. They’re only as great as the players that played in them and they’re only as strong as the passion emanating from the field. The USC-Notre Dame Rivalry is full of all those things. From ‘4th and 9’, to ‘The Comeback’, to Tony Rice streaking down the sidelines, the history of the rivalry is unparalleled and will only get better tonight when Notre Dame enters the game as an improbable No. 1. Meanwhile, USC hopes to avoid an unimaginable five-loss season at the hands of the Irish and they’ll do so with a freshman quarterback going up against the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation. Both teams sport Heisman hopefuls with Marqise Lee and Manti Te’o, and all of America will be tuning in to see if Notre Dame can punch the first of two tickets to Miami. Will the luck of the Irish prevail or will the stars align for a rookie quarterback? We’ll find out this evening, and either way, it should turn into a Hollywood script.

Gameday links

When Notre Dame has the ball…

The Fighting Irish these days may not whip out Lou Holtz’s option running attack or air it out as much as they did with Brady Quinn in the Charlie Weis era, but under Brian Kelly, they’ve found ways to be efficient. Through 11 games, Notre Dame is averaging rough 30 points per game, while stressing balance. That said, it’s not often that a team’s best offensive weapon is their tight end. For the Irish, that just might be the case with Tyler Eifert leading Notre Dame in receptions as a tight end and using his 6-foot-6 frame to tower over defenders at times. Quarterback Everett Golson has been steady for the Irish, Notre Dame’s defense has made it easy, allowing him to just stay within himself to win games. Having said that, Golson’s ability to cut down on mistakes, highlighted by the throwing of just five interceptions, has been crucial for Notre Dame, especially considering that the Irish were 112th in interceptions last season. Joining Golson in the backfield is a tandem of two senior and capable running backs, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. The pair has combined for 1,493 rushing yards, making them the most potent backfield the Trojans have faced to date. Wood is the home run threat, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, while Riddick is the downhill runner, though both give the Irish a combo-back feel with versatility in the backfield. For more on Notre Dame’s offense, click here.

On defense, the Trojans boast a defensive line that should give the Irish fits, just as did it against UCLA and Arizona State. That said, the Irish offensive line has a ton of experience and just aren’t allowing defenders to get to Golson much. Last week, UCLA tight end Joe Fauria ate up the Trojans’ Cover-2 scheme, and if defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin opts for a similar approach on third and long, it could be a long day with Golson finding Eifert over middle linebacker Lamar Dawson in zone coverage. In the secondary, Nickell Robey will anchor the pass defense, though he struggled last week against UCLA while battling a lower body injury. Cornerback Josh Shaw had his best game of the season at the Rose Bowl, with three pass breakups, just one shy of Robey’s season total. At safety, T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling will be making their final Coliseum appearance on Senior Day and will be looking to end their careers on a high note.

Notre Dame’s Projected Offensive Starters:

WR T.J. Jones #7WR Robby Toma #9LT Zack Martin #70LG Chris Watt #66C Braxston Cave #52RG Mike Golic Jr. #57RT Christian Lombard #74TE Tyler Eifert #80WR John Goodman #81QB Everett Golson #5RB Theo Riddick #6

USC’s Projected Defensive StartersDE Wes Horton #96 or Greg Townsend Jr. #93DT George Uko #90NT Antwaun Woods #99DE Morgan Breslin #91WLB Hayes Pullard #10MLB Lamar Dawson #55SLB Dion Bailey #18CB Nickell Robey #21SS Jawanza Starling #29FS T.J. McDonald #7CB Josh Shaw #26

When USC has the ball…

The Trojans offense will have a different look to it this evening, as redshirt freshman Max Wittek will make his first start in place of senior Matt Barkley. The Mater Dei product has drawn comparisons to Carson Palmer due to his size and mobility, in addition to an arm that is commonly referred to as being cannon-like. Helping Wittek along tonight will be a slew of receivers that any quarterback would hope for in his first start, with Heisman candidate Marqise Lee, All-American Robert Woods and up and coming freshman Nelson Agholor. In the backfield, Silas Redd remains a game-time decision with a sprained ankle, and if he can’t go, Curtis McNeal will be more than happy to get the call on Senior Day. McNeal has totaled 324 yards in his last two games, and averaged eight yards per touch last week against UCLA.

Standing in the Trojans’ way is a Notre Dame defense that is all-world. The Irish are first in scoring defense, fifth in rush defense, fifth in total defense and to date, they’ve only allowed eight offensive touchdowns with only two of being of the rushing variety. Led by Heisman candidate Manti Te’o at middle linebacker, the Fighting Irish use a 3-4 scheme that allows for a reserved attacking style. They’re not going to heavily rely on blitzes off the edge, as the Irish are able to get a steady pass rush from the defensive line, as seen with sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s team-high 11 sacks. In the secondary, Notre Dame is young with four new starters, but Teo’o’s ability to drop back in coverage and play the ball is what helps him excel as an NFL linebacker prospect. The senior is second in the nation with six interceptions, and USC’s Dion Bailey is the only other linebacker in the country with at least four. If the Trojans want to beat the Irish, they’ll need to score, but it’ll be a tall task with Te’o and company eager to shut down SC in the same way they neutralized Oklahoma last month, holding them to just 15 rushing yards.

USC’s Projected Offensive StartersWR Robert Woods #2TE Xavier Grimble #86 or Randall Telfer #82LT Aundrey Walker #70 and Max Tuerk #75LG Marcus Martin #66 or Abe Markowitz #50C Khaled Holmes #78RG John Martinez #59RT Kevin Graf #77WR Marqise Lee #9QB Max Wittek #13RB Curtis McNeal #22FB Soma Vainuku #31

Notre Dame’s Projected Defensive Starters:DE Kapron Lewis-Moore #89NG Louis Nix III #9DE Stephon Tuitt #7OLB Prince Shembo #55ILB Dan Fox #48ILB Manti Te’o #5OLB Danny Spond #13CB KeiVarae Russell #6S Zeke Motta #17S Matthias Farley #41CB Bennett Jackson #2

Game Notes

  • In 1964, the Irish came to the Coliseum undefeated and ranked No. 1. The Trojans scored on a late touchdown pass from Craig Fertig, dashing Notre Dame’s title hopes in a 20-17 victory.
  • Notre Dame has not won back to back games at the Coliseum since 1990 and 1992.
  • The last time USC lost to both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season was 1995.
  • Calling the game today for ABC is the No. 1 broadcast team of Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit, with Heather Cox chiming in from the sideline.