October 21, 2011

Notre Dame vs. USC - Let There Be Lights

The glamour intersectional rivalry in the country descends on South Bend this weekend.  The date has been circled on everyone's calendars: coaches, players and fans alike.  Word around town is the team will be sporting the green jerseys and flashy new helmets.  Who will be celebrating in the 11th hour of Saturday?  It's tempting to want to fast forward to that moment, but plenty of excitement to soak up before we get there.  Go Irish!  Beat Trojans!

Dan: Notre Dame
I have been eagerly awaiting this day since they announced it would be a night game months and months ago. On defense, ND should have some luck stopping the run, even if Tyler somehow recovers from a dislocated shoulder in a miraculous 9 days. The front 7 has been dominant all year against pro style running games, and this week should be no different. The question will be whether or not the secondary and linebackers can do two things: stop Woods, particularly on play actions and cover TE / slot receivers over the middle. 

On offense, it comes down to ball control and pounding the football. If Woods and Gray and find the hole and average at least 4.5 YPC, we should be able to control the clock and open up some opportunities for Floyd and Eifert. 
Special teams – well, let’s just hope we don’t have to punt, return punts, or kick a field goal. 
I think enough of these come together with few enough mistakes for the Irish to continue their streak and set them on a collision course with Stanford next month.  
Notre Dame 31 USC 27
Jeremy: Notre Dame
The stage is set for ND's game of the year.  Although Stanford sure looks like the toughest team on the schedule, the atmosphere and the recruits in town have ND firmly in the spotlight, even if neither of the teams are ranked, again.  
USC hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire this year, but there are still plenty of weapons hanging around the Trojan program.  Barkley to Woods is a dynamite combination, and USC's OL is very, very good.  SC should have trouble running the ball consistently against the stout Irish front 7, but even if the Irish can get some good pass rush, Barkley is going to get his yards, and the Trojans will score some points.  
The Trojans also have some star power on the defensive side of the ball, but they haven't looked terribly impressive thus far, particularly against the only competent offense they've faced (Arizona St.).  SC can generate some pressure from the front 7, but the Trojans give up big chunks through the air, and the ND OL should be able to get a good push, particularly when coming up against the smallish Trojans LB corps.  
Its amazing how quickly things can change in the world of college football - two years ago, I remember saying that the Irish would give SC all they could handle, but I couldn't pick against the talent of the Trojans.  Now, I'm thinking the complete opposite.  The Irish just have too many weapons, on both sides of the ball, to lose this game.  Unless they beat themselves.  Which Irish fans have seen happen a few times already.
Keys to the game, from an Irish perspective:
- TAKE CARE OF THE BALL.  Not a surprising one, given the troubles in the early part of the season.  If ND wins the turnover battle, I don't think SC stands much of a chance.
- DEATH BY A THOUSAND CUTS.  Opposing offenses haven't had a whole lot of consistent success against the Irish defense.  Apart from the 4th quarter of the Michigan game, the D also has been very good about limiting big plays.  If I had to guess, I'd say that Diaco has decided that Irish opponents are going to have to march 80 yards to score every time they touch the ball.  No long TDs, but also not a whole lot of risk-taking.  This leads to some big open spaces short and in the middle of the field.  Both Pitt and MSU were able to, at times, take advantage of these openings by running guys out of the backfield, crossing WRs, or dragging TEs.  You can bet that Kiffin and his staff have noticed this on tape.  The Irish LBs and safeties will have to be better about limiting these types of plays.  I can just imagine Barkley converting a bunch of 3rd and intermediate, or even 3rd and longs by finding TEs, or one of the backs creeping out of the backfield.
- PUT BARKLEY ON HIS BACK.  One of the reasons why the "Death By A Thousand Cuts" offense could very well fail is that the Trojans are a bit mistake-prone.  Occasional turnovers and back-breaking penalties have ruined quite a few SC drives this year.  Barkley looks great when he has time to survey the field, but can get a little shaky when he has to move his feet and gets knocked on his rear end.  Lynch, Fleming and others will have to find a way to get consistent pressure against the solid SC OL.  Diaco may have to dial up a few blitzes early to try to make Barkley uncomfortable in the pocket.  
In the end, I believe that the Irish offense is functioning as well as it has all year.  Both Wood and Gray are running wild, and Rees is looking more comfortable with every passing week.  The WRs are healthy and performing at a high level.  And the Hendrix wrinkle is a great one, especially if Kelly can use the package to make sure that the Irish maintain a consistent running threat in the red zone.  The defense was gashed at times against AFA, but the D was built to defend this offense.  The Trojans won't run, and Lynch and others should be able to get Barkley's feet moving early on in the game.  
The game remains close until midway through the 3rd quarter, when the Irish start to impose their will on the ground.  But there isn't a defense on the schedule (with the possible exception of Stanford) that can keep the Irish under 30 points.  The Trojans won't be able to keep up.  A late SC TD makes this game closer than it should be, but the Irish grab a big win to continue their march toward a possible BCS berth.
ND 34  USC 24
Jimmy: Notre Dame
The Irish will charge through the tunnel with a steely-focus thanks to two weeks of preparation.  With Fall Break this week, the players had few distractions from the task at end - Beat 'SC.  New pages of the playbook should be on display now that the threat of a change-of-pace QB is real.  The running game hasn't looked this strong and confident in years.  And Mike Floyd still runs patterns that few can guard.  Manti Te'o wants nothing more than to stuff the Trojans every chance he gets.  Granted, the secondary will have their hands full keeping Robert Woods and Marquise Lee in front of them.  A full-strength D-line can help their mates with a monster effort in disrupting Matt Barkley's timing and clean looks.  There's no reason ND shouldn't beat USC comfortably by a couple touchdowns, but, aside from Willingham's Scarlet L contribution to this series, most of the games for the Jeweled Shillelagh are hotly contested.  

Last year, beating the Trojans went a long way towards flipping the progress arrow around and pointing the right direction.  So what if it came courtesy of an absolute gift dropped pass in the end zone - those are the breaks, especially in this rivalry that's seen all sorts of controversy and close calls over its 80+ years of competition.  With ND's strength of schedule tanking (kudos Pitt and USF for fading into Bolivian), BK needs to hang his hat on more than MSU, and style points count for something in the college game.  Beating up on Purdue & Air Force were nice strokes to the ego that the team can once again T.C. of their B with yawners.  Leaving no doubt in the 1st quarter who will be winning a game is part of raising expectations across the board.  The better team shouldn't go to the wire for their wins every week.  Mop up duty is a luxury reserved for the best teams.  An equally, if not more important part of raised expectations is taking care of your rivals, especially when they're on a down swing.  Cue the Kiffykins theme song.

A short list of the coaches we as a sporting populace love to hate includes, in no particular order, Jimmy Johnson (too brash, but you had to respect his success and ability), Nick Saban (too power-mongering, but respect), Urban Meyer (too close to coming to ND, but respect), Coach K (too nasally-voiced and successful with white kids, but respect), Pat Riley (too greasy and guilty of changing the NBA into an ugly, uber-physical mess, but respect), John Calipari (also greasy, flaunts the NCAA at every turn, but his teams play exciting basketball, so respect), Bo Schembechler (too blowhard and too chicken to schedule ND, but won a lot of games, minus a title, so respect with an asterisk), Jim Boeheim (too whiny, but respect), Phil Jackson (pure ring envy, mucho respect), Rick Pitino (too Godfather-ish, but respect), Jim Calhoun (too East Coast and questionable improprieties with his program, but respect), Bobby Huggins (too jumpsuity, too many years of 0% graduation rate and one too many drinks to drive, yet all reasons that endear him as an everyman) and Bobby Petrino (too untrustworthy, respect pending).  

And then there's Lane Kiffin.  Success has yet to follow Lane as he's earned zero respect on his own thus far in his coaching career.  The guy who's on his 3rd professional stop in 4 years exudes an air of entitlement mixed with a spoiled brat douchebagery and a misplaced sense of what tradition means (his disregard for Coach Neyland's longstanding traditions among many faux-pauxs in his solitary year at Tennessee).  A win Saturday brings an extra sense of satisfaction that another loss goes on Lane's resume. 

See you in the lots...all day.  It's going to be a magical night of Notre Dame football.  Pack an extra voice because everyone should lose theirs after the 1st quarter.  Let's get it done.

ND 36  USC 30
Mike: Notre Dame
Leaving aside the game for a moment, it is worth noting that the return of night football to Notre Dame Stadium has galvanized the alumni base.  I will be in attendance and it seems that virtually all of my friends will be descending upon South Bend from all over the country.  Campus will likely be a madhouse this week and the tailgate scene on Saturday should be incredible, especially if the parking lots will indeed be open at the usual time.  I’m already at a fever pitch for this weekend and it’s only Tuesday.
With respect to the matchup, I’ve been able to watch USC a few times this year and they bear a close resemblance to last year’s team.  On offense, the Trojans have several talented wideouts, a stable of decent running backs and a mediocre offensive line.  At quarterback, Matt Barkley can look impressive when he has time to throw, but he remains inconsistent and especially erratic when pressured.   With its advantage up front, Notre Dame should be able to slow the USC running game and apply some heat to Barkley.  With any luck, the Irish will be able to force the Trojans into several turnovers in the process.
As with its offense, the USC defense has several standout players, but the unit lacks depth and discipline.  Although Notre Dame will have its hands full with defensive end Nick Perry in passing downs, the Irish should be able to run the ball effectively against the Trojans’ front seven.  Against Cal, USC’s linebackers and safeties seemed particularly inclined to eschew proper tackling fundamentals in favor of the attempted kill shot, which could result in big plays for Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray.  In addition, the USC cornerbacks are banged up, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Michael Floyd to shine.
With a raucous home crowd (yes, even at Notre Dame Stadium) and green jerseys (yes, I realize that they haven’t exactly been very magical recently), the Irish will come out smoking.  USC will keep the game close after weathering the initial torrent of emotion, but Notre Dame will wear down the visitors in the trenches to earn a second consecutive victory over their rivals from the Golden State.
Notre Dame 28 USC 21
Phil: Notre Dame
Well, to echo a recent email from a friend, the Irish look amazing. They are clicking on all cylinders and I really don't see any weaknesses, other than getting in our own way with turnovers and boneheaded mistakes. I like what BK is doing with the lads, and he seems to be recruiting well  too. This is one of the hottest tickets around and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of what will be a glorious weekend and a big Irish W. 
ND 34 USC 21

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

Is it me or does the Jeweled Shillelgah need a revamped design? It looks like an wooden vibrator from the 19th Century