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NDNation.com Staff: Scott Engler - Michael Cash - John Vannie - Mike Coffey - Kayo - Bacchus

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stewing Irish Await USC

posted by John Vannie
The USC Trojans invade Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday in pursuit of their eighth consecutive victory over the Irish. Both teams are 4-1 with last minute road losses against opponents they should have beaten, and both are coming off a bye week in their schedules. Several key players on each side are returning from injury for this contest, but the notable exceptions are Trojan tailback Stafon Johnson and Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd. The Notre Dame campus will be at a fever pitch as the game appears to represent the best chance for an Irish victory in this series since a heartbreaking 34-31 loss in 2005.

Pete Carroll usually has his team in the national championship picture, however this season was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts in Los Angeles. A veteran offense was supposed to carry the Trojans in 2009, but Carroll lost quarterback Mark Sanchez to the New York Jets and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to the Washington Huskies. The situation on defense posed a greater concern since safety Taylor Mays is the only returning starter. Remarkably, USC’s deep talent reservoir churned out another superior group of athletes and Carroll has brought them along nicely. Consequently, the Trojans are ranked fifth and still strike fear in the hearts of most opponents.

Notre Dame will be able to attack with a credible running threat to complement the pinpoint passing of Jimmy Clausen. Armando Allen has run well and Robert Hughes has emerged as the designated sledgehammer that can pound the ball when called upon. Coach Charlie Weis continues to search for a capable receiver to fill Floyd’s shoes, and this may be critical to the outcome as Carroll will undoubtedly tweak his defensive plan to contain Irish playmaker Golden Tate.

This weekend also may be a referendum on the Weis regime at Notre Dame. Failure to beat USC in five years is not a healthy situation for any Irish coach. His team has not dominated opponents that were perceived as relatively weak, and the Trojans will provide the first true barometer of the program in year five. A large contingent of 2010 and 2011 recruits will also be on campus, so the future is now. If this roll of the dice works for Weis, he may finally be able to climb above the doubters and critics that have risen in the past two seasons and have not been assuaged by three consecutive nail-biting wins this year.


The undermanned Irish limped into the Coliseum last November and failed to record a first down until the final moments of the third quarter in an embarrassing loss. This year, Floyd remains absent but there are more weapons available to a much-improved and better-protected Clausen. The running game is vital to Notre Dame’s chances, but the Irish must attack USC straight ahead rather than wide. The interior of the Trojan defensive line is not quite as stout as in recent seasons, although the ends and linebackers are even faster than last year’s highly acclaimed starters. USC has surrendered just two yards per rush in five games, and in the process held Ohio State to only 88 yards in 30 tries.

In the passing game, the Trojans will play tight coverage and make the Irish earn every completion and extra yard. Tate is likely to probe the deep sidelines and occupy the attention of Mays while Rudolph attempts to work over the middle. One key component is the ability of Notre Dame’s offensive tackles to contain four talented Trojan pass rushers off the edge. Everson Griffin, Malik Jackson, Nick Perry and Armond Armstead will apply pressure in the pocket and Carroll may break from his own tendencies by ordering an occasional blitz. The offense will be in trouble if Rudolph is forced to become a pass blocker rather than a viable receiver. A strong effort by Duval Kamara or Robbie Parris would certainly help the Irish cause.

Middle linebacker Chris Gallippo leads the team in tackles and is developing into an excellent player. He is flanked by Michael Morgan, whose speed allows him to be effective in pass coverage as well as a frequent but uninvited guest in the opponent’s backfield. Senior cornerbacks Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas have the luxury of having Mays play behind them, and the Trojans have not allowed a single touchdown pass this season.

Clausen’s accuracy will be critical since there may not be much separation between his receivers and the USC defenders. A successful running game will be a tall order against this defense, but the Irish are not likely to sustain many drives if they find themselves in third and long situations all afternoon.


The Irish defenders showed improvement against Washington and their confidence should benefit from the multiple goal line stands late in that game. Tackling remains a concern but there are no excuses coming off a bye week. USC’s offensive line, led by Jeff Byers and Kris O’Dowd, is the best the Irish have faced this season and one has to wonder if frequent blitzes will succeed or backfire against this veteran group. If Notre Dame’s front four cannot neutralize the surge of the Trojan line, any adjustments the Irish make will create vulnerability.

Speedy Joe McKnight leads the ground attack for USC since Johnson suffered a serious injury in the weight room. Allen Bradford is an effective jumbo back while fullback Stanley Havili’s niche is his ability to catch third down passes out of the backfield. The Trojans average 5.5 yards per rush, which takes considerable pressure from the shoulders of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. USC is noticeably more conservative in its play calling and pass routes with Barkley at the helm, but the reins are loosening each week. The primary receiver by a wide margin is Damien Williams, and Barkley usually dumps the ball off to Havili or McKnight if he is covered.

Like the Irish without Floyd to pair with Tate, the Trojans have yet to find a reliable receiver to complement Williams since Ronald Johnson was injured early in the season. Although Johnson has returned and been cleared to play, he will not be anywhere near maximum effectiveness. David Ausberry and Brice Butler have had intermittent success, but neither is an established threat. Notre Dame must account for Williams in the secondary, while a more telling indicator may be whether its linebackers can match up in coverage against Havili and McKnight. Anthony McCoy is a productive tight end whose 22 yards per catch cannot be ignored.

If USC can run the ball effectively, Barkley will have time to mix in short passes to keep the chains moving. Only by creating third and long situations can the Irish exploit Barkley’s youth and create opportunities for turnovers. Judicious use of the blitz and a mix of coverage looks are the best way for Notre Dame to attack this offense, but the plan will unravel if the front four is unable to cope with USC’s blockers.


Both teams have new kickers this season, and Notre Dame’s Nick Tausch holds a slight advantage in range over USC’s Jordan Congdon. Neither punter is exceptional, averaging less than 40 yards per boot.

Williams has been very effective as USC’s punt return man and has a 66 yard touchdown to his credit. The Trojan coverage teams are solid, and it will be interesting to see if Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick can find a lane against them on kickoff returns.


USC appeared to put the pieces together against California in a 30-3 romp two weeks ago, and the retooled defense is just as stingy as ever. Carroll knows how to get his team prepared to win on the road and there is no chance that the Trojans will turn in one of their rare but troubling poor performances considering the importance of this game and the opponent. This means the Irish must come prepared to take the fight to USC and beat them over a full sixty minutes.

Notre Dame has the talent to play much better football than they have shown to date. The offense has had time to adjust to the loss of Floyd, and the defense has to be tired of the criticism that has accompanied spotty play against unheralded teams. A key to the outcome will be their ability to keep USC out of the end zone, even if the Trojan offense is largely successful in the middle of the field.

Let’s consider a few questions that will help determine the outcome:

Will the Irish be able to cover Barkley’s check down receivers (McKnight, Havili) in the passing game?

Can the offensive tackles contain the edge pass rush from the Trojans without help from the tight ends?

Can Notre Dame sustain a decent ground game with 3.5 to 4.0 yards per carry?

Which team will be able to score touchdowns rather than field goals in the red zone?

Will the Irish be able to force Barkley into uncomfortable third and long situations?

Is the Trojan offensive line impervious to the blitz?

Which team’s leading receiver (Williams or Tate) will be able to make plays despite being shadowed?

Will the second and third receivers for either team become difference makers?

Will Clausen be the first quarterback to throw a touchdown pass against USC this season?


Notre Dame will carry considerable emotion into this game and it would be of great benefit if they can get out to an early lead. If the Irish are to win, USC will have to contribute to the cause with untimely penalties and a couple of turnovers. This scenario is possible even though the Trojans would likely win 7-8 out of ten games between these teams.

On the other hand, Carroll’s recent defensive plans against Notre Dame have been superb. He understands the progressions in the Irish passing game and has been successful in forcing the quarterback out of his comfort zone. Clausen’s passing and the play calling of Weis will keep this from being a one-sided affair, but the overall speed of the Trojan defense and the strength of their offensive line are too difficult to ignore.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like this year people are hedging their bets, emotion wise, and this game is a perfect example. We as fans want to be totally committed to the team, but at the same time don't want to get hurt again by unbridled optimism. Where is the line between refusing to believe that the other team is better and knowing you are going to win, and resigning yourself to a loss from a superior opponent? Articles like this seem to be the latter, even though there is the window dressing that we will play tough. However, with such an opponent, doesn't it make sense to fully commit? Admittedly, anything less probably doesn't get the job done (and may not anyway). But how do you acknowledge such things without accepting that you may lose? We want to believe, but don't want the pain of disappointment again. The Michigan game this year would be an example where I full-heartedly expected and bought in to an old school Irish beatdown of the Wolverines, but was wholly crushed by the result (questionable officiating being the salt in the wound).

As painful as all the close games have been, I'm hoping this one comes down to the wire and goes the Irish way.

10/15/2009 08:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ND 42 USC 16

10/15/2009 08:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice analysis. Wrong outcome. ND 31 - SC 28

10/15/2009 10:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad but true

10/16/2009 07:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, I've been a fan of the Irish my entire life, but there is precisely no shot they will beat the Trojans on Saturday. None. Why? First, coaching. Charlie can't hold Pete Carroll's athletic supporter when it comes to schemes. Second, Floyd is out. Clausen is banged up and while Tate is a fantastic receiver, his hands have proven very shaky. Personally, I think Tate's drops cost the Irish the Michigan game. Third, the Trojans are determined to win for Stafon. Fourth, Taylor Mays is the best D-back in the country. Period. ND will play well, and still lose by 3 TDs. The good news? Brian Kelly will be the best thing to happen to ND since Ara.

10/16/2009 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous DREW said...


10/16/2009 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Notre Dame "fan"? I am a realistic person as well and I know that it will be a uphill battle from the start but c'mon. Have a little faith in the Irish. Is it that bad now that we set ourselves (as fans) up for defeat a day before the game? Notre Dame might lose tomorrow then again they might win. All I know is that Nostradamus died 443 years ago and said NOTHING ABOUT THIS GAME. Go Irish Beat SC.

And for those "fans" who don't want to watch or cheer for the Irish, Penn St vs Minnesota is on a 3:30 watch that and stay off this site.

10/16/2009 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I am assuming you wont watch the game then? Because if the Irish have no shot, then what is the point of watching?

10/16/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger Robbie said...

Great article Vannie.

I do think that the reason Carroll has been able to stymie the Irish the last two years.....and I know I'm not telling you a secret...is because of the poor play of the offensive line. Did Jimmy even get to go through his progressions?? He barely got four seconds to throw the ball. Now, with an offensive line that can get a surge the Irish have the chance to make the Trojans honest on defense and move the ball effectively. We haven't had that luxury the last 3 seasons. I believe that they can at least do that to make this a ball game. Taylor Mays may have to worry about Rudolph in the seem from time to time too.....probably a lot. Rudolph, Kamara, and Parris need to be big because Allen,Hughes, and Tate will get a lot of attention.

If we continue to not wrap when we tackle, and if we keep trying that strip technique we will definitely lose. I saw ND players standing and not playing til the whistle blows against Wash. They constantly looked confused pre-snap. One word....irritating, and I don't care how many tackles Harrison Smith has.....he misses some big ones....a lot of them. They do stuff you learn to not to go in 8th grade.

GO IRISH!! Make me scream in the bar like a mad fool.

10/16/2009 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger hath said...


10/16/2009 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger B-Rock said...

In 2005 USC had Reggie Bush and Leinart and almost won the title. We were a push away from a W. I believe the Irish are better than that Quinn led team and I also think USC is worse. Is that stupid way to break down a game? Perhaps, but if that stadium is as magical as it was in 05, I say we pull it out.

I'm not the biggest Weis guy- but Jimmy is the truth.

10/16/2009 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ND is about a lot of things and family is at the forefront. As long as Charlie is a part of the family, we should support him fully. They finally have a decent o-line so anything is possible with the speed/talent he has been able to recruit. Hold onto the ball, hit 'em hard, and they will win! That being said, if ND loses I imagine they will have to start thinking about plan B - you just can't lose to the same rival team every year.

10/16/2009 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"best thing to happen to ND since Ara".

Don't forget about Lou. He won a national title and got screwed out of another.

10/16/2009 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Scranton Dave said...

You guys need to stop with Brian Kelly. If Weis gets fired and you want to talk about Gruden, then I'll listen. As far as the game, I think the Irish, especially on defense, are capable of playing much better than what they have shown so far. I think with all that's at stake this week, the Irish will play their best game of the year, and I think we have a really good chance! Go Irish!!!

10/16/2009 04:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truely believe Charlie will get this done tomarrow. I have faith in our coach. Charlie is a winner!! We can point every finger at every flaw or mistakes but at the end of the day, this man has won on the biggest stage. "4" Superbowls!! You dont earn that without countless hours of hard work. Now this will get flooded with the so whats and where is it now, but only he and Our Mother of Notre Dame knows that. Charlie will deliver. It will be special.

Onward to VICTORY!!

10/16/2009 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have high hopes that the Irish will pull this one out, and I won't hold it against Weis. However, if the team loses and goes into the tank for the rest of the season, I'll be pissed.

10/16/2009 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If ND wins, they really need GA Tech to beat VA Tech, Oklahoma to beat Texas, Ohio State to win the Big10, and Pitt to win the BigEast.

See what I did there?

10/16/2009 09:52:00 PM  
Blogger AJG Jr. said...

beat sc

10/17/2009 08:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a thought for Charlie haters... If you rule out last year and the year before due to youth and inexperience, when have you ever felt as confident in the Irish offense? Under Holtz we all felt very confident in the running game, but the passing game was always a source of concern. With Charlie, it's the reverse.

The defense is getting better and I for one will have a bit of patience with it. But if we lose Charlie, we lose the architect of the BEST OFFENSES that the Irish have EVER had.

Think about that before you beg for Swarbuck to pull the trigger on Charlie.

10/17/2009 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please God, no green jerseys! GO IRISH, BEAT SC! Today is our day, gentlemen!

10/17/2009 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, today is our day lol. Give me a break. It's in the 3rd quarter and I'm sitting, thinking EXACTLY what I've been thinking since 2007. And that is - CHARLIE WEIS DOES NOT HAVE A CLUE!

3rd and 2 and he calls Allen on a dive. Are you serious? Against the #6 defense in the country? Okay, maybe he wanted to catch them napping. So 4th and 1. I'm thinking, "Charlie will dig deep into that New England playbook and pull out a gem." And he did alright . . . Alridge for a 6" gain.


You guys can drink the Weis Kool-Aid. I'm done with him. It's highly obvious the defense has no clue what to do or how to scheme. I think USC scoring on three straight passes proves that. Matt Barkley would win the Heisman if he went against Notre Dame's D every week.

Let's see, what else can I nit pick on. Kickoff returns? Somebody needs to tell Notre Dame the best way to return them isn't to run full speed into a white jersey. They seem to do that every week.

I'm thinking of betting on how many tackles Notre Dame can miss - I figure I can retire within the next couple years.

I love the long-developing pass plays we like to call, with a defense that rushes 3 and drops 8 - YET STILL BEATS 5 OFFENSIVE LINEMAN. Nothing like playing the odds, huh boys?

I'm on the verge on cancelling my Notre Dame fanhood until Charlie is fired.

Brian Kelly for President.

10/17/2009 06:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Just a thought for Charlie haters... If you rule out last year and the year before due to youth and inexperience, when have you ever felt as confident in the Irish offense? Under Holtz we all felt very confident in the running game, but the passing game was always a source of concern. With Charlie, it's the reverse.

The defense is getting better and I for one will have a bit of patience with it. But if we lose Charlie, we lose the architect of the BEST OFFENSES that the Irish have EVER had.

Think about that before you beg for Swarbuck to pull the trigger on Charlie."

I'm not a Charlie-hater. I'm an under-performing, mediocre, "always lose the big game" hater. And that is exactly what Charlie Weis is.

Please, give me ONE example of Notre Dame beating a top-rated defense, or team, in a pressure packed situation? You can't. Because he hasn't. No, I don't count Hawaii as a big game. Nor do I count last year's defeat of Michigan. Or the "almost win" against USC in 2005.

You show me where his offense has produced a victory over a top 10 team, or a BCS bowl game - and I'll say you are right.

Until then, Notre Dame is nothing more than an above-average team without the scheme/coaching to compete at a high-level.

Give the defense all the time you want. Give Charlie all the time you want. But while you are doing that, we will all watch Utah win a BCS game. Cincinnati be a top 10 team. Boise State be a top 10 team. And the University of Washington defeat USC.

10/17/2009 06:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - there was Charlie's offensive genius on display again. With 4 seconds left, throw it to Golden Tate SHORT of the end zone. Then, with 1 second left, call a play where the QB and WR were OBVIOUSLY ON DIFFERENT PAGES.

Mark it down, I've been a Notre Dam fan since 1989 - when I was 8 years old and first saw them. And today, until Charlie is GONE - I'm not rooting for them. I'm not watching them. All my ND gear is in the trash. I'm done. I've had enough disappointment over the last 16 years. Enough is enough.

You guys can have your suit and tie wearing, "we are ND" commercials, and the "spirit of ND" chants. Because, where has it gotten us? NOWHERE. Unless we count last second victories over inferior opponents.

Give me Gruden. Give me Kelly. Give me the guy in the nose bleed seats. Hell, give me ANYONE. But I've sat through 5 years of this trash. This "let's play down to the competition and find a way to lose to our rivals" regime." I've sat through enough games where we are out-classed, out-coached, out-schemed, out-performed and out-played. Give me someone who can call a play with 4 seconds left. Give me someone who can teach a defense to tackle. Give me someone who can make a team produce for more than 2 quarters.

I hate to say it ladies, but USC's streak is going to continue until ND unloads Weis.

So go SC. Go BC. Go Pitt. Go Michigan. Go Michigan State. Go Stanford. Go Navy. Heck, go UConn. Because the more these teams beat ND, the quicker they will hire someone who can prepare these kids to actually win an important game. Instead of "moral victories" that end in defeat.

As for www.ndnation.com, I'm not visiting this site until Weis is gone.

I'm not going to plan my Saturday around the game. I'm not going to waste my money on Notre Dame apparel.

But most importantly, I'm not going to invest my emotion, heart and soul into a regime/program dedicated to constant failure.

I'll see you guys in a few years.

And please, don't reply to this post with "we weren't supposed to win" or "we can still make the Gator Bowl." I'm tired of your excuses. I'm tired of the "holier than thou ND image" people like to portray. The giving spirit of the Notre Dame community never won a football game. It never produced a national title. It never won a Heisman. But what has done those things are coaches/players with the will, INTELLIGENCE, and execution to make it happen. Whether it was Holtz, Devine, Parseghian, or Rockne. Whether it was Rice running the option, Zorich stuffing a run, Light intercepting a pass, Montana leading a 4th quarter comeback, Pennick returning a kick, or Hornung, Bertelli, or any other player WHO ACTUALLY PERFORMED WHEN IT MATTERED.

There, I'm off my soap box. Enjoy another 7-5 or 8-4 year boys.

10/17/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey CW lovers and kool aid drinkers everywhere, check out hoe energetic and amped up SC sideline is from beginning to end and then take a gander across the field at ND players standing around on the benches with their mouths open. CW is never going to be good because he is NOT A GOOD CHEERLEADER!! Period. Wallow in mediocrity or go hire a GD good CFB coach LIKE Brian Kelly!!!! ND has no hustle and btw can someone please tell all of them that a football game is 60 minutes not one 15 minute quarter! Inexcusable Period!

10/19/2009 11:54:00 AM  

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