Week 7 Game Matchup: USC Trojans VS. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
USC Trojans (4-1) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-1)
Saturday, October 17, 12:30 PM PST
Las Vegas Favorite: USC -10.0
*AllPac10 Game of the Week*
Sam’s Take (28 – 13):
Will this be the first competitive game between the Irish and Trojans since the “Bush Push” epic in 2005? Charlie Weis certainly hopes so. Notre Dame is in desperate need of a marquee win, and a victory over USC could be the catalyst that propels the Irish all the way to the BCS. But the Trojans have already proven that they can overcome a hostile environment to win a big game (see: final drive at the Horseshoe), and there is no reason to believe that Pete Carroll’s club can’t make it eight in a row in the rivalry.
One of the key matchups on Saturday will be the explosive Notre Dame passing attack against the air tight ‘SC secondary. The winner of this battle may very well win the game. QB Jimmy Clausen will be the best pure passer that the Trojans see all season and he has been magnificent so far in ’09, as the Irish have the #1 pass efficiency offense in the country. USC will counter with a defensive backfield that has YET TO YIELD A PASSING TOUCHDOWN THIS SEASON and ranks #8 nationally in pass efficiency defense. Should be fun.
Pete Carroll’s club is finally getting healthy. The return of WR Ronald Johnson is especially huge for Matt Barkley, as RoJo can stretch the field in ways that Damian Williams cannot. Barkley should have time to throw behind a dominant offensive line, and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see ‘SC take quite a few shots down the field. I also believe there will be room for RB Joe McKnight to work his magic, as the Irish D have missed a ton of tackles in space this season (not to mention McKnight has averaged 12.5 YPC against ND over the last two years).
Ultimately, I expect Clausen and the Irish offense to have more success passing than any team ‘SC has faced this year, but Notre Dame’s inability to consistently run the ball will be costly in the end. By contrast, Barkley, McKnight and the rest of the ‘SC offense have shown great balance in the last few weeks, and I see that as being the difference in the game.
Prediction: USC 34 – Notre Dame 24
USC Player to Keep an Eye On: DE/DT Armond Armstead- Armstead will be making his season debut for the Trojans after recovering from a foot injury. He is a load as an edge rusher or in the middle, and he should make an already daunting d-line even stronger.
Notre Dame Player to Keep an Eye On: LB Manti Te’o - The folks in South Bend cannot stop raving about Te’o, and he may be a key to stopping the rhythm of the Trojans offense.
Dave’s Take (31 – 10):
After dominating Nevada in their home opener, Notre Dame has played in four straight thrillers; a four-point loss to Michigan, two three-point wins over Purdue and Michigan State, and an overtime win over Washington in their last game.
Will Saturday’s game provide this much excitement? This Notre Dame team is much better than the ones the Trojans have manhandled over the last few seasons, but will it make a difference?
I’m just not sure that it will. While I don’t think USC will completely dominate like they have the last two seasons, this defense has picked up right where it left off last season and is an absolute force. Opponents are averaging just 8.6 points per game against the Trojans, and that’s including some good offensive teams in Ohio State, Washington, and California.
USC hasn’t faced a pass attack this strong, but without a running game to compliment it, Pete Carroll and his staff should be able to dial up the right play calls to slow it down. This will easily be the toughest defense Notre Dame has faced to date, and will show us what star QB Jimmy Clausen is really made of.
The only way I see USC having trouble in this game is if Matt Barkley finally shows some signs of being human. I have to remind myself every now and then that the kid is a true freshman. He doesn’t look or act like one on or off the field, but a bad game can’t always be considered an impossibility. That said, with Ronald Johnson’s return, his job just got even easier; and until he looks like a freshman, no reason to assume he’ll start.
In the end, I just think USC’s defense will continue to be its dominant self, and the offense will do enough to make it comfortable.
Prediction: USC 27 – Notre Dame 13