As Notre Dame gears up to host the #6 USC Trojans, the Irish will have an opportunity to finally quiet all the doubters and critics that surround this proud team. If Notre Dame can pull off the upset this Saturday, it would be a momentum boost for Charlie Weis, nudging him off the hot-seat, and a momentum boost for the team. The Irish haven’t beat the Trojans since 2001, Pete Carroll’s first year as head coach. Notre Dame needs all three of the following factors to perform brilliantly, if they expect to hoist the Jeweled Shillelagh Saturday night.
The Heisman hopeful has yet to beat a ranked team during his tenure at Notre Dame, and will have to play like a Heisman contender to give the Irish a shot at winning. Notre Dame cannot have a legitimate shot at winning without a huge game for Jimmy Clausen, who will have to put up huge stats against a top defense. Clausen, who has been red-hot all season long, has only thrown under 300 yards once, and must throw for at least that for Notre Dame to win. He will need to play the field position game, and not turn over the ball to USC.
Notre Dames run defense
This unit of the team will need to have their best game of the season if they want to shut down USC’s stable of running backs. Lead by junior Joe McKnight, USC is loaded at this position, and has put up monstrous numbers this season, including three backs with at least 150 yds gained, and two backs with at least 5 touchdowns. USC is deep, and can turn to four different backs to produce a running game, as well as rely on the talents of full back Stanley Havili. If the front seven of Notre Dame can limit the run, and force freshman Matt Barkley to throw, Notre Dame will expose his vulnerabilities. This game is Barkley’s only his third road start – he has a combined 52.75% completion percentage, no touchdowns and two interceptions. If this front seven can play well enough so that the leading tackler Kyle McCarthy can remain in the secondary and not come up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Notre Dame will put the weight of the game on a freshman quarterback and intimidate him enough to exploit its huge advantage.
Notre Dames Offensive line
Lead by captain Eric Olsen, this unit has been much improved from past seasons. But with the return of USC’s Armond Armstead, and other dynamic playmakers on their defensive front, this unit will need to play big, in order to open up the run game, and give Clausen time to throw the ball. USC’s defensive front, like its running backs, has a plethora of options to turn to, to make a game-changing play. With Everson Griffen, Nick Perry and Christian Tupou, Notre Dame’s front five will have their hands full all game. Not only will the offensive line need to play well, but tight end Kyle Rudolph, and running backs Armando Allen, Jonas Gray and Robert Hughes will need to pick up their assignments to give Clausen that extra second to get rid of the ball. Keeping Clausen and his toe off the ground and upright will be important for Notre Dame to pull off the upset.