(UHND.com) – This week’s preview is coming very late, but I couldn’t help but write one at the last minute to make my weekly prediction. So for the five of you who will read this before the game kicks off later tonight… here goes.
Instead of throwing a lot of stats at you that have been hashed and rehashed all week in the various previews for this game I’m going to focus more on what this game would mean to the Notre Dame program and more specifically the senior class.
This senior class is one of the more special groups of seniors to play for the Irish in some years. They’ve seen more than their fair share of ups and downs since coming to Notre Dame and even in a final season where they are ranked in the top 5 which seemed almost impossible two years ago today, there is one thing that has been nagging them since they arrived – a win over USC.
The last time the Irish beat the Trojans was 2001 – Bob Davie’s final year and the junior and senior years of high school for this senior class. Brady Quinn was throwing touchdown passes to Chinedum N’Dukwe for Coffman High School in Ohio ad preparing for the junior prom the last time the Irish beat USC.
This senior class has not just had to endure a four year winless streak against USC, but they had to endure a stretch of futility that the Irish haven’t seen against the Trojans with three 31 point losses to USC under Tyrone Willingham’s guidance.
So while the Irish defense will have a hard time stopping USC’s talented wide receivers and the Irish offensive line will have to keep a steadily improving USC pass rush from getting to Brady Quinn, the one intangible that could easily balance things out is not just revenge from last year’s heartbreaker, but redemption for a four year stretch of dominance by USC.
Brady Quinn mentioned a few weeks back that he’s had a USC hat that an uncle gave him in his room since he came to Notre Dame as reminder of Notre Dame’s oldest rival. And, if you needed anymore convincing as to just how badly Quinn, and his fellow seniors, want to end their careers with a win over USC – just take a look at last week’s post game coverage on NBC to see them leading a stadium wide “BEAT SC” chant.
Quinn has 35 Notre Dame records under his belt and will most likely be the #1 overall pick in next April’s draft, but the one thing eluding him outside of a Heisman of National Championship is a win over USC. With both the Heisman and national title’s being long shots at this point, a win over USC is the last thing left for Quinn to accomplish before the bowl game.
Some have even argued that with the chance of a Heisman for Quinn and title shot for Notre Dame likely gone, the Irish will benefit greatly from the lack of pressure. USC will be playing with a chance to play Ohio State for the national title, while the Irish will be able to play much more carefree and loose.
I think Quinn will come out and have one of his better games. I don’t see a 400 yard, five touchdown type of game against USC’s defense, but I expect Quinn to come and show the heart and determination that we’ve all grown accustomed to over the last four years.
USC will try to blitz Quinn to throw off his timing and not allow him to get comfortable like Michigan and UCLA did which will make establishing the run early with some draws a priority for the Irish. Also watch for Quinn to try and hit Rhema McKnight on a couple hot routes early on if USC comes a lot of pressure as I expect they will.
Charlie Weis has said he wants to slow the game down to keep the USC offense off the field, but something tells me Notre Dame comes out firing if they get the ball first. A play action pass deep down field to Samardzija like in the Fiesta Bowl last year wouldn’t surprise me at all. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Weis send his offense out in the no huddle to keep USC off-balance.
Weis may be saying in the media that he wants to play the “four corners” but that does not necessarily mean he’s going to come out and run the ball on first and second down every time.
The Irish offense will do plenty of running, but look for Weis to mix it in well. Darius Walker will need to be at the top of his game running and receiving as he figures to be a prominent target for Quinn if USC sends the house at him. Also look for freshman James Aldridge to get some carries to keep Walker fresh for the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Notre Dame is going to have to pressure John David Booty in order to be successful. With the talent USC has at receiver, there is simply no way the Irish defense slows down USC enough to win if they don’t force Booty to throw before he’s ready.
The interior Notre Dame defensive line has been very disruptive over the last four games and with Derek Landri returning to his home state of California, look for him to be on top of his game again this week. Landri and fellow defensive tackle Trevor Laws have been disrupting running plays and applying pressure without the use of a blitz over the last few weeks. If they are able to pressure Booty without the aide of the linebackers or safeties, the Irish defense could force a turnover over two.
USC comes in with some injuries at running back, but freshman CJ Gable is a game breaking half back. He’s not a big tackle breaker at this point in his career, but if the USC offensive line gives Gable some daylight, he will bust some big runs on the Irish defense.
Notre Dame definitely has its work cut out for itself tonight against USC, but I think they will be up for challenge. When Michigan blew out Notre Dame earlier in the season, Notre Dame made the mistake of making it “just another game.” That won’t, however, be a problem this week.
Prediction: Notre Dame 35, USC 31