Preview: USC at Notre Dame
USC and Notre Dame will pen the 83rd chapter of college football’s greatest intersectional rivalry. The series that began in 1926 was interrupted only for World War II, and continues to burn with the same fire of its origin. The rivalry has made or broken coaching tenures, as well as placed a stamp on Heisman’s to be. It’s tradition and pageantry, as the royals of the sport collide. It’s the Trojans and Fighting Irish in October, exemplifying all that college football is intended to be.
The schools boast a combined 22 National Championships and 13 Heisman Trophies. Their historic rosters contain an A-list of the gridirons best coaches and players. The programs are listed among the winningest in college football history, continuing to add bricks to football palaces where institution names are preserved in stone.
The debate over college football’s greatest rivalry ends here, because all others paired will pale in comparison to the combined achievements of Notre Dame and USC.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-2)
National Rank: none
Last Week: bye
Category Avg rank Rush 194.00 30 Pass 273.50 29 Pass Efficiency 138.79 54 Scoring 32.33 37 Total offense 467.50 22
It took just one ugly half against South Florida for Brian Kelly to bench Dayne Crist in favor of sophomore Tommy Rees. The quarterback has held the offensive reins ever since, winning 4 of 5 games as a starter this season, and 8 of 9 overall in his Notre Dame career. Included on his list of past victims is this week’s visitor, after guiding to Domers to a 20-16 victory in Los Angeles.
Rees is completing 65 percent of his passes, a number that jumps to 70 percent when playing in his own backyard. 2011 has seen him throw 14 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, for a passer rating of 141.7.
Among his supporting cast, and leading the charge in the backfield, is Southern California native Cierre Wood. The junior is averaging 5.8 yards per carry, rushing for 650 yards and 6 touchdowns through six games.
The Irish also feature NFL first-round prospect Michael Floyd out wide. The receiver ranks sixth in the nation at an average of 12 catches per game, and his 106 receiving yards per game is good enough to rank thirteenth overall.
Category Avg rank Rush 136.50 48 Pass 225.67 67 Pass Efficiency 123.71 51 Scoring 21.00 30 Total defense 362.17 52
The defense is the biggest difference between struggling Irish teams of old and the one fielded today. It’s a unit starting nine seniors and headlined by Junior linebacker Manti T’eo. The power of the unit is in the front seven, where it also ranks 27th nationally in sacks, at an average of 2.5 a game.
USC Trojans (5-1)
National rank: none
Last week: defeatedCal30-9
Though the Trojans managed to hang 30 on Cal last week, the offense resembled one coming off a bye. There was little synchronization and the team scored just two touchdowns on six trips to the red zone. Matt Barkley would finish the game with less than 200 passing yards, and sophomore sensation Robert Woods was limited to just 5 catches for 36 yards, his lowest output this season.
Curtis McNeal was the workhorse out of the backfield, after Marc Tyler left the game with an injury, and is expected to fulfill that role again this week. Tyler is listed as a game time decision, after sustaining a shoulder separation last Thursday. Also injured last week but expected to play is receiver Marqise Lee, who has become the beneficiary of the defensive focus on Woods.
The defense was also hit with the injury bug last week, losing cornerback Anthony Brown to a broken ankle. Brown was inserted in the lineup to replace the already injured Torin Harris, and the staff will now dig deeper for a healthy body to play the position.
One match-up to keep an eye on is the stingy USC rush defense versus Cierre Woods and company. Rees finished with only 149 passing yards in the Irish victory a year ago, as success on the ground is what ultimately led Notre Dame to a win.
Analysis: Notre Dame has either corrected its problem, since dropping the first two games, or simply reached a more favorable stretch of the schedule. The team looked ugly in losses to South Florida and Michigan, but now resembles the program many predicted to make a BCS run. With USC, the truth will be unveiled. Though the Trojans aren’t nearly what they once were, they are still more talented than the Purdue and Air Forces of the world. Kiffin’s program is still seeking a signature victory, having beaten just one team above .500 (Syracuse) for its 5-1 record. A victory over the Irish in South Bend would quickly erase the memory of the one that got away in the Coliseum, as well as provide a much needed confidence boost before going into the game against Stanford next week.
X-factor, The Turnover: Though it played the last two games error free, Notre Dame enters with 18 turnovers this season (115th in turnover margin). Eight of those blunders were committed in the two losses. The turnover was also the culprit in USC’s only loss, with the Trojans committing four costly ones inTempe.
All Time Series: Notre Dame leads 43-34-5*
Streak: Notre Dame won 1
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 20, USC 16 (Los Angeles)
*total does not reflect USC 2005 vacated victory
- Notre Dame’s 43 victories over USC are the most of any Trojan opponent.
- The Irish snapped an 8-game losing streak to the Trojans last November, but haven’t beaten USC in South Bend since October of 2001.
- USC’s 8-game win streak against the Irish was the school’s longest in the series. Notre Dame won 11-straight from 1983-1993, with the Trojans snapping it with a tie in ’94. With the tie included, and another Irish victory in ’95, the USC winless streak against Notre Dame stretched to a series high 13 games.
- USC (11) and Notre Dame (10) are first and second among schools for number of players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of fame.
- USC-Notre Dame is the only major intersectional rivalry in college football. All others feature traditional geographic ties.
- Saturday’s game will mark only the ninth time since 1936 that both teams will enter unranked in the AP poll.