Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen

This preview requires no introduction. Everyone knows what’s at stake here. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

When Notre Dame has the ball

This is the area where the Irish need to shine (and I think they will). It’s all in for Jimmy Clausen on Saturday. The USC defense will be the toughest test he’ll face this year and his past failures must not come back to haunt him. The Trojan’s defensive front is probably the most talented group in the nation, and if Notre Dame’s offensive line doesn’t come to play, you can forget about it. 

Luckily for the Irish, Golden Tate has grown from his role as a deep threat to a more complete route runner. He and Clausen combine to make a remarkable duo that will certainly worry the USC coaches and players. Tate can take a 10 yard out, make a few moves and the next thing you know he’s back flipping in pay dirt. 

Armando Allen Jr. is another tremendous factor for the Irish offense. He’s been a difference maker the entire season and has the ability to bruise up the Trojans front. 

However, tight end Kyle Rudolph is the X factor. He’s a guy who is as big and physical as most of the USC defenders. He’ll be vital in run blocking but it’s in the passing game that he’ll be the biggest threat. Clausen must look at his stud tight end at least eight to ten times tomorrow. If not, more.   

When USC has the ball:

News flash: QB Matt Barkley is only a freshman! This is the best thing going for the Irish defense. Even though Barkley’s been tested on the road (Ohio State), the conditions for this game are supposed to be much more difficult. Game time temperatures are supposed to be in the 40s, with some wind and rain in the forecast. Not the same elements the Southern California native is used too.

The name that’s been giving Irish coaches and players nightmares is Joe McKnight. The guy is so slippery and impossible to tackle. It’s like he jumps in a tub of olive oil before the game. He has the talent to single handedly tear up the Irish defense. But, he’s had a bit of a fumbling problem this season, so there is a little bit of hope. 

USC also returns wide receiver Ronald Johnson back into the lineup, which isn’t very good news for Irish cornerbacks. Johnson broke his collarbone during a pre-season scrimmage in August and participated in drills last week for the first time in over a month. He’s a big target with powerful hands and adds needed depth to the Trojan skill positions.

Defensive Coordinator Corwin Brown has a very aggressive style of coaching. He orders up blitzes like I do pizzas. That should be vital on Saturday against a brick wall of an offensive line. There’s no way the Irish defensive front can compete with those guys unless they’re pumped with steroids before kickoff. Brown will need to send linebackers, corners and safeties at Barkley to make him feel some pressure. Even if it opens up holes in the middle of the field, Barkley must be hit and Brown knows it.  

To sum it all up:

On paper, you’d be quick to say USC is far and away the dominant team. They have the bigger and faster players at every position and coach Pete Carroll is a motivational genius. But we see every week that games are won and lost on the field, not in the locker room or press room.

This is easily the most explosive offense the Trojans will come across thus far and I have a feeling that no one is scared on that Notre Dame sideline. Clausen will be able to move the ball and score points, no doubt about it.  

If the defense creates one or two turnovers from the freshman quarterback, the Irish could have an opportunity to win this ball game.  Don’t see a blowout here, but do see USC edging out their eight in a row over the Fighting Irish.

Prediction: USC 30, Notre Dame 24.