It’s a make or break game for the Fighting Irish and their national title hopes.
The newly minted best team in the country, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0) will put it all on the line for all the marbles this Saturday as they travel to the West Coast to play rivals USC Trojans (7-4). Kickoff is at 8 PM EST and the game will be broadcast on your local NBC affiliate.
The Fighting Irish blanked The Wake Forest Demon Deacons 38-0 at South Bend last week. USC lost to fellow Californian school UCLA Bruins 28-28 in a high-scoring affair. Notre Dame was at the losing end of a 31-17 meeting with the Trojans in week 6 of last season.
These teams are certainly no strangers. Saturday will mark the 84th meeting between Notre Dame and USC in a rivalry dating back to a historic 1926 game that legendary Fighting Irish coach Knute Rockne claimed was the best game he ever saw. More than 74,559 (the largest crowd to attend a football game in California history) watched Fighting Irish quarterback Art Parisien lead his team to victory on a two-minute scoring drive. Rockne in fact was approached by USC in 1924 to become their head coach.
Notre Dame owns the overall series lead over USC 43-35-5. Each team has gone on hot and cold streaks over the decades. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly stopped a recent 8 game USC winning streak 21-16 in 2010. USC has has held upperhand of recent winning 9 of the last 10. Coach Kelly hopes to put and end to the current USC domination over the Fighting Irish to remain undefeated, win a national championship, and to take home the spoils of the venerated jeweled shillelagh awarded to the victor since 1929.
Here’s a look at how the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and USC Trojans stack up against each other this week
Notre Dame Offense
On a day celebrating seniors last week in South Bend it was the red shirt freshman QB Everett Golson who quietly stole the day. Throwing for a career-best 346 yards along with three touchdowns and one interception, Golson seems to be playing his most mistake-free and confident football as of late.
Senior RB Cierre Wood made the most of his final game at home with 150 yards rushing on 11 carries and a touchdown. Along with fellow RBs George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick the trio averages more than 200 yards a game on the ground.
The Notre Dame passing attack has averaged 219 yards per game this season paced by All-American TE Tyler Eifert (555 yards, 4 TDs, 40 receptions) and WR TJ Jones (40 receptions, 519 yards, 4 TDs). WR John Goodman has been a touchdown specialist for the blue and gold converting his total 6 catches into 3 scores.
The Fighting Irish averages a pedestrian 27.2 points per game sitting at 74th in the nation in this category. It has scored 21 points or less in six contests this season.
Notre Dame Defense
The Fighting Irish defense is the engine that has driven this remarkable team to its first BCS number one ranking this season. They are ranked first nationally in scoring defense, fifth in rushing defense and 11th in passing efficiency. The scary blue and gold defense has only given up 14 plays of 25 yards or longer and for a period of 17 consecutive quarters from September 8th to October 20th it did not allow an offensive touchdown. The front seven led by All-American and Heisman-hopeful Manti Te’o should feast on rookie quarterback Max Wittek this week.
The underrated Fighting Irish secondary features CB Bennett Jackson (4 interceptions) and S Matthias Farley (one interception). The Notre Dame pass defense is respectable at 24th in the nation allowing 195.6 yards per game in the air and .5 touchdowns. They will have their hands full with the best WR tandem in the nation in USC WRs Marquise Lee and Robert Woods,
4th year QB Matt Barkley and preseason Heisman-hopeful has underwhelmed and is now injured and unable to start for the second straight year against the Fighting Irish. This has opened the door for the rookie QB Max Wittek. Hopefully he can play up to his braggadocio after guaranteeing a victory on ESPN radio. Or his teammates can thank him later for lthe Notre Dame locker room fodder. Wittek comes from a high pedigree being an Underarmour All-American who threw for 24 touchdowns and 2,252 yards as a senior in high school..
WR Marquise Lee is the real deal with an NCAA-best 1,605 yards,104 catches and 14 touchdowns. He is a Biletnikoff fand is generally recognized as the best receiver in the nation. Lee is complemented by the tremendous receiver Robert Woods (62 receptions, 721 yards, 10 touchdowns) who last year torched the Fighting Irish 119 yards and two touvhdowns in 2011.
RB Curtis McNeal has steadily performed having rushed for at least 160 yards over the past two games. He shined last year against Irish racking up 118 yards.
The Trojan defense ranks 59th in the country giving up 392.2 yards per game and 24.8 points. They, however, have allowed 40.3 points per game to teams ranked in the AP Top 25.
USC has a fierce pass rush ranked fourth in the nation racking up a total of 42 sacks. Junior DE Morgan Breslin has accounted for 11.5 of the total, 4.5 coming from the last three games. The pass rush should keep Golson on his toes and force him out of the pocket.
Senior Safety T.J. McDonald anchors the Trojan backfield. This season McDonald has collected 84 tackles, 2 interceptions, and one sack. The Senior is expected to be a high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
Prediction: Notre Dame 25 USC 20