Despite coming back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter of their 29-26 three overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looked vulnerable.
While the nation's No. 2 defense (11.7 points allowed per game) and Heisman candidate linebacker Manti Te’o allowed more points than Notre Dame has become accustomed to this season, the Panthers are far from a terrible team.
As well as Pitt performed Saturday, it was the Fighting Irish’s offensive unit that let the team down.
With two different QBs throwing interceptions (Everett Golson and Tommy Rees) and poor play from the passing attack in general, it was ultimately the running game led by Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood that was forced to save the perfect season.
While there is no doubt that even the best teams get tested over the course of a season, the obvious flaws for Notre Dame that were exposed in this game are setting the Irish up for an epic meltdown.
When the Irish travel to Southern California to play USC in the final week of the regular season, the team will lose its undefeated season in a collapse of immeasurable proportions.
USC has proven that despite its three losses, its 24th-ranked offensive unit—scoring 36.8 points per game—can exploit any defense in the nation.
The Trojans passing attack is averaging 312.7 yards per game and the rushing game is averaging 152 yards per game, and Notre Dame’s offense is not skilled enough to keep up with that kind of potent offensive attack.
Even with USC's 49th-ranked defensive unit being as porous as they come, the Irish don't have the offensive consistency to make the Trojans pay.
With games against Boston College and Wake Forest scheduled before the USC matchup, the season is setting up for one of the school’s most bitter rivals to ruin perfection in the final week of the season. What could be worse?
If the Fighting Irish don’t step up huge on defense—bringing the pass rush and run-stopping mentality that put the unit on the map—Notre Dame will lose more than just a game against USC; it will fail to make history.
There is no doubt the season will still be deemed a success despite the possible loss to Southern California, but the devastation of losing perfection in the final week of the season to the hated Trojans would destroy all national championship hopes for the Fighting Irish.
With the BCS dreams shattered, Notre Dame would lose all momentum heading into bowl season and fail to win in whatever secondary bowl the school participates in.
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