Notre Dame vs. USC: Even Without Barkley, the One Play the Irish Must Stop

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterNovember 20, 2012

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 17:  Marqise Lee #9 of the USC Trojans reacts to the crowd during a 38-28 loss to the UCLA Bruins at Rose Bowl on November 17, 2012 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

You can call it a streak. A go. A fly. A takeoff. A nine. It doesn't really matter what label you put on it, that is the play that Notre Dame should be worried about, with or without Matt Barkley. Max Wittek, the reported starter for the Trojans, is no Barkley, but he, like just about every other quarterback in the country, can toss a 50-50 jump ball on a takeoff.

And when you're throwing that streak to Marqise Lee it becomes so much more than just a 50-50 proposition.

Lee runs that takeoff from the inside.

He runs it from the edge.

Sometimes he bends it inside.

They can even pair it with play action.

Either way, Marqise Lee can get on top of the cornerback, push the safety in a hurry and that's the play that Notre Dame should be worried about.

USC does not run it every series. They have other plays, including their crossing routes and shallow passes that can turn into big plays for Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. However, this play is the one that should worry the Irish.

It's a game changer.

A play that can neutralize a seven-point lead and take the air out of a defense. It can shift momentum and make your secondary second guess themselves. It is the type of play that Notre Dame has avoided for much of the 2012 season and now, entering their final regular season test, the game-changing fly route is what Notre Dame has to stop.

Step one to stopping this? Don't let Lee get a free run off the line. If the sophomore wide receiver is allowed a free run, with not collision or contact, he gets up to speed quickly and that means he's gaining more ground towards your deep defenders.

If he is inside, that means your linebacker or nickelback has to get hands on Lee and not just a light push. You have to reroute him towards the help. If Lee's lined up on the outside, then it is your corner's job to make things hard on him. That means forcing him inside to the safety or riding him out of bounds.

The next big thing for the Irish secondary will be flipping their hips. As a now "retired" defensive back, there is one saying that holds true at every level of football: If he's even, he's leavin'. In other words, if the wide receiver pulls up to you parallel before you have turned to run, then he is going to leave you in his dust as he blows past you.

Lastly, but most importantly, pick one thing to play. If you're alone on Lee play the man or the ball. If you have two players bracketing Lee have the safety play Lee and the corner play the ball. You cannot play both the man and the ball. You also cannot have two players playing the ball. All of those are just a recipe for Lee making an improbable catch and then jog into the end zone because guys miss tackles and are out of position.

It sounds simple; bracket Lee, get a reroute off the line, one guy play for tackle, the other play the ball. However, if it was easy, Marqise Lee wouldn't be a strong pick to win the Biletnikoff Award and have over 1,600 yards receiving.

The truth is, with Lee's ability to break short passes and the Trojans spreading the ball to Woods plus hitting Nelson Agholor and Xavier Grimble at times, it is easy for a defense to be caught off guard. Especially when USC mixes in play action and then expecting Lee to hook up short becomes Lee running past you before you get a shot to reroute him.

Don't get lulled to sleep by the short passes. Protect deep to short on an every-play basis. Know where Lee is, how he can hurt you by alignment and play the takeoff every single play. If you protect against the deep ball every play, you can come up and tackle the short routes, and that's much better than the alternative.