When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0) travel to Los Angeles, California to play the USC Trojans (7-4, 5-4 Pac-12), many expect the No. 1 team in the land to finish off its perfect season. When news broke of USC quarterback Matt Barkley missing the game due to a sprained right shoulder, the expectation for a blowout began to grow.
Temper your expectations, folks. With or without Barkley, USC is made to destroy the Irish's undefeated season.
Notre Dame remains the favored team in this matchup. Even as freshman quarterback Max Wittek guarantees a USC victory, the No. 1 team in the land is always the team to favor (via ESPN LA 710).
Just don't think that the Trojans will go down without giving them a scare. So, how is it going to happen?
Lethal on the Perimeter
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are presently ranked 24th in the nation in terms of pass defense. They're allowing just 195.6 passing yards per game and an average of just 0.5 touchdowns through the air.
Just don't think that means they're certain to lock down Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. You know, the top wide receiver tandem in the nation.
There is no way around how tough a task it is to contain those two men. Even as UCLA held Woods to 68 yards on five receptions, Lee had a monster second half en route to nine receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Can the USC Trojans upset the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?
Numbers that brought USC right back into the thick of things against its biter rival. A rival in UCLA whose offense is far more powerful than that of Notre Dame.
If anyone can shut both men down, it's ND against a freshman quarterback in Max Wittek. Just don't call it a lock.
USC Pass Rush vs. Freshman QB
As we approach freshman Max Wittek's first career start as USC's quarterback, don't forget that he's not the only freshman involved. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson hasn't found consistency in his flashes of brilliance, either—no matter how impressive he was against Wake Forest.
After all, USC is far from Wake Forest.
For the season, USC ranks fourth in the nation with its pass rush accounting for 42.0 sacks. It is led by junior defensive end Morgan Breslin, who has tallied 11.5 sacks on his own, including 4.5 over the past three games.
Matt Barkley may be absent, but that doesn't mean life will be any easier for Golson on his dropbacks.
For those who believe Golson's athleticism will help him avoid the Southern California pass rush, don't jump the gun. USC tallied 5.0 sacks against UCLA's Brett Hundley, who is of equal running ability and superior passing.
Golson is dynamic and capable of doing many things. The first he should focus on is getting the ball out quick and avoiding Breslin and the USC pass rush.
Don't Overrate the ND Offense
Notre Dame's defense may very well clamp down on Max Wittek and the USC offense.
Even if that does transpire, let us not forget one very important fact. Subtract the Irish's blowout wins against Navy, Wake Forest and Miami (Fl.) and the team is averaging just 21.2 points per game. Even with those blowouts, they're only sitting at 27.2.
74th in the nation.
That is why we cannot jump the gun on this game and claim that it will be a blowout. The Fighting Irish have only topped 30 points in four of 11 games, scoring 21 or fewer points in six separate contests.
Wittek may be a freshman, but he's also throwing to Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and Nelson Agholor. No matter how dominant the ND defense may be, 21 points for USC could come in the matter of one quarter.
Don't overrate the ND offense. It has the potential for brilliance, but this one could come down to the final play if the team's freshman quarterback is unable to put up points.