Notre Dame Football: Irish Ground Game Will Key Victory over USC

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 17:  Cierre Wood #20 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium on November 17, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish stand one game away from the glory of a BCS National Championship Game appearance. If they rely on the faithful and consistent legs of Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III to get them there, they will stamp their ticket to Miami to play for the biggest prize of them all. 

Despite all of the detractors that doubted this team every step of the way, this Irish squad has survived every test this year to get to 11-0. 

With one last hurdle standing in the way in the form of bitter rival USC, the Irish must stick with what got them to this point—a commitment to the running game paired with a dominating defense.

When people think of this Notre Dame team, the first thought is always defense.

That's fair. The Irish defense has held opponents to the a downright stingy 10 points per game. It's an awe-inspiring unit that plays with the physicality that rivals anybody.

Heck, they even have one of the best defensive Heisman candidates of all time in middle linebacker Manti Te'o.

However, with the hype around the defense, the Irish run game has been lost in the shuffle. 

Yes, the Irish have won some games ugly. Brian Kelly has had to turn to Tommy Rees on more than one occasion—and fans familiar with Kelly's high-flying offenses at Cincinnati have to wonder if this is the same coach—but Kelly has been extremely smart in coaching this offense.

With a young quarterback like Everett Golson at the helm, Kelly has done a great job of managing what he asks his signal caller to do. By trading in his usual spread passing attack for a more traditional power running attack, he keeps his elite defense rested and plays to his team's strength. 

The Notre Dame stable of backs is thoroughly impressive. The Irish go three deep at the running back position, and all three are able to complement each other well. Theo Riddick has been masterful at pounding the ball between the tackles, Cierre Wood has played the role of shifty back on outside runs, and George Atkinson III has played the role of pure burner when healthy. 

Looking at this matchup, there's sure to be plenty of talk about with Max Wittek, Manti Te'o and the weight of expectations so close to a national championship opportunity. But make no mistake, the Irish's dangerous stable of backs going against a Trojans defense—giving up 150 yards per game on the ground—will be the matchup that decides this game.