USC-ND Pre-game Roundtable:
Over the past decade, USC has dominated the Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh. But with senior quarterback Jimmy Clausen, and a much-improved Irish squad, South Bend is looking for its first win in eight games versus the Cardinal and Gold.
Bleacher Report Featured columnists from both teams—Mitchell Golden from the Trojans, and Michael Muratore from the Fighting Irish—held a head-to-head discussion about tomorrows game, the implications for the future, repercussions from the past, and how the game relates to the national football landscape.
Here are highlights from the discussion:
Both writers acknowledged the impact that frigid South Bend will have on the game. While both quarterbacks hail from Southern California, Clausen has experience in the cold. Barkley is yet to play a game on “frozen tundra”.
Golden: The cold may play in to how accurate Barkley passes
Muratore: I don’t think it’s going to be as cold as they initially thought
Golden: It was in the eighties this week
Muratore: Well…it’s be colder than THAT!
While the weather discussion led to obvious comments about how the cold will impact USC’s warm weather team, some deeper insight was shared as Muratore and Golden discussed the possibility of a Big 10 BCS Bowl site, and how Midwestern teams deserve a bowl game in their region.
Golden: The Big Ten should get a BCS Bowl site
Muratore: There are stadiums big enough.
Golden: When you think of how the [Midwestern] teams are built, they are power running and power defense. To win in that conference, you must have the personnel to win in the snow.
Muratore: Definitely. There is no way the Big 10 loses every year simply from lack of talent.
2.Coaching – Past AND Present
Muratore was quick to praise Carroll’s conservative game calling, and pointed out that his game plan has been key in developing freshman Matt Barkley. Golden noted that with weapons Joe McKnight and Stanley Havili coming out of the backfield, the conservative attack has flourished with Barkley.
The conversation then moved to nicknames. When asked if Weis has a home crowd nickname like “Big Balls” Pete Carroll, Muratore simply replied: “Moron.”
Yet it was not pure insult for Weis. Muratore pointed out both strengths and weaknesses of his team:
Muratore: Weis has the potential to build something great at ND. He’s getting the talent in.If he can get the team to play smart, stop making mental errors, and play good football (use the clock, field position, etc.), Notre Game would surely have more success. He is a great offensive mind…but, he is slow to adapt, and tends to stick to what was working well after the opponent has caught on.
Golden chose to concentrate more on Carroll’s energetic, inspirational style, exhibited when bringing the recently injured Stafon Johnson to visit the team before leaving for South Bend. Soon enough though, he was back on the case of a Notre Dame coach. And, it may not be the one most expect to hear about today.
Golden: I can see USC winning, and Lou Holtz will still give a College Gameday helmet sticker to Clausen or Tate for “showing heart.”
Muratore: Holtz is DRIVING the bandwagon at this point. He’s been an Irish fan since his youth in Liverpool, Ohio, and I doubt his Championship predictions will ever stop.
3. Quarterbacks – The battle of Southern Californians, Flashy vs. Humble, Experience vs. Youth.
Muratore: Clausen's appearance at the College Football Hall of Fame to accept his scholarship to Notre Dame did get him off to a bad start, as did immediate predictions... by him... that he would win a pair of championships at Notre Dame. Add a disastrous freshman year and the bloom really seemed to be off the rose.
Clausen has learned a lot from those early lessons, and many, many painful mistakes last year that cost the Irish dearly and has become a leader. This summer, he invited Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, and Golden Tate out to his California home for a week of 8-hour drill sessions. He has proven that he can literally place the team on his back and will them to a win.
Athletically he can make every throw, big arm, quick release, and has learned that a three-yard completion is better than a thirty-yard incompletion or an INT. He is really playing at a high level, finding open receivers, and showing a great amount of pocket presence sliding up and out of many potential sack situations.
Golden: Barkley has also shown great presence in avoiding the sack. Although, Barkley does take a few sacks per game, even with the stellar upperclassmen line. (Editor’s note: Barkley is sacked about every 21 drop backs, Clausen is sacked about every 18 drop backs).
What impresses me about Barkley, as a freshman, is that he does not try to make the desperation throw. He would rather wrap up the ball and take the sack, or try to make the throw out of bounds. As a Patriots fan, I am used to commentators saying (in previous seasons) Brady puts the ball only where his receivers have a chance to make the play. To me, Barkley fits that mold.
It seems that every throw that goes wide is in a spot that prevents defenders from the slightest chance at the ball. For example, on an out route, his misses will be to the sideline, not to the inside of the field. That shows an incredible maturity and great reaction skills for a freshman QB, and for any college starter, as most do not even learn those skills until they enter the pros.
5. Closing Notes
While the outcome of the game won’t be determined until tomorrow, there is plenty of information to sift through about the two teams and their historic matchup. With all the disagreement between the writers about who would win, they did agree on one thing:
Golden: I can’t stand Buckeye fans… I have heard some horror stories about how they treat visiting fans.
Muratore : They are brutal. I’ve been to games at Michigan, MSU, PSU…but nothing comes close to how terribly you are treated as a visiting fan at OSU. Evil people.
Predicted Scores by the Writers:
Muratore: ND 28 USC 27
Golden: USC 21 ND 10