Notre Dame Fighting Irish: 6 Things Team Must Do To Break USC Losing Streak
For the better part of the last decade, the Trojans of the University of Southern California have dominated the storied rivalry with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The sanctions placed on Southern Cal for recruiting violations with Reggie Bush are of little consolation to Notre Dame; no matter what the record books say, the fact is that the Irish simply have been unable to conquer the Trojans on the field for the last eight years.
On Saturday, the Irish have their best chance to beat the Trojans since 2005. They are playing some of their best football of the season, and the Southern Cal game represents a chance to put the season's earlier negativity behind them.
But as in any good rivalry game, victory never comes easily. Here are the six things Notre Dame must do to put an end to Trojan rule.
6. Protect Tommy Rees
Notre Dame's true freshman quarterback will be thrown into the fire for his first start on the road, and it will be critical to make sure the Trojan defense doesn't have opportunities to rattle him early. The Irish will not be able to survive only on their running game, and at some point will need Rees to make some big plays.
While he has appeared to be unflappable since the Michigan game, the atmosphere in the Coliseum will be as intimidating as anything he has ever experienced. The offensive line must have its best game of the season.
5. Don't Take Reckless Risks From the Sidelines
Brian Kelly did a much better job against Utah and Army of playing fundamental football, and it translated into positive results. He needs to continue this trend and not be tempted to win the game on gimmicks (see LSU 2006 and Tulsa 2010).
It's very likely that Notre Dame will need to take some risks at some point during the game, but those decisions should be very calculated and intentional. Over-reliance on gimmicks has a stink of desperation and reflects a lack of confidence in the players' ability to win the game on their own.
4. Make SC Pay For Mistakes
If there's one word that has defined the Trojans this year it is "undisciplined". USC has played only one or two clean games this year and there's little reason to think that will change against the Irish.
Notre Dame converted both Army turnovers into touchdowns last week, and the team should count on similar opportunities this week. Big plays from the defense and special teams will be the key to capitalizing on those chances.
3. Get Cierre Wood Involved Early
Wood has been effective in the last two games against Utah and Army, and the resulting two wins were predictable. On Saturday, he will face a much more formidable Trojan defensive front.
This game will be Wood's first return to southern California, with the Coliseum not far from his home town of Oxnard, so he will have plenty of motivation to perform well in front of family and friends. The Irish running game has been much improved over the last two games, and this will need to continue if the Irish are to be successful taking pressure off Rees.
2. Make Mustain Be the Hero
Trojan starting quarterback Matt Barkley was injured in last week's loss to Oregon State and is not expected to start, much less play against the Irish. Back-up Mitch Mustain did not look like a credible threat, and if the Irish can make Southern Cal dependent on his arm, they will be in a great position to win.
1. Believe They Can Win
While it is extremely intangible, there is a lot to be said for the "aura of inevitability", and right now Southern Cal still has it. The close losses in 2005 and 2009 have given the Trojans the confidence that they will always come out on top and place that seed of doubt in the minds of the Irish players.
Notre Dame can have no doubt if they are going to leave no doubt. If they are going to play like champions under Brian Kelly, this is the game to show it.