USC Football: Trojan Keys for Notre Dame Fighting Irish and UCLA Bruins Wins

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USC Football: Trojan Keys for Notre Dame Fighting Irish and UCLA Bruins Wins
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Marc Tyler runs against Notre Dame

Some University of Southern California fans may have given up on the Trojans after the 36-7 upset victory by the Oregon State Beavers at Corvallis on Nov. 20.

Real Trojan fans will continue to support their team and “Fight On."

The Oregon State loss was the season low, which seemed worse since it followed the season high Trojan victory over the then-No. 18 Arizona Wildcats on Nov. 13 at Tucson.

This loss was punctuated by a game-ending high ankle injury to QB Matt Barkley in the first half, and the team seemed to give up in the last quarter.

After watching films of the USC offense against Oregon, head coach Lane Kiffin gave this message to his players on Sunday:

“I just told them that I hope they feel like me. If you’re in that meeting and you don’t feel sick and weren’t sick all day, then you shouldn’t be here. Our standards are that high. That’s embarrassing not only to the Trojan family but the players who were here before. I would have turned the TV off if I was watching.”

But, USC is facing its two most important football games—against the the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the UCLA Bruins—especially since USC’s only “bowl” game is their last game in the Rose Bowl against UCLA. 

These games cannot be predicted because there have been so many surprises in the past, but here are some key factors that may determine the victors.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
USC RB Allen Bradford and UCLA Sheldon Price

The Sep. 7 article, USC Football:  Week 1 Results Show Path to Victories over Notre Dame and UCLA, reviewed the results of the first games and discussed the lessons learned for the last two USC games against their arch-rivals. 

It has been a roller coaster year for all three teams, as predicted. These final games will determine whether it has been a good year for each team.

USC (7-4, 4-4 Pac-10) good games: Minnesota Golden Gophers, Washington State Cougars, California Bears, Oregon (until the fourth  quarter), Arizona and Stanford Cardinal (No. 6*) in a last-second loss.  Trojan bad games: Washington Huskies, Oregon State, Hawaii Rainbows (won 49-36) and Virginia Cavaliers (won 17-14).

Notre Dame (6-5) good games: Purdue Boilermakers, Boston College Eagles, Pittsburgh Panthers, Western Michigan Broncos, Utah Utes (No. 23*), Army Black Knights, Michigan Wolverines (lost 28-24) and Michigan State Spartans (No. 12*, lost 34-31 OT). The Irish bad games: Stanford (No. 6*), Navy Midshipmen and Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

UCLA (4-6, 2-5 Pac-10) good games: Houston (No. 23 at the time), Texas (No. 7 at the time), Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona (lost 29-21, Arizona No. 15 at the time). The Bruins bad games: Stanford, California, Oregon Ducks (No. 1*) and Washington.

Here are average game statistics for both teams:

Category

USC

Ranking

Notre Dame

Ranking

UCLA

Ranking

Rushing Offense (Yards)

   192.4

   26

   118.5

   98

   185.8

    30

Passing Offense (Yards)

   250.7

   36

   267.3

   27

   114.2

   117

Total Offense (Yards)

   443.1

   21

   385.7

   58

   300.0

   111

Scoring Offense (Points)

    32.6

   30

    26.3

   70

   19.4

   104

Passing Efficiency (%)

   141.1

   47

   131.6

   53

   87.0

   120

Sacks allowed (Number)

    1.55

   39

     1.73

   49

    2.50

    89

Rushing Defense (Yards)

   141.1

   47

   153.4

   62

   198.4

   101

Pass Defense (Yards)

   272.3

  114

   208.2

   51

   198.8

    35

Total Defense (Yards)

   413.4

   91

   361.6

   55

   397.2

    79

Scoring Defense (Points)

    28.5

   78

    20.9

   33

    28.1

    75

Pass Efficiency Defense (%)

   141.0

   95

   116.9

   30

   130.0

    71

Sacks (Number)

     2.27

   40

     2.36

   33

     2.30

    39

Tackles for Loss (Number)

     6.5

   37

     5.9

   57

     5.7

    66

Net Punting (Yards/Punt)

    37.3

   43

    36.0

   67

    40.8

     5

Punt Returns  (Yards)

    16.4

    5

     5.9

   95

     7.7

    67

Kickoff Returns (Yards)

    24.3

   19

    20.9

   80

    20.9

    79

Turnover Margin

      .00

  T-54

      .00

  T-54

   -1.00

   117

 

These stats show:

  • UCLA has a very poor offense, especially passing, and weak rush defense with a negative turnover margin. UCLA is averaging negative-7.7 point differential per game. UCLA has the best net punting.
  • USC has the strongest offense and rush defense, but the poorest pass defense. The Trojans have a positive-4.1 points differential. USC has the best punt returns and kickoff returns.
  • Notre Dame has the weakest rush offense, and the best defense with a 5.4-point differential. The Irish have the best field goal kicker.
Harry How/Getty Images
Rose Bowl: USC vs. UCLA December 4, 2010

On paper, USC should beat both Notre Dame and UCLA.

However, Notre Dame is coming off two impressive victories over Utah and Army. UCLA, like USC, lost last week after winning a good game the previous week.

So, the positive momentum is in Notre Dame’s favor over USC, and it is probably even for the USC-UCLA game depending upon their next game.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley (2,593 yards, 63%, 25 TD, 10 INT) suffered a high ankle sprain last week, and is doubtful against Notre Dame. His mobility will be limited if he does play. Backup Mitch Mustain (165 yards, 59%, 1 TD, 0 INT) has limited experience at USC, and needs more time for his passing game. 

Leading rusher, Marc Tyler (820 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 9 TD) has a sprained ankle and may not be effective. Allen Bradford (582 yards, 7.1 yards per carry, 4 TD) has a ball-control problem, so freshman Dillon Baxter (248 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 1 TD) or senior C.J. Gable (216 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 1 TD) may be needed. Fullback Stanley Havili is a dual threat running and receiving.

USC has two great receivers in Ronald Johnson (616 yards, 8 TD) and Robert Woods (648 yards, 6 TDs) who also excel at punt and kickoff returns.

The Trojan defense is led by safety T.J. McDonald, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, linebacker Malcolm Smith and cornerback Shareece Wright.

Harry How/Getty Images
L.A. Coliseum, site of USC vs. Notre Dame on November 27, 2010

Notre Dame’s backup quarterback, freshman Tommy Rees (756 yards, 63%, 8 TD, 5 INT) has played well in the last four games after sophomore starter Dayne Crist (2033 yards, 59%, 15 TD, 7 INT) ruptured his patella tendon.

Leading rushers are Armando Allen (514 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 2 TD) and Cierre Wood (433 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, 2 TD). Michael Floyd is the top receiver (830 yards, 9 TD). David Ruffer is a very good field-goal kicker, making all 15 attempts including five over 40 yards.

The Irish defense is led by linebacker Manti Te’o, ranked 13th nationally in tackles, and safety Harrison Smith.

UCLA is also playing with their backup quarterback, Richard Brehaut (745 yards, 55%, 2 TD, 5 INT), who took over from Kevin Prince (384 yards, 45%, 3 TD, 5 INT) after a knee injury. With an 87.0 overall passing efficiency, this is the weakest part of the team. 

The leading rusher is Johnathan Franklin (945 yards, 7 TD), and there are six receivers over 100 yards with Taylor Embree (228 yards, 0 TD) leading. UCLA also has an excellent field-goal kicker, Kai Forbath, who has made 11 of 16 including six over 40 yards.

The Bruin defense is led by linebackers Sean Westgate and Akeem Ayers, and safeties Tony Dye and Rahim Moore.

What are the keys for USC to beat both Notre Dame and UCLA?

  1. The offensive line has to play well to give the quarterback time and open holes for the running game. USC quarterbacks need more time than usual due to injury or inexperience. This has been problematic in games that USC has played poorly.
  2. The offense must convert over 50 percent of third downs, and score consistently in the red zone.
  3. Positive turnover margin and continue to limit penalties.
  4. The front seven must pressure the quarterback and contain the running game. The challenge against Notre Dame is the passing game, and for UCLA it is running. Blitzes and more man-to-man coverage will result in sacks and hurried passes. Containing the rushing game will require disciplined football, including maintaining gap control and not over-pursuing.
  5. The secondary will give up a lot of passing yardage, but they must limit the big plays.
  6. Special teams must continue to play well, giving USC good field position on kickoff returns and punts. The Trojans must continue to pressure both punters and field-goal kickers.

Neither Notre Dame nor UCLA have a chance if USC accomplishes the above. However, that has rarely happened this year, so expect both games to be exciting with highly motivated teams.

*Week 13 BCS Poll

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