USC Trojans vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Game Preview and Prediction

Bill NCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium looks for a receiver against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on October 17, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. USC defeated Notre Dame 34-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The USC Trojans (5-1) visit the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-2) in South Bend this Saturday in a key game for both teams in the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football.

You may enjoy whetting your appetite with this review and ranking of the top 25 games since the series began in 1926.

USC won eight straight games until Notre Dame upset the Trojans without QB Matt Barkley last season on a rainy night in Los Angeles. The Trojans hope to return the favor this week.

The Week 8 AP Top 25 poll has Notre Dame at No. 27 with 107 votes and USC at No. 28 with 87 votes.

USC’s season to date has been inconsistent except for the 38-17 victory over the Syracuse Orange (4-2). Last Thursday the Trojans beat the California Golden Bears (3-3) 30-9, but the offense was subpar, as Barkley was slightly off on some key passes. The defense forced five turnovers to secure the win.

The week before against the Arizona Wildcats (1-5), the offense set passing records, while the defense was too conservative and played poorly.

The USC special teams is the only unit that has played well in all games.

This inconsistency is understandable given the inexperience of the team with half the scholarship players redshirts or true freshmen; however, the Trojans will need to be consistent in much tougher games, including Notre Dame, in the second half of the season.

WR Michael Floyd is tough to stop as Notre Dame beats No. 15 Michigan State
WR Michael Floyd is tough to stop as Notre Dame beats No. 15 Michigan StateJohn Gress/Getty Images


Notre Dame started the season ranked No. 16 but was upset by the South Florida Bulls (4-2) 23-20 and the Michigan Wolverines (6-1) 35-31 due to 10 turnovers.

Things have gone much better for the Irish since that time with four consecutive wins, including a 31-13 victory over the Michigan State Spartans (5-1), who were ranked No. 15 at the time and remain at that position in the Week 8 AP ranking.

The Irish last played on October 8 and beat the Air Force Falcons (3-3) 59-33, so they have had two weeks to prepare for the Trojans.

Key Stats Comparison




Notre Dame


Rushing Offense (Yards)





Passing Offense (Yards)





Total Offense (Yards





Scoring Offense (Points)





Passing Efficiency (Percent)





Third Down Conversions (Percent)





Red Zone Conversions (TDs)





Sacks Allowed (Number)





Rushing Defense (Yards)





Pass Defense (Yards)





Total Defense (Yards)





Scoring Defense (Points)





Sacks (Number)





Tackles for Loss (Number)





Net Punting (Yards/Punt)





Punt Returns (Yards)





Kickoff Returns (Yards)





FG Success (Percent)





Turnover Margin











Keys to USC Victory

USC WR Robert Woods had only five receptions against Cal last week after an incredible first five games
USC WR Robert Woods had only five receptions against Cal last week after an incredible first five gamesStephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Trojans need to apply the lessons learned from the Cal game and play well on offense, defense and special teams. It is very important to win in turnover margin and minimize mistakes, including penalties.


USC has averaged only four penalties for 28 yards in the last two games.

The offense needs Barkley (1,782 yards, 68.2%, 16 TDs, 4 INT, Rating 155.4) to hit over 70 percent of his passes with good protection from the OL and great catches by wide receivers Robert Woods and freshmen Marqise Lee, Brandon Carswell and Brice Butler, along with tight ends freshmen Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Ross Cumming has been playing more FB, so senior Rhett Ellison could also play some TE.

Lee was on his way to a breakout game against Cal when he sprained his shoulder on a TD reception and missed the rest of the game. He is a tough guy and said he expects to be available, but this injury could affect his play.

Barkley passed for 380 yards and two TDs as a freshman in 2009 at South Bend. He was injured and didn’t play in last season’s game.

Senior RB Marc Tyler dislocated his shoulder against Cal and probably won’t be available. However, Curtis McNeal has played very well (289 yards, 7.0 AVG, 44 long, 2 TD) and is expected to start. Freshman RB George Farmer is the fastest player on the team and may contribute in both passing and running situations, but RS freshman D.J. Morgan may get more backup plays due to more game experience.

USC must play aggressive defense against Notre Dame
USC must play aggressive defense against Notre DameJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Trojans need to do better than their 133.5 yards average rushing game, but most of the yardage will come from the passing game.


Both USC and Notre Dame have to do better in their red-zone TD conversion rates of 52 and 64 percent, respectively. The team that does better in this area may win. Both teams are also converting about 47 percent of their third downs, so this is another area where an improvement will help sustain drives and scores.

The USC defense needs to play more aggressively, like in the Cal game. Sure, this increases risk of a longer play, but no one wants to see Notre Dame march down the field with five- and 10-yard passes.

No other team has allowed more first downs through the air through six games than the 92 given up by the Trojans.

USC must also contain the Irish rushing attack, which is averaging 194 yards, including 245 rushing yards per game in their last three wins over Pittsburgh, Purdue and Air Force.

Coach John Baxter’s special teams are doing well this season. Freshman kicker Andre Heidari is 10-of-11 in field goals and 18-of-18 in extra points. Punter Kyle Negrete has had few punts returned and has been successful getting the ball inside the 20-yard line.

OT Matt Kalil has blocked four kicks. Speedster Farmer may return kickoffs, and Woods will return punts just like the Cal game.

LB Manti Te'o leads the Notre Dame defense
LB Manti Te'o leads the Notre Dame defenseJonathan Daniel/Getty Images


Keys to Notre Dame Victory


The Irish have a more balanced offense than USC and need to continue that success against a Trojan defense that has allowed less than 100 yards rushing per game but a horrible 272 yards passing.

QB Tommy Rees (1,503 yards, 66.4 percent, 14 TDs, 6 INTs, Rating 142.4) and wide receivers Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick and TJ Jones, along with TE Tyler Eifert (6’6”), have to take advantage of the Trojan pass defense.

RB Cierre Wood is averaging 5.8 yards per rush for 650 yards, and Jonas Gray averages 8.4 yards for 395 yards. They will need to continue that success against a USC front seven tough against the rush.

Notre Dame has a good defense led by LB Manti Te’o. It will need to contain the USC passing game and get some turnovers to win. This requires constant pressure on Barkley.

PK David Ruffer is only 4-of-8 on field goals, so that makes it more important for the Irish to score TDs in the red zone. The Irish need to do better than 34 yards net punting and 0.3 yards on punt returns.

Notre Dame also needs to do better than 7.5 penalties and 71 yards per game.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly watched the USC-Cal game as a TV commentator and has had two weeks to prepare for USC
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly watched the USC-Cal game as a TV commentator and has had two weeks to prepare for USCGregory Shamus/Getty Images



Notre Dame opened as an 8.5-point favorite; however, anything can happen in this game. Negative comments from the media and some USC fans after many of the games this season make this game look like a blowout for the Irish with the Trojans having no chance.

USC must play a more aggressive, complete game to win, and it is time for that to happen.

USC 34, Notre Dame 31 

Catch the nationally televised game on NBC this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET if you can’t make it in person.

P.S. For Trojan fans attending the game in South Bend for the first time, here is a pretty good list of things to do.