The fifth-ranked USC Trojans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish hook up for the 80th time on the gridiron this weekend, as they clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
With a 9-1 overall mark and a lofting ranking, the Trojans are very much alive for the national title race, although they are going to need some help down the stretch. Since losing its only game to Oregon State in late September, the Trojans have ripped off seven straight victories, posting three shutouts during that stretch. The program was last in play on November 15th, when it defeated Stanford 45-23 on the road.
"I was happy we got the win tonight," stated head coach Pete Carroll.
"I was really happy to win this game."
The victory exacted some measure of revenge for when Stanford pulled off one of the biggest upsets ever with a 24-23 victory at USC last season. The Trojans now head back home, where they have won 27 straight night games and are 26-0 in November under Carroll.
As for Notre Dame, it has fallen apart down the stretch and it may have hit rock bottom last weekend with a shocking 24-23 setback at home to lowly Syracuse. It was the third loss in the past four outings by the Irish, which dipped to 6-5 overall. The team hasn't had much success on the road either, boasting just a 1-3 mark on the year.
ND and USC are meeting for the 80th time this weekend in one of the premier intersectional rivalries in college football. The Irish lead the head-to-head series, 42-32-5, but the Trojans have won the last six meetings. Last season, USC blanked ND, 38-0, delivering the program its most decisive win ever in the series.
The Irish has been up and down on offense all season long and enter the weekend averaging a modest 24.5 ppg and 367.9 total ypg. The unit has had more success through the air (248.7 ypg) than on the ground (119.2 ypg), but has had some issues hanging onto the ball, committing 25 turnovers.
Despite avoiding any turnovers last weekend, ND wasn't able to defeat Syracuse behind its 332 yards of total offense. Jimmy Clausen guided the team in the loss by throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-39 tosses. Like the rest of the offense, though, Clausen has struggled with consistency this season and has thrown for 2,730 yards and 20 scores, but with 15 interceptions as well. With Michael Floyd out for the season with a knee injury, Golden Tate is now the team's top option in the passing game and he showed off his skills by making seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns last weekend. It was a great effort from Tate, who paces the squad with 50 catches for 888 yards and seven scores on the year. Armando Allen is the team's top runner with 569 yards and he also ranks third on the team with 45 catches out of the backfield.
ND has been pretty solid on defense this season and is holding its opponents to 20.8 ppg and 316.5 total ypg. The Irish is limiting foes to 139.7 rushing ypg and 176.7 passing ypg, while generating 20 turnovers.
Last weekend, ND's defense was stout until the fourth quarter, when it allowed Syracuse to score a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner with 42 seconds left. Both scores came on drives of 68 yards, as Syracuse posted a majority of its 317 total yards in the final period. ND came up with a pair of sacks and two turnovers, but the defense couldn't make the big play when it needed to most. Kyle McCarthy finished the contest with six tackles, giving him 96 on the year and that is good enough for the team-lead.
The Trojans have excelled on both sides of the ball this season and on offense they are scoring 38.4 ppg and gaining 451.0 total ypg. The offense has displayed good balance between the run (208.8 ypg) and pass (242.2 ypg) and is converting 45 percent of the time on third down.
In its last game, USC racked up 418 total yards, including 282 on the ground, in a victory over Stanford. Stafon Johnson led the charge with 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 carries, while C.J. Gable went for 85 yards and a score on the same amount of attempts. The duo have been a nice complement to one another and have combined for 1,143 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Mark Sanchez also got involved in the win over Stanford, throwing for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-17 tosses. It was a modest performance by Sanchez, who has flourished this season, converting 64.8 percent of his pass attempts for 2,258 yards, with 26 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Damian Williams has been one of the top targets in the passing game with 38 catches for 553 yards, while Patrick Tuner has posted 503 yards and a team-best eight scores. Against Stanford, Williams led the team with four catches, including one for a touchdown.
While USC's offense has certainly been prolific, it takes a back seat to the defense, which leads the nation in scoring (8.3 ppg) and ranks second in total yards (225.5 ypg). The Trojans lead the nation in pass defense, allowing just 132.3 ypg, and they have been every bit as good against the run, yielding a mere 90.2 ypg.
Last game however, USC wasn't as dominant as expected, allowing Stanford to gain 367 total yards, including 202 on the ground. The Trojans, though, made some adjustments at the half and allowed just six points after the break in the 45-23 triumph.
"Defensively, the guys came through and just stopped them series after series after series and it wasn't like that early on," stated Carroll.
Rey Maualuga led the way with nine tackles, while Brian Cushing had six stops and his first pick of the season. On the year, Maualuga tops the roster with 66 tackles and Cushing ranks second to him with 60 stops.