Nov 23, 2012, 1:09 AM EDT
On Friday afternoon, Notre Dame will board a plane for Los Angeles. By the time they leave, they’ll know if they’ve punched their ticket to Miami, awaiting a challenger in the national championship game. After three months of twists and turns, the No. 1 Fighting Irish take on Southern Cal in the country’s greatest intersectional rivalry.
We’ve spent three months leading up to this game, with no amount of hyperbole overselling the importance of this Saturday night to the Irish. Win and the Irish will be 12-0 for the first time since 1988 and just the second time in school history. They’ll also spend the next six weeks preparing for a title game many thought was out of the school’s reach.
It’s a season finale unlike just about any other. With all of college football’s eyes on them, Notre Dame will have a chance to walk out of the Coliseum with not just the Jeweled Shillelagh, but a chance to play for the crystal football.
Before No. 1 Notre Dame takes on USC, let’s run through six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings in the pregame six pack.
The Irish have traveled to Los Angeles undefeated in five previous season finales. They’ve come out alive three times.
Notre Dame is 3-2 against USC when the team is undefeated and playing in the season finale. In 1938, they lost 13-0 to a No. 8 ranked USC team and won in 1947 after beating the No. 3 Trojans 38-7. In 1964, the Irish had their undefeated dreams dashed when the Trojans roared back from down 17 to score 20 points in the second half and beat the Irish 20-17. In 1966, the Irish took care of business, demolishing the Trojans 51-0.
It’s been 24 years since an undefeated Notre Dame team went into the Coliseum with the No. 1 ranking on the line. That year, the Trojans were No. 2 in the country at 10-0 with Rodney Peete captaining the high powered offense. Making things more difficult for Notre Dame, Lou Holtz sent home Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks after the duo was late for the team dinner the night before the game.
“There’s no excuse for anybody being late now, because everyone’s got a Cotton Bowl watch,” Holtz quipped.
The Irish jumped all over the Trojans, taking advantage of four first half turnovers as they ran away with a 27-10 victory. After beating the Trojans, they went on to finish the dream season with a 34-21 victory over West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Trojans have fallen off a cliff in the past month.
Starting the season atop the AP rankings, it’s been a four-loss disaster for the Trojans. With the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite, two All-American caliber wide receivers, and nearly an identical defense to an upstart 2011 unit, Lane Kiffin’s team has been in free fall.
“It hasn’t turned out so far how we’d have liked or how we anticipated. We were probably over-hyped at the beginning of the season to be perfectly honest,” USC athletic director Pat Haden earlier this week.
Earlier in the week, Kiffin talked about the swing the season has taken in just the last month, going as far as to identify the play where things turned south.
“It’s been a disappointing season as we all know, but as I look at it and break it down, it’s been a disappointing month, we’ve had a bad month, a disaster month,” Kiffin said. “One month ago we’re sitting at 6-1 and we’re up 15 points in Arizona. We run a double-move and we’re getting ready to go up by 22 and put the game away. From that play on, not a lot of good has happened.”
“Not a lot of good,” might be an understatement. Dropping three of four games, the Trojans defense has fallen off a cliff, giving up 156 points and 1,974 yards to Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. Offensively, they’ve killed themselves with turnovers, coughing up the ball 16 times, including nine interceptions.
Putting that into context, the Trojans have given up 45 more points in that four games stretch than Notre Dame has all season. They’ve also turned the ball over more this year than the Irish did last year, shocking when you consider Matt Barkley was expected to be the No. 1 quarterback taken in the draft.
Add it all up, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
For the Irish to win on Saturday, they’ll need to follow a familiar script on offense.
Make no mistake, helping the Irish’s rock solid defense will be a consistent offense. More to the point, a running game that can eat of the clock and move the ball efficiently, something the Irish have done well this season, averaging 200 yards a game this season.
While the Trojan run defense ranks a semi-respectable 49th in the country, they’ve only faced three run games that ranked statistically better than Notre Dame’s. Here’s how they fared:
Arizona: (39-36 loss)
Rushing Rank: 15th
Team Totals: 44 carries, 222 yards, 2 TDs
Oregon: (62-51 loss)
Rushing Rank: 5th
Team Totals: 60 carries, 468 yards, 5 TDs
UCLA: (38-28 loss)
Rushing Rank: 28th
Team Totals: 50 carries, 240 yards, 4 TDs
Digging a little deeper into the numbers, one thing that’s really plagued the Trojans is a mobile quarterback. Before Matt Scott left the game for Arizona, he had run for 100 yards on 15 carries. In Oregon’s juggernaut rushing performance, Marcus Mariota ran 15 times for 96 yards. While Brett Hundley isn’t part of the UCLA game plan as a runner and was sacked five times, his mobility caused problems for USC’s defense before Jonathan Franklin wore out the Trojans on the ground.
In Everett Golson, the Irish have the perfect running weapon to go along with Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, both of whom should have nice days. And as Arizona and Oregon showed, running a spread offense with tempo beats USC. The Irish might not be able to move quite as quickly as the two Pac-12 teams, but they’ve got a defense that can pull its own weight.
With irrelevance long forgotten, Pat Haden talks about Notre Dame’s role in college football.
As a one-time NBC broadcaster that saw Notre Dame for a lot of years, Pat Haden understands the Irish’s role in the college football world. While the former USC quarterback has gone back to his alma mater to run the Trojan athletic department, he hasn’t lost any respect for a football program that in many ways is an aspirational model for USC, a school trying to leave behind the scandal that costs Reggie Bush his Heisman Trophy and USC thirty scholarships.
Haden went on with everybody’s favorite ESPN pundit Collin Cowherd this week and discussed all things Notre Dame, complimenting Brian Kelly for the work that he’s done as he’s become the toast of the college football world.
“I’m a little surprised, I thought they had a very daunting schedule when I looked at it,” Haden said to Cowherd. “They’ve navigated their way through that schedule very well. Brian Kelly has done a great job. Their quarterback has played very well and come on particularly the last few weeks. Last year, Notre Dame got in trouble turning the ball over and they’re not doing that this year. Their defense has played spectacularly.”
Perhaps more impressive than anything Haden said about the work Notre Dame has done on the field was what he said about the Irish’s role in the college football world, crystallizing why Jack Swarbrick continues to keep the Irish independent as conference commissioners like Jim Delany keep trying to swallow up universities in a real estate and cable TV power-plays.
“There’s only one brand name in college football, and that’s Notre Dame,” Haden said. “And I think it’s good for all of us when Notre Dame is playing very well and people are following them. I’ve always had great respect for Notre Dame. They’re a great model for us. They do things so well. Academically, athletically. We have great respect for their institution, their athletic program, and the rivalry.
While USC is saying all the right things about Max Wittek, the reality of a first time starter could be sobering for Trojan fans.
Max Wittek could very well be the next great USC quarterback. But anybody thinking the Trojans will have a strategic advantage because Notre Dame hasn’t seen much of the young quarterback is kidding themselves.
The loss of Matt Barkley is huge. Last season, Barkley and Kiffin engineered a near perfect game plan, using Notre Dame’s defensive strengths against them throughout the game. Every single pass had a playaction element to it, helping to freeze the Irish’s over-aggressive linebackers as Barkley picked Notre Dame apart. That playaction throws also helped the Trojans running game, as the USC offensive line and some solid cut-back running took advantage of an injury-ravaged defensive front and ran the Irish out of commission.
But that was with one of college football’s best triggermen at the helm. Not a redshirt freshman starting his first game. Want a look at every snap Wittek’s taken for the Trojans? Here. You. Go. It’s about what you’d expect from a quarterback playing in mop-up time, with not much to gather from the handful of throws Wittek made against three defenses ranked no better than 70th in the country.
Yet Kiffin and the Trojans are doing their best to talk Wittek up, whether its truth, strategy, or to boost the young quarterback’s confidence.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Kiffin said earlier in the week. “Had a great command of the huddle out there. He’s been working really well with the skill guys. Does not seem like a freshman.”
At his best, Wittek brings a strong arm to the table and the ability to try and stretch the Irish defense vertically. With decent mobility for his size, expect Kiffin to continue to use playaction, often rolling Wittek to a half field look, where he’ll have an easier read before he needs to get rid of the football.
There’s a version of Saturday night that ends with Wittek triumphant, carving out the first chapter of a legendary career in South Los Angeles. But the more likely scenario ends in disappointment for USC, with a team already prone to turnovers facing the toughest defense it’s seen all season.
Forget about superstition. Notre Dame will win on Saturday by following the script.
Enough stories will be written about destiny, stars aligning or magical third season. Enough worry will be wasted on SI cover jinxes or mystical superstitions. Throw it all in the garbage. Notre Dame will win on Saturday by following the blueprint that got them this far.
On defense, the Irish will face their most dangerous test yet. Even with Max Wittek at quarterback, Notre Dame hasn’t faced talent like Marqise Lee, college football’s best receiver, Robert Woods, and Nelson Agholor, who broke the Irish staff’s heart when he picked Southern Cal last signing day. The Trojans also have a powerful running attack, with Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal running for almost 1,400 yards this season.
Yet Manti Te’o and company will win if they do what got them there. Suffocate offenses with an elite front seven. Shut down the run. Keep the football in front of the secondary and tackle like crazy. Up front, the Irish should give the Trojans’ suspect offensive line all it can handle. And Te’o should have more than a few opportunities to take the ball away from Wittek. And after eleven weeks of playing assignment correct football in the secondary, Kerry Cooks and Bob Elliott need to drum up one more game plan that keeps the opposition away from the big play.
On offense, everything runs through Everett Golson. After playing his best football the past month, Golson will make one more primetime road start, and if he’s as sharp Saturday night as he has been in the past, Notre Dame will be just fine.
Get Cierre Wood established. Let Theo Riddick run hard and make plays out of the backfield. Move the chains with Tyler Eifert while taking some shots down the field as well. Most importantly? Hold onto the football. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a way the Irish lose this football game if Notre Dame doesn’t lose the turnover battle.
A week after having to channel emotion into enthusiasm, Brian Kelly’s team will be tasked with channeling nervous energy into synchronicity. In the season’s defining moment, it’ll be fun to see if the Irish can summons the play of a champion, or if they’ll let the moment define them. These are the seasons you remember for decades. These are the games that build coaches statues.
But not for the Irish. It’s just sixty more minutes of following the plan.
May 18, 2013, 4:04 AM EDT
The future depth chart along the offensive line for Notre Dame just received another star-studded name when Tennessee’s Alex Bars gave his verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff. The 6-foot-6, 280-pound linemen picked Notre Dame over an elite offer list, turning down Michigan, Ohio State, LSU, Penn State and Stanford among a slew of…
May 17, 2013, 7:00 AM EDT
When you think back to this time last year, there were so many unanswered questions about the Notre Dame offense. We were quoting Nelly and analyzing pie charts, hoping to get to the bottom of what was wrong with an offense that couldn’t stop shooting itself in the foot and struggled getting any efficiency. Everett…
May 16, 2013, 11:19 AM EDT
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen defensive end Aaron Lynch on the football field. After a freshman All-American season for the Irish, Lynch left South Bend in the middle of spring practice and headed home to South Florida. The soap opera surrounding the decision to transfer, which included social media pleas to stay…
May 16, 2013, 5:38 AM EDT
It appears football life (almost) in the ACC is starting to come into scheduling focus, as news is starting to trickle out from Big Ten rivals about future dates. While the Michigan series is on hold (likely until 2020), Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis announced the future of the Irish-Spartans rivalry isn’t going anywhere.…
May 14, 2013, 11:54 AM EDT
It might not fly too well on the handshake circuit, but Brady Hoke‘s dig at Notre Dame for backing out of the Michigan series might not be all that appropriate… considering Michigan asked to take a break first. Last June news broke that the Irish and Wolverines were going to take a two-year hiatus in…
May 14, 2013, 7:40 AM EDT
God bless Brady Hoke. During a time of year where just about anything counts as college football news, the Michigan head coach provided some real bulletin board material and ratcheted up a Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry that will be coming to a temporary end after the 2014 season. “We are fortunate to have unbelievable rivalry games…
May 13, 2013, 10:41 AM EDT
With news light on the college football front (we’re still putting the pieces together for some long-form offseason features), let’s take a quick look at San Diego, where Manti Te’o‘s life as an NFL football player just got started. Te’o debuted at rookie minicamp, where reporters and coaches got their first look at the former…
May 12, 2013, 8:07 PM EDT
For Notre Dame football fans, there will always be a bit of a “what if” with Jeff Samardzija. The former All-American wide receiver, who exploded onto the scene when Charlie Weis arrived in South Bend, scored a ridiculous 27 touchdown passes in his final two years in South Bend, exactly 27 more than he did…
May 10, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
The news of Gunner Kiel leaving Notre Dame was hardly a surprise. The talented young quarterback, who redshirted during the Irish’s 2012 run to the BCS Championship game, departed before spring practice, with an eye on finding an opportunity to play. It was another switch on an already wayward journey for Kiel, one of the…
May 8, 2013, 6:58 PM EDT
Sad news out of the Notre Dame football program. Former fullback Asaph Schwapp has lost his battle with cancer. He was just 26 years old. News of his grave condition broke earlier today when former Irish coach Charlie Weis tweeted, “One of the first young men I ever recruited to ND, Asaph Schwapp is gravely…
May 8, 2013, 4:58 PM EDT
As the school year draws to a close, the Irish are in the unofficial portion of the calendar. Yet that’s the time — through the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, that leadership usually emerges. Watching Brian Kelly’s teams evolve, you get the idea that when Kelly says his team develops at its…
May 7, 2013, 6:25 PM EDT
Last year, Notre Dame assembled a recruiting class that did most of its own work. Spearheaded by early commitments like James Onwualu, Malik Zaire and Jaylon Smith, the “Irish Mob” built on the camaraderie and closed strong, adding five-star recruits Greg Bryant, Max Redfield and Eddie Vanderdoes. It looks like the current recruiting class is…
May 6, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
Putting the 2012 season into context will be easier the farther away it gets. Notre Dame’s unlikely run to the BCS Championship game is incredible for so many different reasons. Even if the end result was a one-sided Alabama victory, the fact that the Irish found themselves at the apex of the mountain is one…
May 4, 2013, 7:55 AM EDT
The house that Rockne built is in need of another expansion. At least that’s the thinking among Notre Dame administrators. The university announced a feasibility study that’s going to explore all options for the iconic stadium over the next six to nine months, as part of the a larger campus plan. “Inspired by the University’s…
May 2, 2013, 5:08 AM EDT
Just a few days after adding one of the top running backs in the country, the Notre Dame coaching staff accepted the verbal commitment of New Jersey offensive lineman Quenton Nelson. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle had offers from Alabama, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford and a slew of others. Nelson joins a growing offensive…
May 1, 2013, 7:08 AM EDT
While draft day might have been disappointing for some graduating Notre Dame players, it’s far from that when you’re looking at the overall health of the football program. The six Irish players drafted last week is another data-point that shows the talent on the roster, and the health of the program, is on the rise.…
Apr 29, 2013, 3:20 AM EDT
After a slow start to recruiting this spring, the 2014 group received a huge jolt when blue-chip running back Elijah Hood pledged his commitment to the Irish on Sunday evening. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder is Rivals’ top-ranked athlete, No. 12 prospect overall, and has offers from North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida State, USC and more.…
Apr 28, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
During Kapron Lewis-Moore‘s Notre Dame career, the six-foot-four, 300-pound defensive end had his share of bad timing. An injury during the 2011 season cut short his junior year just as the Irish needed him most. After an impressive final season, an ACL injury during the biggest game of his career threw his draft potential into…
Apr 28, 2013, 6:13 AM EDT
It took longer than they probably hoped, but four more Irish football players went off the board in the late rounds of the NFL Draft. Safety Jamoris Slaughter, whose season was cut short after an Achilles tendon tear, was selected in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns. Later in that round, Theo Riddick went…
Apr 27, 2013, 4:04 AM EDT
The waiting is finally over for Notre Dame All-American Manti Te’o, who was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the sixth pick of the second round. For Te’o, it’s a silver lining landing spot after a disappointing slide dropped him out of the first round. The former Irish linebacker heads to San Diego, about…
- Oxbow upsets Orb in Preakness
- Live Extra: Watch Game 3 between Sharks, Kings
- MST: Carpenter wins pole for 97th Indianapolis 500
- PHT: Red Wings even up series with Blackhawks
- PBT: Pacers may not have Hill for Game 6
- PHT: No surgery needed for Staal after brutal hit
- PFT: Jets' Goodson gets five gun and drug charges