Nov 23, 2012, 1:09 AM EST
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.
Dec 20, 2013, 9:09 PM EST
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here’s hoping you’re all spending these next few days finishing up work and getting closer to friends and family. And as teased, we’re doing our first ever Holiday giveaway, thanks to LCP and Skybox Press. It’s the Official Illustrated History of Fighting Irish Football. The book features 20 essays from…
Dec 20, 2013, 2:17 PM EST
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced Notre Dame’s football schedule for the next three seasons, finally unveiling the changes that came with the Irish’s scheduling arrangement with the Atlantic Coast Conference. As Swarbrick promised, the Irish will play 15 ACC games in the next three seasons, though the 2014 schedule has just four games to accommodate…
Dec 19, 2013, 3:46 PM EST
Take the U.S. Postal Service, add to it Notre Dame football and the holiday season, and you expect a punchline. But this week, the Irish football program has received a lot of attention on the internet for its “Pot of Gold,” a recruiting tactic that has seen the Notre Dame football office presumably blow through…
Dec 19, 2013, 2:06 PM EST
Purdue confirmed this afternoon that their date with Notre Dame next year will in fact take place in Lucas Oil Stadium. Notre Dame will “host” the Boilermakers in their 2014 Shamrock Series game, an all Indiana affair. “We are excited to bring this great instate rivalry game to Indianapolis next season,” Purdue athletics director Morgan…
Dec 18, 2013, 8:56 PM EST
Ask your questions here. Or @KeithArnold on Twitter. Christmas giveaway details revealed tomorrow. But I promise, it’s a really good gift.
Dec 18, 2013, 6:00 PM EST
I’ve heard from a few people that they actually missed my UND.com practice video breakdowns. So let’s fire up the YouTube machine and over-analyze what’s going on being closed doors at Notre Dame’s practice! As usual, here is a time-coded, cheatsheet that’ll get you through an interesting practice report. 0:10 — It just feels like…
Dec 18, 2013, 3:55 PM EST
In case you missed it, former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was a guest on Jim Rome’s radio show this afternoon. It was a terrific opportunity for the new head coach of the UConn football team to get a national platform, and Diaco dazzled Rome with some of the things that made him such…
Dec 17, 2013, 3:16 PM EST
While Notre Dame doesn’t comment on redshirts or eligibility, it appears that running back Greg Bryant‘s freshman season, where he participated in three early games, will not start his eligibility clock. The running back from Delray Beach, Florida confirmed as much on his Twitter account yesterday afternoon. While the news feels a bit like minutiae for…
Dec 16, 2013, 11:40 AM EST
Blue chip tight end Tyler Luatua committed to Notre Dame Monday morning, continuing a whirlwind of action on the recruiting front for the Irish. Luatua, from La Mirada, California, picked Notre Dame over Alabama, where his brother plays football. Other schools that offered the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder include Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State,…
Dec 16, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
If there was any question how Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame program would address the departures of coordinators Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin, the opening statements from master of ceremonies Jack Nolan at the team banquet answered that question. Within the first two minutes of the show, Nolan delivered a statement to players, families…
Dec 15, 2013, 7:19 PM EST
The weekend continues to be kind to Notre Dame. In a matter of 24 hours, a linebacking corps that looked thin continues to be bolstered. A big part of that is the commitment of Texas linebacker Kolin Hill, who returned home from his official visit Sunday and called the Irish coaching staff to commit, joining…
Dec 15, 2013, 2:08 PM EST
Notre Dame’s annual award show netted more than a few trophies. The Irish football team walked away with a commitment from inside linebacker prospect Nile Sykes. Multiple outlets are reporting that the Chicagoland recruit, who was on his official visit this weekend, gave the Irish a key player at a position of need. Sykes was…
Dec 13, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
After a semester in purgatory, Everett Golson has been readmitted to Notre Dame, clearing his return to the football program. Golson received the rubber stamp today, made official by Paul Brown, Notre Dame’s vice president for public affairs and communications. “Everett Golson was readmitted this afternoon to the University of Notre Dame,” the one-line statement…
Dec 13, 2013, 10:10 AM EST
An early Brian Kelly quote that’s followed the head coach from the moment he uttered it keeps bubbling back to the surface. “Get used to it.” That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you watch Irish assistants head out the door for head coaching jobs. First, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin left South Bend…
Dec 11, 2013, 10:25 PM EST
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has accepted the head coaching position at UConn. NBC Sports has confirmed the news that was first reported by CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman. The 2012 Broyles Award winner leaves another huge hole in Brian Kelly’s staff, with both Diaco and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin taking head coaching jobs in…
Dec 11, 2013, 5:30 PM EST
As Notre Dame prepares for the Pinstripe Bowl, defensive end Stephon Tuitt is likely preparing to make his own big decision. The junior defensive end is eligible to enter the NFL Draft, and depending on what you hear from various experts in the media, Tuitt will likely be a first round pick whenever he decides…
Dec 10, 2013, 8:39 AM EST
Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick will be in wintery New York today, for a press conference with Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood and his athletic director Julie Hermann. It’ll be another opportunity for us to hear from the Irish head coach, who has a busy week with recruiting, visiting Everett Golson, and preparing his football…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:59 PM EST
The Irish practiced yesterday, with Brian Kelly meeting with the local media to discuss preparation for the Pinstripe Bowl. Notre Dame will practice ten times between now and the 28th, with the Irish spending Christmas in New York, leaving South Bend on the 23rd. While other bowls were discussed, and for a time the Poinsettia…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:42 PM EST
A day after accepting a bid to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood fired three assistants. The second-year head coach fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, quarterbacks coach Rob Spence and offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski. Those changes go into effect immediately, meaning Flood will likely be short-handed in the Pinstripe Bowl.…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:21 AM EST
After visiting Notre Dame multiple times, 2015 offensive lineman Tristen Hoge gave his commitment to the Irish coaching staff over the weekend, adding another key building block for the future. The six-foot-4, 285-pound Idaho native chose Notre Dame over an elite set of early offers, giving Harry Hiestand another top lineman prospect. Hoge already had…
- It’s official: Golson returns to Notre Dame 59
- Bob Diaco accepts the UConn head coaching job 117
- Stay or go? Stephon Tuitt has a big decision to make 40
- It’s official: Chuck Martin the new head coach at Miami (OH) 96
- The good, the bad and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Stanford 79
- Five things we learned: Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20 140
- Bryant’s redshirt freshman season appears official (117)
- Postseason Mailbag: Now Open (Christmas giveaway bonus!) (91)
- Recruiting bonanza continues with TE Tyler Luatua commitment (90)
- Pot of Gold pushes Notre Dame recruiting to the forefront (34)
- Elston pledges return as Irish program moves forward (28)