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Game Day: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. USC

Nov 24, 2012, 12:16 PM EST

Notre Dame USC

The Irish have invaded Southern California.

A biennial pilgrimage that usually doubles as a short vacation for Midwesterners looking for one last long weekend of sun before winter, there’s a different feel to this year’s game, and for good reason. Notre Dame is playing for its shot in the national title game.

As usual, we’ll host a live blog tonight. But before we head into South Los Angeles for the year’s most high-profile football game, let’s run through some final questions before the Irish battle the Trojans not just for the Jeweled Shillelagh, but for a chance at the crystal ball.

Will Notre Dame’s defense stop the run? The Irish defense has stopped just about everybody running the football, but USC has plenty of talent in the backfield. While Lane Kiffin usually doesn’t discuss injuries, Silas Redd is still limited by a high-ankle sprain, a good break for the Irish. But Curtis McNeal, who ran for 118 yards last year against Notre Dame, is averaging better than six yards a carry again this season.

Winning the line of scrimmage will be imperative for Notre Dame, and it’ll also allow Bob Diaco to commit man-power to stopping the Trojans passing game.

Can Notre Dame win the turnover battle? This will likely be the story of the evening, with redshirt freshman Max Wittek piloting an offense that already ranks 113th in turnovers with 29. Sure, Notre Dame doesn’t have much tape of Wittek, but they did recruit him when he was at Mater Dei, where he threw 15 interceptions in 13 games during his senior season.

On the flip side of the equation, Monte Kiffin might be the current scapegoat for the Trojans’ problems, but he’s a great game-planner, and does a terrific job forcing turnovers, where USC is a top ten team taking away the football, with 29 of their own.

This will likely come down to Everett Golson and his decision making. If he can be judicious with the football, and rely on the Irish ground game to create passing opportunities, then things should work out just fine for Notre Dame.

Can the Irish figure out USC’s playaction passing attack? USC has been running the same offense since Pete Carroll took over Troy. But that hasn’t helped the Irish solve anything, with the Trojans routinely putting up big numbers through the air, with playaction passing providing huge chunks against Irish secondaries over the years.

In Bob Diaco’s system, Notre Dame’s linebackers have given up yards through the air, caught moving downhill in anticipation of the run. While Manti Te’o has done a tremendous job improving in the pass game, Carlo Calabrese is still a work in progress. Expect Dan Fox to see the field quite a bit tonight, and Fox and outside linebacker Danny Spond will be key in pass coverage.

Will Notre Dame’s pass rush help out the secondary? Nobody is asking KeiVerae Russell and Bennett Jackson to run one-on-one with Marqise Lee, Robert Woods, or Nelson Agholor. The Irish will keep two safeties deep throughout the evening, giving away the underneath throws to prevent the vertical attacks down the field.

That said, expect Lane Kiffin to take his shots down the field anyway, with Max Wittek’s big arm an upgrade over the injured Matt Barkley. And while the Trojans are certainly the most explosive passing game the Irish have seen, there’s no better solution to stopping an aerial attack than a suffocating pass rush.

In his first start, you can’t expect Wittek to make the snap decisions that Barkley did so well last year in picking apart the Irish defense. And don’t expect Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo and company to afford him much time. Wittek has decent feet for a big man, but Notre Dame will get after him with pressure, challenging the young quarterback to read a defense designed to bring confusion.

Can Notre Dame’s running game break the Trojans defense? Simply put, the Irish have the ability to break the backs of the Trojans by getting their power running game on track. The Trojans have struggled mightily against spread running teams, with the outside zone giving USC major problems. That’s one of four bedrock run plays for the Irish, and what Cierre Wood does very well, so it’s a match-up that Notre Dame absolutely needs to exploit.

Can Notre Dame capture the moment? There’s a lot of room for a “Win one for the Gipper,” pregame speech tonight. But don’t expect it to come from Brian Kelly. Storylines be damned, the Irish need to treat this like any other road test, and not let themselves succumb to the expectations that are heaped on the No. 1 team in the country.

After three months of football, there’s no reason to be nervous. For the Irish, this is more like a tremendous opportunity, a chance to be rewarded for all the hard work that’s gone into turning around a football program that seemed close to broken last December.

For Irish fans, buying into the moment is important as well. After years of flinching at every shadow, they’ve come by the thousand to Southern California, ready to bask in the glow of a championship run under the Coliseum lights. But don’t expect it to be easy. There will be ups and downs this evening, a season playing out in four quarters of football.

But that’s what makes games like this so much fun.

 

 

  1. nudeman - Nov 24, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Ditka 116
    USC 0

    • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      Shatner 42, Luke Perry 0

      • bswelly - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:50 PM

        I think Dylan deserves at least 7

      • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 2:01 PM

        eh…maybe 3

    • whodabigdog - Nov 24, 2012 at 12:43 PM

      Is Ditka driving the bus too?

  2. bernhtp - Nov 24, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    The Gameday crew all picked Notre Dame. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

    • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      I think it’s good…they’re not ND lovers, just going with what they feel.

    • irishbornraised - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      Who Was the guest picker and who’d he pick?

      • nudeman - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:10 PM

        Landon Donovan … picked ND

      • irishbornraised - Nov 24, 2012 at 5:14 PM

        Sorry, I always miss Gameday because I live in Hawaii but I had the presence of mind to record it last night and am about to watch it.

  3. edge661 - Nov 24, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    Everyone kisses nod ass!! Please print that!

    • nudeman - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:11 PM

      Sorry, have to ask. Who is “nod” and why are they getting their ass kissed?

      • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        Northern Observatatoy Dakota

      • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        Observatory…I messed up my joke

  4. North of Denver - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    1:53 Left in the game, ND 24 – USC 20, USC Driving, Witteck throws cross center to Marqise Lee… Te’o intercepts his 7th… Kiffin’s head explodes.

    …just woke up. where am I?

  5. tommynacc - Nov 24, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    “After three months of football, there’s no reason to be nervous. For the Irish, this is more like a tremendous opportunity, a chance to be rewarded for all the hard work that’s gone into turning around a football program that seemed close to broken last December.”

    Honestly, this does calm me down a bit, because I look outside, the weather is an All-California day-possibly the most beautiful days of the year and you just want to see the Irish dominate those ___’s!

    Keith, I always felt–and after what Kelly has said–that the Irish “D” is meant to give up yards but not big plays and not let them in the end zone in the red zone. If ND can commit to that same thinking, this game isn’t even a contest, but more of an embarrassment on USC’s past performances.

  6. ndnut - Nov 24, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    What about some love for the warmer, Southern portion of Dakota? Go Jacks! Go Irish!

  7. c4evr - Nov 24, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    Irish fans well represented here at ESPN Gameday. Fun signs… best was ‘ Brian Kelly Loves Gossip Girl’ and ‘Rudy was Offsides’. My sign was, ‘Lane’s Bucket List: 1. Marry Hot Chick, 2. Put Raiders in Cellar, 3. Make Everybody in Tennessee Hate Me, 4. Ruin Trojan Football, and 5. Apply for Asst. Coach USC Women’s Golf Team’. 75 degrees at game time at the end of November… Can see why kids consider playing here.

  8. ndirish10 - Nov 24, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Irish, you have gone through this incredible journey without a blemish might as well complete it in this same way. Demolish the trojans!!! Go Irish!!! Onward to Victory!!!

  9. ndfaithful - Nov 24, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    We’re ready for this. Never have I been happier to play USC at the END of the season. I don’t understimate USC, but I hope we put the hurt on ‘em.

    Go IRISH!

  10. goirishgo - Nov 24, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Damn, this is fun!

  11. bearcatirishfan - Nov 24, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Is this the miniature ditka or the full sized ditka

  12. mtflsmitty - Nov 24, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    It’s already been a good day of college football. Been outside nervously tending to the fire with FL and FL St in the background, and wife clueless as to why I just can’t leave the fire alone. Energy, baby. Just something to do with the excitement before the Irish decimate SC!!!

    Nude, you made a comment on the previous article re the lack of confidence with some here. I’m not typically the first to rush to affirm your comments here. There’s already a legion of adoring Nude fans here for that. But you couldn’t be more right on your call. I just read some of the “we are underdogs and I’m nervous” comments and think how much I’d like to meet some of these guys on the golf course, poker table, or boardroom. What a bunch of Marys!!!

    Does anyone think Bama fans will be nervously wringing their hands next week before Georgia, or on the eve of the NC game against ND??? Of course not.

    Come on, guys. Respect your opponent. But think and walk like winners.

    Irish 27
    SC 10

  13. bjc378 - Nov 24, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    I was just thinking to myself how much I’d like this scenario play out: Notre Dame on the big stage comes out and dominates. We win something like 24-0 or 31-6. Undefeated season, playing for the NC and ending USC’s season with an embarassing loss to us at home. But what’s the other story? That guys who wears #5 (…hey, if Golson gets this going that would also be awesome) gets double digit tackles, a fumble recovery, a pic and a sack. All of a sudden the story is about how the #1 team in the country has the #1 Heisman trophy candidate as well. And he plays for the best D in the country.

  14. bjc378 - Nov 24, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    I was just thinking to myself how much I’d like this scenario play out: Notre Dame on the big stage comes out and dominates. We win something like 24-0 or 31-6. Undefeated season, playing for the NC and ending USC’s season with an embarrassing loss to us at home. But what’s the other story? That guys who wears #5 (…hey, if Golson gets this going that would also be awesome) gets double digit tackles, a fumble recovery, a pic and a sack. All of a sudden the story is about how the #1 team in the country has the #1 Heisman trophy candidate as well. And he plays for the best D in the country.

  15. badgerbuck - Nov 24, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    What happens if we lose

    • flandersst1 - Nov 24, 2012 at 5:49 PM

      What are you talking about? We’re not going to lose to unranked team with a QB making his first career start against the best defense in the country.

      • irishbornraised - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:13 PM

        We can ALWAYS! ALWAYS! ALWAYS! lose!

        but….

        we can also always win!

        THAT is why we play the games

  16. badgerbuck - Nov 24, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    I’m saying it may happen then what quit thinking everything is going to work out have a backup plan.what bowl do they go to if they lose,or are you a fair weatherd fan and only care about this program when they win. My guess is your no fan at all because if they lose you won’t care.you know I’m right

    • dillonbigred - Nov 24, 2012 at 11:52 PM

      Go away. You are just trying to stir up trouble. Who is really concerned about a consolation bowl game with a huge game about to begin? With conference championship games to play, no one knows anyway.

  17. 1notredamefan - Nov 24, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:10 PM

      Freaking motivating. Lock and load, some may die but we will win

    • nudeman - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:40 PM

      That was awesome
      Who was it? Is that from a flick?

      • dillonbigred - Nov 24, 2012 at 11:57 PM

        Sounds like Pacino. Any Given Sunday?

  18. barneysbullet - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    Come on badgerbuck, stop raining on our parade…we’ve waited YEARS for this. :-)

    Shades of ’88…go get ‘em boys!!

    Alabama 17 – ND 20 ;)

  19. yogihilt - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Damn, is 8pm coming or what… killin me

  20. badgerbuck - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    I just want an answer

    • yogihilt - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:35 PM

      Depends on other outcomes… 1% shot at title, but good chance to play Fla in next best bowl.. but definitely in line for 3rd best bowl…. a lot will happen depending on next weeks conf champ games..

  21. jmfinsd - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    Got a great sign I saw to post, but don’t know how to put a pic (jpeg) in a post. Standard paste doesn’t work. Anyone?

    • 9irish - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:25 PM

      I think, save it and name it, then you can do whatever you like.

  22. kleinick - Nov 24, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Anyone know where we can stream this game from an iPad? I want to run it through my projector in my yard.

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