This is the luxury of being bowl eligible. At least Notre Dame doesn’t have to win this game, but it would nice. Boy, would it be nice. The reality is, as famous as this rivalry is, the games played in Los Angeles stink.
Sure, the recent South Bend chapters have been entertaining. Who could forget the Bush Push? I know it still gives me nightmares. Even last year’s game was close. A 34 – 27 loss in a game that Jimmy Clausen shined in. Clausen threw for two touchdowns and ran for one in the loss that put any hopes of a Notre Dame BCS bid to bed (I still can’t believe I thought this was a possibility).
But the games in L.A in the past few years have been hard to watch. Two years ago, Mark Sanchez torched the Irish. There are theories that Ty Willingham lost his job because of what happened in a tenure ending torching at the hands of the Trojans. Moral of the story – a bowl birth on the line on Saturday night would not be a comfortable situation.
After the way the team has preformed in the last two weeks, though, would it be nuts to think that the Irish could win this game? Or, at the very least, be competitive in it? It would be hard to argue the opposite. In the last three weeks, Notre Dame’s defense has allowed six points. They’ve forced turnovers and all but eliminated the big play bug that killed them in the first three quarters of the season. This kind of hot play may be just what the Irish need to pull off a big upset.
The fact that Utah was one of the two teams Notre Dame shut down offensively makes the “hot defense” moniker a little more credible. Army isn’t very good, we’ve detailed that, but Utah is. This was a team averaging over forty points a game entering the “senior day” match up in South Bend.
USC’s offense is wayyyyyy more comparable to Utah then Army. Last week, the Trojans scored seven points against Oregon State. Prior to that, USC lowest offensive outputs were 17 against Virginia (week 2) and 24 at (18) Arizona. Yes, this is a team that can score.
But wait! A break may have fallen the Irish’s way. As of Friday, all indications were that Mitch Mustain would be the starter for USC due to Matt Barkley’s high ankle sprain. You remember Mitch? He’s the guy that Pete Carroll begged Mark Sanchez to stay to avoid starting. He’s the guy that lost out to Aaron Corp. He once threw nine interceptions for the 2006 Arkansas Razorbacks and hasn’t done much of anything since.
Notre Dame can beat a Mitch Mustain led squad. Because of the “Mitch situation”, look for the Trojans to run the ball a lot. C.J Gable and Marc Tyler split carries last week, Gable being the more effective of the two. Last week, the Irish allowed 135 yards rushing, but only at about 3 yards a clip. This kind of production would be good enough to win.
Another key to victory will be turnovers. Mustain is a player who has been known to turn the ball over and the Irish have found themselves the beneficiaries of a turnover hot streak. This is a stat that tends to happen in bunches.
The Irish will not win the game unless they win (not tie, win) the turnover battle.
Offensively, it’s the same game plan as the last two weeks. Why wouldn’t it be? Run the football, limit the opportunities Tommy Rees has to make mistakes, capitalize on any turnovers the defense may get.
The Rees part is very important this week. The interception in the first quarter was his fault. Notre Dame can deal with a mistake or two like that against Army, but I’m not sure they can do it against USC. That makes the running game super important.
But help could be on the way for Rees. Both Theo Riddick and T.J Jones may be back. Both played very well before injuries and would be a major boost for the offense.
USC allowed 174 yards rushing last week against Oregon State, 128 of which came from JaQuizz Rodgers. Neither Cierre Wood or Jonas Grey has that kind of talent (not even close), but if Notre Dame can get 100 – 120 total yards rushing, they’ll be in good shape.
The bottom line is that this game is incredibly winnable for Notre Dame. The combo of a hot defense and Mitch Mustain under center might be just enough to erase the L.A woes of years gone by.
The Pick: USC 24 Notre Dame 17 – I’ll give the edge to the home team in this one. With no bowl on the table for USC (remember, they cheated), this will be the last ever game in the red and gold for the seniors. Mustain is one of those. This is a guy that thought he would be Mark Sanchez’s heir for two seasons and now, through the luck of injury, is starting his final game. While I’d feel more confident with Mustain under center then Barkley, don’t be shocked if he isn’t awful.
This will also be Rees’s first true road game as a starter. There are a lot of places I’d rather have it then USC. Expect it to be closer then the prior games in L.A, but the Trojans to win late.
About the Author
Written by Jordan Lauterbach
Jordan Lauterbach began his career in sports media when he was just 15 years old at WKWZ - Syosset. He hosted a sports talk show for nearly four years before moving on to WCWP - Brookville in 2006. Lauterbach currently hosts a sports talk show every Wednesday night from 9pm - midnight (eastern) and a College Football talk show on Saturday mornings from 11am - 12:30 (eastern) (can be heard online at wcwpsports.com and on Long Island on 88.1fm). Follow me on twiiter: jlauterbach1